Friday, September 29, 2006

Doing My Part... Promoting a Fair Wisconsin!

Marriage is finding that one person you want to annoy, for the rest of your life!

If you have been reading this lovely blog long, you should know that one of the causes that I am most passionate about, is gay marriage (and gay rights, in general). I am horrified by the insane amount of time and money that is wasted by our government, trying to deny citizens basic human rights! is one of the sites I check fairly often. I have been very pleased with how they have covered the Wisconsin issues. There are A LOT of us (heterosexuals) here in this state... Dedicated to supporting our GLBT brothers and sisters in their journey towards marriage (if they so choose). We are not all cheese hat wearing, cheap beer drinking, belching, farting, green and yellow, conservative bastards...

I love the ads
Fair Wisconsin has been running. Lynn's Story is so touching ~ you can view it off their site, if you're not lucky enough to live in America's Dairyland.
So, I am putting my money (or time) where my mouth is! Next Sunday I will start volunteering at Fair Wisconsin's LaCrosse office. The goal is to make sure people know if they support civil unions, they should oppose the ban!
This proposed amendment goes way beyond banning marriage for gay couples. It will also ban civil unions and threaten any legal protections for unmarried couples.
A majority of Wisconsinites support civil unions, which could offer many of the rights of marriage to gay couples. Statewide polls have shown that around 60% of people in our state support civil unions or marriage for gay couples. I wish it were more, but hey... the start will be making sure that this does NOT pass in November!

We love who we love... why shouldn't we ALL have the choice to make it "official"?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

American Justice?

Anyone doubting that there is a class divide in this country is likely a conservative, since class warfare, like racism, is a myth on the political right. However, for the rest of us, that divide, that gulf, is almost impassably wide and growing every day. Besides the economy, one of the many areas where that divide is most notable is in our judicial system.

First, the news, via

More than 2 1/2 years after pleading guilty for his participation in Enron Corp.'s collapse, financial whiz Andrew Fastow's fate was to be revealed Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt was expected to give Fastow 10 years, which the former chief financial officer previously agreed to. Hoyt can't increase his sentence but could reduce it.

According to Fox "News" this afternoon, Fastow actually received a 6 year sentence, of which he'll serve probably half. Roughly a three-year prison sentence for Andrew Fastow, who's complicity in Enron’s criminal activity led to the following:

Enron, once the nation's seventh-largest company, crumbled into bankruptcy proceedings in December 2001 after years of accounting tricks could no longer hide billions in debt or make failing ventures appear profitable. The collapse wiped out thousands of jobs>, more than $60 billion in market value and more than $2 billion in pension plans.

Now, by comparison, here’s an example of another kind of criminal behavior. I have a friend who had repeated run-ins with the law over his marijuana habits. He like to use it, made money selling it and generally was not very good at not getting caught with it repeatedly. At the end of the day, he was charged with multiple felonies, including intent to distribute; charges which, all told, left an 11-year prison sentence hanging over my friend’s head, of which he was guaranteed to serve at least 6 in a state penitentiary here in Wisconsin.

Fortunately for my friend, Wisconsin has a drug court program that allows those facing prison time over drug offenses to eventually get those charges dismissed. It requires years of community service, counseling, fines and a basic surrender of a large chunk of one’s civil rights to the government, in exchange for the promise of a clean slate at the other end. My friend was fortunate enough to make it through to that clean slate; many don’t.

The point is this:

One of these men ruined thousands of people. He materially damaged their lives, costing them their livelihoods, their retirements and basically burned the corporate safety net many of us rely upon today in the absence of sensible government programs. This man caused untold emotional anguish to these thousands, leaving their futures uncertain at best, all while earning millions in the process. He helped largely destroy the 7th largest company in the United States, costing thousands of investors billions of dollars. At the end of the day, this man’s malfeasance caused economic damage on par with a natural disaster, and he’ll likely serve 3 years in a minimum security prison for his actions.

