OPEN LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA
by Jello Biafra
My Friends (couldn’t resist, I had to say it). Here, by semi-popular demand, are the suggestions I sent to Obama’s Change.gov site for citizen input. It veers from writing to Obama himself to writing for the people who may actually read this. A lot of these ideas may be familiar from my albums and spoken word shows. For the most part I stayed away from the big no-brainers covered by others, and from ideas he would never agree to in a million years.
I did not vote for him because of his record in Congress voting for the PATRIOT Act, the anti-immigrant wall, numerous corporate breaks and subsidies, the FISA bill legalizing all the NSA’s illegal wiretapping, etc. Nevertheless I, too, felt moved by his speech in the park that night in Chicago, seeing Jesse Jackson cry and wondering how Martin Luther King, Jr would have felt. I can only imagine how much this would have meant to Wesley Willis.
And, yes, I am glad that the adult version of the Eraserhead baby and his pitbull pal were not handed the keys to the White House.
I guess that’s why it hurts so much more when the guy we all wish we could hang out with when we see him on TV turns around and backs the wrong position on something important. We expect this from the Clintons and Bidens of the world, but it hurts more with Obama because he knows better. He even said so on the FISA/NSA spying bill that he so eloquently opposed before he changed his vote. His economic and national security teams so far lack anyone from the “change” side of the Democratic Party. Not a good sign.
If you have ideas or comments, don’t just send them to me, send them to Change.gov! Even I have the audacity to hope that if one of these ideas penetrates up top, it is a chance worth taking. Tom Hayden is one of many who have pointed out that it is up to this movement to drive Obama, not the other way around.
Dear Mr. Obama,
Congratulations on your recent victory, and for helping build such a strong mandate for change. In that spirit, please do not forget the other aisle you need to reach across. All the relief and publicity for the middle class won’t do anything for the 40-100 million Americans who are starving, unemployed or just plain poor.
You have gone out of your way to build a bridge to those of us fed up with war, pollution, inequality, corporate lawlessness and business as usual. You have energized a whole new generation who is far ahead of their elders in knowing what urgently needs to be done. I have never seen such an outpouring of heartfelt emotion, hope and support for an American politician in my life, and I remember Kennedy well. You are the first president in my lifetime to have a bona fide grassroots movement behind you and ready to rock. I hope those crowds’ hope and urgency has penetrated deeply enough that you won’t let that bridge be washed away.
I remember another person who had the audacity to exploit and toss aside people’s hope, and his name is Bill Clinton. Democrats fail time and again when they shirk responsibility and settle for being dealmakers instead of leaders. As important as it is to find common ground and build consensus for change, our situation is so dire we cannot afford any more dealmakers. The people voted for a leader. Anything less risks breaking the hearts of an entire galvanized generation who may then decide it is not worth it to get involved and participate any more.
Strong medicine is needed. Here are some ideas:
IRAQ – TRY THIS!
The closest thing to a solution I have heard was offered clear back in April 2004 by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (http://www.oic-ico.org). The OIC is comprised of 57 Islamic countries ranging from West Africa clear over to Southeast Asia. At their annual meeting they found six member nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen and Morocco) willing to pony up enough of their own troops (approx. 150,000) that our troops could have gone home! Who slammed the door on that one? Colin Powell, on the grounds that having the Islamic soldiers under UN command instead of Americans was out of the question.
WHY??!? Wouldn’t a neutral force of Muslim peacekeepers make a lot more headway than the disaster we’ve made? Wouldn’t they at least command a lot more respect, resulting in a huge drop in violence? Surely the non-stop carnage and Iracketeering we have spawned is Exhibit A that we need to get over this colonialist illusion that other countries’ problems can only be solved by Americans. The OIC’s proposal for US withdrawal and peace in Iraq must be revisited immediately, and also considered for Afghanistan.
We must end not just our military occupation of Iraq, but our economic occupation NOW. Iraq is not ours to sell, and neither is its oil. Your promise not to leave any permanent US military bases in Iraq is a good start. But you have also backed leaving US troops in Iraq to “protect American assets like the Green Zone.” The Green Zone is not our “asset.” We stole it and we have to give it back. I hope you don’t seriously believe we can get away with that giant feudal fortress of an embassy we are building, ten times the size of any other in history. We cannot afford to waste any more money on this, or down the black hole of the Bush administration’s crony backroom deals with corrupt, incompetent private contractors like Blackwater, KBR and Halliburton. We need to fire them and they need to leave—NOW.
