Saturday, October 30, 2010

Citizens United Case At Work

In this Crooks and Liars piece, the owner of a Canton, OH McDonalds franchise is handing out voter information pamphlets to its employees along with their paychecks, instructing them on how to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. And, of course, that would be Republicans, if you know what's good for you.

The pamphlet, in part, reads:
"if the right people are elected we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.”
You like getting raises and stuff? Vote Republican. You want to continue making minimum wage and getting no raises or benefit bumps? Vote Democratic.

In an update, the franchisee did apologize for an "error in judgment." Of course he's still sticking to his guns on whom to vote for.

The blogger at Crooks and Liars does not attribute her claim that the practice is illegal in Ohio, so I won't comment on that. But this certainly is free speech that is protected under the Citizens United case. As I wrote back in January:
I [don't] disagree with the argument that the corrupting influence of money does have an impact on the outcomes of elections. I agree with that. But the law does not allow the state to restrict speech because we think it will create an undesirable result (with some narrow exceptions for violence or even narrower ones for obscenity). I think this should embolden individuals to coalesce more tightly around their common causes and to vote with their wallets. If, for example, a corporation openly argues a political point you abhor, don't patronize that product, organize boycotts against it, write op-eds, post on blogs and other websites, organize rallies in front of their corporate headquarters and invite the media, etc. That's right: the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case should get us off our asses to fight for the causes we champion.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Painted Into a Corner

Jonathan Chait nails the Republicans on their self-delusion:

The "endless loop [of failure]" begins with Republicans gaining power on the basis of promising to cut unspecified programs, or perhaps programs accounting for a tiny proportion of the federal budget. That is the stage of the cycle we are currently in. Then Republicans obtain power and have to confront the fact that most spending programs are popular, and so they must choose between destroying their own popularity by taking on programs like Medicare, or failing to materially cut spending. So they settle on tax cuts instead of spending cuts. Then eventually their supporters conclude that they have been betrayed by their leaders, and cast about for new leaders with the willpower to really cut spending this time.

As I've been saying over and over, there is a way around this. Republicans can make a bipartisan deal and obtain Democratic cover for cuts in popular spending programs. But the price of this deal is to impose shared sacrifice on the rich and violate the fundamental republican taboo against ever allowing revenue increases. Since the party cannot violate that taboo, it's back to the cycle of failure, recrimination, and
self-delusion. Right now, conservatives are in the hopeful self-delusion phase. Look, these new leaders have learned their lesson! They sound serious!

Exactly. I can't find a single Republican who can articulate a solid vision for righting our listing fiscal ship. Anytime they propose spending cuts, they paint themselves into a corner because they can't touch very popular entitlement programs without sacrificing themselves. They can't increase taxes because their rich supporters would draw and quarter them. And they can't compromise with Democrats to give themselves the political cover against backlash from their supporters because they have promised not to compromise with tax and spend liberals. They are trapped in their own twisted ideas of what fiscal responsibility looks like. So they pay lip service to the idea of limited government while pigging out at the trough of earmarks, defense contracts, infrastructure projects, and corporate welfare.

A good friend and Uh, Yeah Right reader believes that this is what the corporations who essentially run our government want. I completely agree.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Mea Culpa I'd Like to See

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason has the right idea.
Will anybody point to the failure of [Meg Whitman's] record-busting campaign splurge and revisit their commitment to getting private money out of politics?

Hear, hear!

Edmund G. Brown, Jr. -- Supah Genius!!

This campaign ad has Meg Whitman herself endorsing Jerry Brown's record as governor in the '70s. Ooops!

h/t Andrew

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Separation of Church and State

Weighty issue, that one!

Colorado Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck thinks that the Constitution does not mandate a separation between church and state. He does, however, strongly believe that the government should not sanction a specific religion. So, if he believes that, what would he say if a government institution, like a county courthouse in Alabama, decided to display a sculpture that prominently featured the Ten Commandments? Is this not an expression of religious belief sanctioned by a government entity?

What about a local school board, populated 100% by Evangelical Christians, decided that all public high schools in its district would offer high school students courses in Bible study, under the guise of studying its "literature" or as a way to promote the concept of "intelligent design" as an equally valid alternative to evolution? Would not this be an example of a government entity promoting the teachings of a particular religion?

