2014 MLK day and the state of American privacy.

Most Americans see Martin Luther King as an American hero and we celebrate him, his accomplishments, and the broad swath of civil rights progress on the third Monday of each February. This national celebration was begun about 20 years ago, and I remember getting a haircut in a barber shop in Deer Park, Texas on the very first offical MLK day. The local residents in the shop were bemused by the celebration and I particularly remember hearing the barber and one resident talking about the Clinton’s decision to put Chelsea Clinton into a private school instead of the Public Schools of Washnington D.C. What was the connection between the Clinton’s school preferrence and Dr. King? To these two residents of Texas,  the decision by the then POTUS, was to protect young Chelsea from the inevitable rape (s) that would have happened in the predominately black D.C Public School system. At the time I was shocked and apalled, but I should have remembered that experience when Barack Obama was elected President. The racist sentiment I heard expressed in the barber shop in Deer Park is apparently widely held and has been exploited masterfully by the Republican party and others who would wish to see Obama fail. Today my country is splintered worse than I can remember.

One of the principle policy controversies of Barak Obama’s second term is the question of the individual citizen’s expectation of privacy from surveillance as a result of National Security Administration, NSA, anti-terrorism practices. As a result of the probably criminal actions of Edward Snowden, America has become aware that their phone calls, text messages, and emails are subject to inclusion into a body of stored available information that the NSA considers “a rich data set awaiting exploitation.” It should go without saying that none of us oppose defending our families against threats of terrorism, but the disagreement lies in the placement of the line designating exactly how safe we are to be. Many Americans apparently are willing to go to more extreme lenghts to combat Terror than other Americans.

In this high technology age the American citizen has been warned continuously about the threats to our privacy from technology. Martin Luther King’s phone was tapped and he was watched, followed, and photographed everywhere he went. When the FBI learned that he had marital infidelity that he would likely wish to be kept secret, it has been documented that Dr. King was contacted and threatened with national exposure and humiliation. In that age’s journalistic climate, the FBI failed to find national media outlets willing to slander the leader that way. The media access would certainly be there today.

The phone recordings of MLK would have required a judicial finding of probable cause in the 1960’s, but today each of us is subject to having our texts, emails and phone records stored for investigative retrieval. It is true that as of now, those records are only used in the battle against terrorism, but many Americans are concerned nonetheless. The fourth Ammendment protections for our privacy were a result of a tyranical authority (The British,) sbuding their statutory authority in the search of people’s homes. The standard defense of these intrusions is the refrain, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.” Unfortunately this belief ignores our experience with the British 200 years ago and our experience with our own government in this century. For evidence we need only look as far back as MLK. It has since been learned that J Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s autocratic head for fifty years through the middle of that century, ‘snooped’ on anyone he felt he could use to keep and facilitate even more power for himself. All in the name of patriotism.

We also know that the famous Miranda decision by the United States Supreme court in the same era was an effort to curb the influence of police authorities. Prior to Miranda, police agencies were empowered to go to any length necessary to elicit a confession. So throughout all of American history until 50 years ago, law enforcement at both the local and national levels were accustomed to acting with very little concern for the legal and civil needs of the individual. These practices existed because the majority of Americans were content with their refrain. Can it be possible that a large number of Americans, a majority even, will support coninued broadening of police powers?

We should mark this celebration of Martin Luther King Day with a renewed assertion of our own civil rights. We must challenge those who believe that the government is to be trusted to decide which individual’s privacy is to be protected and which citizen will have no protection against the leviathan state.  In MLK’s day, the motivation of the various state agencies was anticommunism, and less overtly the continued segregation and oppression of non-white Americans. Today the overt motive has changed, but we have to recognize the potential for any individual to be unjustly targeted by this overzealous anti-individual fervor.

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Michael Stafford is on the same page.

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January 18, 2014 · 2:08 PM

August Letter to Jeb Hensarling

Below is the text of an email I sent to Jeb Hensarling, Congressman from Texas and member of the Debt Supercommittee, in August of 2011.

At first I was gratified at your response to my phone call. As I read, though, I quickly saw that you weren’t actually responding to the concerns I raised.

I am concerned about the debt. I am not a big government liberal. I know you hear people say they are independent a lot, but I vote the person and not the party. I have not kept track of my voting record overall, but in Presidential elections I have voted Republican three times more than Democrat. Until the Republicans change their strategy I will continue to vote democrat. The budget fix must include some revenue provisions,and the Republican brand of governing must stop the out right lies–and begin governing a way that no longer harms America. There is simply no way to change the math. Cutting the budget alone will not eliminate our deficit and debt during our lifetime. The only way to really decrease the debt and balance the budget is with some revenue increases. The math is too obvious, I know you know this is true. The Republican position on taxes is either about principle or something worse.

