Friday, September 12, 2008

ARC 109: Statement of a Liberal Platform

A coterie of activists in the fields of labor, human rights, feminism, anti-racism and Middle East peace work have come together to create ARC - A Movement Re-imagining Change with a short statement of goals for a post-Bush American Policy. You can find it here at There is a community forum on the document Saturday the 12th at the Experimental Station 6100. S. Blackstone at 3:00. I plan on going if anyone else is interested.

I'm a bit underwhelmed by the document as it offers nothing really new to the liberal platform (don't confuse liberal with Democrat). I'll discuss some of the basic tenants of the document and why I think they're a necessary part of the contemporary social justice. Hopefully, it'll at least start some substantive discussion of these issues

1. Withdrawal from Iraq and Waging International Peace: The central idea here is that the history of American Foreign policy after Isolationism and WWII is dominated by imperialist ideology which have supported horrendous, anti-democratic regimes (Pinochet, Shah of Iran, Contras, Hussein, etc.), maintained a status of exception to international and United States' law (Guantanamo, Extraordinary rendition, the invasion of Iraq), and propped up profiteering enterprises at the knowing expense of most of the world's population (GATT, Oil for Food, Banana Republics). This history and current policy has directly fed terrorist ideology and sympathy breeding new war and destabilizing the Global South.

I agree with the ARC 109 on the need for a Department of Peace Initiatives directed at developing humanitarian programs nationally and internationally to sow the seeds of good will and mutual respect. Further, democratizing and invigorating the UN by removing veto powers, embracing international law (which we wrote and signed as law over us), and committing our resources to UN causes such as stabilizing Africa and helping provide the basic necessities such as clean water to the third world will actually help us be the City on the Hill that we claim to be.

What I disagree with is the international demobilization of U.S. troops and withdrawal from Iraq. I feel an incoming wave of flack from my liberal brothers and sisters, but hear me out. I'm not arguing for continued hostile operations; but rather, a maintenance of presence and infrastructure to deal with humanitarian issues from natural disasters to genocide. There are some places such as Iraq that are war-weary and mistrustful of the U.S. military given five years of raids, imprisonment, torture, and violence. In Iraq, I suggest a change of strategy that focuses on demilitarization and reemphasizes infrastructural support from police training to helping rebuild roads, communications, energy, and the like. A full pull-out would leave Iraqis to clean up the destruction of our war.

2. Economic Development: The targets of this set of policies are poverty, income inequality, and structural barriers to economic growth in historically poor regions and populations. The key policies are a living wage; guaranteed health care, childcare, housing, parental leave, and college education; public works jobs; and "rejuvenation resources." This stands in stark contrast to current policies which have neglected the minimum wage for almost thirty years, the institutionalization of trickle-down economic policies and wealthy entitlement to decision-making, and a reliance on free market solutions to basic human needs. The key problems are the high cost of
childcare and health care, too expensive for forty million Americans (100 mil if you count dental, much more if you include mental health care); unequal funding for schools and strings of disincentives for helping underachieving schools; regressive taxation and spending (ala the capital gains tax and government bailouts); and an overemphasis on economic interest in community (re)development ignoring the concerns of the local community (e.g. Katrina recovery, Appalachian Mountain-top Removal, Ruralization of prisons, etc. etc.).

On these things I personally agree: School funding is racist and classist because it is directly tied to property values without any reasonable offset. For example, No Child Left Behind stops funding failing (poor, often largely black or latino) schools. The importance and expense of health care and childcare means that people need access to these given to them. The poor simply cannot afford the costs of basic medical or daycare services. The uninsured ill can spread disease, take off from work or even lose their job, suffer long-term effects of treatable illnesses, and be ruined by debt from medical expenses. Without daycare, parents have a harder time making it to work and staying employed, children may have no caretaker or one that's not licensed or properly trained to name a few social and economic costs. The market has already proven it cannot sustain these services for the poor. Medicaid has already proven to be an inefficient public solution.

Lastly, government (re)development initiatives have continuosly demonstrated their preference for including the wealthy and excluding the local. One of Reagan's greatest gits to the U.S. was the Community Development Block Grant which provided a lump sum of development aid to communities, to be used as the community needed it. I'm oversimplifying the strings attached and limitations; but this is comparatively true to other sources of government development funding. There are many "rejuvination resources" in place now. However, many forms of aid and examples of government development projects have followed the path of getting (yes often local) business leaders together to plan economic development as community development. While economics are essential to a community, one cannot be mistaken for the other. A primary example is rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. The New Orleans natives that have not been able to return are largely the poor, minority home owners whose property has been reclassified and absconded by economic development interests through city planning largely guided by businesses (again, including local business). To counter these kinds of biases in government projects, aid projects need to be implimented which include specific guidelines ensuring more holistic community involvement.

I am less sure about living wage policies for the basic macroeconomic outcomes. Raising incomes will yield more consumer spending which will create inflation further raising the living wage. I doubt it will be a never-ending cylce and the end result will be a flattening of the national income and wealth range, at least at the bottom half (to speak really loosely). Many policies and economic practices can affect this restructuring, who gets squeezed, and how. I haven't heard any plans on how these issues will be addressed.

3. Rights: The last issue I'll address (for what concern I have for length) is aimed at elections and human rights. First is opening voter registration, ending the electoral college, and increasing public campaign financing. Making registration as easy as possible does not compromise vote integrity in the informaiton age. Voter registration and validation can be just as instantaneous as
validating a credit card purchase online and as reliable as matching state ID with government records. The electoral college is skewed democracy which violates the principle of one person, one vote. My vote only counts if my candidate wins the state. Current levels of public finance and resulting limitations ensure that public financing is a hindrance to politcal power. Both McCain and Obama, staunch proponents of public finance, opted not to use public funds because they could not ensure their competitiveness to private funding. With as much political backscratching there is among donors and politicians, how can we allow private financing to continue shutting us out and pork-barreling our money?

Human rights issues have to deal with immigrants and discriminated groups. Our government is beholden to the ensure human rights, transcendent of any nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability, sexual orientation, marriage/parental status, age, and so on. These are the rights that follow from simply being human beings. Yes, immigrants in this country without documentation may be violating immigration, employment, and other laws just by living in the United States. It does not automatically give us the right or obligation to detain, break up families, deport, or imprison them. No crime is naturalistically linked to any punishment. The question of what to do with undocumented immigrants is a very open one. But we do have an obligation to protect a minimum level of decency. For example, prisons have to provide food and shelter. ICE officials are not legally allowed to torture immigrants or arrest/imprison them without charges. What needs to be done is a specific elaboration of the rights and obligations of undocumented immigrants in this country which both ensure their human rights and punish those who violate those rights and spell out what undocumented immigrants can and cannot do and the resulting legal actions.

Lastly, the government should be more proactive in eliminating discrimination and oppressive activities. For example, there should be more funding to prevent and help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault which perpetuate male physical and sexual dominance and intimidates and socially subjugates women. "The U.S. should ratify and implement the UN’s CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child" as further steps to ensure the
internal and international enforcement of human rights.

There are other issues on the table. Just look up the ARC 109. It's pretty quick and easy to read.

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