We do owe the Iraqi people help, and we have an obligation to clean up the mess we have made. That goes double for Afghanistan. But I can’t see this getting done unless someone other than the United States is in charge. Let us also not forget the 2 million-plus refugees stuck outside Iraq who are draining the economies of Iraq’s neighbors, especially Jordan and Syria.
TERROR – STRATEGY AND DIPLOMACY, NOT WAR
Even if we kill off every insurgent and terrorist-sympathizer from sea to shining sea, what will their kids be like? And theirs? Wake up. The major cause of terrorism is not evil, it’s poverty. Michael Moore said it best after 9/11: “Will we ever get to the point that we realize that we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn’t living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes?” What do we need an empire for anyway? Ever notice how much happier the British and Europeans are now that they don’t have to worry about policing colonial empires anymore?
Many experts and heads of state, in the Middle East and beyond, agree that the best way by far to pull the rug out from under the terrorists and reduce their attacks dramatically is a just and humane resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s right to exist is threatened most by the fact that hardcore zealots are running the show on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. If we don’t have the courage to stand up to them, who will? As painful as withdrawal to Israel’s pre-1967 borders will be, our future depends on it. So does Israel’s. As Reagan said to Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”
Threatening Iran made for great red meat on the campaign trail. But any attack on Iran—by us or using the Israelis as a proxy—will blow up in our face worse than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It will wipe out any good will and benefit of a doubt we have left in the eyes of the rest of the world. Iran is three times the size of Iraq and much more mountainous. The people there already hate our guts, thanks to our overthrow of their democratically elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh in 1954, ushering in 25 years of torture under the Shah. Backing and aiding Saddam Hussein in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that cost a million lives did not help either.
So, alas, we will not be “greeted as liberators.” But we could run straight into a worldwide “Day the Earth Stood Still” if Iran responds by blocking all oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf. Iran knows full well they wouldn’t even have to blockade the narrow Strait of Hormuz. All they would have to do is sink a tanker or freighter or two and no other ships will move. Not from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, nothing. Surely we can do better than this. Even Robert Gates seems to think so. Reckless threats against Pakistan will not solve anything, either.
JUST SAY NO TO TORTURE
Closing Guantanamo Bay is not enough. All torture, detentions without trial, kidnappings (“renditions”) and illegal and unnecessary spying must end—and end with transparency now. Otherwise we are no better than Saddam Hussein or the Nazis. The whole world knows this and the whole world is watching. What about the 20,000 people we still have locked up without charge in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan???
The USA PATRIOT Act is just about the worst mistake our government has made since FDR threw over 100,000 Japanese-American citizens into concentration camps during World War II. Even you panicked and voted to make the PATRIOT Act permanent. It should be repealed and flushed down the toilet immediately—all of it. Even worse is the Military Commissions Act, in which Senators who should know better, such as Robert Byrd, Sherrod Brown, Ken Salazar and even John McCain voted with the majority to legalize torture, kidnapping and secret trials with secret evidence, wiping out the centuries old human right to habeas corpus. Again, isn’t this what our “greatest generation” fought so bravely in World War II to stop the Nazis from doing to us?
What galls me most is that all this iron-fisted trashing of our basic human rights has not caught and convicted one significant terrorist! Even the FBI admits that torture doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, if we’re serious about preventing another terror attack, why is only 10% of the cargo entering our ports on ships ever inspected? Sure, no airliners have been hijacked by a terrorist wielding the wrong-sized shampoo bottle. But those cargo containers are big enough to smuggle in a small arsenal of rocket launchers and shoulder-fired missiles that could actually bring down a plane; dirty bomb material; or even Bin Laden himself. I sometimes wonder if he’s driving a cab in Manhattan right now.
RESTORE THE RULE OF LAW
This means investigating and prosecuting each and every Bush administration official and their cronies who may have committed crimes while in power. Otherwise the lesson learned is you can get away with anything you want because the next administration will be too spineless to take action. For crying out loud, DO NOT make the same mistake Bill Clinton did when he let the rampant corruption, perjury and even terrorist acts of the Reagan and Bush I regimes go unpunished in the interest of moving on from the past. The crime here is this: Not only does everyone involved assume they have license to break even more laws the next time they hold power, but those who should be in jail for the lying, arms smuggling, assassinations and drug dealing in the Contra-gate scandal (like Elliot Abrams, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and Robert Gates among others) are instead handed even more powerful positions where they have done even worse damage. Can you imagine the havoc and hooliganism if we put our heads in the sand after Watergate, let bygones be bygones, and G. Gordon Liddy wound up as director of the FBI? Secretary of Defense Haldeman? Attorney General Ehrlichman? Karl Rove’s chair occupied by Colson, Magruder or Segretti?
