Tag Archives: Barak Obama

Who Will Build the Bike Lanes?

I recently complained about the government ruining a good thing by taxing it. Pay by the mile auto insurance could turn into pay by the mile auto taxation, if some have their way. The government will always turn a good idea for saving money into a bad idea for losing money.

As an aside in my recent complaint, I pondered the threat of bicycle lane taxes as the next logical step. Too soon I remembered I had heard something like this before! Oregon had been murmuring about a statewide tax on bicycle purchases to make up for the loss of revenue from all those bicycle commuters who ditched their cars for the fresh breezes and healthy conscience of pedal power. This line of reasoning was brought on by the perceived over-bicyclization of Portland, but in this scheme the whole state of Oregon would pay for Portland’s sin of reduced carbon emissions. That’s a dandy.

Oregon is of course one of the few states with no sales tax and Portland is one of the few cities with a bazillion happy bicycle commuters. We even have a huge bike counter on the Hawthorne Bridge to celebrate! Bikes and no sales tax are good things, why mess with it now? The City of Portland spends a lot of money on bicycle-friendly infrastructure improvements which are often perceived at the expense of automobile infrastructure improvements. (There are a number of randomly unpaved gravel roads in my Portland neighborhood, but these are bad for cars and bikes alike – but good for three year olds in rain boots!)

The Oregonian reported that, “There is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland … However, there is latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation.” Well, only if the state wastes their money on it.

If Portlanders in cars don’t want to pay for bicycle lanes to contain the Portlanders who are not in cars, then surely the people driving around Salem, Bend, and Eugene don’t want to pay for Portland’s bicycle lanes either. Instead of finding a different non-interested party to pay for something they’re not interested in, Portland should hire a private company to build their bike lanes. Paint a line on the side of the road and nail up a few signs. Some people in Seattle will even do it for free, and some folks out in Memphis are paying for their bike lanes with crowdfunding. Big companies are getting involved too, such as Amazon’s two block bike lane project back up in Seattle. It will be cheaper and more efficient if the work is privately contracted and we would cut out wasteful spending on spectacles like the proposed singing bike lane, and just paint some nice straight stripes as needed.

I wonder if the singing bike lane would be funded by the ill-conceived Portland Arts Tax?

Drone On

To much fanfare, President Obama announced that the Federal Government will scale back the use of drone strikes, with new restrictions on “deciding whom to kill.” Targeted killings have been carried out in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and other far off lands (away from American citizen’s concern) for the last decade in a generally secretive manner. The objective is to kill suspected terrorists and as few other people who have nothing to do with terrorism as possible.

The war in Afghanistan, which has no legitimate objective and now exists only as an agenda item to give the military as we know it legitimacy, is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2014. The fact that one can even schedule the end of a war so far in advance (or at all) proves the war exists because someone scheduled it into existence in the first place.  And while the President and his people are brainstorming and graphing out the most convenient time to end this war (and plan the next one), they managed to come up with clever new bullet points about whom to kill and whom not to kill.

Gee, I’m glad they could fit it in.

Foreign Interventionism continues as the de facto method of American interaction with the rest of the world, and despite their arguments about whom to kill, the two largest parties are still arguing over quantities of deaths and who started it in the first place. No one is questioning the deeper issue of whether we should be involved at all, as fingers continue to point, always at others. President Bush started using the drones, but President Obama has continued the practice with generally increasing intensity over the successive years. Still, the Democrats try to project an image of respectability with their timetables for withdrawal and commitment to target terrorists “only when children are not around,” as Secretary of State John Kerry compassionately pointed out (a clever distraction). Mr. Kerry also says that his team has thought about their actions good and hard, so mistakes are rarely made. Republicans like John McCain, who by no means represents his entire party, and probably doesn’t spend much time thinking good and hard, would like to use more force (without a schedule or timetable) – a position that moves bonus points over to President Obama simply by the existence of such an idea. All the President’s has to do is frown and disagree.

The President’s party will applaud his commitment to peace, and using the “least destructive way to fight people…who are conspiring against the United States.” But there are so many things wrong with a government that tries to make itself look good by pointing out how few people it has killed compared to the other faction of the same government, especially when the opposite may be true. Motives can blind us from the truth when we’re told that killing conspirators saves lives.

At the end of the day the President has suggested that using drones to target and kill suspected terrorists is probably not a good idea, and we should have some stricter guidelines in place. He wants the government to be more responsible, and even though he has the power to stop the practice like a bad habit, he’s going to keep droning on with his global assassination campaign anyway. At least we now know he has a conscience to reject.

The American War Policy

“Wars not make one great.” – Yoda

The greatest indiscretion of the American Federal Government may be our War Policy. To varying degrees, most Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly support a foreign policy of interventionism and perpetual war. Our government is entrenched in the practice of using force. Ever since President Woodrow Wilson announced his intention to, “make the world safe for democracy,” and launched us into the first World War, our nation has sustained a continuous military presence over the planet, facing but a breeze of opposition from a libertarian leaning minority. We have bases and troops in at least 150 countries and are constantly engaged in voluntary combat. Additional forms of War, though more abstract, are fought domestically as the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, and the War on Christmas. In all cases, the War is simply the use of legalized force against the object selected for destruction by the majority.