The other man was smoking weed a few times, once with a whole coffee can of it in the trunk. He claims he only sold it to other adults and committed no violent crimes of any kind in the process. He hurt no one physically or economically, save himself, and really did emotional harm only to those who know and love him. Even he doesn’t know how much money he actually made selling marijuana, but at the time he entered the drug court program he had no job, no car, no house; really, no assets or income of any kind. He was completely destitute. At the end of his day, he spent 3 years in a state drug court program, paying thousands of dollars in fines, surrendering to home searches, random drug tests, curfews, job restrictions and many other limits on his freedom. He lived every day with the threat of at least 6 years in a maximum security prison should he ever slip up even the tiniest bit.

Given all that, I pose the question:

Is this "justice" in any sense of the word?

Torture Deserves No Compromises

I am more than a little horrified to think that our nation is actually busy having a high-level debate (between certain Senators and the President, no less!) about how exactly to interpret the Geneva Conventions against torture. If there is any issue under the sun about which all Americans should be able to agree, it ought to be that we are universally against torture of any kind. After all, it’s awfully hypocritical for America to proclaim the supposed divinely inspired equality of all mankind while our President and Senate haggle over just how much inhuman cruelty it is permissible to visit upon our war detainees. Gone already is the presumption of innocence for these people, our fellow human beings. Their humanity was stripped away when they were convicted of being swarthy Middle Easterners in the presence of an American “War on Terror”. Their rights as human beings lie as mute casualties of our collective fear. No great nation can act this way and still claim greatness.

It’s not as though our nation doesn’t have experience with dehumanizing others and committing torture against them, either. I just watched Mississippi Burning again this weekend and was struck as powerfully as ever by how close our putatively free society sits to Nietzche’s abyss. We look into it again and again, seeing different strange faces over the years as whole segments of our society embrace hatred of that stranger. So it is again today, with the “War on Terror”. Too many Americans looked into the face of the evil that bled us on 9/11 and saw not a ragtag bunch of religious extremists who scored the ultimate sucker punch, but a roiling mass of existential evil bent on the destruction of free society. The Bush administration and its complicit Republican Congress whipped that fearful horse into a frenzied gallop, running campaigns and public policy on delusions of Al-Qaeda’s grandeur. And for those of us who were, and remain, skeptical about the breadth of the Islamic extremist threat, there has been nothing but contempt and attacks upon our patriotism. Bush and his sycophants in the rightwing media have used their bully pulpits and media megaphones to shout down dissent, sowing fear and hatred against the dreaded "Other" once again in America. Even the slightest voice of reason that penetrates that mighty Wurlitzer is welcome.

Which is why, I think, it was so easy for many liberals, against their better judgment, I hope, to give Senator John McCain and friends at least a somewhat interested ear when they began to question Bush's proposed dismantling of the Geneva Conventions. The legend of McCain’s moral individuality, his "maverick" status, is grossly undeserved yet one of the most persistent myths in Washington. McCain is, and always has been, a loyal conservative Republican with a penchant for talking a bigger game than he plays. He consistently votes with his party, regardless of his rhetoric in the policy debates. It should have been no surprise to anyone, liberals especially, that McCain would eventually agree to a "compromise"; which, among Republicans, means doing whatever Bush wants with a little phony political theatre to entertain the rubes. I don’t doubt John McCain is against torture, but I also don't doubt that he's much more invested in a Republican majority and a future McCain presidential administration than he is in a principled moral stand. We’ve been around this block too many times for me to believe that McCain and his fellows actually believe taking Bush and Hadley at their words is a compromise of any kind. It was election year politics and nothing more.