Watergate and even Contra-gate pale in comparison to the wholesale lawlessness this time around. From Jack Abramoff’s bribes, to outing Valerie Plame; from lying about weapons of mass destruction and getting thousands of people killed; from wholesale fraud and attacks on the right to vote, to the gutting of the Justice Department, to torture and other possible war crimes—this can’t be allowed to go on.
Cheney and Rumsfeld were bad enough. But it is equally critical that lower-echelon culprits lacking household names like John Yoo, David Addington (nicknamed “Cheney’s Cheney”), and General Geoffrey Miller be held accountable for their alleged involvement in torture and other serious crimes. Otherwise, they could one day rise to Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, or even the Supreme Court and pick up right where they left off in their blood-soaked shredding of the Constitution.
Even a South African-style Truth Commission would be an important step in preventing this from ever happening again. Otherwise, why should I or anyone else obey the law when my own government does not even pretend to? Even if Bush pardons the most blatant war criminals, all we have to do is fulfill President Clinton’s promise to join the rest of the world in the International Criminal Court and they might not get away with it after all. We must come clean and drain the swamp now or it is just going to get dirtier. A lot dirtier.
Rule of law must also be restored when it comes to the NSA, FISA and domestic spying. The Internet revolt by your own followers was right. Your vote for letting the NSA, and even the phone companies, off the hook for massive illegal spying on American citizens was a very bad mistake. These are the exact same crimes that got Nixon thrown out of office for Watergate. Now Watergate is legal too? I have to say it—this doesn’t remind me of Nixon as much as Italy’s ordeal under Silvio Berlusconi. In Italy I have heard the joke again and again that “Berlusconi has to stay in power or else he’ll go to jail.” Sure enough, every time Berlusconi gets indicted for yet another crime, his majority in Parliament simply changes the law and he goes free. There should be zero tolerance for Berlusconi disease.
Plus, does this much spying even make sense? What are we gaining here besides a bigger avalanche of useless data? If 9/11 was an inside job, it was not one of conspiracy but colossal, runaway incompetence. We were already spying on way too many people, collecting way too much data that no one had time to analyze. Thus finding the real terrorists before they struck was like looking for a needle in a football stadium.
I have a feeling you may sign an important bill or two right from the podium during your inauguration speech. It might be an economic stimulus package or lifting the ban on stem cell research. How about also signing your first executive order declaring all of Bush’s presidential signing statements he added on to bills he signed to be null and void. These things will go a long way toward restoring the rule of law.
STAMP OUT ELECTION FRAUD – RESTORE THE RIGHT TO VOTE
I never thought that after all these years we would once again find ourselves fighting for our right to vote. In the United States of America? It is well-established now that every election at least since 2000, including the midterms, has been marred by widespread vote fraud, especially via the hacking and manipulations of electronic voting machines. But these widespread crimes have never been fully investigated, let alone prosecuted. Even the US Civil Rights Commission recommended prosecuting then-Governor Jeb Bush over all the fraud and voter intimidation in Florida during the 2002 election. But his brother’s Justice Department declined.
It is obvious the Help America Vote Act has backfired and done the opposite. Optical scan machines are not the answer at all. They have now been proven to be just as hackable as the notorious paperless touch-screens. They should all be junked once and for all. Digital is not always better, and voting should not be privatized. Any system where the people’s votes are counted in secret behind closed doors has no place in a democracy. Nor is there room for contracting out the verification of our registration forms to the same corrupt biased companies that manufacture the phony voting machines.
We can’t just let this massive, widespread vote stealing go on and pretend it isn’t happening. It may be too late to reverse the wreckage of all the stolen elections. But again, a Truth Commission to prove how it was done and who did it is essential to the survival of our democracy. Anyone in Congress with a spine for this? The people have a right to know.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM – THE EASY WAY
I am sure you would agree that this election campaign was way WAY too long. Other countries, including one just north of us, limit campaign time to between 30 and 60 days. Election fever is much more focused so voter participation is higher. Why can’t we do this? Sure, these other countries use parliamentary systems (another change I hope for) where the party in power calls an election and it takes place a short time later. But think of what we could save—and what we would gain—if we limited campaign time to 90 days. There could be 30 days between announcements and the primaries, followed by a 30-day primary season, then a 30-day home stretch to Election Day. Anyone who jumps the gun by jockeying, soliciting contributions or electioneering too early is automatically disqualified.
