So with 2013 nearing a close and 2014 about to begin it is once again time to review the past and imagine the future. In the next few weeks we will be covering a few topics that I, unfortunately, feel the need to revisit. Like: what does the constitution mean and who does it apply too (everyone seems to get this way wrong), who qualifies to be president (more birther crap), people and their secrets (NSA), freaking common core (again), and most importantly, why telling people to either like it or move is not an ‘American’ ideal…nor is it in any way tolerant. But we will also be touching on a few more recent topics along with some things that are not part of the national discussion but which I think should be. Such as: The Pope v. Christian Right (I cannot express how much I am loving this), What Islam really is…and what it isn’t (the majority gets jihad wrong), who the media shouldn’t be paying attention to (seriously, wgaf about Miley), the meaning of Christianity (IMO), and a thoroughly nerdy post as to why more people should watch Dr. Who and other Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows. My resolution this year is to write more so hopefully (fingers crossed) you will see these and many more posts in the upcoming weeks and months. Of course, if there is a topic I am missing that any of you (if anyone does read my rare musings) wish to see covered that I am missing just drop me a line. Though I can almost guarantee that this year will be rife with things that either make me angry or hurt my head enough to warrant a post or two. It is after all an election year.
So, it’s over. The government is up and running again; crisis averted (or is it). But, what the hell happened? How did it come this far, get this bad? Well, this is going to take a little time.
First, we have to go back to 2009, and the rise of the ‘fiscally conservative’ group, the Tea Party. Despite what anyone says you cannot discount the role they played (and continue to play) in this fiasco. The immergence of the Tea Party is the mark of the beginning of Congressional intransigence and media portrayed divisiveness.
The Tea Party, comes on the scene and political discourse leaps backwards 30 years (or farther). Then the ACA (Affordable Care Act) passes, and everyone goes insane. Media hype, hyperbolic rhetoric, and out-right lies give this tiny faction of the Republican Party and edge in the 2010 elections. With the help of the Tea Party, Republicans gain control of the House…and a budget hasn’t been passed since.
The Tea Party, is comprised of ideologues; zealots who deride compromise and make pragmatism a dirty word. Their praise, then, of President Ronald Reagan, along with much of their rhetoric, defies logic. For while Reagan spoke as an ideologue his actions were that of a very prudent pragmatist. But, then again, Reagan was never outraged at the mere idea of compromise.
Perhaps, it would not have been so bad had the Tea Party, not also been living in some strange alternate reality. A reality where the only answers to our problems are the ones they have. Fed by the delusion they have that, somehow, a minority faction of a single political party represents the majority of the American people.
The failure to pass a budget does not lie with the President, as those ignorant of how our government works scream from the rooftops. The President neither has a vote in Congress, nor the ability to dictate Congress’ actions. And yet, that is what the Tea Party will have you believe. The failure is not with the Democratic Party; for you cannot place blame upon a group refusing to an unconditional surrender. They, too, have constituents to represent and rolling over isn’t going to do that.
You also cannot blame Republicans; who, while weak, with a party in tatters once Bush and Cheney left, were unable to stop the hostile takeover of a once grand and pragmatic party. In truth, Bush left a far greater mess for Republican than he did for whatever poor bastard next took office. A power vacuum was created with the loses in 08 and, as happens throughout the world and throughout history, a group of ideological zealots moved in.
Jump ahead three years and there is still no budget. There is no budget because the Tea Party’s way of governance is, quite simply, ‘If we don’t get everything we want, America gets nothing.’ Despite the claims of being ‘fiscally conservative,’ the Tea Party has, ironically, done everything it possibly could to destroy the economy. Threats, rhetoric, and misconceptions surrounding the ‘debt ceiling’ debate of 2011, resulted in the loss of one of our AAA credit ratings; as well as, a loss of credibility worldwide.
As a result of the Tea Party’s refusal to vote on a budget, Congress has been forced to pass, Continuing Resolutions (CR’s), to keep the government running. That is, until October 1, 2013. But, I got a little ahead of myself. We need to discuss the ACA, Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare (FYI: this is the only time I will use this term here).
Since entering Congress, the Tea Party, has done everything it can to wipe the ACA from the books. They, and their monetary backers, have repeatedly (and repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly) tried to repeal the law. Now, I admire tenacity, but after try 25 or so, they should have figured out that tactic was not going to work. But, no, they ‘beat the dead horse’ well past the point where even desperation looked good. Forty-one times. As if that was not enough, there was also a Supreme Court decision and a resounding series of electoral defeats in 2012. Despite the compendium of evidence that states otherwise, the Tea Party, is still under the pervasive delusion that only by repealing the ACA are they serving the ‘will of the people.’ This may actually be a full-grown group psychological disorder, here.
And thus, we come to the days immediately prior to the shutdown. In the US, Sep. 30 marks the end of the fiscal year. So, with 2013 in the dust and no budget for 2014 in sight, a CR is needed by 12:00am on October,1. Simple enough, right? A single sheet of paper that states, ‘yep, the government can continue,’ for another 6 months, year, hell they could have passed a one week CR. Leave it to Washington to complicate the hell out of a simple procedure.
There is an illness, in Congress these days, which prevents anything coming to the floor not loaded with a ton of crap. Call them riders, pork…whatever you want. It’s bullshit. The fiscal and monetary policies of government are one thing. The decisions made on these issues have a wide ranging effect on the world’s economy. A government’s laws are completely different. So why the hell was a rider about the healthcare law ever attached to a CR when one has nothing to do with the other? Your guess is as good as mine. I see it as not only a blatant display of how broken the system is but also, as an attempt by the Tea Party, despite the losses of 2012, to take over the government so that they could get their own way.