Our nation's founders, who descended from folks that escaped religious persecution and wanted freedom to express themselves as they saw fit, deliberately amended the Constitution to prohibit Congress from making any laws that established an official religion. This "establishment clause" has been interpreted, and supported, dozens of times to mean that there is no place for specific or non-specific religious expression in any government act. Government is secular; the alternative is Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or the Dark Ages in Europe. Enlightened societies all over the world want their governments to be religion-neutral, and we have enshrined that neutrality in our own Constitution. We have tolerated certain expressions -- such as on our currency or in our Pledge of Allegiance -- but even these can be interpreted as intrusions by the government in religion.

So, Ken Buck, be concerned all you want. But take one more step toward injecting religious expression in a government and find yourself in a heap of trouble.

Fifteen-year-old Child Soldier Pleads "Guilty"

Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was the lone survivor pulled from the rubble of an Afghan compound that housed al Qaeda operatives, pleaded guilty to various crimes in a military trial. He has already been held for seven years at Bagram and Gitmo, where he was brutally tortured. Andrew Sullivan has compiled a harrowing and graphic account of Khadr's treatment at the hands of U.S. torturers/interrogators (warning: graphic photos).

He was sentenced to eight years in prison, one of which will be at Guantanamo. After that he will be repatriated to Canada, where the Canadian government will decide what to do with him.

This boy was not innocent of involvement in al Qaeda. And in America, 15-year-olds can be tried as adults for particularly heinous crimes. But he was a boy, for God's sake. And all of his so-called "confessions" were made while being tortured. This is where the similarities to the U.S. criminal justice system ends. Exactly how many of those "confessions" could be called legitimate? The U.S. government has a lot to be ashamed about in the handling of this boy's case. Sullivan puts it best:
I don't know how anyone who cares about the integrity and moral standing of the United States can absorb the full details of this case and not be profoundly ashamed. To prosecute a child soldier, already nearly killed in battle, tortured and abused in custody, and to imprison him for this length of time and even now, convict him of charges for which there is next to no proof but his own coerced confessions ... well, words fail.


Republicans Want to Curb-Stomp Free Speech

Here's what happened outside a Rand Paul-Jack Conway debate site last night:

Whatever the intentions of the woman victim in this video, she carried nothing more than a sign. And she was wrested to the ground, her wig pulled off, and her head stomped on by supporters of Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.

Paul will definitely need to repudiate this reprehensible action today. If he doesn't he will be tacitly supporting the right of individuals to violently oppose speech they don't like.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back of the Hand...

Fallows writes what I would have liked to write about the Juan Williams firing at NPR. First this:
The worst aspect of the Williams-NPR imbroglio is that it has allowed Fox and its political allies to position NPR as something it is not, and in the process to jeopardize a part of American journalism we can't afford to lose.
Then this:
In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]
Now, for some factual background about Williams and his interview with former President Dubya in 2007:
It is general political-world knowledge that the White House's condition of the interview was that Williams conduct it. The full transcript is here,...
...Apparently later in 2007 the White House offered NPR another interview with Bush, but only if Juan Williams would again do it. NPR said No, we won't take it on those terms; we want to choose the interviewer. Williams did it instead for Fox.
The gist I get here is that Fox News, which just gave Williams a $2 million contract, is more concerned with filtering news for its audience -- spinning it in a way that satisfies a niche market that wants a Republican slant on facts -- than in actually reporting the facts and letting the audience decide for itself. As a 20+ year listener of NPR, I can say that it is an information-gathering and reporting organization. The reporting itself does not spin stories, but audiences can detect bias in their selection of stories. For example, they frequently focus on the plight of Palestinians being victimized by the Israeli government's policies, but rarely do they go into the neighborhoods of Israelis near Gaza or in the West Bank to hear about civilians injured or killed by Palestinians (maybe because that is much rarer, perhaps?). Such a slant can lead one to believe that NPR is anti-Israel or liberal. However, they also frequently interview as many Republican members of Congress who get softball questions as do the Democrats. Politicians, in general, like to answer questions their own way, and get annoyed when they're pressed to answer the question the reporter is asking if the answer makes them look bad. In any event, NPR leaves the door open to interpretation, while Fox throws a leash on its viewers and leads them right to the "right" answer about how to perceive a given circumstance. Fox viewers, prove me wrong. I have seen real journalism on that station, almost exclusively in the persons of Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. But they are second-tier players to Beck/O'Reilly/Hannity elite, who could make Goldwater blush and Buckley piss himself from laughing so hard.