The other issue that keeps me from supporting your party is the conduct of governing in general. I know both parties act in their own best interest much of the time. But the Republicans, for the duration of the Obama administration, have explicitly put the party ahead of the people. I could understand being determined to see that the President is a one term president. But these are extremely difficult times for Americans. The real unemployment rate is approaching 25%. The food bank at my church is pulling double time, and we love the work. But the inability of congress to cooperate with the president on any issue at all has had repercussions that are reflected in the real lives of people in my community as well as in my stock portfolio and my paycheck.

What is particularly worrisome to me is that the Republicans exploit the less intelligent voter and use arguments and statistics that are just not true. It is gamesmanship to further the party. I know that this is nothing new. But today it is much worse than at any other time in my lifetime. The stimulus, for example, did create jobs. Without it the economy would have been much worse. But the Republicans continue to state that not only did it not work, but that it contained hidden taxes when it in fact the opposite is true. Why the lies?

If further stimulus were enacted, tax breaks, or actual spending that put money in the hands of the middle class and the poor would further stimulate the economy. We are behind on our bills, or at least we are not making purchases we might otherwise make. Most of anything extra we got by way of a stimulus we would spend, creating demand. This is obvious to me. Why is to not obvious to you?

But the Republicans continue to insist that the only way to stimulate the economy is to maintain tax structures that benefit the more well off. Even though the numbers clearly reveal that the wealthy have NEVER had a more favorable tax rate. Moreover, regardless of stated tax rates, the effective tax rates are so low that huge corporations pay very little in taxes. But you know this. And those people who your party calls the “Job Creaters”, are making more money in this economy than in the past 25 years. These figures are widely publicized. In spite of record profits and wealth accumulation, they are not creating jobs, they are holding their money. Why would giving them even more breaks make any difference?

Several times in my letter I have repeated variations on the statement that “You know this.” You are not stupid. These facts and figures are not a secret. But you and your party continue repeating the misrepresentations because they work. So many people have short memories, and do not pay enough attention. So your tactics work. They work to enable you to keep your power and obstruct those who oppose you. Even if I agreed with your aims, I would not agree with misleading the American people.

These were my concerns. Your staff-member who took the notes either completely misrepresented what I called to say, or you (or the staff-member who replied in your name) sent this generic email as if I was praising your work. I am not. Your email also praised the Balanced Budget Amendment. Again, I am sure that you know the facts. America has had a debt for the entirety of our history. Primarily because of the cost of wars. How would a balanced budget amendment allow for emergency spending such as the War on Terror?

I remember that we had a balanced budget, and for a brief period were in a position to actually make headway on our debt. And then we started first one and then a second war. Every other war we have fought was at least partially financed with special war-time taxing and war bonds. But not this one. And at the same time we enacted Medicare reforms that had no financing to them. All while you were in Congress. Yet you brag in your email that, “As a former member of the House Budget Committee and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, I have made it a priority during my time in Congress to stop excess and wasteful government spending and ensure that the federal budget doesn’t grow faster than our ability to pay for it.” Where is your accountability for the buildup of this debt?

You go so far as to claim that the absence of a balanced budget amendment is the primary reason we find ourselves $14 trillion in debt. Why is that Congressman? With the amendment would we have not fought the wars? Or would we have raised the financing? Or would they wars have been financed by ending Medicare and Medicaid as your party seems to want to do. We are not fooled by your language of reform.

I know that the average American on Medicare spends $300,000 more than they pay in over their lifetime. These programs, Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid, were enacted for two reasons: 1) Without them we had hundreds of thousands (and we will again, only the number will be tens of millions now,) who could not afford a minimal level of decent human existence. I am not referring to working age, able bodied men and women. That suffering will happen if your ‘reforms’ take place. I would prefer that it were not true, but no amount of Republican rephrasing, and message consistency will change that. 2) The second reason is that previous generations acknowledged that in a nation as great and wealthy as ours, we could make it a priority to see to it that the least among us would be afforded a basic level of dignified existence. Has that priority changed?

I must also comment on the use of the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. At first I thought it was brilliant. We do need to have an ongoing, adult, courageous dialogue about our budget. But it is obvious by the reaction of the bond rating agencies, First S & P and now Moody’s (rumored,) have stated that the reason behind the downgrading was the politicizing of this process–and the broken nature of the governing response. Yet, blindly, your party counts it as a victory and plans to continue again each time.

Broken was my language. I believe the government is broken. Congress is broken. Nothing is getting done of any consequence, those things that are done are demonized by the opposition, and everything is layered in such a thick ooze of lies and misrepresentations that your constituency is helpless to understand why it isn’t working. But we all see it. It is broken.

Your email implored me to make my voice known. I did that once in a telephone call and received a non-responsive email. I have spent a great deal of time honing my response to that. I suspect that this will not be read. But it did help me to get my ideas straight. And I will make my ideas known, and my voice heard.

Washington is broken. And Austin, too I suspect. But my country is still great. And the principle of one man-one vote still stands. I do believe that electioneering, and party practices are making my voice less and less meaningful. But my countrymen will eventually respond. I only hope it happens before too many more have to suffer.