This wasn’t principled, admirable, or patriotic. This was an attempted coup. One faction, of one party attempted to override the authority of the House, Senate, and of the President. They failed, and did so because they don’t seem to understand, in the slightest, how government works, or is supposed to work. Messy though it was, we saw our system of checks and balances ultimately prevailing. But it should never have gotten that far.
So, here’s the play by play. Tea Party Republicans in the House, fresh off their 41st failed attempt to repeal the ACA, decided that the only CR they would allow to come to vote was one that also delayed and/or defunded the ACA. They did this, or were able to do this, because House Speaker Boehner is little more than a weak puppet. They knew such a resolution would never pass the Senate, and they knew that it would, most likely, have been vetoed by the President if it had passed the Senate. And they knew, they didn’t have the votes needed to override a Presidential veto. So, they played their game, having convinced the rest of the Party this was the way to go, they continued to prevent a ‘clean’ CR from coming to vote.
Let us be very clear, Democrats were not thwarting democracy, nor were they saying that the ACA could not continue to be debated. All Senate Democrats, and a few Republicans, who hadn’t lost their minds, wanted was to fund the government and then continue to debate the ACA. They never attempted, nor wanted, to replace the House rider with one of their own. They were merely asking for a CR that had no riders attached to it. Simple, fair, and the desire of a majority of the American people.
By this time, both sides were playing an all or nothing game. But only one side was trying to push through an agenda that failed them in the 2012 elections. And by 12:01, October 1, the Tea Party must have discovered that it did not, in fact, own the Republican Party. They must have feared the more sane and pragmatic among them, for that is the only logical reason for what happened next.
House rules stated that any member could bring a resolution to end the shutdown to the floor for a vote. Meaning, any one of the 435 duly elected Representatives could put a ‘clean’ CR to a vote. That is until 1:11am on October, 1, when the Tea Party changed the rules. When I was growing up, we had a word for those that changed the rules at the last minute…cheaters.
They must have been afraid that a ‘clean’ CR would hit the floor and pass the next morning because they took that power away from 434 Representatives leaving it in the hands of one. The Speaker of the House, third in line for the Presidency, could not even bring a CR to the floor. Very telling, in my opinion, of the Tea Party’s waning faith in Speaker Boehner. No, that austere privilege was left to the Majority Leader, Eric Cantor. What had been the right of every US Representative had been stripped away and placed in the hands of one guy. A guy, who was elected to office by one district in one state. So much for democracy.
Eventually, the Tea Party, saw the writing on the wall…saw their precious jobs were in danger…and put a ‘clean’ CR up to vote. (FYI, this vote was not unanimous. 144 voted to keep the government closed.) The government reopened, nearly two weeks ago now, and the ‘debt ceiling’ was raised (that will be an article of its own). But the damage had already been done.
Our remaining AAA credit score is under review. The government lost 24 billion dollars. The world now perceives the US as dysfunctional. This will strengthen the resolve of our enemies. Be a hindrance to new avenues of trade. It will affect our ability to borrow money and will further weakened the dollar as the world reserve currency.
This was not principled nor patriotic. This was petty and dangerous. The Tea Party, in its infinite wisdom, created a fear in the economy that will prevent businesses from investing, slowing the recovery even more than it already has been. This not only affects us here in the states, but the world at large. This ‘fiscally responsible’ party has led the entire world’s economy near the precipice of failure to further its ‘noble’ cause. The very definition of selfishness.
But worse than that, these people, who see themselves as the most patriotic of us all, have deeply, and perhaps irreparably, damaged our country. Both at home and abroad. The truth of the matter is, the Tea Party, has done more to damage and derail the sovereignty of the United States than Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda could ever have hoped to achieve.
So the internet exploded this week as Baby Veronica was returned to her adoptive parents. Ultimately, it was the right decision. What concerns me is not really the aspects of this case, per se, but to the hateful reactions to it. Maybe it is because I am white. Maybe I just don’t get it. I fully accept that possibility. My ancestors may have known what it was like to be denied their heritage (Irish) but I have not. As a result, there are aspects of this case that I cannot even begin to understand. I do not see race as being a valid part of this, or any, custody dispute. Truth of the matter is, had her father been Latino instead of Cherokee, it would have never gotten this far.
A child of the ’80′s I cannot begin to understand the emotions and anger of the 1970′s regarding the Aboriginal Peoples of the United States. Thus, I cannot fully understand all of the reasons behind the Native Child Welfare Act. First and foremost, this law assumes a misconception that is, unfortunately, widely supported by Child Service Agencies (ok, they are not all cut from the same cloth but those that I have dealt with fit this roll) that biological is best. In a perfect world, that would be true. But this is not a perfect world. In my lifetime, I have seen far too many cases where this misconception has caused more harm than good. Because of doing all that is possible to keep kids with their biological families I have seen children neglected, abused, permanently disabled, and even killed. Perhaps this misconception is a result of our own ethnocentricity. Surly, we all believe that our family, values, culture, religion are what is best for our children. But what happens when things are not so simple. Shouldn’t we objectively look at what is best for the child and not allow biology and race be reason enough alone to base that decision?