I hope you would also agree that campaigns for high office have become obscenely expensive. We now have a full-blown Election Industrial Complex. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t need $750 million to run for President? The way our campaign contributions and lobbyists work today has another name in other countries. It’s called bribery.
Another way to restore sanity is to go national with a law enacted by popular vote in Nevada. If you don’t like any of the candidates for an office in Nevada, you are allowed to vote None of the Above. If N.O.T.A. wins, they have to re-run the election with all new candidates.
You say you want more people to get up and get involved? Lower the voting age! To get people’s attention I have suggested lowering it clear down to age 5. But more realistically, I suggest showing people they have a stake in our democracy by allowing ages 14 and up to vote on school boards and school bond issues, 16 and up for local offices and ballot measures, and 18 and up for everything else. Overcoming voter apathy is hard, but when young people cast votes and see results, they’ll stick with it long term.
RETHINK AND SHUT DOWN THE WAR ON DRUGS
Prohibition is as absurd and fruitless today as it was when Eliot Ness ran around shooting up Chicago trying to stamp out illegal beer. The world is laughing at us while real people are being robbed, jailed, assaulted and even killed. We have more people locked in prison than any country in the history of the world. But our drug use rate has barely dropped at all. The blood and violence from gangs and narco-traffickers that have left Colombia and Mexico on the verge of becoming failed states is spilling across our borders. This is no country for old men—or old laws.
Could we do worse than to at least try the Harm Reduction programs used most successfully in Holland and other parts of Europe? As unorthodox as this sounds, decriminalizing (not legalizing) even harder drugs, making them available on prescription from the government for free, along with a safe place to use them, has led to a much lower crime rate—and even addiction rate—than ours. Why? The free prescriptions mean the addict does not have to rob and kill people to pay the drug gangs’ high prices, and the gangs are put out of business. Dealers are still treated harshly and rehab is strongly encouraged. This could also save up to $50 billion a year for rehab and education that is otherwise wasted by throwing people in prison.
This also frees up billions and billions of dollars to treat the addicts when they want to get off drugs—which will be sooner rather than later. Rehab costs 2/3 less than prison. Our mushrooming prison-industrial complex is draining our money so badly that state after state is slashing funds for education—education!—to pay for throwing more and more people in prison. In California, a prison guard now makes more money than a teacher. So much for family values.
What is wrong with this picture?!??? As president I suggest the commuting of federal prison sentences of all small-time non-violent drug offenders to time served and releasing them immediately. Then strongly urge governors to do the same at the state level. Again, think of all the wasted taxpayer dollars this will free up for more important things like education and rehabilitation. Estimates run as high as $50 billion nationwide.
This does not mean any of these drugs should be legalized, just decriminalized. That is, strictly regulated like alcohol and tobacco, with big-time dealers and gangs treated as harshly as ever. For another way to fight the drug lords, consider this. In 2005 the United States spent $780 million on drug eradication in Afghanistan. Where on earth did it all go? It worked so poorly that $600 million of poppies and heroin escaped into the market anyway.
Do the math: We could have saved a whopping $180 million if we had simply gone to the suppliers and bought the drugs, and then destroyed them so they won’t keep making people sick and killing my friends. As sickening as it is to even think of doing business with drug cartels, can anyone think of a better way to cut off the supply? A counter-argument is that this will actually force the gangs to drive the street price way up. But with Harm Reduction programs already in place they will have nothing to sell, no place to sell it, and no suckers willing to buy.
And for crying out loud, isn’t it time to finally get real and decriminalize marijuana? If current strains are more potent than the old days, so what? Study after study still proves that marijuana is less harmful—and less addictive—than alcohol or tobacco. Nowadays, going overboard against marijuana has not only flooded our prisons to the breaking point, it has driven the price of cannabis so high that young people are going straight into crack cocaine and methamphetamines. Is this wise?
On top of that, it is not just oil we are dangerously low on, we are running out of wood. If we ever hope to turn the tide on global warming and save what is left of our forests, we must remove all bans on the cultivation of cannabis for its many industrial uses—including the strain of hemp that has no THC in it to get anyone high but is still banned anyway. Recycling is not enough. Why chop down millions of trees to make paper when we can use hemp or kanaf and then grow another crop of paper a few months later? It does not get any greener than this. It will also help rescue a lot of family farms.
