Friday, March 4, 2011

Power Grab

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, charlatan that he is, has no interest in actually fixing the fiscal problems underlying Wisconsin's budgetary shortfall.  Walker has chosen to restructure the debt of Wisconsin, an undertaking that by itself solves the immediate problem of Wisconsin's operating deficit.  That's right, the restructuring of the debt alone, without any cuts whatsoever, defers the shortfall to some future day and makes it appear as though all is sunny in Wisconsin.

So what's with Walker's insistence that cuts are needed and that his budget has to be implemented immediately to avoid dire consequences?  Simply put, when any politician tries to push through crisis legislation as quickly as possible, you ought to immediately pause, take a moment, and say no.  You ought to insist on time to examine the nuances of the legislation, because it is a virtual certainty that there are some hidden treasures in the legislation.

And how!  Walker wants to borrow money from a federal welfare program in order to offset shortfalls in Wisconsin's budget.  Now, I ask you, how does one get out of debt by going into more debt?  Hmmm?  Additionally, Walker's budget also calls for the state to have wide discretion in selling off the state's utilities, so wide in fact, that there would be no competitive bidding process and no oversight from the state's independent utility regulator.  It's a recipe to sell off the utility infrastructure of Wisconsin for a song to private industry, and while I support privatization, I don't support it at fire sale prices.  The people of Wisconsin are entitled to get the best deal for the infrastructure their tax dollars funded and built, and if there is no competitive bidding process, they won't get the best deal.  They'll get the deal that's best for Scott Walker, one that enables him to use state utilities as a carrot for his supporters in the energy industry.

The proposal for selling off Wisconsin's energy infrastructure doesn't have a thing to do with balancing the state budget.  But then again, neither do the proposals that touch on Badgercare, which would allow the governor's appointed health secretary to arbitrarily raise premiums, redefine eligibility, and “change any Medical Assistance law, for any reason, at any time, and potentially without notice or public hearing... in addition to eliminating notice and publication requirements, [the changes] would leave the emergency rules in effect without any requirement to make permanent rules and without any time limit," according to the Wisconsin legislature's non-partisan reference bureau.

In essence, what Scott Walker is after is nothing more than a power grab to enable him to legislate by fiat through his appointed secretary absent any check on his power from the state legislature.  This flies in the face of the deeply American ideal that powers are to be divided and separated in order to prevent arbitrary abuses.  That's the problem with Scott Walker's entire budget proposal.  It's designed to consolidate power in his office, so that he doesn't have to deal with unions, the legislature, or anyone else who might oppose his agenda.

Compare that with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who took on the unions and made his case to the people of New Jersey by following a process. He didn't seek crisis powers to avoid run-ins with the separation of power between his office and the New Jersey legislature.  He didn't have to, because Christie is an articulate, confident man who knows the facts are on his side.  Walker is a pitiful example of leadership, a man too cowardly and too spineless to have a head-on debate about anything with his detractors, because at heart, Scott Walker is the type of leader who seeks autocratic power in order to avoid confrontation.

If you simply look at the substance of his proposals, what you see about Walker's efforts is that they aren't going to fix Wisconsin's budget problems in any permanent way.  The deferring of debt does not qualify as the resolution of debt.  Borrowing money from a federal program does not accomplish anything beyond ensuring more debt later on, and selling off utilities without any competitive bidding, oversight, or transparency will only make it more likely that the taxpayers who paid for those utilities get ripped off when the utilities are sold.  Scott Walker isn't after fiscal solvency or a balanced budget: he's after more power for his office, and his assault on collective bargaining is nothing more than a smokescreen to distract attention away from this essential truth.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Public Unions Aren't the Issue



I taught for three years, and as a former teacher, I can tell you that I'm not a fan of public teacher's unions.  I talked with my peers who belonged to such unions on a regular basis, and the general consensus many of those teachers had was that their sole interest in the union lay in the legal representation the union would provide for them if a parent threatened to sue.  Generally speaking, most teachers don't make that much.  I'd say from personal experience that our average salary was in the upper $30,000-$40,000 range.  Some of us had good benefits, depending on the district we taught in, but the reality of the matter was that what we all lived in fear of was being sued.

Every time you busted a student for cheating or plagiarism, you had to worry about the endless recriminations of parents.  I had a student who turned in a paper with another instructor's name on it, along with a date from three years back.  Her father could not fathom that his daughter had cheated on the paper.  How could that constitute proof, even if I had Googled the contents to find and download the original?  Perhaps the college freshman who'd actually written the paper three years before had plagiarized his daughter when she was in 7th grade!  

It never ended.  I had a student show up on the sidewalk outside of my classroom after being removed from the class for creating a disturbance.  He had made it all the way back to my class from the administration building unimpeded, and he proceeded to challenge me to a fistfight through the locked classroom door.  He would later go on to expulsion for sodomizing a younger boy on a baseball team trip.  Had the school dealt with the earlier issues up front, he would have never been in a position to sexually assault another child.

Another one of my students spiked my drink with a topical analgesic.  He'd come to our school after getting expelled from his prior school for running drugs out of his locker.  The simple truth is this: you can vilify teachers all day long, but for what we put up with on a day to day basis, we don't make a whole hell of a lot of money.  What's more, when the parents are confronted with the proof of what their child did, they respond not with an apology, but with righteous indignation.  They threaten to sue you and the school because you actually interviewed their child to find out what he put in the drink without first asking them if they wanted to be present, or without asking him if an attorney could be present.

The student who spiked my drink would go on to fail a drug test.  His suspension from the baseball team ended when the state tournament rolled around.  I won't bother you with the sordid details of what happened to my co-workers, who were threatened, spat on, and subjected to all manner of ridicule from parents and students alike for having the temerity to object.  I'll leave you with the story of the student in my class who left me a letter threatening my life, "singin blood." He meant signed in blood, but singing blood was the best he could manage.   And yes, he did actually cut his finger with a mechanical pencil and sign the death threat in his own blood.  His father was an officer in the military.

After the D.A.R.E. officer had a nice long talk with the student, and his father made the requisite promises to deal with the problem, I was supposed to go back into my classroom objectively and dispassionately to try and teach the kid the proper way to spell "signed in."