First, let’s get this out of the way. I do not consider adoption as purchasing a child. It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (I have known several) to pay the medical expenses that may be accrued during a pregnancy. Since every parent pays these expenses I fail to see how it is much different for adoptive parents. A loving couple who are unable to have children, for whatever reason, are torn apart and heartbroken at the inability to have a child. Many have tried and failed. Many have tried and lost children. Sometimes, a couple finds it in their heart to give a home to a child not of their blood. Quite frankly, blood has very little to do with family. I have several adopted cousins. I, nor any member of my family, thinks less of them, loves them less, due to a silly thing like biology.
I am appalled by the reactions of many to the outcome of this case. Blatant racism appalls me. To be fair it is apparent of those one both sides of the issue. And just to get something off my chest there is no such thing as reverse racism. It’s just racism. If someone with dark skin dislikes someone because they have pale skin then that is racism. It is just as racist as if a person with pale skin dislikes a person with dark skin. Nothing reverse about it, just racism.
The adoptive parents of Veronica did not seek to purchase or steal a child from the Cherokee Nation. They sought to adopt a child. They were chosen by the child’s birth mother, a Latino (though I protest that this detail is unnecessary and has no bearing on the case at all), to raise the child in an open adoption. For the uninitiated an open adoption is one where the adoptive parents keep the biological family involved. So none of this ridiculous notion that being adopted by a white family was going to neglect her heritage, as the mother was always going to be involved. Then we come to the part where a legal adoption can be contested because of 1.2% of a child’s heritage. Let me break it down, it was contested in court that the mother of this child had NO RIGHT to decide the fate of her child based on the 1.2% of the child that was Cherokee. I have admitted that I cannot possibly understand the feelings and complexities of the Cherokee Nation but I cannot help but feel that this law is discriminatory.
We can play the he said, she said all day long. It is something fairly typical in custody cases. However, there is this one little thing people are grotesquely overlooking. The biological father signed away his rights. He didn’t sign a paper giving the mother full custody while he went overseas. Full custody by the mother is assumed in cases where the father has made no move to take a part in the child’s life…or pregnancy. He signed away his parental rights. Plain and simple. And he did so freely and willingly. He was not coerced. If he didn’t understand what he was signing that’s on him. If you want involvement in your child’s life, at any point in time, you do not sign away your parental rights to the other parent. You work with an attorney to establish a custody arrangement. Nowhere, in any case, do you sign away parental rights and expect to receive any form of contact.
For me, race/nationality is only important in this case for one reason, and only then because the law made it so. My objections to this case are quite simple. The rights of the mother, the choice of the mother, was overturned and ignored because the father, who signed away his rights, happened to have a minute percentage of Cherokee DNA. Period. End of sentence. Nothing else matters in this case, according to this law, but that tiny piece of DNA. Thus, effectively, putting the will of the Tribal Council ahead of the choice of the mother. This is taking choice away from mothers. This is wrong. And I highly doubt, that the law was written to purposely override a mother’s wishes as to who raises her child. Something tells me it has more to do with what happens to children in the foster system or those who, for one reason or another, become wards of the state. The law was written to make sure these kids are placed before the council before being removed from the tribe, not to deny a mother the choice of who is allowed to raise her child.
So, Syria. First of all let’s take a few of the more idiotic arguments off the table. No, you cannot claim hypocrisy for possible US involvement because the US turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in the 1980′s. Why, you ask? Because it’s not the same people making the decisions.
If you haven’t noticed, the people in charge of our government change rather frequently. Ok, so maybe not Congress, but the Presidency changes at least every 4 years or at most every 8 years. To compare what this administration has done to what a completely different administration did in the past is naive at best, asinine at worst. In short, drones are on the table; US taking Iraq’s side in their war with Iran is not. Different players at the table change the game.
Drones. Gotcha. Yeah, the policy surrounding drones stinks. Kind of hypocritical, I will give you that. Except, drones never targeted an entire civilian neighborhood. Civilians killed are collateral damage, not the target. War is messy. Fact is, there is no way to avoid civilian casualties in any war, regardless of weaponry used. Should we have done a lot of things? Probably not, but drones are, unfortunately (though there is some debate), a legal weapon of the world. Sarin gas is not. The use of chemical weapons against civilians violates international law. So far, US drone usage has not. At least, to our knowledge.
Second, the argument we shouldn’t get involved because one rebel soldier ate the heart of a Syrian government soldier. Disgusting, yes. War crime, yes. But here’s the thing, you cannot denigrate an entire rebel force for the actions of one guy. If that were acceptable our military would be screwed. To have the delusion that you can fight a war ‘civilly’ is beyond ridiculous. War crimes and crimes against humanity occur in any war. Most likely perpetrated by both sides. The trick—and it’s not easy, clean, or nice—is to find the less evil of the two (or three, or four). It sucks. Sometimes it really, really sucks. It may even weigh heavily on the conscience. And sometimes it should. This is why we teamed up with Stalin. Does that leave a nasty taste in your mouth? It should. Welcome to war, where nothing is black and white.
Third argument, 100,000 people are already dead but a chemical weapon hits and now we care? Mmmkay, it’s really not that simple. The moment Assad turned the military on his people the world spoke. For the last two years, actions against Syria have been brought to the UN. You know, the guys that actually are the world police. Of course, Russia and China have blocked every idea that came to the table. So, basically, we have spent two years trying to do the right thing through the UN. Didn’t work. Now, banned weapons have been used against a civilian population. Game changed. Rules changed.