Given that it was nothing but strange Washington kabuki, the silence of the Democrats during this debate is possibly the most damning mark against us in some time. For a party that continually battles the well-worn conservative stereotype that Democrats do not stand by their principles, failing to vocally take a stand against gutting the Geneva Conventions may possibly be the worst political mistake the party’s made this election season. Even I am beginning to doubt whether the leadership of my party has any sort of grasp of what motivates American voters. Voices like Russ Feingold’s, who has been vocally against the Bush administration’s torture policies, are welcome, but Russ isn’t the prominent national voice that a Clinton or Reid is. The Democrats were largely silent, hoping that this might finally be the issue that splits the Republican party apart while again forgetting how passive-aggressive and opportunistic that approach appears to the voters. Torture should be a no-brainer issue for Democrats; they should have been shouting from the mountaintops about what a disgusting display of immoral hypocrisy the entire Republican debate was. National security is not the end that justifies all means, but the Republicans will continue to use it that way if their ambitions remain unchecked.

Instead, most of what we got from my Democratic party was similar to President Clinton's remarks on Meet the Press: a pragmatic support of the Geneva conventions. That’s not to say that defending the Conventions on a pragmatic basis is not worthwhile or effective; torture doesn’t work and its use does put Americans at risk. Unfortunately, the electorate does not vote on issues pragmatically. The Republicans, Bush and Rove especially, understand this very well. Rarely does Bush try and defend his policies from a practical point of view. Instead, it's high-minded rhetoric about "clashes of civilization", "good versus evil" and our "duty to history". While that approach is not intellectual and not very enlightening about the issues, it is effective in winning elections. And, at the end of the day, losing elections is the only thing that is going to stop movement conservatism from permanently damaging our democracy.

For my own part, I think the pragmatic arguments against torture are needless. Some issues can stand purely on their moral foundations. A ban against torture in any form is one such issue. The Geneva Conventions are writ broadly and somewhat vaguely on purpose: to force those abiding by them to question their governments’ policies on an ongoing basis. What Bush seeks to do, and what other violent authoritarians, such as Augusto Pinochet in Chile have sought to do, is define torture down to specifics in order to weaken the Geneva Conventions. There is no need for specific, delineated rules about torture for any nation, unless that nation wishes to know where the limit lies in order to walk as closely to it as possible. That, I believe, is what the Bush administration is attempting to do: set a standard so specific that it leaves a vast array of inhuman depravations legal. There should be no need for a debate on the pragmatic reasons against torture; the sickening, inhuman immorality of it should be the beginning an end for our nation, or any other. We have no claim to decency as a nation or a people otherwise.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Stern Warning

From Admiral Kirk and

Almost every day, the great antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network turn to a blank patch of sky in the constellation Ophiuchus. Pointing at nothing, or so it seems, they invariably pick up a signal, faint but full of intelligence. The source is beyond Neptune, beyond Pluto, on the verge of the stars themselves.
It's Voyager 1. The spacecraft left Earth in 1977 on a mission to visit Jupiter and Saturn. Almost 30 years later, with the gas giants long ago seen and done, Voyager 1 is still going and encountering some strange things.

I know this seems cool, being the first man-made object to ever leave the solar system about 10 years hence, but read between the lines, people! When V’ger comes back looking for The Creator and James Dobson’s great, great, great, great, great grandson tries to beam up a King James Version, we’re all getting vaporized!

Send a letter to NASA and demand that they take action immediately. We cannot allow science to bring about the end of the world. That’s religion’s job…

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy Autumnal Equinox & Congratulations to Lori and Jeffrey!

Friday evening marked the Autumnal Equinox and precisely at 11:03 Samurai Sam officiated a beautiful wedding ceremony, uniting Lori & Jeffrey. Please send them your best wishes for a long and happy life, together!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

As Insubstantial As A Dream

I had to drop in for just a few minutes and talk about this whole dust-up with the Pope, seeing how it's all over the news still. I have to admit that I don't understand what the big deal is exactly. Benedict is a firm believer in a strict constructionist view of Vatican 2; which means he clearly believe Islam to be an inferior religion to Christianity. I would wager that most of the 80% of Americans who are Christian feel the same way. There is an enormous amount of ignorance in the Western world about Islam, and it's been an especially virulent ignorance since 9/11. This whole situation seems to me another symptom of that ignorance, agitated by a man who clearly ought to know better diplomacy than to quote a 14th century ideologue's insult of Islam. If anyone should know that the eyes of the world are upon them, it's the Pope.

