I am proud of America.
Though we have long dangled the promise of the American Dream in front of the world, we have more recently too often used our nation’s promise to taunt others. In a world of economic struggle, in no small part created by policies pushed by big business through our government onto the globe, millions have come to see America as an oasis of bread and water amidst strife. It may be a mirage, as poverty within America is growing, but still, millions come to America looking for sustenance and salvation, only to be condemned and told to get in the back of a line that has been far too long and far too broken for far too long.
For some time now, American businesses have actively subverted our nation’s laws in order to lure low-wage immigrant workers and increase their corporate bottom line. But those on the Right don’t attack big business for this dynamic, they blame those poor and desperate enough to follow the trail of crumbs the businesses set. Somehow, immigrant workers who are picking our fruit and cleaning our homes are stealing from America, but millionaires and billionaires who pay lower taxes than the rest of us are just keeping what they earned. It strikes me as profoundly hypocritical that conservatives who repeatedly proclaim themselves the defenders of patriotism and American history so blatantly lionize our nation’s kings but vilify its immigrants. King George III gained his wealth and power through entirely legal means and was the rightful leader of the American colonies, while Christopher Columbus was an undocumented immigrant. But American history firmly sides with the latter.
Of course, with President Obama’s executive order to halt deportations of young, undocumented immigrants and students, we’re not even talking about the hardworking mothers and fathers who came to our great country looking for hope and possibility. We’re talking about their kids, who were brought here when they were two years old, three years old, maybe 10 or 11, for whom America is all they have ever known. These are the so-called easy cases, the most sympathetic immigrants among our nation’s undocumented, the kids who only speak English and want to be able to go to college to become doctors or teachers or entrepreneurs. But still, those on the Right attack these young Americans as law breaking criminals who steal jobs from rightful Americans. Wall Street executives who drained billions in wealth from middle class families? Model citizens. Young Americans who want the same opportunities my great-grandparents sought? “Illegals” we should lock up and deport. Policy disagreements aside, the sort of inhumanity with which the Right wing talks about undocumented immigrants in America reflects a deep nastiness that darkens the heart of our nation.
Apparently, conservatives think the free market should not be free and open to everyone. Apparently, conservatives think that economic opportunity should be doled out according to a first-come, first served policy, not hard work. Apparently, they think wealth is not a zero-sum game when it comes to taxing the rich but jobs and opportunity are finite when it comes to the poor. Apparently, they think that more people working hard doesn’t multiply opportunity but somehow depletes it.
Economic opportunity is indeed elusive in America. But somehow, many feeling that insecurity take comfort in or at least overlook the notion of a growing class of robber barons yet are deeply threatened by Latino/a immigrants coming to America to work for less than the minimum wage. Over the last several decades, productivity in America has risen while real wages have declined. That is simply not the fault of immigrants. But perhaps blaming immigrants is easier than blaming our entire economic system, which is increasingly designed to bilk working class and middle class families for the benefit of the very rich. But I can’t help but wonder… if conservatives were right, if all the undocumented immigrants left the United States tomorrow and unemployed Americans took all those mostly-crappy, low-paying jobs, so that the already-profound gap between high income and low-income earners were to yawn even wider and the wealth gap increase, is that the Right’s idea of a solution? Sounds infinitely worse to me than treating our fellow human beings with basic decency and extending them the opportunity that we have so long held out for the world’s awe.
President Obama did the right thing. I wish he’d done it sooner. Providing a path to citizenship for America’s undocumented immigrants was supported by President George W. Bush and, incidentally, last enacted by President Ronald Reagan. So at the very least, I hope that conservative vitriol against undocumented immigrants has more to do with President Obama supporting them than any inherent, inhuman nastiness. I hope… Regardless, I am very proud of America and very proud to share her promise more broadly.
Just in time for Tax Day, I wrote a piece for Time Magazine online about why conservatives are absolutely nuts to say Warren Buffett should voluntarily pay higher taxes — instead of passing the Buffett Rule to raise taxes on all millionaires and billionaires. I write:
If we relied on voluntary taxes, donors would begin insisting that they could earmark their donations—say, to the military or to Medicaid and food stamps. But the reality is that national defense helps all of us, so those not contributing to the military would become “free riders” in economic terms. Voluntary taxation is also a slippery slope—if, instead of raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires we just decided to make it optional for them to give more, then why would we ever raise taxes or close corporate loopholes?
I also explore the core America values and founder’s philosophy around taxation — and why even Adam Smith supported redistribution.
Read the essay here and please share it around!
Today is complicated. On the one hand, one of the greatest enemies not only of the United States but of peace and equality and justice everywhere is finally dead. On the other hand, he was executed by a sovereign nation acting at least in part on illegally obtained, coerced intelligence and through a covert mission on another sovereign nation’s soil. Not to mention a person, heinous though he might be, is now dead — and that always seems like an odd reason to celebrate.