Williams' cries of foul against NPR for being fired -- and I'll admit NPR overreacted and now they lack a pretty solid and reliable voice for the right, losing some balance in the process -- could have been seen as someone who was done wrong. But since he was given this fat contract so soon after being fired, the truth becomes clearer. He wanted to turn himself into a news story -- a huge no-no in journalism -- and generate sympathy among his future Fox News audience. Another media whore, sorta like, You Betcha!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Senate CANDIDATE's "Guards" Were Active Duty Military

A quick aside before diving in: While it's true that there are Democrats whose recent actions have been simply beyond the pale, in my opinion the vast majority of major fuck-ups, gaffes, and egregious acts have been perpetrated/committed by Republicans.

In the latest installment of "What the Hell Has He Done Now?", at a campaign event last Sunday night, security "guards" hired by Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller forcibly handcuffed and detained a journalist who deigned to ask Miller a question that Miller didn't want to answer. The journalist was told he was "under arrest" by these guards, who were not police officers. When the actual police arrived, the journalist was released. Two other reporters from the Anchorage Daily News were aggressively threatened by these same guards for trying to investigate the matter while at the same Sunday night event.

As it turns out, the ADN now reports, the two guards detaining the journalist were active duty soldiers with the U.S. military, moonlighting for a security contractor hired by Miller's campaign.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there are two Department of Defense directives that prohibit active duty members of the Armed Forces from performing "clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign." Greenwald asks:
If it's not completely intolerable to have active-duty soldiers handcuffing American journalists on U.S. soil while acting as private "guards" for Senate candidates, what would be?

These events are part of a two-year continuum regarding the crumbling relationship between the press and politicians. It began with the vice presidential candidate from the Republican Party in 2008, who refused to hold a single open press conference during the campaign, and whose horribly bungled interviews with mainstream journalists resulted in a total press blackout other than Fox News from this point forward (as well as the coined term "lamestream media"). It has continued with this once (and future) candidate and now-reality show personality retreating to Twitter and Facebook for nearly all communication with voters, other than heavily scripted events with filtered audiences and no press coverage. And, during this midterm election season, it has culminated in: a senate candidate who walks out of a press conference she herself organized without taking a single question, and who explained to Fox News that she will not do any interview where she could not plug her website and solicit donations for her campaign, and that the press should only ask questions that she wants to answer; a senate candidate who is following the former VP candidate's advice to speak only "through" Fox News to get her message out; a gubernatorial candidate who told a reporter, "I'll take you out, buddy!" for asking questions about his out-of-wedlock daughter; and the actions of Joe Miller's "guards" that are the subject of this piece.

I've seen this type of blame-everyone-else-and-take-no-responsibility behavior before: addicts. People who are addicts tend to think everyone else is responsible for their behavior and actions, and that they are totally justified in doing what they are doing because they've been so put upon by everyone harping on them to change their behavior. Republicans are totally, undeniably addicted to the acquisition of power (and of power itself) that they will circumvent a free and open press that is one of the basic components of a free society. They are so afraid of dealing with reality that they just cannot accept being questioned for their beliefs or policy positions or their actions. They have so totally immersed themselves in this victim mentality that literally everyone is out to get them and destroy them, while all they want to do is what's right, so the flow of information has to be tightly controlled (actually this all also sounds a little like the actions of a dictator to me). God forbids this descends into state-owned press, but the building blocks are being stacked. Anyone who thinks that this strategy isn't highly organized and only coincidental must really want California's Prop 19 to pass (in other words, I'd like a hit of what you're smokin', dude!).

Getting back to the matter at hand -- I think these soldiers should face charges for what they've done, I think Miller should, at a minimum, apologize to the blogger, to the Alaska press, and to the Alaska voters, for his actions and fully open future events to the press. Absent that, he should be disqualified from holding elected office in the United States of America.


Adam Ozimek on negative political ads, like this one:
I know campaign ads shouldn’t affect us. We should vote based on policies and expected welfare impacts of those policies. But at some level these political ads become pollution, a pure negative externality. And I can’t look past it when a party or politician is willing to spew pollution to get elected. If you’ve got to denigrate a whole nation of people and one of the greatest economic miracles of the last 50 years, and stir up a hornets nest of ugly xenophobia in order convince people you’re the man for the job, then you’re demonstrably not the man for the job.