Teachers' unions are not about teachers.  Those of us who are in the profession learn quite quickly that we have but one reason to keep our mouths shut about the objectionable policies of the union, and that is the lawyer who can show up to represent you on the union's dime when the parent of one of your students threatens to sue you for actually giving him an F on a paper he didn't write.  Perhaps you defended yourself when the student punched you in the face, and the law of the state you teach in doesn't draw a distinction between self-defense and assault.  That's right, in the state where I taught, if you as a teacher actually put your hands on a student in any way to defend yourself from their attack, you were faced with civil and criminal liability.

I am no fan of unions in general.  But I have heard enough about the selfishness of teachers and educators, and I want to make one thing clear: I don't know who these six-figure art teachers are, but I didn't meet a single educator in my three years of teaching who made more than $50,000 a year.  Those who approached that lofty salary had been in the system for nearly two decades.  We taught because we loved teaching, and I will tell you this: when I left teaching for a management position with an office supply store, it felt like my guts got ripped out of me.  I loved teaching more than any job I've ever had.

On the way out of my classroom to load one last box of papers into my Buick, I felt like I'd been destroyed.  And where were my classiest students?  Two of them stood gawking on the sidewalk, and eventually burst into chorus: "Na-na-na-na, hey hey hey, gooo-hood bye!"  They were part of the seventh grade English class I'd taught, who expressed their displeasure with my insistence on finishing the textbook because their other teachers weren't so rigorous.  I'd seen the general approach of their history teacher, who was also the school's athletic director and all-around coach: he left the class for the duration to go out and take phone calls in his capacity as the coach.

Their parents never made appointments.  They just showed up after school while I was struggling to grade papers and assignments, juggling lesson plans, and offering free tutoring to the kids who were three to four grade levels behind in their skills.  They thought nothing of interrupting anything.  They were the customers, and they were always right.  I was the hired help.

I worked harder as a teacher than I've ever worked in any other job.  My administrators thought nothing of heaping other responsibilities like the yearbook on me, even though I didn't get paid more for being the yearbook sponsor.  The day I walked into my new position as the yearbook sponsor, I inherited $11,000 of debt from the prior English teacher's regime.  She'd sold exactly one ad for the prior year's yearbook.  I had to pay for the costs of my yearbook plus the leftover costs of her yearbook.

We had no camera beyond my 5 megapixel Samsung handheld digital camera.  The equipment had disappeared.  It wasn't until February of the next year that we managed to get an actual DSLR from Jostens.  These are the issues you face as a teacher, and you often don't get out of your classroom until eight o'clock at night.

You aren't entitled to a private life.  People try to find things about your life, from the fact that you drink beer or whiskey when you get off work, to the fact that you smoke a pipe.  Your life outside of work is scrutinized to no end, even though the fact that you have a beer or two has no bearing on how good of a teacher you are.  And if you as an adult of legal drinking age want to go out and get plastered on a Saturday night, why should it matter?  If you get a taxi home or have a designated driver, it's nobody's business.

But as a teacher, you put up with the snide insinuations of parents and politicians, including the likes of Jim DeMint, who publicly said that single unwed mothers should be barred from the profession.  Notably absent from DeMint's spiel was any prohibitive attitude towards unwed fathers.  After all, knocking up baby mommas outside of wedlock doesn't impede one's ability to roam the sidelines, does it?

Every time you turned around, you heard the drivel on the news that you were part of a profession hell-bent on bankrupting municipalities and state governments with your cushy benefits and salaries.  It was utter bullshit, but that union that was supposedly so good at shaping the debate had no real answer to the narrative put forth by politicians and think tanks who bashed teachers every time the spotlight was being shone on their fiscally irresponsible antics.

I'll give you an example: we spend $500 million in this country each year on military marching bands.  $500 million.  Our discretionary budget is dominated by military expenditures, and even when the military says that it doesn't need a particular weapon or program, Congress still piles on the money.  On September 10th, 2001, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the Pentagon couldn't account for over $2.3 trillion.  At the time, that was more than the entire federal budget.  It's more than 35 times what we spend for education at the federal level each year.

And public employee unions are bankrupting America?  Are you serious?  The problem with government is that it simply loses more money than it can actually account for, and when politicians and bureaucrats are called on the carpet for their results, they cast aspersions on janitors, nurses, teachers, and various others whose benefits and salaries are a pittance compared to just one example of Pentagon mismanagement.

As someone who is an actual fiscal conservative, and by that I mean someone who has advocated eliminating entire departments of the federal government while explaining exactly how to accomplish this goal, I don't buy the bullshit being put forth by Governor Scott Walker.  Eliminating the right of teachers, janitors, and sanitation workers to collectively bargain won't save a dime.  What's more, the unions in question had already agreed to cuts.  When you look at what Walker and his cronies have actually done to reduce Wisconsin's operating shortfall, you'll see that they aren't fans of cutting actual spending.  Walker restructured the debt of Wisconsin, which is a fancy way of saying that he deferred the debt to a future day when he won't be in office to deal with the problem.  He has also advocated borrowing money from a federal welfare program.

It's funny how you can separate out the fiscal conservatives who passionately argue that the federal government has no business in welfare from the faux conservatives who dip their beaks into welfare programs to make up for deficit shortfalls in order to avoid having to actually lead by cutting existing spending.  Governor Scott Walker isn't interested in leadership, at least not the kind of leadership that entails tough decisions about which programs to cut; instead, he's interested in the modern style of leadership that consists of sleight of hand demagoguery.  It is utterly despicable to vilify sanitation workers and janitors, to insinuate that they are somehow responsible for your state's operating shortfall, when you and your peers presided over the very policies and profligacies that resulted in the current.  Stop blaming others and accept the blame you earned.

I've got an idea: anyone who wants to get into public service as an elected official ought to be required to do it for free.  No salaries, no benefits, no compensation whatsoever.  If you want to be an elected representative, your motives had better be pure, because you won't be paid a dime for your service.  We'll give you a housing allowance, or better yet, we'll build dorms in D.C. where you can live rent-free during the year while you're working. And no more of this nonsense whereby you spend only 151 days in session as a Senator.  That's not even half of the year.  We'll give you the weekends off.  Representatives and senators make $174,000 for working less than half of the year, and if you want to vilify any public employees, vilify the public employees who cast aspersions on teachers and garbage collectors while carving out such a generous deal for themselves.  Public teachers seem like a damn good deal by comparison: they work longer for less than a third of the salary.  What's more, the fruit of their labors is of a greater benefit to society than the proliferation of ever greater numbers of laws and regulations that entangle us all in red tape.