I imagine I’m not the only person feeling happy and dirty at the same time.
I’m a New Yorker. I vividly remember 9/11. Walking the length of Manhattan to get home as buses passed covered with debris from the collapse. Watching with confusion as people who had clearly been near the World Trade Center and looked like dusty ghosts walked past the restaurants and stores and normalcy of a world that now seemed a million ages ago. Showing up a Red Cross center a day later, not sure really how to help, and finding a few thousands of my fellow citizens standing there too, hoping to do something useful.
And then I remember the suffering of those who died and our national suffering and fear in general being exploited for war. A war Afghanistan and then again in Iraq that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Twin Towers or Osama bin Laden. Wars that, it turns out, had nothing much to do with anything except oil and military expansion. It was as though our tragedy was nothing but a convenient excuse for violence. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.
But it got worse. “Extraordinary rendition” to secret CIA detention camps. Unthinkable torture of human beings held by our government at Guantanamo Bay.
Yes, I am instinctively brimming with national pride today that our military, under the guidance of our government and Commander in Chief, executed one of the world’s worst criminal masterminds and homicidal maniacs.
But I don’t believe in the death penalty. I don’t believe in the illegal, unconstitutional and either way immoral detention practices that apparently contributed at least in part to bin Laden’s whereabouts. I don’t believe that sovereign nation’s should invade the territory of other sovereign nation’s without at least the legitimacy of the international community.
There are moments when our values are a hard fit with reality. Those on the Right are experiencing the same sort of disconnect right now — as the would-be cheerleaders for any action to take out a character like bin Laden are twisting their moral fabric to wrap heroism around George W. Bush while denying victory to Obama. Those who can, even in a great moment of national history, practice the ugly politics of division instead of the deeply American tradition of unity, so should seriously question their patriotism.
But I’m more unsettled by my fellow progressives.
Perhaps it’s acceptable to attack the means while celebrating the ends in a complicated situation such as this. Perhaps….
Perhaps, whether we admit it or not, we’re putting aside our preferences for peace and non-violence because we see the political importance of rallying around our previously-beleaguered President. Perhaps….
Perhaps we don’t believe as deeply in diplomacy, international law and human rights as we like to think we do. Perhaps….
I honestly don’t have any answers myself right now. Just questions.
I have an op-ed that will run in the Sunday, April 17 print edition of the Washington Post Outlook section. It just went live online so you can get a sneak peak — and share it with your stratosphere.
Here’s the link:
This morning, I saw an unusual sight in my fairly well off neighborhood: a homeless man sleeping on the steps of a local church. Last night, the temperature dropped to 48 degrees. But if Republicans gain control of Congress, it’s going to get much, much colder.
After all, here we are in the midst of the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, with recent crises of unemployment and foreclosure piling on top of long-term crisis-level underemployment and financial instability that has plagued families and communities from Brooklyn to Boise. Minimizing the role of government and letting the private sector do whatever it wants created these crises — from “free trade” policies that shipped manufacturing jobs oversees to the greedy recklessness of the financial sector. You don’t have to be an economist to know that if the private sector wrecked our economy, the private sector alone can’t fix it. And you don’t have to be a socialist to know government has a role to play in putting us all on the path to prosperity.
But, apparently, you do have to have a heart. When you see a homeless person or someone on food stamps or a family getting Medicaid, you have to have the heart to know that they didn’t fall on hard times because of some fault or failing of their own. Hard times have fallen on them.
We understood this during the Great Depression. The New Deal didn’t kick poor people squarely in the rear and tell struggling workers to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The Depression ended because of collective and compassionate public policy — like the Fair Labor Standards Act that established the minimum wage, the Federal Housing Authority that ensured affordable homes and, of course, the creation of Social Security. The antidote to the coldly brutal and unequal era of the Robber Barons was government not only with a helping hand but a heart.
At least George W. Bush feigned compassion. Today’s GOP boasts of its plans to slash government spending and bleed social programs to their core. This tough talk resonates with the surging anti-government sentiments, but can decent Americans of any political stripe really stomach the harsh reality if that rhetoric put into practice?
The United States currently has $13.7 trillion in debt. Modest cuts to the federal budget will not address the deficit spending concerns of conservatives. Addressing the deficit means significantly cutting Social Security, Medicare and/or defense spending and/or raising taxes. That’s it. Those are the only options. And since Republicans congenitally refuse to increase taxes (especially not on the super-rich, even if NOT raising taxes means adding $700 billion more to the deficit), GOP candidates stump on cutting spending.
We all know they ain’t cutting defense, especially since that’s how Republicans created the deficit in the first place.
“… federal budget statistics show that Republican policies over the last decade, and the cost of the two wars, added far more to the deficit than initiatives approved by the Democratic Congress since 2006 … (from the NY Times)”
Republicans can only fulfill their campaign promises by drastically cutting Social Security and/or Medicare.