Progressives Must Wake Up, Cont.

Oh. My. God.

O'Donnell told ABC News "her line of questioning to Coons was not because she didn't know the First Amendment, but to the make the point the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear anywhere in the Constitution."
So her reason for asking Coons the question about the appearance of separation of church and state in the Constitution was to point out that those exact words do not appear? And she and her handlers were high-fiving each other backstage with a "see? we got him!" sense of victory, believing they'd really showed Coons and others that he doesn't understand the Constitution? Well, I guess I'm a moron too.

As a long-ago ex used to say, "That person has the IQ of a soapdish."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

See? I Told He Was a Muslim!

ABC reports that President Obama is not going to visit a Sikh house of worship in India because he fears that being seen wearing the requisite headcover might prompt calls from the wingnut-o-sphere that he's a Muslim. Sikhs aren't Muslims, but you get the idea.

And if he walked into an Orthodox or Conservative synagogue and had to put on a kipah/yarmulke, would there be cries that he was a closet Jew?

Muslims and Sikhs have to cover their heads inside a mosque; guests are strongly encouraged to do so. Orthodox and Conservative Jews also cover their heads, and visitors are encouraged to blend in. At St. Peters in Vatican City, women cannot enter the cathedral if they have bare shoulders. What's the big problem here if Obama covers his head? The temple in question is a prominent one in India, and skipping a visit there could be diplomatically clumsy. Let WorldNet Daily and Fox News spin and spin this like crazy. Any ordinary American citizen who walked into that site would be encouraged to cover up and could be seen as insulting their hosts if they didn't comply. You think they'd say, "Hey, bud, I'm an American and a Christian. No one tells me what to wear in any house of worship"? No, they'd gladly comply and be gracious and respectful. Why should the president not behave the same way? Isn't it a big thing on the right that the president should be like one of us?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Obama's Deficit, cont.

My reader has responded to my follow up post:
[Obama] has done nothing but celebrate all that his legislation has done for the country. What do you think he's been talking about during his two years of nothing but campaigning? Democrats run both houses so it's bullshit to say Republicans stopped anything they wanted to pass.
It sickens me looking at all those TV adds [sic], not so much about the adds [sic] but all the money that is spent on the campaigns. I shutter [sic] to thi[nk] how much money is spent. Think about how much good that money could do for this country. I wish there was a leader out there who has the balls to state honorable priorities and back them up with meaningful action. Instead we got somebody who talked the talk and was an empty shirt. Because all he did was give us business as usual. His promises sounded wonderful and America now doesn't buy it. Wonderful promises have different meaning to different people. Many voted because he sounded like he had all the answers. They are now disenchanted.
He is not exciting his base. Good. We made a mistake and lets hope we can get to a better place.
Again, my response:

I only wish Obama had been campaigning non-stop. He has, unfortunately, frequently been in the weeds, getting deeply involved in the wonky parts of governing while not spending enough time enrolling his supporters in what he was doing. Remember the decision to send more troops into Afghanistan? He didn't talk to the people for a long time, and when he went on TV he delivered a mostly flat speech that contained no real attempt to get all of us on both sides to understand the true magnitude of the problem, or to address the fact that he was doing something his supporters didn't really want him to do. Consequently, support for his actions in Afghanistan is flat. On other matters, he spent too much time courting Republican cooperation without doing enough to reassure progressives that he still had their backs. It looked like business as usual, but it wasn't; he just didn't do enough to show us that it wasn't.

Republicans did everything, everything, everything they could to stop Obama from passing any legislation. Filibuster after filibuster. Procedural delay after procedural delay. One Senator put holds on every single judicial appointment until he got his way on one pet project. And so much is still on hold as a result of enough stalling to wait for this election to return the GOP to power so that they can kill the Obama agenda. I'm sure there were some things that they let slide, simply so they could pick their battles for maximum effect in the press and on TV. But for the most part they have truly been the party of nothing.