It's rank hypocrisy, and it needs to be put to a stop.  I'm sorry, but public unions are not the issue with our current fiscal situation at either the state or federal level.  The unions in Wisconsin by and large had already agreed to increased pension and insurance contributions for their members on top of reductions in salaries before Governor Walker tried to strip them of their collective bargaining.  I am no liberal, and the fact of the matter is this: I don't believe garbage collectors and nurses ought to be employed on the state's dime at all.  I'd privatize the functions of sanitation and healthcare altogether.

But as a former teacher, it really pisses me off to hear the hot air and rhetoric directed at teachers as though they are somehow coddled and privileged.  You work damn hard as an educator, even with three months off, and during those three months, a good bit of your time is spent pursuing CEUs in order to maintain your certification.  You deal with pressures and mistreatment that most workers would quit their jobs over in a second.

When I was a kid, if your teacher called your parents, there was no dispute.  Your parents didn't ask for your side of the story.  You got your ass whipped.  If your teacher took a paddle to your ass, your parents generally didn't have a problem.  You did something to deserve what you got, and barring sheer outrageousness in the administration of discipline, parents didn't raise any sand whatsoever.  My mother sat at the kitchen table with a switch in hand while I did my homework.  I'm not saying it was an ideal situation. As the person on the receiving end of the switch, it wasn't fun, but my work was finished every single night.

Today, we're dealing with a different beast.  Parents don't like teachers, they don't respect teachers, and what is more, they set a precedent for their children to follow when they don't.  I am absolutely convinced that the problem with public education is the breakdown of the private family dynamic.  If you're interested in fixing this, you're going to have to address that.  You're going to have to say that even though you might not like what the teacher is doing, they're still entitled to a base level of respect.

Teaching is an honorable, decent profession, and it deserves to be respected as such.  Are there bad teachers?  Yes.  And if you'd let other teachers control their profession in the way that lawyers and doctors control their professions with licensing, we'd deal with the problem ourselves.  Believe me, the average teacher gets indignant when his peer sends a note to the office asking for 8 staws instead of 8 straws, especially when that teacher has been teaching for 28 years.  As a teacher, you suddenly understand why there are kids in your class who can't read and spell worth a damn.

Public unions aren't the issue, because the state legislators and local school boards set the parameters for the agreements, and if they really wanted to confront the issue, they'd dig in their heels and confront unions head on.  But that's not what politicians want to do: it's more convenient to have an easy enemy and a group of people to vilify, and unions certainly do fill that role, don't they?  Governor Walker and his minions seem to think so, and they've built an entire agenda around it.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Coming U.S. Intervention in Libya

The news that U.S. warships loaded with Marines are headed to the Libyan coast shouldn't come as any real surprise to anyone familiar with U.S. foreign policy over the past sixty years.  The efforts of the U.S. media to lay out a justification for U.S. military intervention in Libya isn't surprising either, especially the fortuitously-timed claim by Time magazine that “U.S. counterterrorism officials have noted the disproportionate number of Libyans turning up in the ranks of al-Qaeda both in northern Africa and in Iraq.”  Time has also put forth an article outlining why Obama might not want democracy in the Middle East, as though the determination is his to make by fiat.

We're on the cusp of military intervention in Libya and elsewhere, because the U.S. government is seeing its puppet regimes throughout the world implode in the face of widespread popular anger.  When regimes accumulate $32 billion in sovereign wealth while impeding the ability of their people to access food and shelter, you can expect some problems.  The simple truth is that the events in North Africa and  the Middle East are a direct legacy of U.S. economic mismanagement and an out of control financial sector.

In 2008, during the beginnings of our current economic crisis, the United States tried its hardest to paper over the systemic problems of the economy with money.  The Federal Reserve was printing dollars and the Treasury Department was printing debt,  with the net effect being a world economy flooded in U.S. liquidity.  Today, inflation throughout the developing world is out of control.  Combined with severe weather events that have driven the price of wheat, corn, and sugar through the roof, regular people in places like Egypt and Libya don't have enough food to eat.

It's more than that, of course.  In order to sate the desire of corn growers and large agricultural conglomerates for agricultural subsidies, the U.S. government has invested in ethanol manufactured out of corn.  The net result? The price of a bushel of corn has more than doubled over the past six months alone.  It goes on and on, because the more money a farmer can make from growing corn, the more arable land he'll devote to the production of corn as a crop.  That means that farmers devote less land to other crops, and as a result their supply relative to demand decreases, resulting in rising prices.

And what is the effect of corn ethanol on greenhouse gases?  Well, if you believe the industry-funded papers, you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.  If you believe any independent researchers, corn-based ethanol results in up to a 93% increase in emissions over the gasoline it replaces.

Of course, not much of this gets reported with any great seriousness by a media more focused on establishing the justification for U.S. intervention abroad, even though U.S. intervention abroad wouldn't be necessary in the first place were it not for U.S. incompetence at home.  Most of North Africa and the Middle East would be stable right now if it weren't for U.S. inflationary policies that drove the price of food through the roof both here and abroad.  If the United States weren't so busy rubber-stamping the regimes that embezzled tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars from oil revenues, the money embezzled by Middle Eastern royals and despots might have gone towards establishing reserve funds to be used to offset the human cost of such crises.

In perhaps the greatest indicator of how ridiculous this entire situation is, the revelation that Goldman Sachs, Citi, and J.P. Morgan Chase were managing Gaddafi's money as part of Libya's sovereign wealth fund only served to confirm how utterly absurd it is to believe that the U.S. government really gave a damn about Libya before the Libyan people rose up to overthrow Gaddafi's regime.  These banks wouldn't even be in business today without the U.S. federal government's bailout, and given the fact that they managed the funds of Gaddafi, who confiscated the property of Jews and cancelled all debts owed to Jews when he rose to power, they probably don't have the requisite ethics to exist in a responsible manner. One is reminded of the Brown Brothers Harriman relationship with Nazis during World War II. It seems the world hasn't changed much after all, has it?

Of course it hasn't.  In the name of averting a humanitarian crisis, the U.S. is about to embark on more regime change and nation-building throughout North Africa and the Middle East through direct military intervention.  Gaddafi's entire regime was a humanitarian crisis, but the U.S. had no qualms about allowing U.S. banks to collect their fees by managing his embezzled wealth so long as he tortured, murdered, and otherwise suppressed any Libyan resistance to his rule.   Gaddafi is about to find out that the U.S. doesn't have a problem isn't with dictators who trample human rights; rather, the U.S. has a problem with dictators who don't effectively torture and murder enough to maintain total control over their countries.