Finally, the Joe Biden-authored Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (formerly known as the RAVE Act), passed as a rider to the Amber Alert Bill, is as big a disgrace as the PATRIOT Act. It has no place in a free society and should be repealed immediately. Long-term rescue of our social fabric and society, not to mention our southern neighbors, depends in major part on enacting humane drug laws.
RESTORE BALANCE TO THE SUPREME COURT
Even George Will complained that Bill Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees were too moderate; that the court needs a good progressive or two for the full and thorough consideration of each issue. Balancing the court means choosing a justice or two with the passion and spirit of a Thurgood Marshall, John Marshall or William O. Douglas, even if you do not fully agree with them. You may only have a two-year window before a mid-term Congress cramps your style.
The Federal Communications Commission should get off their high horse about Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” or naughty words that everyone says anyway, and instead focus on the rampant hate speech and outright lies that are falsely broadcast as impartial news. Sure, celebrity bullies like Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter have a right to say what they want. But when no one—even the target of a personal attack—is allowed the right to reply, the very idea of an informed democracy goes out the window. Was that their goal in the first place?
Nowadays, mainstream corporate media deliberately dumbing down the news, omitting key facts and sides of the story, or neglecting to report the story altogether is the worst form of censorship going on in America today. Since the big mergers, most debate that gets aired at all is restricted to right wing versus ultra-right wing, while the rest of us are allowed to laugh along with Stewart and Colbert. What kind of democracy are we when freedom of speech—or the equally important right to communicate—belongs only to the oligarchs who control the airwaves?
There used to be a law called the Fairness Doctrine that guaranteed the right of reply, without Bill O’Reilly yelling at you to shut up every 15 seconds. It was allowed to expire late in the Reagan years, and urgently needs to be renewed. Your stated opposition to this puzzles me. What better tool is there for “opening up the airwaves and modern communications to as many diverse viewpoints as possible” than making sure they are allowed to be seen and heard in the first place? And how about some enforcement of the laws guaranteeing that the public, not corporations, owns the airwaves. Even the big corporate media barons should again be required to renew their FCC license to broadcast every five years, complete with public hearings.
I also do not think anyone should be allowed to graduate from high school until they pass a class on media literacy. Sadly, we do not yet have the curriculum. In the meantime we must all pitch in with the teaching—to both adults and children.
ECONOMIC STIMULUS – START WITH PEOPLE WHO NEED IT MOST
I’m glad there seems to be a sense up top that national security, the economy, climate collapse and the environment are all intertwined. Think about it. No rogue state or terrorist threatens our national security nearly as much as our collapsing economy. The growing gap between the rich and poor is what is tearing apart the lives of average Americans and their families.
National security means:
• Everyone has a home.
• Everyone has enough decent food to eat.
• Everyone can drink the water without having to buy it in a bottle from Coke or Pepsi.
• No one has to worry about getting their hand cut off at work or having their job outsourced overseas.
• Everyone can be who they are without fear of being detained and tortured without trial.
• Everyone can vote without fear, knowing their vote will be counted—accurately.
• Every woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body.
• Everyone has enough money for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
• Everyone, even if they don’t have money, has the right to see a doctor if they’re sick or hurt. In so many other countries this is a guaranteed human right by law.
Stimulating and reviving the economy will only succeed from the ground up. This means getting a lot more money quickly to the people on the bottom who need it the most. When they finally have some cash in their pocket they will be more than eager to spend it. Stores perk up, jobs are saved, and the train is finally rolling out of the station. This is why leaders as diverse as Martin Luther King, Milton Friedman and even Richard Nixon have at different times proposed a guaranteed annual income so that everyone can participate and keep our economy humming. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage: $9.50 an hour helps, but $12 an hour is closer to a true living wage. Welfare should not be a dirty word, especially after PBS reported last month that if you count all the Americans who have given up looking for work because they can’t find any and dropped off the radar screen, unemployment is actually around 12%! So please remove the time limits on unemployment compensation, welfare benefits and Aid to Families with Dependent Children that were slapped on the least fortunate during the Clinton years.
But where will the money come from when we burn it all up shoveling it down the mouths of the dragons on Wall Street? You are right to point out that trickle-down supply-side economics never trickled down. It wasn’t supposed to. How will this be any different? To the average taxpayer this so-called bailout looks more like the last great looting of our treasury before Bush and his cronies get the hell out of dodge. There is also growing concern about the appearance of self-dealing by officials with connections to Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.