Why? Because now dictators around the world are watching and waiting. Wondering if the world will allow Assad the use of these weapons. To do so would be a tragic apathy. To do nothing before was simply allowing a country to have a civil war. And the US cannot interject itself into every internal conflict. That is the UN’s job. However, if the US and decades of screwed up foreign policy continue to allow Syria to go unpunished that sends a message to the world that these weapons are okay to use. That they will be tolerated. By taking no action we essentially are giving our silent approval. Trust me, this is not the message we want to send to certain people (*cough*North Korea*cough*). To understand why the US is in this crazy ass position in the first place, you have to examine the last 80 years or so of foreign policy. That is a post of its own.
Sucks, right? Welcome to war and foreign policy. No matter what you do you are going to get royally screwed. You just need to predict which action or non-action will be judged less harshly by history. You know, so you don’t screw the guy that comes 30 years after you.
—It is not hypocritical for me to ask you not to view the US as a single entity rather than by each administration when the majority of the world views us as a single entity. Just because others view us as a single entity doesn’t mean we can do it too. Like how we shouldn’t judge Putin for things Stalin did. We need to learn from history, not punish people for it.—
So, shit happened. US is placed in a position where it needs to respond (not the ‘red line’ thing, any President would have used the same language). President differs to Congress and people lose their freaking minds. Look, I know it’s been awhile since a President went to Congress for permission before an attack, but this is how it is supposed to work. Trust me, this does not make the President weak. This is not him trying to get Congress to cover his ass. This is not about shifting blame. This is the President actually doing his job. Shocking, I know. I know we are all used to the type of President who shoots first and then asks questions later but in reality this is how it should happen. Knee jerk reactions are what have caused most of our problems so I find it refreshing that this President is taking the time to make this decision with the appropriate gravitas and involving all the necessary people.
Funny thing, those that make the claim that going through Congress makes the President look weak, soon follow with, “Who the hell does he think he is? Thinking he has the authority to act without Congress.” *facepalm headdesk* Okay, seriously, pick a side. You cannot claim Obama is weak for differing to Congress, then claim that Obama is a dictator for saying he has the authority to act without Congress. It is either one or the other. You cannot be pissed about both.
According to the Constitution, as it was originally intended (that’s for you Tea Party people, who are hypocritically outraged at this point), the President must seek authority from Congress before declaring war. The Constitution did originally read that only Congress had the power to make war. That was changed in 1787 to ‘declare war’ so that the President could respond to immediate threats. The reason for that is quite simple. In the 1700′s, it took a long time to get places. The idea is that, for example, should Canada attack while Congress is not in session, the President can do what needs to be done until Congress gets around to voting. And it was commonly thought that should such an event occur Congress would then be obligated to vote to continue military actions. Granted, a few things have changed from this original intent.
The War Powers Act of 1941 gave the President immense power regarding war. At the time it was necessary due to the scale of the conflict we had found ourselves in (WWII). However, that law still stands today and has led to a few issues here or there. Like Korea and Vietnam. Use of the War Powers Act, or at least a very loose reading of such act (see R. Nixon), then led to the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This allowed the President only 60 days of warfare without Congressional approval and required the President to make written reports to Congress. Then, we have legal precedent, or rather non-judicial (see Reagan, Bush (41), Clinton, Bush (43)…just to name a few). No President has ever been seriously questioned about violating the War Powers Clause (that’s the actual reading of the Constitution). We might have, once, if it hadn’t been for this stupid little thing called Presidential Pardon (again see R. Nixon). As for the others it has never been brought up. And despite popular belief Bush (43) and Cheney have not been pardoned…nor have they ever been charged with any crime. Though to be fair, every President since Nixon could have been charged with a crime had we been following the actual text of the Constitution.
Finally, a little thing called the AUMF. Authorized Use of Military Force. If you don’t know what this is then you haven’t been paying attention. Google it. Now. Specifically the AUMF against terrorists passed on Sep. 14, 2001. Yeah, that one is a doozy. These things make Obama correct in saying that he has the authority to act. ’Cuz he kind of does. And yes, that does suck. Instead of doing so, however, he did what, technically, every guy before him should have done, and went to Congress. So, basically, it boils down to this. The guy you lambasted for the last years, claiming his disregard for the Constitution, claiming his outright subversion of the Constitution, are pissed because he followed the Constitution. Oh for …no, deep breaths, rant later.
Last argument, opposing Assad is treason because then we would be supporting Al Qaeda. ARGH!!!!! Is anyone paying attention? First of all, you and your enemy can have the same enemy and not support each other. Just because you dislike the same guy doesn’t make you friends or buddies. Kind of like how disliking the Yankees doesn’t necessarily make you a Mets fan.
That, however, is beside the point. For those of you only paying attention to what you hear on TV, there are 3 factions in this war. Assad’s forces, which we know are bad. The Free Syrian Army, the people—citizens—fighting against Assad for their freedoms, of which, we know, some are bad. Then there is Al Qaeda. These assholes just kind of showed up. Fairly typical of a terrorist organization to take advantage of a situation. The FSA is not Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda doesn’t give a shit about the Syrian people or who runs Syria. They saw an opportunity to give themselves a foothold in Syria (yeah, that would be bad for us…but strategically advantageous for them). Basically they saw an opportunity to gain more power and they jumped at it.
Yes, there have been times where FSA and Al Qaeda have fought side-by-side against Assad. (Of course, there are times when the FSA has also fought outright against Al Qaeda as well) Here’s the thing though. When somebody is shooting at you, you’re not paying that much attention to the guys not shooting at you. Nor, in the heat of battle, are you going to care that much if the guy trying to kill the guy trying to kill you is from Al Qaeda. That will be sorted out later, right now, you are distracted by trying not to die. Beyond that, just because you fought alongside someone doesn’t mean you agree with them on everything.