Those ships off the coast of Libya are merely the first step towards a U.S. presence in Libya, and may God help the Libyan people who are on the verge of achieving freedom only to have the U.S. erode their victory and progress towards a truly representative government.  It's time for the U.S. to accept that the events in Libya are the business of the Libyan people, who have been doing a fine job of overthrowing Gaddafi and dislodging his forces.

The U.S. should honor the decisions and sacrifices of the Libyan people by staying out of Libya, and the U.S. should allow the Middle Eastern and North African countries whose populations are rising in defiance of tyrants to claim freedom for themselves on their own terms rather than ours. Rather than trying to fix the problems of foreign countries, it's time for the U.S. government to focus on the rather severe problems we have here at home.

God Hates the Supreme Court


The Supreme Court recently upheld harassment as a form of free speech, siding with a disbarred attorney cum preacher by the name of Fred Phelps and his family out of Westboro Baptist Church.  Fred Phelps does not merit civil discourse or any diplomatic restraint, so I'll say it as it ought to be said: he's a piece of excrement.  He is the lowest life-form imaginable, an individual who takes sadistic pleasure in maximizing the already incomprehensibly high levels of pain felt by the family members of U.S. servicemen and women who assemble to bury their fallen heroes.  

Fred Phelps does not possess the compassion or the empathy to qualify as a human being.  I generally abstain from hating people, but I hope heaven has a special place where all of us can gather to watch Fred, his children, and his children's children burn in hell for all eternity.  In fact, if hell doesn't exist, God ought to create it ex-nihilo upon Fred's arrival to the afterlife, so Fred can be consigned to its conflagrations for all eternity.  

When Fred Phelps dies, or when one of his followers meets their end, we should all gather together outside of the funeral home in celebration.  Hell, I'll play in the band.  He is an individual whose life has no redeeming value whatsoever, and were it not for my deep and abiding commitment to the ideal that the sanctity of human life is a moral absolute, I would kill him myself.  

I'm not sure that God hates people, but if He does, I'm sure Fred Phelps is right up there with Hitler.  If there is some Divine Wrath to be visited collectively upon America, surely it must be rooted in God's distaste for the idea that the law was perverted to sustain an absurd and unjust result by the Supreme Court in the form of its recent decision extending the cover of the First Amendment to the Westboro protesters.  

Let me be clear: I oppose censorship of free speech.  If Fred Phelps were to post a website full of vitriol and vituperative invective towards service members, I'd absolutely be the first to defend his right to do as he pleased with his website.  If Fred wanted to picket at various locations throughout this country to express the same sentiments, I'd be fine with that.  But this case isn't about freedom of speech, or the free expression of a genuinely held belief: it's about harassing and haranguing the families of dead soldiers.  

That's all it's about.  No one would seriously argue that Fred has a First Amendment right to call up those same families over the phone over and over again to rant and rave along the lines of his website and his picket signs.  They'd call it for what it so obviously is: harassment with the specific intent of inflicting emotional pain and distress.  It's designed and intended to hurt grieving families, so that Fred can satiate his appetite for human pain and distress.  

Fred doesn't give a damn about speech.  It's not free speech Fred is after; it's the ability to target individuals and families with a message that is deliberately offensive and hurtful.  He's a sociopathic jackass, and today the Supreme Court held that the Constitution exists to promote and expand the liberties of those who malignantly and intentionally seek others out with the express purpose of inflicting distress.  If Fred Phelps repeatedly called the survivors of a fallen hero up in order to spew such invective at them over the phone, we wouldn't even be having this debate.  Fred would be facing criminal and civil liability, and his phone service would likely be cut off by the phone company.  

What Fred Phelps and his followers do is so offensive to common decency, so appallingly and incontrovertibly immoral, that is strains credulity to believe that the Supreme Court could find for his side 8-1.  Rights do not exist to provide me cover for my harassing of other people, even if I cloak my acts in the First Amendment.  The Westboro picketers were sued for harassment and the intentional infliction of emotional distress by the survivors of a man who died in the defense of our rights and liberties, only to have his last rite of remembrance on this planet corrupted by the likes of Fred Phelps.  We have civil processes in place to establish a baseline for human conduct, so that someone like Fred Phelps doesn't get shot down in the street by one of the family members of a fallen soldier.  

Fred and his followers weren't out to express their beliefs or to follow their conscience, and even if they were, so what?  Free speech does not exist to protect the dictates of a diseased conscience which decrees out and out harassment as a form of dogma.  We place limits on speech all the time, and for good reason. Any idiot can recognize that a person screaming "Bomb!" in a crowded theater isn't following his conscience or expressing his deeply held personal convictions.  He's just being a ass, and by doing so, he's putting other people at risk for harm.  No one doubts that the sexual deviant and rapist who taunts his victim with graphic recollections of their encounter ought to be subjected to criminal and civil liability, even if his deeply held conviction is that his victim exists solely for his gratification.  At some point, we say that people who believe such nonsense are so corrupt in their thinking as to be removed from the dictates and standards of civil society.  We widely accept that mere belief and conviction does not serve to legitimate an offensive act or utterance.  We have deep and wide standards to encompass a staggering array of speech and expression, but when you start expressing yourself with an obvious intent to hurt others and to inflict some form of mental or emotional distress on them, you accrue liability for yourself and rightly so.  You've proceeded with the intent to damage others, and we have civil and criminal systems set up to deal with such malignant intent and the actions that arise out of the intent. 

Any idiot besides the eight idiots who signed on to the majority opinion in this case can see that the Westboro protesters weren't expressing any deeply held personal convictions by showing up to military funerals.  They were trying to incite others and inflict emotional pain and distress on the mourners.  They were trying to provoke others by going against almost universally held standards of decency and propriety within the communities they held their protests.  The only people who don't hold to such standards are criminals, deviants, and the Westboro protesters.  The two former classes wind up jailed or institutionalized, while the the latter class winds up under the protection of the Supreme Court.  

There is no reason why the Westboro protesters had to be in proximity to the funeral services or the burial sites.  There's no damn reason why a military family should have to see the signs of Westboro picketers on the way to bury their fallen hero.   In fact, there are a good many reasons why the Westboro picketers should be removed to the other side of the town altogether, including public safety concerns and common decency. If the Westboro picketers' main concern was expressing a deeply held conviction, the location of their expression ought to be irrelevant.  Give them a county road somewhere in the rural areas and let them protest away.  They're expressing their beliefs and convictions, aren't they?  