I definitely agree on the money wasted in campaign ads. It's disgusting to think that Meg Whitman has spent $120 million of her own money to get elected, and she is probably going to lose to someone who has spent a tenth of what she has spent. But in America during election years, nothing matters more than winning, so both sides have done all they could to get their messages out. And what they offer is so light on specifics that any sane person would see through it as their way to baffle us with enough bullshit to win our votes. Republicans, though, have offered no single credible idea to tackle our problems. No one Republican can honestly state what spending they would cut to reduce the deficit. They just want to go back to the last decade, which, in case you hadn't noticed, was a fucking disaster for most of the country! My investment portfolio was worth the same in 2009 as it was in 2000, and only in the last two years has it recovered to where it was after losing nearly 40% in 2007 and 2008. And I also lost tens of thousands in the real estate market and as the result of a short sale on my record, now have to contend with a protracted inability to obtain a new mortgage, costing me thousands more. I blame Bush and his failed economic policy for a lot of that.

But, since the Supreme Court held that corporations were afforded the same free speech protections as natural persons (a position I happen to agree with), corporations -- mostly headed by Republicans -- have poured billions into races across the country (anonymously, too, as the law does not require them to disclose who they are). They have tipped races in their favor and have victimized millions of Americans who lack the resources to make their voices heard. But, forced equality means a lack of freedom, so I consider inequality to be the price we pay to live in a free country. I know some will say that we don't really live in a free country given the enormous influence the powerful exerts on us ordinary citizens, but I think that in order to have quality, high-paying jobs and economic prosperity for those who don't have the entrepreneurial spirit or the means to create wealth, one has to acknowledge and allow that influence to be wielded. We voters simply have to become better educated on our own and to build strong and powerful coalitions of our own to resist that power when it is wielded in unethical or illegal ways.

Obama has disappointed many, including me, in many areas. But I believe so strongly that McCain and his fucking idiot running mate were so god-awful that Obama was the only sane choice. A McCain presidency would have meant endless war in Iraq, an invasion of Iran, and precious little done in Afghanistan (all adding up to a more dangerous national security picture). It would have meant the resumption of unchecked torture and extraordinary renditions. It would have meant the permanence of the unpaid-for Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. It would have meant a far deeper and longer-lasting recession or even a Depression. And, God help us, it would have meant putting a certifiable lunatic within one heartbeat of a mentally unstable, 73-year-old cancer survivor of becoming leader of the free world. That just was too frightening a prospect for me, and you must understand that I and many others will vote for Obama and EVERY OTHER DEMOCRAT who ever runs for president so long as that dim-witted, pathologically lying, end-times-obsessed, Evangelical Christianist beast has an opportunity to run for president.

Progressives Must Wake Up

It's been all over the blogosphere: Republican Senatorial candidate from Delaware, Christine O'Donnell ("I'm not a witch, I'm you.") engaged in a debate with Democratic opponent Chris Coons at Widener University Law School on Tuesday. The debate took place in front of legal scholars and law students (ah, the elite!), and a portion of the debate can be viewed here. In one particular exchange, O'Donnell criticized Coons for his position that teaching creationism in public schools would violate the First Amendment by promoting religious doctrine.

After a brief rant by O'Donnell in which she complains that "our so-called leaders in Washington" have decided that the founding principles are no longer indispensable. Coons offers an off-the-cuff retort, "And one of those indispensable principles is the separation of church and state." The moderator attempts to move on to the next question, but O'Donnell isn't finished. She turns to Coons and asks, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" This question, in this forum, elicits howls of laughter from the audience, and at least one member exclaims, "Oh my God!" in astonished disbelief. O'Donnell, completely oblivious to how idiotic she sounds, smiles at the audience, with an expression that could have been either "See, I got him, didn't I?" or "Oh, well, little ol' me made a little ol' gaffe!"

After a couple of minutes of someone asking O'Donnell about her positions on the 14th, 16th, and 17th amendments -- all of which have been targeted for repeal by Tea Party candidates across the country -- Coons, while careful to mention that Delaware's voters want most to hear about jobs -- calls O'Donnell out on her fundamental lack of understanding of how the Constitution works. He then points out to her that the First Amendment is where the establishment clause exists. She asks him twice -- "just to be clear" -- if the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment. There are audible gasps in the audience at this moment.