When it comes to actual fighting wars, the Constitution requires that Congress declare war, but this power has passed more tightly into the grasp of each successive President. The last Constitutional war was declared in 1942. Since then, American presidents have ordered seemingly endless “conflicts” and “operations” which send troops to distant nations which pose varying degrees of debatable threat. You know them as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more.

Former Congressman Ron Paul has called these illegal wars “unwinnable” because, when there is no legitimate cause for involvement, there can be no path to victory. This is not just an American problem, it is an essential element of non-defensive wars that lack clear reason.

The disorganized nature of war in the crumbling post-Soviet fighting between Georgia and Abkhazia is described in Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets; “We (the fighters) didn’t even have a specific goal, and we started looting villages along the way… As a result, in the span of a month, we manged to make enemies of out of the entire population… With such sage military planning (more driven by testosterone than strategy), the end result of the War That Nobody Started would be predictable.”

The most recent maturation of the American War Policy is Barack Obama’s use of predator drones to carry out offensive strikes in the Middle East. Though in use prior to his administration, the drones have been more frequently used by the CIA for covert operations, and though targeting “threats,” have been blamed for civilian deaths and stirring up hostility against the United States. Obama is comfortable enough with this policy to joke about it, but generating blowback is no laughing matter. Retired General Stanley McChrystal said drones exacerbate a “perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.’”

Even if legitimate threats are targeted, we have gone way beyond anything approximating acceptable behavior. This week, a drone attack killed eight militants in Pakistan. There is no reason for American drones to be present in that country except as the part it plays in the War on Terror, a never ending story which doesn’t have an achievable goal and only amounts to an excuse to kill a handful of suspected terrorists today so that two handfuls can spring up tomorrow. Without precise goals, the success of a vague war which basically relies on the principle of “button mashing” is subjective, politically motivated, and can’t easily be stopped. When the White House announced that they are considering withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan by 2014, they might as well have said 2015, 2016 or 2095, since they don’t even know what they are trying to achieve between now and then. Just waiting for the next war.

I doubt we will remove “all troops” from that country, as we still have about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, a country that surrendered almost 70 years ago, and whom the United States considers to be one of its closest allies.

Happy New Year From the Fiscal Cliff

Our government has done it again. They’ve made themselves necessary and showed that we need them to save us from themselves. If the war of the week isn’t big enough or the weather isn’t quite bad enough, a fiscal cliff ought to get our attention. I would like nothing better than for Congress to have nothing to do over the holidays.

But the bipartisan beast has reared its head again, as the House followed after the Senate to sidestep the disaster they created. The Democrats naturally want to increase funding to feed their bloated bureaucracy, but the Republicans showed up to unite the team after stalling just long enough to point out a few differences of  opinion… and… things… and stuff… and ok we’ll go along with that. Eventually, most Republicans succumbed to media spin and avoided being cast as the ones who might have saved us from the bill to save us from ourselves. Libertarians would have loved the chance.

Clearly the Congress has its priorities somewhere else, evidenced by their being in session on a holiday and involved in this silly exercise to fund the government. Not only should they have figured out how to fund their budgets and agendas a long time ago, there shouldn’t be so much to figure out. This is like getting excited about making the minimum payment on a credit card just to keep it a few dollars under the maximum credit limit. Woo.

They didn’t even pass this bill on time (a day late). President Obama basically said thanks for, “paying the bills guys,” and then headed back to vacation with his family where he should have been all week anyway. I enjoyed his request to Congress for, “a little less drama, a little less brinkmanship and (to) scare folks a little less in future fiscal dealings,” but he is just passing blame that rests equally with his administration as it does with Congress.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican said, “”I reluctantly supported (the bill) because it sets in stone lower tax rates for roughly 99 percent of American taxpayers. With millions of Americans watching Washington with anger, frustration and anxiety that their taxes will skyrocket, this is the best course of action we can take to protect as many people as possible from massive tax hikes.”

Again, Congress is pointing out that they are necessary to save the day. Republicans are reluctant, while Democrats are happy to be of service. Same end result.

Republicans talk about cutting spending, but most will continue their part in feeding the bipartisan beast. Even if not spoken of today, Neocons have their own high spending schemes to fund, such as unconstitutional wars and foreign aid.  A compromise now, “…would avert most of the immediate pain and postpone Congress’ fiscal feud for two months…” Then they’ll do this again and there will be new villans.

Congressman Ron Paul commented that, “They’re arguing over power and… who looks good… but they’re all trying to preserve this system. Whatever they do will just be fluff and will not solve our problems… They’re like a bunch of drug addicts that just want another fix.”

So, if the Fed can just print more money (like it freely does), why do they even bother with raising taxes through an elaborate and drama induced fiscal cliff extravaganza?