No, no, no...the efforts of Phelps and his followers have always been about targeting a specific group of individuals in order to offend them, to intimidate them, and to harass them.  The First Amendment does not cover such efforts over the phone, and it does not cover such efforts when you show up outside of your target's front yard to stand in the street screaming obscenities and slurs.  But give them signs with the slurs and offensive content outside of military funeral, and suddenly it's the highest form of free expression!  

The Supreme Court showed itself to be a feckless, gutless, and intellectually bankrupt institution with its decision in this case.  If the eight justices who signed on to this opinion can't distinguish between actual free speech and the kind of speech put forth by Phelps in order to draw a distinction that rightly classifies Phelps' speech as nothing more than harassment intended to inflict distress, then those eight justices ought to be dragged down from the bench and expelled from the legal profession altogether.  They're nothing more than dottering fools who lack the requisite abilities to think and reason logically.  

When Andres Serrano concocted a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine and called it "Piss Christ," that was free speech.  It was art insofar as Serrano could find a buyer and an art gallery to display his work.  Had Serrano taken his urine immersed crucifix and placed it on the altar during Mass, it wouldn't have been speech or free expression.  It would have just been harassment towards whatever parishioners Serrano had chosen to subject to such outrageous behavior.  If Serrano had dumped the jar of urine on the altar or thrown it at priest, he'd be facing criminal charges.  Was Piss Christ offensive as a piece of art? Yes.  Was it harassment? No.  Had Serrano engaged in the hypothetical actions put forth in the prior sentences, a credible argument could be made that his intent was to inflict distress and harass others.  

Would the statements of the Westboro protesters be offensive on a website, or to anyone driving by a rural area where they were protesting?  Yes.  Would it be harassment rising to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress?  No.  The Westboro protesters weren't intending to offend or harass or harm any of those random people who drove by a rural county road.  However, their aim was to harass and harm the mourners of fallen soldiers.  That's why it's so important to these people to be able to picket outside of a military funeral with bullhorns so that they can sing their slogans out at 135 decibels or higher.   They're trying to harass and inflict emotional distress, not to express their beliefs.  They're trying to deprive the mourners of one last uninterrupted and undisturbed remembrance of their loved one.  That, in and of itself, has nothing at all to do with free speech.  

The Supreme Court just surrendered one more semblance of its appearance as an impartial, dispassionate institution whose job is to adjudicate the law alone.  With this decision, the Supreme Court adjudicated ideology, and defied common sense and jurisprudential logic in the process.  Let me stand outside the Supreme Court with a sign that says God Uses People To Kill Justices Who Go Against His Law, and we'll see if their commitment to my First Amendment rights remains so strong. While the Westboro protesters weren't as explicit in their signage, the net inference one could draw was that God used terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan to kill soldiers in order to express his wrath with American policy.  Clearly, the intent is the same behind my hypothetical sign and the real-life signs of Westboro picketers: to harass and inflict distress upon those our signs are directed towards.  Our insistence on close proximity to our targets confirms as much.  

This decision will go down as one of the worst ever in the history of the Court. it is logically incomprehensible with an end result that can only be characterized as utterly obscene.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

معلومات الجسر الجوي

اننا نقف على حافة لحظة تاريخية في شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط. ومثلما سقطت الجدران في أوروبا الشرقية ومنذالسنوات جمهوريات الاتحاد السوفياتي السابق، والأنظمة الاستبدادية التي سادت لعقود في جميع أنحاء شمال أفريقيا والشرقيقعون تحت ضغط الانتفاضة الديمقراطية.

ومع ذلك، فإن الحرب لرؤية الحرية التي تحققت في هذه البلدان يتكون من مختلف العناصر، وأهمها هو المعلومات. هناكتلك العناصر داخل الغرب الذين يؤيدون الحفاظ على الأنظمة القمعية بوحشية باسم الاستقرار الجيوسياسي وتكاليف الطاقةالرخيصة. تهيمن على تلك العناصر وسائل الاعلام لدينا، وهم إدامة السرد الذي يصور الديمقراطية في جميع أنحاء شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط والمتجهة إلى نهاية في التطرف السياسي والديني.

هذه الأسباب واضحة : أي حكومة أن يخرج من حركات المقاومة التي تجري حاليا في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيامن المرجح أن لا تكون متوافقة كما هو الحال مع الحكومات الغربية ومصالحها والحكام الحاليين. وهي تمثل في الواقع قدمصالح شعبهم، وبالتالي ضمان أن يتم استخدام الثروة النفطية في المنطقة لبناء البنية التحتية التي يمكن أن يستفيد المواطن العادي بشكل جيد في المستقبل حيث لم يعد النفط مصدر الطاقة المهيمن.

الحكومات الغربية المشجعين فقط من الديمقراطية إذا كان ينتج النتيجة التي يسعون إليها ، والنتيجة أنها تسعى واحد هو أنيميل الملعب في صالح الشركات الغربية. لم تستفد للفرد في المتوسط في هذه البلدان من ثروات لا حصر لها الناتجة عن بيع النفط من قبل مختلف الحكومات المعنية. لقد ذهب دون، في حين قادته ومضروب بعيدا الكنز بلاده في حسابات مصرفية أجنبية.

هؤلاء الأفراد لا صوت لهم من تلقاء أنفسهم ، وخطر السماح للحالة الراهنة لتتم تصفيته من خلال وسائل الاعلام الغربية هو : من المرجح أن حركات المقاومة الجارية حاليا في شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط لا يمكن تصور على أنها متطرفة فيالطبيعة من أجل تبرير التدخل الغربي. ويجب علينا أن نصب السرد المنافسة من خلال تمكين الأفراد الموجودين في شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط ليحكوا قصصهم التي لم تتم تصفيتها وسائل الاعلام الغربية.

وهناك عدد من الطرق لتحقيق ذلك ، ليس أقلها الذي هو إنشاء مواقع المرآة، وشبكات تور، وأساليب ووسائل أخرى تهدف إلى تسهيل التدفق الحر للمعلومات من هذه البلدان. أطلب المساعدة من أولئك منكم الذين قرأوا هذا، وتحديدا أولئك منكم الذين لديهم الخبرة التقنية ومعرفة كيفية تسهيل هذه الغايات. نحن بحاجة إلى مساعدة هؤلاء الناس في سعيهم للديمقراطية، ونحنبحاجة للطعن في الرواية التي طرحتها وسائل الاعلام الغربية. السماح لشعب ليبيا، المغرب، البحرين، تونس، مصر، اليمن، ودول أخرى تتحدث عن نفسها.