Personally, I find it hard to fathom a much less substantial argument than one that centers around whose faith is superior. As an atheist, it seems to me the most pointless debate possible; the nature of the unknowable. How many angels are dancing on the head of this pin, and which magic man holds it in his hand, the Jew or the Arab? As if world events should truly turn on such questions...

Further, all the phony outrage on both sides is ridiculous. What do Muslims care what the Pope says? And why does the Western world care so much about what offends a tiny fringe group of Muslims? The "clash of civilizations" is nothing but a weird pantomime; pretend slights and feigned offense. It's really quite strange...

[I will be back to regular posting soon, assuming my career doesn't kill me. - S. Sam]

The Youngest of the bunch turns 1!

On September 8, 2005 our lives changed. We were graced with the presence of our beautiful Cecelia Rose. 9 lbs 4 oz, 20 inches of pure sweetness!

A million dollar smile... and she's just a year old! Wow... can you imagine two? three? thirteen?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rumors of the Samurai’s Death: Unfounded

It has been determined that the famed Samurai Sam is alive and well! He is currently working on some top-secret projects (4 presentations for the man, this week) and an “underground” wedding ceremony (two liberals will be joined in holy or un-holy matrimony this Friday).

We will return with more insights into the world and criticisims of the conserative view, soon. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Email From Outer Wingnuttia: Local Trouble Edition

I'm often amazed at life's little coincidences. For example, the email I'm about to answer below. It's fascinating because it's actually from one of my co-workers, though I'm fairly certain he doesn't realize that Samurai Sam is laboring away for the very same corporate overlord as this erstwhile critic of my liberal leanings. Since this gentleman was nice enough to email me, I thought I'd post a response. Who knows? He may even be back to read it...


Bigotry Comes in Many forms; some blatant some subtle.

I agree, and they're all detestable.

How interesting that you blast people like Pat Buchanan and the mayor of Arcadia for their views, while at the same time profiting by allowing someone like "Ishkur" sell his wares on your website.

I consider "blasting Pat Buchanan" my patriotic duty as an American. He's an under-cover racist, seeking to forward the same agenda as notables like the Aryan Anarchist Skins while couching his goals in "reasonable" language (though the cracks will show when old Pat is pressed; he's nothing if not an angry bigot). As for the mayor of Arcadia: well, he's just another typical, small-town bigot, so ignorant and fearful of those different from he that he abuses the office of mayor in an effort to cater to his own prejudices. His entire racist platform is nothing but disaffected bar talk; the bitching of losers too busy grubbing in the muck of their own insignificance to wake up and see the beauty of our diverse world. Arcadia, like many small, white Midwestern towns, is experiencing the growing pains and uncertainty that come from a sudden influx of immigrants. It was no different back in the 19th century when Norwegians flooded the area. However, had the mayor even an ounce of integrity, he'd have used his position to foster fraternity and understanding between the old white community and the new Mexican one. That he chose the path he did says much about his character, or rather the lack thereof.

Finally, I posted "Ishkur's" Intelligent Design poster because I thought it was funny. If he/she made money from one of my readers, great! Good work deserves rewards.

Today's poster highlight shines the spotlight on the ridicule of people who believe that the Intelligent Design theory can reasonably answer more questions about our origin and development than the evolution theory.

No, it doesn't, nor was that my intention. It's a free country and a free people are allowed to believe whatever they choose to believe. However, that doesn't mean Intelligent Design is anything other than a half-baked attempt to circumnavigate the Second Amendment and get Biblical Creationism into public schools. It's not science, it's marginal theology and it fails to offer anything of use in understanding the natural world.