So far your own economic team seems alarmingly slanted toward the robber barons who helped create this mess in the first place. Where is Joseph Stiglitz? Where is Robert Reich? Are we still all in this together? Your Economic Advisory Council is supposed to be a council, not a choir! You say you want a support staff that debate and give you diverse ideas. So even if you do not agree with them, how about adding William Greider or Doug Henwood or even Naomi Klein as well?
GREEN JOBS THROUGH GREEN AID
Let’s move even faster on climate collapse. The clock is ticking…
Your proposal to spend $150 billion on our crumbling infrastructure is a good beginning. But it is only 10% of the $1.5 trillion in urgent repairs the American Society of Civil Engineers says we need right now to avoid more disasters like the freeway bridge collapse in Minnesota. This does not even account for restocking the Bush-depleted Superfund to clean up toxic waste, or creating affordable housing for everyone. Your plan states, “We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel efficient cars and the alternative energy technology that could free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.” Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to spend whatever it takes to weather-strip and winterize old homes and buildings now if the owners can’t afford it. It will reduce our swollen carbon footprint dramatically and save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years. How about aid for solar panels? Home windmills too? Not just tax breaks, aid. Most people just don’t have the money for this. Time magazine reported in 2001 that an American farmer could get $50 for an acre of wheat and $2000 for an acre of wind power. We either pay to do this now or pay a lot more later. Europeans are already way ahead of us on this one.
Also, look for ways to accomplish two or three things at once with every renewal project. Replacing the water or sewer lines? Lay fiber optic cable! Our not-so-liberal mayor in San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, nixed that idea because there was not enough graft in it for telecom companies. His own silly plan for wi-fi towers fell on its face, so a smart opportunity was wasted.
AUTO AID – REQUIRE GREENER CARS
Ever seen a documentary film called Who Killed the Electric Car? They worked so well their owners did not want to give them back. But when their leases came up, Detroit snatched them away and destroyed them. Now Detroit wants a great big handout? Then another? Then another? There should be no bailout for carmakers if all they are willing to offer in return is more fuel-hogging clunkers like the Ford Flex. No aid until they bring back the electric cars! If the Chevy Volt is so great, why aren’t they selling them now? For almost 30 years, people who go to design schools have told me that the car designers almost always pursue jobs overseas because Detroit is still unable to adapt as quickly to fresh ideas for the future.
So far “clean coal” seems to be about as clean as our mountains of “clean nuclear waste.” Again, no aid to big coal companies unless they end their environmentally devastating “mountain top removal” plundering once and for all.
TRAINS MAKE SENSE – PEOPLE ARE READY
Another crucial way to fight global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to wake up and get serious about a nationwide high-speed rail system and better rapid transit in the cities. Again, Europe, Japan, and even China are way ahead of us. When I do my speaking tours in Europe it is so much easier and less expensive than traveling here: Just take my backpack and go. Even a normal train is often faster than flying. No traffic jams getting to the airport, no long security lines, no baggage claim wait, no traffic jams back into the next town. I just get on the train and get off the train, right downtown. The scenery is pretty cool too.
Amtrak has hemorrhaged money year after year. But ridership is finally going up, in spite of the decimated service. People have finally grown so fed up with traffic jams, fuel prices and the arrogance of our bumbling airline industry that a proper train system would now do very well. Just ask former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, another intriguing choice for a high position in your administration. Californians finally passed a bond issue to begin work on a long-overdue bullet train system between San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles. People I have talked to in random conversation are almost as excited about this as they are about your own election. A similar initiative passed in Florida in 2000, but Governor Jeb Bush impounded the funds.
Surely we can find the money by canceling a few aircraft carriers, tanks and planes we don’t need, and by shutting off the faucet for the hundreds of billions wasted on Reagan’s star wars fantasy—now known as “missile defense.” Are those new installations in the Czech Republic and Poland really worth all the grief they’re stirring up with the Russians? The Czech and Polish people don’t even want them there!
Green energy technology should also be shared, even given, to the Chinese ASAP. Here on the West Coast I have to wipe a brown sooty film off my windshield every couple of days—and my car is in a garage! It is coal dust from Chinese factories. They open a new coal plant ever few days. According to Mother Jones, sustaining an American lifestyle for a Chinese middle class predicted to reach 600 million will require the resources of several more Earths!
COMPETE GLOBALLY – TAKE BETTER CARE OF OUR PEOPLE
Other countries prefer a healthy workforce and are willing to pay for it. Here we stick our workforce with fat, greedy insurance companies who serve no purpose but to act as a tollbooth or a gatekeeper and charge exorbitant fees before a person can even see a doctor. The result, of course, is the most expensive healthcare system with the least benefit for the buck of any in the industrialized world. You say the big insurance companies “should have a place at the table.” Aren’t these companies the problem?