لأولئك منكم الذين يعانون فعلا والمشاركة في حركات المقاومة، يقول لنا ما تحتاج منا. نحن هنا لمساعدتكم في تحقيق الحريةالخاص بأي طريقة يمكننا من خلال ضمان دون عوائق قدرتك على نقل المعلومات من قبل الظالمين الخاص. يمكنكم الاتصال بنا على [email protected]

وسنبذل كل ما في وسعنا لأخبر قصصك، من نشرها على بلوق لإنشاء مواقع مرآة للموقع الخاص بك، أي شيء لضمانعدم تحريف، وأنه ونضالكم من أجل الحرية وتقرير المصير هو تكريم. صلواتنا معكم.

Assisting Resistance: Information Airlift

We are standing on the edge of a historic moment in North Africa and the Middle East. Just as walls fell in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics years ago, the tyrannical regimes that have held sway for decades throughout North Africa and the Middle are falling under the pressure of a democratic uprising.

However, the war to see freedom realized in these countries consists of various elements, the most important of which is information. There are those elements within the West who support the maintenance of brutally repressive regimes in the name of geopolitical stability and cheap energy costs. Those elements dominate our media, and they are perpetuating a narrative that depicts democracy throughout North Africa and the Middle East as destined to end in political and religious extremism.

The reasons are obvious: any government that emerges out of the resistance movements currently underway in the Middle East and North Africa will likely not be as compliant with Western governments and interests as the current rulers. They might actually represent the best interests of their own people, thereby ensuring that the oil wealth of the region is used to build infrastructure that could benefit average citizens well into a future where oil is no longer the dominant energy source.

Western governments are only fans of democracy if it produces the result they seek, and the result they seek is one that tilts the playing field in the favor of Western businesses. The average individual in these countries has not benefited from the untold wealth generated from the sale of oil by the various governments in question. He has gone without, while his leaders have socked away the treasure of his country in foreign bank accounts.

These individuals have no voice of their own, and the danger of allowing the current situation to be filtered through the Western media is this: the resistance movements currently underway in North Africa and the Middle East will likely be portrayed as extremist in nature in order to justify Western intervention. We must erect a competing narrative by enabling the individuals within North Africa and the Middle East to tell their stories unfiltered by the Western media.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this, not the least of which is the establishment of mirror sites, Tor networks, and other methods and means designed to facilitate the free-flow of information out of these countries. I am asking for assistance from those of you who read this, specifically those of you who have the technical expertise and know how to facilitate such ends. We need to help these people in their push for democracy, and we need to challenge the narrative put forth by the Western media. Let the people of Libya, Morocco, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and other countries speak for themselves.

For those of you who are actually experiencing and participating in the resistance movements, tell us what you need from us. We are here to help you achieve your freedom any way we can by ensuring that your ability to transmit information is unimpeded by your oppressors. You can reach us at [email protected] We will do whatever we can to tell your stories, from posting them on blogs to setting up mirror sites of your site, anything to ensure that you are not misrepresented and that your struggle for freedom and self-determination is honored. Our prayers are with you.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The United States of Obama

Recent developments in these United States ought to make us all realize that there is no hope to be had anywhere. We're staring at $4.00 a gallon gasoline, as the decades of propping up dictatorial regimes in oil-producing countries finally pay their long-overdue dividends. But don't worry about it, because you're not paying nearly as much as those Arabs and Kurds shedding their blood just to have a chance for a government that doesn't impede their ability to eat.

Everything that this government is built on and has been built on for the past forty years has been mythical. Allow me to make my point: Since 1970, we've had exactly 15 years worth of Democratic presidents. That's right, 15 years out of forty-one years. The rest of the time, it's been a Republican. Now, before you Democrats go getting all cocky, realize that over that time, you've had roughly the inverse in Congressional majorities. Hasn't bipartisanship been grand?

What has happened over that 41 years has been simple: rampant inflation, exploding deficits and debt, and endless gridlock. Our government, simply put, doesn't work. Even with the staggering increase in defense and intelligence outlays, we still had not one but two attacks on the World Trade Center, neither of which were foreseen by those wondrous folks at the CIA. They were too busy slamming cruise missiles into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by mistake to get actual national defense correct.

We've had ample increases in social spending as well, given the stunning outlays for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, including a wonderful expansion of Medicare in the form of a prescription drug benefit ushered in under a Republican administration. There have been incremental cuts, of course, but those only affect the really poor people who don't have enough money to fund their own lobby like AARP. Seniors in America are by and large one of the wealthiest demographics, and, like everything else, to the already wealthy go the spoils of government.

While income has stagnated across the lower 90% of the population, it's exploded the further up the top 10% of the population you go. Really, it's informative to take a look at the top tenths of the top 1%. That's the plutocracy you've heard so much about from Citigroup analysts; you know, the guys your tax dollars paid to bailout of their securitized mess.

The old labels just don't apply, and I've grown rather tired of hearing everyone talk about socialism and capitalism as though either extreme really exists. What we have in this country is pure corporatism. Now, as someone who opposes Big Government, what I'd say to you is really simple: a corporation is a creation of Big Government. It's a legal entity that exists solely as a result of legislation.

The biggest socialists in this country are not incidentally the wealthiest people, because they believe in subsidizing the poor with scraps from the table whilst stuffing their gullets with a veritable smorgasbord of tax dollars and monies borrowed on the full faith and credit of these United States. Oh, all of our socialists are in the boardroom. It's been really amusing to me to witness a lot of very wealthy people over the past few months talk about the need for socialism and unions as though they've ever belonged to a union in their life.

I'm the son of a union supervisor at a Navy shipyard. That's right, my father, being both a preacher and a supervisor, was bi-vocational. I had a front row seat to the union, both in my capacity as his son and as the roommate of a guy whose dad was an elected union official. Let me tell you a bit about unions, and how they spend their rank and file's money on ice sculptures at the yearly conventions and six figure salaries for the upper echelon while their rank and file walk the picket lines during strikes in the cold. The elected union honchos were with them in spirit, sending out bags of prepackaged groceries in solidarity as the hourly and salaried guys shivered and thought about how they're going to make ends meet so that they could pay even more in dues for more of the same.