Now you are being named to this commission to address the budget. All signs point to continued absurdity. You are in a unique position to make a difference. Congressman, please stop being a part of the problem and start becoming a part of the solution.

Sincerely,

Walter Willis

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Absence Explained

Okay so nearly a year between posts. Perhaps no explanation is necessary. It is not like this site has many visitors. Still, one of my ethical guideposts is accountability, so….

I suppose there are many reasons, but chief among them is, simply, lack of faith in the project. There. I said it. I believe, passionately, in America. I also believe in myself. But, to assume that I could have any impact through this site is Quixotic in Herculean proportion.  Even so, I routinely do something to amplify my voice. I call in to political talk shows. I post on comment threads and online forums for political television programs.

So whether or not it is impactful, I have a need to speak out and if nothing else, this site addresses  that need.  

I formerly taught high school, and I anticipate returning to the classroom. To that end I ought to issue this caveat: regardless of how outspoken I am in my personal life, my students would have had a difficult time predicting my vote. We spoke about politics every day in my debate classes, and at least once a week in the communications classes I taught, but it was my role to begin the discussion, (if the students were reluctant—which they frequently were,) and to keep the discussion going by advocating opposite whichever prevailing point of view was dominating discussion. The object of most of these discussions was to give the student’s practice speaking and arguing while encouraging a foundation of political understanding. My primary aim was always to teach students to think for themselves, not to advocate my political thoughts.

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A great deal has happened to the political landscape since I last posted. We are well underway in the Republican primary. Occupy Wall Street has been advocating for the plight of the under-classes for 139 days. In October I attended President Carter’s Sunday School class in Plains Georgia. The Republican Congress has rewritten our understanding of the phrase political obstruction and the Republicans in the Senate have rewritten our understanding of the way the filibuster, and just the threat of filibuster, can change the power of an elected majority.  The Tea Party is continuing to thrive and influence the politics of the Republican party. Meanwhile, unemployment has finally begun to rebound, and hopefully with it, the nation’s economy. But President Obama’s approval ratings, though not half as dismal as the approval of Congress, have remained well below 50%.

This year promises to be an eventful election year. Will this year mark a return to healthy function in Washington D.C.? My cynicism informs my pessimism. But I wasn’t born a cynic, and I am not a pessimist. 

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Medicare may or not be broken, but Ryan’s plan is not the way to fix it.

 

In 2002 Medicare was reformed to increase ‘choice’ and ‘competition’. Medicare Advantage plans are considered in Republican circles to be a success. One Republican Congresswoman today on television lauded these programs for operating below budget. I am not sure exactly what she meant by that, but I do know that to encourage corporations like Humana to participate, our Federal Government pays $1.20 for every $1.00 spent on regular Medicare coverage to the operators of the advantage plans. In other words, these ‘choice’ plans cost 20% more than regular Medicare. How has it remained under budget? These advantage plans are paid for by the persons who remain on Medicare. That’s right, every person on Medicare paid an extra $90 last year to pay into the advantage plan pool.

This is important because Congressman Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, wants to expand this plan to all of Medicare. His option would open all of Medicare to these ‘choice’ plans. What happens to the 20% that is currently paid to companies like Humana to make it feasible for them? Is it much of a reach to see these massive insurance companies cutting benefits to achieve profitability in the absence of this 20% incentive. Remember that Medicare was originally started because insurance companies were electing not to provide coverage for the elderly, or it was financially prohibitive.

Ryan’s plan calls for $750 billion in cuts to Medicare, and then turning over what is remaining of this stripped program to private industry. Really?

Which is worse: That the Republicans may actually wish to alter the landscape of senior living in America this way? Or that they think we are stupid enough to believe it really is the best option?

What the Tea Party got correct. Welcome to Dyspolity.

April 8, 2011

Say what you want about the Tea Party, at it’s foundation are many hundreds of thousands of proud, passionate, patriotic Americans, raising their voices in advocacy for a change in the way government governs. You may not like the specific things they say, but you have to respect the process. Perhaps we would not be in the shape we are in, here in dyspolity, if this had started twenty years ago. Or fifty years ago. Or if more of us, and more of you, had been doing this all along.

That is the purpose of this blog. It is my aim, perhaps a delusion, to stimulate greater political activism.

My hope is that your activism begins with a greater desire to understand the issues. I do hope that you will make my blog a regular reference point, and also that you make use of the comment feature so that we may all learn from the perspectives of each other.

I also hope that we can use this blog to note opportunities for protest. Just today I saw an event posted that I could not attend because it was held two days ago. So, viewers, where are the protests scheduled?

Another feature of the blogspot will be “Outraged!”, where those events that leave us the most outraged will be posted. It is not likely that there will be a post every day, but today there is. In a region as politically volitile as Wisconsin, a clerk discovers a clerical ‘error’ that results is a swing of several thousand votes in a critical election.

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