Other counties want their workforce to be as well-educated as possible to better care for themselves and compete in the global economy. So they are willing to pay to make sure this happens, instead of kicking them in the face with back-breaking student loans and cutting school funding to the bone.
Other countries want their children to grow up well-nourished and loved instead of dysfunctional. They are happy to pay welfare for single parents to stay home with their little ones, and for 12-18 months maternity leave with 80-90% pay for either parent to make sure no child is left behind.
Traveling overseas it is not hard to notice that many European countries, and not just Scandinavia, have a higher standard of living than we do, and the gap is widening. The reason is they are willing to pay for it.
HUMANE TAX REFORM
Please do not break your promise to raise income taxes on the wealthy and close those Titanic-sized loopholes that allowed two-thirds of US and foreign corporations who do business here to pay no tax at all between 1998 and 2005. We used to have a tiny tax on security speculation and stock transactions. Britain still does. If the annual amount of wheeling and dealing in the stock market really amounts to the reported $500 trillion a year, a mere 1% tax could raise $5 trillion per year and Wall Street would not even feel it! Other ways to raise badly needed revenue without hurting Joe the Plumber would be to tax companies who pollute, divert funds overseas, and ship jobs out of the country, as well as taxing stock windfalls rewarded by Wall Street for balancing the bottom line with employee layoffs.
Last September the Bush administration quietly dynamited Section 382 of the tax code allowing big banks to run off with as much as $140 billion dollars in new tax breaks that many suspect are illegal. Was this illegal? Please enforce the law and stop the bleeding now.
We could also follow the lead of Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, and even the state of Maine and encourage cities to start their own municipal or community banks. Being a non-profit, these banks would provide low-cost loans for homes and small businesses. They would also save cities millions of dollars apiece that they now waste on private banking fees.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D - IL) proposes generous tax breaks and shareholder advantages to “patriotic corporations” who limit management salaries to 100 times the lowest-paid fulltime worker. I think 10 times is better. Shareholders need better legal tools to limit runaway CEO pay and looting by top executives.
Schakowsky would also give tax breaks to corporations that: produce at least 90% of their goods and services in the United States; spend at least 50% of the research and development budgets here at home; stay out of employee organizing drives; are clean with the EPA, OSHA and the NRLB; and provide their employees with generous and portable pension funds and health insurance. They must also agree not to price-gouge consumers.
So how do we convince Americans that it is in our best interest to help pay for all of this? It would help if you use your power to inspire and persuade, to get through to people in this country that not all taxes are automatically bad, especially when spent in a way that benefits them directly. Starting with the Boston Tea Party in kindergarten, it is drilled into us that taxes are this terrible violation of our freedom. As adults we have had 30 plus years of media sermons from both parties that we are no longer a community, but a marketplace, and that competitiveness is more important than caring about one another. Isn’t it interesting that the people least interested in paying taxes are often the first to complain when a government service they take for granted doesn’t work any more?
To wise people up and chip away at this I suggest pointing out what happened to California when voters passed Proposition 13 and gutted what was once the number one education system in the country, if not the world. It is now almost dead last. According to the ACLU, some schools in Los Angeles are not only short on books and desks, they don’t even have toilet paper. Californians also voted down an initiative guaranteeing universal healthcare after the Disease Industry ran a blitz of TV ads claiming it would raise people’s taxes. They banked on people failing to do the math and see how a slight tax increase would dramatically reduce their own medical bills.
Another example is the tale of two of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. In the 1990s, Rock Island, IL voters were willing to raise taxes to build a floodwall. Voters in Davenport, IA rejected a wall three times because it would raise taxes. Guess whose town was devastated the next time the Mississippi flooded? To raise local money for local and state projects voters have to be shown that it is worth raising taxes to pay for these things.
Taxes also wouldn’t hurt so much if the people had more say in where their money went. How about placing 12-15 categories in US income tax forms so people can vote what percentage of their tax money they want spent where? I’ll bet education, the environment, infrastructure, and services would go straight up and our bloated military cash cow would go straight down.