You'll have to excuse me if I don't buy into the idea that Martin Trumka knows a damn thing about what my father went through. You'll also have to excuse me if you don't understand why I don't buy into the idea that Barack Obama, being the creature of connection and a privileged preparatory school upbringing at a prestigious school in Hawaii, has some insight into the plight of the workin' man. He never actually was a workin' man, anymore than George W. Bush was a real, born-again, God-fearin' Christian or real, wildcattin' oil man from Texas.

And don't even get me started on the scum that my father worked for down at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi, the corporate office guys who presided over systemic corruption whereby budgets allocated for certain sections of a ship were shuffled routinely around to cover up cost overruns and the like. My father worked in the hulls of ships in the hot Mississippi heat and kept an honest accounting of his costs, only to have his foremen and other supervisors pressure him to go along with their fudged books. When my father tried to document and report the matter, he realized that the Navy expected a bit of graft and corruption. Nothing was done to remedy any of the violations, but my father was made into a pariah.

This is the United States of Obama, and people need to wake up. We haven't had capitalism in this country for seventy years. We haven't had socialism, either. What we've had, at all turns and twists, has been unbridled corporatism. The government consumes half the GDP of this country each year, because every bit the the government spends goes to the shareholder class. Each time that class turns a blind eye to fraudulent accounting on the part of their corporate boards, they are rewarded with the handsome dividends in the short-term and the generous bailouts after the inevitable implosion. So what if you fail in business? Failure is as American as apple pie!

If you're a small business owner, you can make more money in tax refunds and subsidies operating at a loss than you'd make in profits. I know this because I've talked to actual small business owners who have done quite well with that approach. Their margins can be quite generous.

All the dialogue, all the bitter rhetoric, none of it is real. Barack Obama is not a socialist, and there is no grand scheme authored by people like Cloward and Piven. People like Piven and Cloward get their backing from foundations, and those foundations are funded by idle rich people who rightly see that Big Government is quite profitable to their interests. After all, the people who receive the largesse from social expenditures are the shareholders who own the businesses that poor people patronize with their EBT cards and their S-CHIP. It's all money, and it's all coming back to those people who occupy the upper echelons of our society.

At the same time, nobody wants to pay for any of it. The bottom 50% of taxpayers in this country get quite a nice deal out of income taxes, what with the child tax credits and the mortgage credits and so on and so forth. There's only one problem: when you spend more than you take in, you operate at a deficit. That deficit has to be financed through debt-issuance, and that debt-issuance competes directly with private investment for capital infusions. The money goes one place or the other, no two ways about it.

The wealthy in this country do not pay 30% income tax unless they are too stupid to know any better. Warren Buffet's secretary pays more in overall taxes than Warren ever thought of paying, and that's the rub of our society. Warren got his money from the TARP bailout, paid in dividends for investments that would have otherwise been total losses. In fact, those investments should have been losses, because the performance of those companies sucked.

But in America, merit isn't based on performance, is it? Just look at our last three presidential elections? I'm sorry, but can anyone tell me just how in the hell George W. Bush was qualified to run the richest country in the world? He had two failed businesses, and one success that only came as a result of a municipal subsidy funded by the City of Arlington on the backs of its taxpayers. And Albert Gore? He had a GPA in college and graduate school that was equal to or worse than that of George W. Bush. He flunked five of the eight seminary classes he took at Vanderbilt! He couldn't even get a gentleman's C!

John Kerry had a lower GPA than that of George W. Bush, and given the fact that George W. Bush managed record deficits over his time in office, if GPA corresponds to fiscal responsibility and the calculus thereof, think of how much worse it could have been had Kerry won. Of the presidents since Nixon, Bill Clinton had the best economic record when it came to cutting spending and getting the books somewhat close to breaking even. However, in this country, we haven't had a single quarter of economic growth since 1993 absent Federal Reserve monetary stimulus. That's right, without the Fed pumping money into the economy, there hasn't been any positive economic growth. That should tell you all you need to know about how economically strong we really are.

We don't know how Obama did in college or graduate school, because he won't release his records. That's right. He won't release his records. George W. Bush was more transparent about his collegiate academic performance than Barack Obama has been.

But don't worry: Obama sounds smarter. In the political realities of our modern day, that's enough. On both sides of the political debate, there is an epidemic of idiocy. Let me be clear about what I mean: Barack Obama is to socialism as George W. Bush was to capitalism. That would be not at all.

Let me tell you the net effect of Obamacare as I've witnessed it: my wife's insurance premiums jumped 10%, and her deductible jumped $1500. When we moved to our current location, several of the local neurologists were retiring because they didn't want to pay the cost of regulatory compliance. One of them was honest: "At this stage in my career, I'd rather take that money and buy a new Mercedes."

There's a lot of crap going around about how it got this messed up. There are those who say that litigation made medicine more expensive, and that medical liability caps would do wonders to reduce cost. Let's examine reality here: in states with medical liability caps, costs are rising at the same rate as states that lack such caps.

There are those who say that medical costs rose because doctors passed on the cost of below-market reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid to the insured. This idea has some credence to it, but the fact of the matter is that HMO reform came under Nixon, and with it came fee for service. With fee for service came an American healthcare system where doctors who own their own diagnostic equipment like MRI machines are four times as likely to order an MRI than doctors who don't own such machines. American doctors are six times as likely to order cardiac bypass surgery as their European peers with no greater evidence of survivability.

Simply put, it's plain old-fashioned greed driving costs in our healthcare system, combined with idiotic government regulations that force American consumers to pay a higher cost for medication in order that pharmaceutical companies may recoup the losses from selling in countries with price controls on medication. That's why we can't have drug re-importation. It's why we also have an anti-trust exemption to limit in-state competition among insurance companies, which results in one company dominating 90% of the market in a particular state.

But you go on believing that Republicans and Democrats are really that different. Go ahead. You want to know why we have tax cuts on income in this country, and why we have a lower capital gains tax rate on average than the income tax rate? Because the average net worth of a Congressman is over $950,000. Because capital gains applies to investment income, and Congressmen have investment income, and that's why they like paying 16% on that income as opposed to the 22% they actually pay on their wages as members of the upper income brackets after deductions and exemptions are factored in. It's how Warren Buffet pays less tax than his secretary, because his money comes from investment income that is taxed at 16% and her income comes from a paycheck by and large.

And you go on believing that a public union pensioner in Wisconsin who makes an average of $24,000 is responsible for the deficit in the state of Wisconsin. You go on believing that a pension fund that is 98% funded seventy years out is responsible for the fiscal issues befalling Wisconsin. That means that the state of Wisconsin has 98% of the money it needs to pay benefits for the next 70 years on-hand today.