In WWII, our soldiers fighting alongside Russian soldiers did not mean a shared belief system. The US and Britain teaming up with Stalin was not an endorsement of his beliefs. Was our partnership with Stalin wrong? Not exactly, but it wasn’t really right either. Stalin was an ass. Hitler was an ass. Hitler was trying to kill us, Stalin was trying to kill Hitler. Not pretty, but war makes strange bedfellows. Stalin was a dictatorial, murderous asshole. But, at least he wasn’t trying to take over the world. Sadly, we needed him to stop the asshole that was. Sucks. Again, welcome to war.
Unlike the US in WWII, however, the FSA has not welcomed Al Qaeda with open arms. They are skeptical of Al Qaeda’s stake in this war and don’t trust them to just walk away when it is all over. In fact, the FSA had repeatedly said that Al Qaeda has hijacked their revolution. So, then, why haven’t they done anything about it? Because they are a little busy fighting the other guy. A good rule of thumb is when someone is trying to kill you, you don’t go out of your way to make someone else want to kill you. Better to focus on one fight at time.
So, what’s left? Syria. That’s it, forget the rest, it is horseshit. Do we act or don’t we? First, the threat of action has made one very large difference. Russia has revised its position, saying if proof of the attack by Assad could be made it would support a UN military strike. (Psst. For those of you critiquing the President about a lack of secrecy toward said attack…it’s not stupid and careless if this is the outcome you wanted). I don’t pretend to know the reason behind what the President said and what intel was released. But if I wanted Russia to cave, this is exactly what I would have done. To tell the truth, I was waiting for Russia to come out with such a statement since the President made his initial statement. It’s all very simple if you understand two things. Putin may be a lot of things, but he is not stupid. Thus he knows, the last thing Russia needs is another 40 year pissing match with the US. If that was the intent, then it was a hell of a bluff. If that wasn’t the intent then a) you got lucky and b) you need to tone down the rhetoric.
Russia caving is a big thing. For two years, Russia has essentially cockblocked any diplomatic action against Syria. Within the span of a week we saw Russia go from no way in hell, to we will support a strike if you can prove it, to let’s just get Assad to give us his weapons. Basically, Russia is now on board to do what the rest of the UN has wanted to do for two freaking years. Now, the UN can act without worrying about being blocked by Russia. And if Russia doesn’t block odds are good China won’t block either. Should this happen, there will be no attack on Assad (unless he really screws this up) and any action (diplomatic or military) will be UN sanctioned and supported (i.e. financials, lest you think I am being redundant). Thus, the US doesn’t have to go it alone in saying chemical weapons will not be tolerated. So, we get to act on something we need to act on and yet not be seen as the cowboy assholes, because we did it the right way. Isn’t foreign policy fun?
To me the most disturbing part of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is not eating babies. Sadly, the most frightening part is that 237 years after Swift penned his pamphlet we still haven’t found a way to deal with the issue of poverty. More so than that, we are fighting the exact same ideas that have proven time and again they don’t work. Swift’s work is not only powerful within the context of 18th Century Ireland but to 21st Century United States as well. In fact, Swift’s pamphlet is so relevant to modern American politics that it is frightening.
A report came out recently that US citizens living abroad are giving up their citizenship in anticipation of a tax hike. One of Swift’s actual proposals included taxing absentees. Currently, the US does tax its absentee citizens but as with the rest of the tax code it is full of loopholes. Many will argue against a citizen paying US taxes when they are not living and working in the US. Here’s the thing. If you maintain a US citizenship, even if you have spent the past 20 years living in Switzerland, you have the right to vote in US elections. So, a person doesn’t live in the US, doesn’t work in the US, doesn’t contribute to the community and economy of the US, and doesn’t want to pay US taxes, but they want to vote in our elections. I get it. You are, technically, a citizen. But how can you have a voice in what happens in a country you do not reside in? Just to be clear, these absentee taxes do not apply to those in the US military nor do they apply to our ambassadors and embassy staff around the world. They still pay taxes, but they only pay US taxes because they work for the US and are paid by the US.
Naturally, there are those who object to the taxation of absentee citizens. The objection is ‘forcing’ an absentee citizen to pay US taxes on money earned in a foreign country when they already pay taxes to that foreign country. However, corporations and private citizens have taken advantage of the tax rates of other nations to avoid paying US taxes. Millions are shuffled overseas and out of our economy each year. A US corporation, located in China, believes that since they pay Chinese taxes they shouldn’t have to pay US taxes. The American CEO of that corporation believes that since he pays Chinese taxes he shouldn’t pay US taxes. And the US allowed that to happen.
The problem is these corporations and individuals want the benefits of being a US citizen without actually having to be included in the system. They want to avoid our taxes and regulations, including human rights issues, yet still be able to vote in our elections. It shouldn’t work that way. If you want the benefit of being a US corporation you should have to pay US taxes. If you don’t want to pay taxes in two countries, perhaps you should consider bringing your ‘American’ business to America. Problem solved.
Sadly, a good portion of Americans don’t feel this way. They have been led to believe that it is an unfair policy and that liberals are just trying to punish those who make money and create jobs. The problem is, those jobs are not jobs for Americans and they do nothing to help our economy or unemployment. They aid another country. Perhaps it is a punishment of sorts. But if it is a punishment then it is because of the greed that causes CEO’s to move factories overseas. Taking jobs away from Americans because China’s government allows them to pay employees $0.35 an hour. It is a punishment for moving factories overseas to avoid EPA regulations that protect our environment. Essentially, it is this; if you don’t want to follow our laws, don’t want to employ Americans because we demand a livable wage, if you want to have what is essentially slave labor for your workforce, we are going to make you pay for it. This is not the government going after ‘job creators,’ but the government going after those trying to avoid our laws.