Intelligent Design doesn't answer any question, except for "What's a name for a political boondoggle designed to pollute our public science education with phony religious nonsense?" The theory of evolution is one of the best tested and researched scientific theories we have and just because it doesn't fit with a literal interpretation of Old Testament mythology doesn't make it any less the bedrock theory of numerous modern scientific disciplines. But, again, everyone's free to believe whatever they want. Just don't expect me to give weight and credence to whatever bit of mystical whimsy is in vogue today's conservative theists.

You don't appreciate the views of some currently in the headlines; neither do I.

True, I don't appreciate those advocating for a new segregation by immmigration status, endless unjustified and unwinnable war in the Middle East or a virtual Christian theocracy here at home. That's what you were going to say too, right?

But don't be a hypocrite and ridicule others or allow others to be ridiculed because of their disbelief in evolution.

Sorry, but I reserve the right to ridicule anyone I feel deserves it, just as they have the right to ridicule me in return. As a secular humanist in an overwhelmingly Christian country, I know all about having the minority view on matters metaphysical, so don't play the poor Christian victim card here. There is nothing hypocritical about my being dismissive of Creationism; I'm just as dismissive of astrology and witchcraft as well. The universe is an amazing place; adding a gaudy veneer of mysticism to it is like spray-painting a smiley face on the Venus de Milo.

And I'm spent...

I have to say that, as far as critical emails go, this one was pretty decent. Calling me a hypocrite and implying that I'm as bigoted as Pat "What white hood?" Buchanan is child's play for what we normally see on these here internets...

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Remember...

I remember September 11, 2001. Oh, I've been accused many times of "forgetting" it, especially by people who think they somehow own the symbology of that day; the identity of it. But I remember it uncoupled from the lies and the wars that followed. I remember the day as it was, a day of tremendous shock and sorrow.

I was actually on the Metra when the first jet crashed into the North Tower. That would be the suburban commuter train that took us low ranking corporate functionaries from our middle class townhomes in Carol Stream or Hanover Park to the Chicago Loop. I slept the whole way to Union Station, much as I did every day. A beautiful morning walk, a stop at the Corner Bakery, a day like any other. But only for awhile.

I was working for a small real estate firm on Wacker Drive at that time and, upon arriving to work and getting settled into my office, decided to wander off to the complementary coffee break room. There I ran into our corporate accounting manager, who casually remarked how he'd heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I imagined a single prop airplane, some lost or drunk pilot carelessly joyriding and causing a spectacle on that beautiful morning. It was so easy to be that naive then.

But not for long. Soon other folks began to arrive at the office with terrible tales to tell. War! An attack on New York City. Several of us tuned in to Mancow (Rush Limbaugh with a sense of humor) just in time to hear of the second attack, this time claiming the south tower. Soon news reports were blaring across the airwaves, talk of terrorists and hijackings nationwide. See, no one knew in those few hours what the terrible scope of the attacks were nor if there were more to come. It was taken as an almost certainty that Chicago and maybe L.A. were in immediate danger. At the behest of Mayor Daley, many of us began trying to evacuate the Loop, glancing furtively at the skyline and wondering if we were about to see it as it was for the last time.

The most poignent moment of 9/11 for me came in that chaotic exodus. Thousands upon thousands of people streamed towards the train stations, wanting desperately to escape home, to comfort and sanity. Reports screamed out over the radio of panic and confusion at the Sears Tower and the Hancock building. As I half-walked, half-ran towards Union Station, a single, clarifying moment occurred. A low-flying jet, banking over Chicago, it's engines roaring. I watched thousands of people turn their gazes to the sky at once and then, reflexively, duck as they ran, believing, as I certainly did, that we were about to witness first-hand what we'd all been hearing about that morning. The sky was a perfect blue as that silver arrow eased lazily over the Chicago skyline and escaped north over the Miracle Mile.