HELP PEOPLE RESIST FORECLOSURES
To fight the plague of foreclosures, I suggest following the lead of the Cook County Sheriff in Chicago by declaring a moratorium on foreclosure evictions. Debts to predatory lenders should be forgiven at once. Many families are fleeing their homes because they are so frightened of the cruel Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, they are willing to default on their mortgage just to keep up with their credit card debts. You voted against this law. Now let’s get rid of it. I am inspired by City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston who have said “Yes We Can” to reviving the Depression-era practice of volunteer rolling brigades who show up to defend people’s homes from eviction, and if need be take all the furniture and belongings back from the curb into the house. In addition, they alert the media to help shame the banks and predatory lenders from coming back. In many cases it has worked.
The most intriguing proposal flying around the Internet is for everyone who files an individual tax return to be given $1 million dollars on the condition that they use it to pay off their mortgage in full (thus bailing out the banks) and buy an American car within the next three years. Whatever is left over is theirs to keep and invest. Unfortunately the math does not add up. Even the staggering estimated total of $8 trillion thrown at our collapsing economy would only bring $57,971.01 for each of the 138 million individual tax returns filed each year. Too bad, it is an interesting idea.
“THIS MOVEMENT IS NOT JUST ABOUT ONE PERSON…”
I’m glad to hear you say that, but I keep waiting for you to expand and take it further. To point out how much it also matters who is in the Senate, who is in the House, the Governor, the State legislature, mayors, city councils, school boards, ballot initiatives, county commissioners, you name it. To say that if a person is not satisfied with what is going on in their community, they should get involved. If they are not satisfied with how they are being represented, they should consider running for office themselves. A lot of inspired people would. What else can we do in the meantime to make things better? What simple, easy steps can we take in our own lives? You have two more chances—Inauguration and the State of the Union. Before people return to the slumber of Soundbite McNews.
Bill Clinton could have won back Congress in 1996 if he had used his popularity, convention speech and pulpit for something besides his own shoo-in re-election. But he didn’t. I was in the room for Al Gore’s acceptance speech in 2000. He didn’t bother either. It was just about one person.
I’ll be amazed if Mr. Obama or anyone close actually reads this, so this last part is for you folks who have. To me, if there is an Obama movement, it is more like the Pope-mobile. You know, that cage of bulletproof glass on wheels that rolls around with the Pope inside, waving at his adoring flock, “Yo! I’m here! Look at me, I’m the Pope!” Then everybody goes home. But who is driving the Pope-mobile? Can a crowd organize to block the wrong turns and steer it in a better direction?
I did not vote for you, but I dearly want you to succeed at delivering the change you have promised. We have very little time and may not get another chance. Recent history shows we have eight years maximum before the pendulum swings back the other way—and hard. She may lose once or twice, but I fear the Pitbull with Lipstick will one day be bigger than Reagan.
In many ways, people seem to be looking to you as their new great-and-powerful Oprah as much as they look at you as their President. This can be useful too. To revive people’s sense of community and what it entails. To persuade people that voting for small local tax increases brings much greater benefits for everyone down the road. To encourage people to not just recycle but look for ways to stop wasting so much. Those same European countries whose standard of living seems to be higher than ours use a fraction per capita of natural resources we do. How do they do it? Think of all the forests we could save just by showing people how much paper they can save just by writing on the other side before they throw it away? Imagine if lawyers figured this out.
HONOR AND RESPECT YOUR MOVEMENT
Please don’t ever forget why so many people who had given up hope are investing so much of their hearts and hope in you. If that hope is shattered and they feel betrayed, a great deal more will collapse for good.
So to keep your movement alive—and help it grow beyond you—keep those texts and e-mail lists alive! Keep your Blackberry. Does it matter if it all becomes public record? How about a posting a daily log of what you did and who you and your staff met with, including lobbyists. Why not keep all those campaign offices you opened all over the country alive too? Convert them to branch offices. Senators and House members have branch offices all over their districts. You now represent the whole country. Keep the branches.
Above all, be a leader, not a dealmaker. There are times when cutting a deal is the same as cutting and running. To put it mildly, we can’t afford that anymore. There are no sails left to trim.
And if this is a movement about change and not just about one person, it is up to the movement to drive the President, not the other way around. Please do not stand in the way.
Originally published on Alternative Tentacles site at http://www.alternativetentacles.com/page.php?page=jello_openletter
Eric Reed Boucher, more widely known by the stage name Jello Biafra, is a musician who first gained attention as the lead singer and songwriter for San Francisco punk rock band Dead Kennedys. After his time with the band concluded, he became more directly involved with political activism and took over the influential independent record label Alternative Tentacles, founded in 1979 by him and Dead Kennedys bandmate East Bay Ray. Although now primarily focused on spoken word art, he has continued as a musician in numerous collaborations.