And this, though on a smaller scale, is what Swift was referring to when he talked about “taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound.” Though in 1729 it was more about absent land owners charging outrageous rents on their properties and then living in England to avoid paying Irish taxes. See, these corporations (and even a few citizens) want to make American money but not pay American taxes. This is not a boon to our economy but a drain. By avoiding these taxes corporations are essentially taking revenue away from our government. Revenue that could be used to pay down our national debt and repair our roads and bridges. Revenue that could be used to pay our armed services what they are worth.
Speaking of manufacturing, another point of Swift’s was that “of using neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury.” Swift’s argument was an economic one and it is an argument that we have been having in the US for the last 40 years. No longer does America produce goods such as furniture, clothing, computer components, automobiles, tools…the list could go on. Instead those jobs have been shipped overseas and we are now importing the goods we used to make. Once upon a time, items were proudly stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ Good luck finding that now. Odds are, the majority of what you own was produced in a third world country halfway across the globe.
Clothing is imported from Pakistan, China, Taiwan, India, Bangladesh, Israel, and about a dozen other countries in-between. That shirt you are wearing probably came from Asia. Right now, the United States is responsible for 21% of the world’s imports on clothing. Let’s break that down. Of all the clothing exports, from all over the world, the United States buys 21%. Stop and think about how many jobs it would create to cut our imports in half and make clothes right here. Imagine the boost to our economy. Why are we not making our own clothes?
The reason is the myth of ‘free trade.’ ‘Free trade’ is a trade policy that doesn’t apply tariffs to imports, subsidies to exports, or require quotas. Essentially, a regulation free trade policy. See, a few believe that unrestricted trade creates jobs and makes money, which it does. For a select few. ‘Free trade’ is the reason behind all the policies that allow our manufacturing jobs overseas. In fact, ‘free trade’ encourages this move. Manufacturing jobs created the middle class and ‘free trade’ destroyed it. Many of these other nations have trade restrictions. That means other nations limit what they buy from us but we buy from them as much as we want. This is supposedly ‘free trade.’ We import more than we export and also import more than we make. This is why our debt is so high. And the only people that benefit are those that control those trade routes. Say you run an import/export business. The last thing you want is a tariff (tax) on the thing you bring into the country. You also don’t want quotas, restrictions limiting how much you can import. These things cost you money. In the ‘free trade’ economy you are rolling in the dough. But the guy that used to make mother boards for Apple gets screwed because now Apple doesn’t have to pay an import tariff on goods it manufactures in other countries. So, not only does Apple get to reap the benefits of an unregulated employment market but they also get to avoid a number of taxes doing so.
Restrictions are not socialist nor are they communist. They are simply good business. If you create a business that buys more than it sells you won’t be in business very long. Yet that is exactly what we have done to our country in the interest of ‘free trade.’ We have increased our imports to the point that they are not only costing jobs but becoming a burden to our economy as well. Sadly, this is exactly the economic point Swift was making in 1729; “of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.” Basically, he is stating that corporations will look to cheat you in any way they can. In 1729, Swift argued to regulate business and trade in order to boost the economy and 237 years later many are still fooled that ‘trickle-down,’ ‘free trade’ economics works. That, my dears, is what we call a tragedy.
Along with Swift’s economical solutions he also presented a few social ones as well. “Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken.” This is probably the most important and most relevant of Swift’s proposals to today’s environment. We need to stop fighting among ourselves. Like today, in Ireland 1729 there were two factions of politics. Like today, those two factions did more fighting then problem solving. Swift cautioned that continuous infighting would weaken the nation, leaving it open not only to attack but also occupation. Swift was giving a historical lesson, pointing to the 70 CE sacking (and desecration) of Jerusalem and saying, “Look, this has happened before.” Given the tensions of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland to this day I am going to assume the advice was not heeded. But Swift was right. Fighting amongst ourselves: democrat/republican, liberal/conservative, Christian/agnostic weakens us as a nation. It leaves us open to attack from our enemies who want, more than anything, for us to be divided amongst ourselves. The reason why is simple. An America united is nearly impossible to beat. When we worked together (like we did during WWII) we not only helped defeat an oppressive regime, but we also created new goods and technologies that expanded the quality of life and prosperity throughout the world. That isn’t happening anymore and it should be.
The fact that I can even look at a 237 year old document and make valid comparisons to our society and political climate proves we have some work to do. We have tried the ‘trickle down’ way, let’s see what happens if we tried it Swift’s way. Just once. Our faults as human beings, as a collective society, are the reasons that classic works should be taught. They show us a picture of the past that we can compare to our own and say, “Something isn’t right.” It may have been written two centuries ago, but A Modest Proposal proves that humans really don’t change all that much. Sure we have better technology and figured out slavery is a bad thing (something that only took us about 8000 years to figure out), but there are places where we are still lacking. Holding an economic perspective from the 18th Century is one of them. Works like Swift’s need to be taught in the hopes that a generation will come along that will understand the flaws of the past and seek to keep them from becoming flaws of the future. If politicians of today want to solve America’s economic and employment woes they need look no further than to a document that predates even our own constitution. Sad, but true.