And then it was over, the spell broken. We had been given a reprieve, been spared the agony of New York and Washington. Thousands of people packed the Metra and CTA, so many that the doors wouldn't close. I arrived home after being trapped standing for an hour and a half to Hanover Park. I watched on CNN the constant replay of the attacks and, later, the gut-wrenching agony of the towers' collapse. Gifted-1 and I spoke several times on the phone that morning, she from work near O'Hare and me from home, as fighter jets rumbled over head. They would be the last jets we'd hear for many days; an air-traffic silence over the greater Chicago area that was, in its way, just as unsettling as the attacks. It had the feeling of a changed America, an America under attack by an enemy many of us didn't realize we had...


In retrospect, the saddest part of 9/11 for me, beyond the death and destruction, was Al-Qaeda's success. They sought to terrify the American people, to cow us into believing that our freedom was a liability to our safety. And so many believed them; still believe them. Maybe now, this five years on, we can step back from that abyss and remember that we've always had enemies and our oceans have never protected us from them. The only existential threat we face is from within, not from the hills of Afghanistan or alleys of Baghdad. Al-Qaeda can do nothing to our nation that we don't allow, save bleed us a little. And we've always bled for our way of life; it's worth a little blood now and then.

Friday, September 08, 2006

There's No Such Thing As A "Docu-Drama"!

I just caught a second or two of Fox "News" as I was fetching some coffee this morning and heard what I had been expecting for days concerning ABC's "The Path to 9/11" RNC campaign commercial...err..."docu-drama": a justification comparing it to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11". Some lovely coiffed but intellectually vacant Fox commenter opined, and I quote as nearly as I can remember: "Democrats certainly weren't up in arms about Michael Moore's "docu-drama" blaming Bush for 9/11". The quote is surely not exact but it captures the flavor of what she meant even if I made part of it up. ABC's new standards for integrity are good enough for "A Beginner's Mind", right? Apparently there's an ethical exception to the truth as long as something can be called a "docu-drama", which is what this young spokesmodel for movement conservatism actually called Moore's documentary.

The differences between "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Path to 9/11" are many and no doubt the conservative talking heads pushing this bogus argument understand and are attempting to obscure those differences. Let's explore a few of them to see why Fox remains on the cutting edge of fabricated news...

First of all, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a documentary, not some meaningless pop-culture doublespeak term of no substance. Moore's film, which I have seen, takes a huge amount of factual information and then draws conclusions from it that are open to debate. It's certainly an opinion piece but those opinions are drawn on well-documented factual information. At no time does Moore create events out of whole cloth the way ABC's "docu-drama" does, such as the "Sandy Berger refusing to go after Osama bin Laden" scene that's elicited letters from former Clinton administration personnel. "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a documentary which draws opinionated conclusions based on actual facts. "The Path to 9/11" is an historical fiction that attempts to re-write history to match what the GOP wishes had happened. They want to absolve Bush of all responsibility for the mistakes made by his office, while casting the blame for the worst terrorist attack in history onto the one President with the best anti-terrorism record of any we've had. I guess we'll have to scratch "integrity" and "accountability" off the list of those much vaunted "conservative values" about which we hear so much...

Second, Moore didn't advertise "Fahrenheit 9/11" as anything other than what it was: an opinionated documentary. He made no bones about his disgust with the Bush administration. "The Path to 9/11", on the other hand, has continually been marketed as an unbiased look at the events leading up to 9/11 based on the 9/11 Commission report, which is patently untrue. Notables such as Richard Clark, the former anti-terrorism director under Bush, has himself said that the movie presents scenes which are complete fabrications. This, along with the fact that only rightwing blogs and media outlets were allowed an advanced screening, surely indicates that "The Path to 9/11" has a clear and intentional agenda which ABC is deliberately trying to hide.