Are there public union abuses? Yes. But are their private sector abuses that far exceed those of the public sector unions? Well, with $23.7 trillion backdoor bailouts, frontdoor bailouts, loans, and guarantees to TARP recipients and their shareholders, hell yes.

It's time to stop quibbling with each other and suspend the nonsense. You can be Democrats and Republicans, but if the current situation isn't resolved, you're all going to be poorer and hungrier Americans. The entire American government is the problem. It doesn't matter what partisan affiliation they have, they have presided over decades of corruption and fiscal profligacy.

I don't agree with Social Security because it is nothing more than a wealth-transfer system from current workers to current beneficiaries, but as a pay as you go system, it has built in solvency. In point of fact, where it not for the fact that Congress borrowed $2.5 trillion from Social Security, Social Security would have a $2.5 trillion reserve sitting on hand right now. Properly managed and invested, that $2.5 trillion would have grown immensely over the past 27 years. In short, Social Security would be viable for decades into the future, but Congress made a law that required any surplus to automatically be loaned to the federal government.

If Social Security were a private retirement fund, and the members of Congress were the directors and executives of that fund, they would all be in jail right now and subject to staggering civil liability for their breach of fiduciary duty. Republicans and Democrats alike have been complicit.

This is the United States of Obama, where nothing is what it seems. It's time for you as average Americans to understand that all the overheated rhetoric coming out of Washington is nothing more than total bullshit. The rhetoric is nothing more than a wedge designed to turn you against your neighbor, your fellow Americans, to direct your justifiable outrage away from the responsible parties in government and towards your fellow Americans. Well, it's time to put a stop to it.

In the leadup to the 2010 elections, I produced a video called Kick Them Out 2010. Obviously, I didn't achieve the result I was seeking. However, it is my sincere hope that we can put the best interests of our country above both parties and send a message in 2012. Kick them all out. The results of the past two years, and the progress thus far under a Republican House, have been nothing short of pathetic. We are no closer to dealing with our staggering debt, our epidemic unemployment, and our stunning inflation than we were three years ago.

The only reason our government can point to any progress whatsoever is due to its selective use of data. Declining unemployment statistics depend solely on the fact that the government doesn't count those who have stopped looking for work owing to the fact that they can't get a job. Inflation is under 2% because our government doesn't include the price of food and fuel in the statistics used to compute the rate of inflation. Simply put, it's more of the same misleading, disingenuous, and downright dangerous manipulation of information to make you believe something that isn't true.

Just as the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq consisted of selectively excerpted facts and the willful omission of any evidence that contradicted the government's line, our current economic picture is built on bureaucratic lies. You cannot fix a crisis until you acknowledge the truth of its existence and its severity. You have no reason to believe this government, and you have no reason to believe that it is serious about fixing the fundamental problems of our economy. When one in every five Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and one out of every four American children is on government assistance, we're not just talking about a crisis of leadership. We're talking about a humanitarian crisis. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat, the bottom line is that you're an American at a time of unprecedented American suffering.

These are problems that won't be solved by ideological intransigence, because ideology has failed. We've heard that we can cut taxes and expand spending without risking the economy. We've heard that deregulation leads to lower prices and greater choice for consumers. We've heard that leaving the market to police itself will punish those who engage in counterproductive pursuits and fraud. Well, we're here. Our federal government has $15 trillion in debt and another $2.5 trillion in IOUs to Social Security. Some of us are paying $90 a month or more for cable, and we have but one provider for our neighborhoods. The market came to us with its hand outstretched for $23.7 trillion in bailout loans, guarantees, and outright giveaways. Those who committed fraud have largely gone unpunished. This is the price of ideology, folks. Whether it's the notion that you can have subprime borrowers taking out six-figure loans at high rates of interests with no income, no job, and no assets, or the notion that the market will correct itself with minimal cost to the taxpayers, ideology has failed to deliver on its promised benefits.

One thing is readily apparent to anyone willing to stare reality in the face: our government doesn't work, and it isn't up to the task of fixing this crisis. As a result, we can say one thing in unison: it's time for that government, from the President on down to the representatives and senators, to be put out of a job as soon as possible. It's time for the governors and the statehouse officials to be put out of a job. We've had forty years of misrule in this country. In order to fix it, we have to make a break with our past. In order to do that, we've got to stop looking at each other with animosity and realize that we're in this together. We're all going to have to sacrifice, and we're all going to commit to confronting these problems.

Someone once stated that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Today, that statement holds true. We've been divided by fear for forty years, and that fear has been perpetuated by politicians seeking to build constituencies of false resentment and angst, and the way they've done this is through the carving of America into polarized camps. We can no longer afford to humor our politicians in their destructive, selfish tendencies along those lines. It's time to come together, and it's time to face that fact that all of our programs are on the table for cuts. All of our taxes are on the table for reform, and yes, even hikes. We've all enjoyed our stimulus rebates and tax refunds, and many of us have enjoyed refunds well in excess of what we actually paid in federal income taxes. The bill has come due.

America was not built on the backs of Americants. We have been defined throughout our nation's history by an intrepid attitude, a sense of determination, and an unwavering resolve to accomplish the impossible. The obstacles before us are not insurmountable to a United America, but they are made more imposing by endless bickering and finger-pointing. You must resolve to love your country and your countrymen more than your petty resentments and ideologies, and you must choose to be better than you have been in the areas of grace and forgiveness. Most of all, you must consider the sacrifices of those who have gone on before you, and realize that in her darkest hour, America has always been defined by the willingness of her people to do whatever it took, to give whatever was necessary, in order to ensure the survival and perpetuation of our unique freedoms and liberties.

America is not divisible to the occupant of the White House. Our lowest common denominator consists not of one man, or one individual, but of a nation united in the face of challenges and difficulties that would overwhelm us as individuals, but which are far easier to overcome if we simply unite our energies, our gifts, and our courage to move forward with purpose. We have dealt with cults of personality, and we have for too long surrendered to the notion that one man can fix or break America. This is a false belief. Barack Obama will not fix or break America. Americans will fix America insofar as they resolve to put aside their differences to work towards the common goal of restoring America's economy by making the necessary sacrifices and committing to a shared struggle forward. No candidate on the horizon in 2012 can provide us with a panacea or a salvation. We are our own salvation, and God has given us each two hands, two feet, and the mind and the means to work out our own problems.

It is time to acknowledge the failures of our current approach, and to resolve to be different and better than we were in days past.