Swift teaches a lesson that can stand the test of time because it is universal. Treat people with kindness and respect, have sympathy for their plight, and do what you can to care for them lest someone comes along and thinks it is okay to eat their babies. After all, it’s not like they are real people. Extreme, yes, but sometimes people need to be slapped upside the head with a notion so utterly appalling that they begin to rethink their viewpoint.
Just think, if Swift’s ideas had been applied to US racial tensions, how many people would not have been murdered simply for the color of their skin because someone, somewhere thought it was ok. After all, it’s not like they were human. Or more recently, would victims like Matthew Shepard still be with us had someone, somewhere not thought it was ok to kill a gay man…because it’s not like he was human.
Swift’s essay is brilliantly satiric and at times hilarious in its irony. Yet it is also a morose tale about human behavior. How cruel it is and how little it changes. A Modest Proposal is relevant today not because politics sucks, but because humans still have a tendency to hate and dehumanize what they don’t understand. What is different. In America, a country of immigrants, a country full of, ‘other’ Swift’s lesson is one that is vital to our survival as a society.
I am a pretty smart cookie. I always did well in school. Graduated with a 3.5 GPA and from K-12 got primarily A’s and B’s. I have always been an advanced reader, finishing my 1st Grade year reading at a 6th Grade level. Now, I am not saying that to brag but to make a point. Despite all of that, and an IQ hovering around 120, I was so woefully unprepared for college it is not even funny. Though I always loved lit and writing classes, and almost always received A’s, I was nowhere near prepared to do college level analysis and writing after graduating high school. I was lucky. I managed to pick up all the skills I was lacking and adapt to college life. Many do not.
I was an assistant to a professor in college. I saw the work of incoming students. Sad to say, incoming freshman weren’t getting better. They were getting worse. I have known graduates who could not write a complete sentence, did not know that Pearl Harbor was more than just a Ben Affleck movie, and could not add or subtract without using their fingers. I will admit, I am guilty of the last one.
Once upon a time the United States was number one in education; now that honor belongs to South Korea. Sadly, we don’t even fall into the top ten. In an effort to boost our nation’s education, which will help make us a stronger global competitor, a thing called Common Core has been enacted in the majority of the states. Naturally, it has its opponents. As per usual these opponents lead the charge with half-truths or outright lies to bolster fear and gain more supporters. Fact is, there is no logical reason to oppose Common Core education.
First of all, unlike many opponents claim, Common Core (CC) is not a curriculum. It is simply a set of standards to be met. Well, what does that mean exactly? It means that while CC sets the standard, teachers and districts still set the curriculum. For example, my son is going to be in the second grade. According to CC’s literary guidelines, by the end of the year my son should be able to: read and comprehend literature, including stories and poetry, in the grades 2–3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. All CC does is tell schools that by the end of 2nd grade my son should not only be able to read but also understand texts meant for 2nd or 3rd graders. His teacher, school, and district will decide how to make sure that goal is met. Nowhere in the CC does it ever tell a teacher how they have to teach. Unfortunately, many are misled to believe otherwise.
Secondly, opponents take the fact that CC focuses more on critical thinking and less rote learning as dictating teaching methods. I find this objection to be hysterical. Partly because one of the objections is that CC is an indoctrination from the Federal level. Yes, teaching kids to think critically—giving them the skills to make up their own minds and form their own opinions—is indoctrination. Telling kids exactly what they have to remember—how they have to think—is not. Right. I also have this ocean front property in NW Iowa that I would like to sell you.
The CC website does nothing but give educators an idea as to where kids should be at the completion of a grade. Now, Iowa’s Literacy Standard does give examples of texts but does not, in any way, insist that these texts must be used. But, there are probably those who consider it offensive that one of the example texts is “The Black Stallion.” It’s not like I ever read that in grade school. How dare we require our graduating youth to: Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses)? My goodness, requiring teens to understand how their government works and how the law is applied is just un-American. And even suggesting that one of the texts applicable to seniors is Common Sense by Thomas Paine is just plain indoctrination and socialism. I mean, it’s not like the pamphlet was vital to our Revolution or anything. (Paine made the argument for self-government in January of 1776. Many historians believe that this helped gain support for the Revolution. It also laid the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.)
I get it. Federal government is bad. It shouldn’t tell us what to do. The states should decide what to teach. Except, CC was created, in part, by the National Governors Association. From the very beginning states were involved. States get to decide to follow the standards or not. They get to decide how to teach the standards, should they decide to follow them. They get to tweak the standards as they see fit. For example, while not included in the CC, Iowa’s literary standard involves being able to successfully debate a topic. Minnesota was free to make the decision to implement the literary standards while not implementing the math standards. No state is penalized for not following the CC 100%.
A few opponents claim that CC is a broad federal overreach. That the Federal government is using grant money as a bribe to implement these changes and cutting funding to states who don’t choose to implement CC. Not true. Yes, the competitive Race to the Top grants requires states to adopt standards. But what the detractors fail to mention is that states could choose to adopt CC or a different career and college readiness curriculum. So, basically, the only requirement is that you make sure all of your student’s graduate High School ready for the real world. What does amount to the Federal government using grant money as a bribe is No Child Left Behind. You know, the federal law that restricts funding for schools who perform poorly on yearly aptitude tests. I am certain that is the law you are thinking of. .