Finally, ABC, like several other major networks, refused to air "Fahrenheit 9/11" when it was released, deeming it to be too "politically charged". That much hypocrisy almost speaks for itself. Apparently being "too politically charged" is OK as long as it's the "right" politics. Disney (ABC's parent company) no doubt loves those Bush tax cuts and, thus, has a very vested interest in making sure nothing unfortunate, like, for instance, the democratic process, happens to that corporate welfare.

As a matter of course, I don't see anything so much wrong with ABC airing it's historical fiction about 9/11 as much as I mind how ABC is marketing this mess. ABC, sans Monday Night Football, is now easily the most useless non-Fox "News" station on the cable dial. If they wanted to air a GOP-approved mini-series about 9/11 for their hundreds of viewers, more power to them. But they must present it for what it is: a poor conservative's History Channel special.

[Lazy Blogger's Note: Rather than populate this post with 50 links to Atrios, I'll just suggest that anyone interested in doing so can use Eschaton as a works-cited page for all things related to this "docu-drama".]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Two Economies

Christy at firedoglake has a post up about the economy's role in election year politics which contains a graphic demonstrating the nationwide decline in median wages. She references John Edwards' speeches about "The Two Americas" that he gave during the 2004 election. In them he laid the groundwork for an old-fashioned populist campaign targeted at the working class, which I hope we see again next year. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is dwindling away as a result.

Yet every indication from the talking heads in the media and from the White House is that the economy is doing just swimmingly. And, from a certain perspective, the Republicans are actually somewhat right in that assessment of the economy (insert your own "stopped clock" joke here). The economy does continue to add jobs, inflation is higher than the Greenspan days but still quite low at around 3%, productivity growth continues, oil prices are declining and the stock market continues on a growth trend begun in June. Those are all positive signs of economic growth, yet anxiety about the economy remains the number one concern of American voters. Why?

The answer lies behind the numbers, as it often does. Every measure of economic growth that Republicans like to trumpet have one thing in common: they are good news to wealthy investors and capitalists but not terribly meaningful to the vast majority of Americans. Yes, business and equity growth is good for the country in the long term. I certainly don't dispute that. But a closer look shows that the benefits of all this growth really are not "trickling down" as a certain sainted Republican president once mendaciously claimed.

Job Growth

The latest jobs report indicates that the economy added about 119,000 jobs over the last month, which is certainly growth. Problem is, economists estimate that the U.S. requires roughly 250,000 new jobs per month to cover population growth and immigration. This means that fewer jobs are being created in the short term than will be needed in the long term. Thanks to the basics of supply vs. demand, this slowed growth puts downward pressure on wages. More workers than jobs means employers have an even heavier upper hand at the wage bargaining table than usual. Good news if you're a wealthy investor or capitalist; not so much if you're a working stiff already facing declining wages.

Low Inflation

Much of our collective worry in America about inflation stems from the 1973 oil crisis, which caused a steep and sudden downturn in our economy. That recession in turn led to a situation where fuel costs drove inflation higher while overall economic growth stagnated. This dreaded one-two punch, called "stag-flation" by many (personally, I hate the term), led to a new conceptualization of the role of government in monetary policy. In effect, the Federal Reserve began using its power to set the federal funds lending rate as a way to head off inflation. And it worked...sort of. The downside to Greenspan's success in holding down inflation is that wage growth is viewed as a key component of the same, while corporate profits are not. Meaning that efforts to hold down inflation often also stagnate or even depress wages, while giving investors a higher rate of return on their holdings. The rich get richer, etc...