Cutting Social Security means more families already struggling to make ends meet in the late stages of life will have to work even longer into old age or struggle even more with even less in monthly benefits. Cutting Medicare means significantly restricting the health care options available to vulnerable Americans. Ironically after opposing the health care reform bill that would cut insurance profits and make care more affordable for everyone, it’s Republicans who are inching toward “death panels” to cut Medicare for the elderly.
Add to this all the other programs — food stamps, public infrastructure jobs, subsidized housing vouchers — that Republicans will kill first to put off more politically perilous cuts and we will have a very bleak winter indeed. We have deep structural problems in our economy — problems that are beyond the ability of any one worker or any one company to fix. Are Republicans delusional enough to think that, if they cut taxes for super-rich CEOs and decimate social programs, the guy sleeping on the church steps will finally get fed up with freezing every night and go get a job as an accountant?
I don’t actually think Republicans are that stupid. I do, however, think they’re that heartless. I don’t think they care about those Americans our economy has long left behind, those who no matter how strong our economy is tend to remain unemployed and struggling. That’s been clear for a long time, since Reagan started slashing social programs in the 1980s. The more recent development is that Republicans seem to care less and less for the middle class, too. To today’s Republicans, the economy is thriving if big business is thriving. Working families are not a part of their equation. Thus more and more families are hanging by a thread and relying on food stamps and unemployment and other programs Republicans want to cut to put the economy even more under the control of the big businesses that ruined it.
If Americans don’t stop believing the Republican hype about deficits and the need to cut spending, pretty soon we’ll all be left out in the cold.
I have an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor on Glenn Beck and his contortion of American history to attack the in fact very American value of “collective salvation”. Please check it out.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Fox News television host Glenn Beck says the idea of “collective salvation” – that our fates are linked – is “dangerous to the Constitutional republic.” He argues that related notions of social justice, redistribution, and ending oppression are fundamentally anti-American, communist creeds. American’s Founding Fathers would disagree. They embraced collective redemption and the protection of the common good.”
The One Nation Working Together march did not draw as many people to the Washington Mall as Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally a few weeks prior. And that is a good thing.
Glenn Beck and the Tea Party represent a very vocal minority, so worked up about the direction of our nation that they’ll pour into Washington by the hundreds of thousands to worship at the feet of a religious revivalism rooted in nostalgia for a white-washed version of America that never was. We already know, from poll after poll, that the Tea Party are whiter, wealthier and more male than the average American. And, despite all of their populist blustering, the Tea Party agenda is merely new clothes for the old wolf agenda of the pro-big business, elitist Right. The Tea Party is motivated to be hyper-vocal and hyper-visible precisely because they represent such an an incredibly small and fringe set of interests and ideas in our nation, with a very small following.
The hundreds of national and grassroots organizations behind the One Nation march represent the vast majority of Americans — literally, through their millions and millions of members, but also spiritually, morally. Organizations like the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Green for All, the Sierra Club, the Children’s Defense Fund and SEIU stand for the core, shared values of our nation — that we once forged and now continue to forge a union knowing that each of our prosperity is dependent on the common good.
There are hundreds of millions of Americans frustrated that while Wall Street strong-armed big bank bailouts as profits and CEO salaries continue to rise, foreclosures are increasing, job opportunities are stalling and real wages for most of us continue to decline. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who understand that the way our economy works isn’t working for white people in Ohio, black folks in South Carolina or undocumented immigrants in Arizona. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who don’t care about the deficit remotely as much as they care about creating new jobs, reinvesting in our schools and our environmental future and redistributing real opportunity to all who work for it.
Unfortunately, these hundreds of millions of Americans are also incredibly disappointed. These are the Americans who believed in the hope and promise of Obama the Candidate and feel let down by Obama the President, in part because of an ossified political system in which the status quo is deeply entrenched on both sides of the aisle, but in part because Obama failed to chip away at or at least vigorously rail against that ossification (until fairly recently). These hundreds of millions of Americans want change. Their anger is not at the boldness of Obama’s agenda. Their anger is that more of it has not been achieved and, given the political system, seems increasingly and sadly unachievable.
These are the hundreds of millions of Americans the One Nation coalition represents. And unfortunately, these are the very people who are sitting at home popping Prozac rather than taking to the streets in protest. They were visible and vocal in 2008. Been there, done that, and look where it got us. Yes, we have historic and critical health care reform, the stimulus investment that staunched the bleeding recession, financial reform that will put Wall Street in check and more. But we still have jaw-dropping financial control of Washington by corporate interests. We still have the filibuster. And, despite every sign that it has failed us wildly, we still have the persistent dominance of Regan-era pro-corporate, trickle-down, neo-liberal economic ideology.