Many point to CC as being a failure already since the states of New York and Georgia have already begun testing on CC and both states experienced a significant drop in test scores as a result. Of course, few seem to realize that this was expected. See, when you test high school students who began their education under NCLB and switch to something like CC, which requires more from the students, these students are not going to score as well on the tests. There are a number of reasons for that. First, CC is based on the principal that a good foundation in knowing and understanding concepts is essential for education. Kids taking the tests now, who are in high school, have not had this foundational background. Instead, they had an education system based around arbitrary scores on a test. A test states were allowed to write. Many of these states, lowered the standards of these tests to make it appear as if the students knew more than they did. Students are scoring lower because the tests are harder. They needed to be harder. In a few years, when elementary and middle school students grow to take these high school tests the scores will be more reflective of how CC works.
The problem now is that many of these kids began with a dumbed down overly simplistic form of education and are now required to undergo a more intense education. You know, one that actually teaches them stuff. Just stop and think for a moment. If our education system was fine, if our students were learning what they should be learning, the harder tests shouldn’t have been a problem. This is stuff they should already know. Stuff kids all around the world already know. We have fallen behind and it is time to catch up. After NCLB, Missouri’s test scores improved but they admitted that they lowered standards. What does this teach our children? That the test is so important we will make it easier so you can pass instead of actually teaching you what you need to know.
Some have accused the CC to be a form of data mining. Here’s the thing, the data is already being collected and has been collected for a while. See, this is another thing NCLB did. Schools needed to report test scores, progress reports, and teacher qualifications. These things impacted school funding. The school, itself, was made responsible for how an individual child performed on a test. Many have accused CC of being a one size fits all approach, yet Iowa guidelines clearly give plenty of flexibility regarding differently abled students. Students who are disabled in some way are not held to the exact same requirements as an average child. Teachers are allowed to read test questions and communicate with disabled students during testing as is most beneficial to the child’s individual needs. CC does not eliminate or effect the Individualized Education Plan. Once again, you must be thinking of NCLB.
No Child Left Behind, an actual law whereas Common Core is just a suggestion, mandated that all students be proficient at grade level. That was a one size fits all approach if there ever was one. The reason I say that is because by all students they really meant all students. I was a TA in a room for level 3 special education. For those not familiar with the codification, that means my students were severely to profoundly mentally disabled. The average mental age of my students was around 2 years of age though the average physical age was around 15. Despite this, my students were required, by law, to be taught grade level math, science and reading. That means we were required to essentially teach a 2yo, eighth grade level science. More importantly, if such students failed to perform funding to the schools was cut. So if you want to talk about a stupid, one size fits all, education program it should be this one. NCLB left no room for Special Education to be Special Education. Students in Special Ed have to take the same tests, the same way, in the same amount of time as average children. Teachers were not allowed to read questions out loud to blind students nor give differently abled students the help they needed to complete the tests. Common Core corrects this grossly discriminatory mistake. NCLB assumed that 100% proficiency could be attained because all students had the capability of being proficient. What NCLB failed to realize was that if this is true then there would be no need for Special Education. I cannot speak for all the states because I have only read the requirements for mine, but Iowa’s Common Core Standards address and fix this problem that NCLB left behind.
Those who care about their child’s education and the fate of this nation should support Common Core. The reason? Because a child going to school in rural Iowa should have the same education as a child in Manhattan. Now, I am not saying all the same opportunities (Iowa students would have a hard time taking AP courses through Columbia), nor the same technology (no way is a school in NW Iowa going to have cable internet) but what each child should have is a basic understanding of core principles. Right now, this is not happening. Though we compare states to education every year we are not giving an accurate picture because none of the standards are the same. If standards are different across state lines, county lines or district lines how do we know which schools are really performing and which ones are not? I actually, figured this out once. If I had gone to school in a nearby district I would have graduated High School with a 3.8 GPA. But it wouldn’t have been because I learned more. It would have been because the grading scale was more lenient. All those 90%s that I had received that were B’s in my High School were A’s in the other one. I still got the same percentage, learned the same amount…yet in one district I got a better grade.
We have become a global society. In order for the US to compete globally for future generations our education system must change. Right now, among 34 industrialized nations, we are 14th in literacy, 17th in science and 25th in math. Where we once had the number one spot in the world with the percentage of young people with degrees we are now number 10. Common Core standards are based on the standards of other nations. Thus, they are harder. As it sits Poland outperforms the US in education. Thus, turning all those ‘dumb Pollack’ jokes into ‘dumb American’ jokes. Doesn’t feel so hot, does it? Common Core challenges our students. It makes them work harder and gives them the potential to learn what they need to compete in a global market. There is nothing evil about making our children work harder in school. In fact, it benefits them in the long run as they will be able to find better jobs. This, in turn, helps our economy. Plus, we really should want to be number 1 again.
The loudest argument being indoctrination I feel the need to cover it again. In no way is CC indoctrination. Let me say that again, CC IS NOT INDOCTRIATION. How do I know that? Because CC teaches kids to think critically. You can’t indoctrinate the youth and teach them to think for themselves. Doesn’t work. Soviet Russia had an indoctrination form of education. There, students were not only told what they should know (much of it being outright lies) but also what they should think about what they should know. CC does not tell you what to think it teaches you how. Big difference. Indoctrination would be more like requiring Science classes around the nation to teach that evolution is merely a theory made up by atheist scientists and that God really created the earth in just 7, 24 hour, days. Yeah, see what I did there. If CC dictated what was to be taught and how it was to be taught the opponents would have a point. As it stands, they do not. CC is nothing more than a set of standards saying a child should be able to do this by the end of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Grade. How that goal is met is left entirely up to the states, districts and individual teachers. It sets a national standard that evens the playing field of education across the 50 states. It helps to guarantee that Iowa can be just as competitive as New York when it comes to education. It gives all children the opportunity for the same education as everyone else. What the hell is wrong with that?