Productivity Growth

Productivity growth is the golden goose of Republican supply-side economics. It's certainly what every modern economy wants: proof positive that its economic infrastructure is trending towards greater efficiency and optimal use of resources. However, there is perhaps no other aspect of economic growth that is more "Jekyll & Hyde" in regards to the "Two Americas" than productivity growth. For as long as wages are declining and productivity is growing, the working class is essentially being exempted from the fruits of their labor. The work force is producing more products and services more efficiently and yet receiving a diminishing piece of the economic pie. In fact, it's arguable whether or not this can even properly be called "growth" rather than just a redistribution of wealth from the working class to the investor class. Sadly, a rising tide in this case most certainly does not raise all ships.

Declining Oil Prices

Truly, a mixed bag, are oil prices. A softening of oil prices is certainly an economic plus in almost any respect. Fuel costs directly impact the poorest people the most, as costs for transportation and heating are only elastic to a point. After all, no matter how expensive gas gets here in the Dairy State, I still have to drive my 75 mile commute each day and keep Gifted-1 and the padawans toasty in the winter. Businesses can and do pass that cost through to the consumer, which is regressively damaging down the economic spectrum.

However, in the long term, low oil prices have led us to many of the problems we have today. High pollution rates, inefficient vehicles and a dearth of technologically advanced alternatives are just a few. Our dependence on cheap oil requires us to micro-manage the global oil market, as we represent 25% of the world's consumption. Anyone doubting that America's involvement in the Middle East revolves around this economic reality is fooling themselves. High oil prices encourage conservation and research into alternative technologies. These alternatives help the environment, create new industries, new jobs and advance our scientific and technological prowess. Plus, they begin to ameliorate our need to be directly involved in nations whose people are largely hostile to us after decades of exploitative U.S. energy policy. It's also worth noting that high oil prices actually help a fairly good size chunk of our investor class and work force, in the form of record profits for some of the world's largest corporations. A tough call; I lean towards the long view in that higher oil prices are better, though I think it's high time Big Oil shared some of those profits more equitably. Feel free to use the comments section to explain how wrong I am...

Stock Market Growth

Of all the economic statistics touted by conservative news outlets as signs of a great economy, nothing gets more press time than the stock market. All other indices may be trending negative, but as long as the Dow Jones and NASDAQ close higher, the conservative media is bullish. If you can stand the banality, just watch Fox's "The Cost of Freedom" on Saturday sometime to see this in action. Stock market gains bring out the Marie Antoinettes of the investor class; the plebes can just eat cake as long as that portfolio is growing. The stock market is never a particularly good indicator of anything other than the relative demand for equities. Stocks have long been the best performing investment vehicle over the long term, with a level of risk that is accordingly higher. However, outside of a possible 401(k), the vast majority of Americans either do not invest in stocks or have such paltry positions compared to the overall market as to be largely inconsequential. The market can rise or decline independently of other economic news in the short term, which means that all the face-time granted to the shallow market analysis given on cable news shows is almost entirely faux-intellectual mind candy for conservatives. It bolsters a certain impression of the economy that is largely meaningless in any practical sense to most of the country.

At the end of the day, the question arises again as to whether we're really experiencing economic growth when the vast majority of Americans are being excluded from the benefits of such. The practical effect of declining wages and growing productivity is a redistribution upwards of economic wealth. How much practical meaning does such growth even have when the vast majority of the country is excluded? An even better question would be what do we, as working class voters, need to do in order to rectify this inequality? Edwards rhetoric aside, it doesn't seem as if either political party has done much to help the situation. Republican fiscal policy sees wealth concentration as a positive goal, while Democratic policy seems lost in a post-populist wilderness. I firmly believe that if the Democratic party could only internalize "The Two Americas" into its policy platform, we could turn a close win in November into a bloodbath.

The alternative, the Republican fiscal path, leads down a very dark road eventually. Democracy and aristocracy cannot exist together for long, and the over-arching characteristic of aristocratic economic systems is a lack of opportunity for all but the wealthy. The day that most Americans finally realize that the "Land of Opportunity" has disappeared will signal a fundamental change in our social dynamic, one that could lead to some very ugly, though ultimately necessary, conflicts.

That day is fast approaching...