The Tea Party activists are disproportionately vocal and visible in comparison to their actual percentage of the population in part because they believe victory is within their grasp. The fact that, titular Democratic power of the moment notwithstanding, Right wing economic and social ideology continues to undergird much of the political establishment and discourse, is, for them, encouraging. It’s ironic when the Tea Party talks of “reclaiming America” since, ideologically, they very much already control the norm — from anti-government skepticism to deficit hawkishness, from a constant state of anti-terrorism warfare to widespread hatred of new immigrants. Meanwhile, the millions of Americans who want change, who see a positive role for government in creating an economy and a nation that truly works for all of us — they took a chance against the status quo and, despite all inclinations toward cynicism, believed in 2008 that change is possible. Two years and not enough change later, they’re feeling disheartened.
The real issue with the One Nation march on Washington this past Saturday versus the Glenn Beck rally or any other Tea Party gathering isn’t literally how many people show up but how many millions and millions of other people they actually represent. The good news is the One Nation organizations and their values and vision for our country represent far more Americans than the extremist, elitist Tea Party. The bad news is that, as the mid-term elections near, that Tea Party fringe is way more fired up and active.
This is a clip from the Fox News Strategy Room on September 29, 2010, with me debating 2008 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Candidate Wayne Allyn Root. We’re talking about the role of government in building prosperity and opportunity in America.
I found the entire conversation rousing, but without a doubt, my favorite moment comes at the 8:24 mark, when I break down and say to Root, “There’s just so many problems with what you’re saying.” Nothing like blunt honesty.
The nice thing about people like Root is they expose the truly sinister anti-government, America-for-elites only vision that festers beneath the thin veneer of the Tea Party. The Root agenda (pun intended) will not help ordinary Americans (including most Tea Party adherents) but undermine our nation and the common good values that we stand for — and always have.
Share this video around, especially if you have friends or family who watch Fox News — and encourage them to sign up for the Movement Vision Lab list.
Now when someone insists Islam is the only religion with fringe whack jobs, we can all reply, “Not true! Look at those Christian whack jobs burning Korans in Florida!”
As if somehow the “God Hates Fags” Fred Phelps folks protesting veterans’ funerals and the “who gives a crap about inequality and injustice on Earth ‘cuz we’re preparing for the end of days” crowds weren’t enough proof that Christianity also has a few lunatic fringe clinging to the cross.
We should, thusly, bear in mind the source when we hear claims that all Muslims are extreme fundamentalists. This assertion, coming from extreme fundamentalist Christians, would be funny if it weren’t eroding the core values of our nation.
Imagine the thought process at work! “Uh, those Muslims are total crazy violent radicals! I mean they’re blowing up the Twin Tower and lobbing missiles in the Middle East. We just kill abortion doctors, lynch gay folks and implicitly endorse segregation and racial hatred… But those Muslim fanatics are such barbarians!”
I think this whole episode calls for new religious categorizations. Rather than lumping all Christians together, all Jews together, all Muslims together, etc., let’s establish three new cross-denominational groupings: the mainstream, the reformers, and the crazies.
For instance, as a Jew, I’d rather not be associated with the fundamentalist Israeli settlers in Palestinian territory. They can join the crazies. If they object to that classification — well, that’s an encouragement to re-think how out-of-step their religious interpretation is with the mainstream of Judaism and faith and humanity in general.
The majority of Americans and people around the world would join the proud ranks of “the mainstream” — good people who mean to do well by their God but also see that their connection to other human beings cuts across religion. I still believe that most people are decent and loving and should be represented accordingly, as opposed to lumped in with adherents of the supposedly-same religion who preach hate instead of love.
Meanwhile, folks like Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf would be a reformer. He has written and spoken extensively about a more open and liberal interpretation of Islam and is a voice for transforming mainstream interpretations. In that sense, as a secular Jew who sees religion as a means to inspiring a sense of community and a collective pursuit of justice versus being strictly doctrinaire — and who thinks religions must evolve over time — I’d be a reformer too. Not only would I be honored to be in the same grouping with Imam Rauf, I’d be thrilled to no longer be grouped with the Lubovitches (who might have me stoned for writing on Rosh Hoshanah).
On the other hand, the Right wing fear mongerers like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin could no longer hide behind the generic moniker of Christianity. For cheering on Islamophobia nationwide, they would join the crazy branch. It’s time we recognize that Right wing Christian hate speech, Zionist hate speech and al Qaeda hate speech may have different targets but are driven by the same narrow, jingoistic, elitist and inhumane spirit. No more hate masquerading as religious beliefs.
So if Terry Jones and his Dove World “Church” want to burn sacred religious texts and, along with them, burn any lingering doubt that Jones and those like him represent an extreme and out-of-touch fundamentalist fringe, I say, “Burn, baby, burn!”
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