People, Christine O'Donnell is trailing Coons by a considerable margin, but there are a couple weeks to go, and who knows what will happen between now and then. There are other candidates on the GOP ticket across the country who are supported by the Tea Partiers. Not all of them possess the stunning lack of intelligence this woman possesses, but what they all have in common is a belief in how little intelligence actually matters. To be nominated for the Senate as a Republican, all one has to do is say the right things to enough people to get them to vote for you.

Populism, divorced from actual ideas, has gripped the minority party in a choke-hold, the only escape from which is death. The Tea Party, "movement conservatives," the Fox News/Republican National Committee propaganda machine, and corporate interests gleefully financing it all, all contain a fair number of intelligent men and women. But all that matters is winning the election. Once enough Republicans are elected, the real policy makers who operate in the shadows and the back offices will issue their orders to their Stepford minions, influencing public policy to favor their interests, and forsaking the very people who put them there. I feel afraid for the country if this happens, and I pity those who have no idea that their votes are going to be exploited, yet again, to benefit only the powerful. Roe vs. Wade will still exist; prayer in public schools will never happen; evolution will be the only acceptable subject taught about the origins of life on this planet in all enlightened public school in this country; and government spending will continue to spiral out of control, only this time there will be much less tax revenue to offset it, and so the deficits will grow, not shrink.

Progressives in this country can do something about this, because their brothers and sisters on the other side are hopelessly and utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. We can and should vote in vast numbers. We can and should get off our asses and vote Democratic across the board (any third party vote will strengthen the Republicans). If you have to hold your noses to do it, so be it. We cannot afford to have a Christine O'Donnell, or a Joe Miller, or a Sharron Angle, or a Marco Rubio, or a Rand Paul occupying a seat in the Senate for the next six years. What their elections will mean for governance, for sanity, for civility, for America, is far too frightening to do nothing.

So here's the call to action. If you're a Democrat and you know a fellow Democrat, make sure they're going to vote Democratic. Have them tell other Democrats. Put this up on Facebook, on Myspace, and on HuffPost as often as possible. There simply is no excuse, no viable reason, for not voting and not voting Democratic.

Obama's Deficit, cont.

A reader writes in response to my previous post:

Unemployment is still at an all time high and nobody wants to wait. Besides, all this legislation pushed through leaves a bad taste for john q public and bi partisianship is no where to be seen. Let's see what this election yields.
That Americans are impatient for results is no surprise. That Americans don't like "legislation pushed through" is arguable -- Americans did not organize Tea Party-style rallies over the Patriot Act, the authorization to use military force against Iraq, or the revisions to the FISA laws that made it easier for the government to spy on us. Those who claim to be for smaller government were cheering Bush on the sidelines when he raped our civil liberties while pretending to make America safer.

And why does it fall to the party in power to be bipartisan? It's typical that the minority party be a loyal opposition, not be obstructionist, belligerent, and utterly without useful ideas that can contribute to bipartisanship. Instead, Republicans attempt to push through retreads of Bush/Cheney economic and foreign policy, and when that gets rejected by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, suddenly it's the Democrats who are being partisan. Bullshit. Republicans in power did not court Democratic input on any legislation pushed through unless national security demanded it, or when the legislation was repugnant enough even to Republicans that Democrats could put the legislation over the top.

I'm not a champion of the Democrats in Congress, by any stretch. I think Harry Reid has a jaw made of Jell-O and I think he handed his balls to the Mormon church. Plus he might lose his seat next month. Nancy Pelosi is tough as nails, but she's going to lose her job next year, so she's of no help. So Obama is left to be the only voice of strength on the Democratic side. And he has played the middle so religiously that both progressives and conservative Dems are annoyed with him.

Obama campaigned on "Change We Can Believe In." He promised to change "our politics." What that meant to me at the time was that he was going to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to get legislation passed. I am sure he anticipated how much the GOP would sit on its hands and force Obama to go it alone, how childish they would be, and how brazenly they would challenge the president at every turn. So, in very subtle ways, he has simply co-opted GOP ideas into legislation, gladly accommodated their unreasonable changes to health-care reform, financial reform, in an effort to get things passed. He's a former Senator; he's aware of the balance of power and he wants the Legislative Branch to be an equal partner, even though it's the most dysfunctional branch of government we have. So, to me, he's lived up to his promise to change politics. (How many Democrats were in Bush's cabinet? How many Democrats did he appoint to the federal bench or to U.S. Attorney jobs?) Obama's characterization of GOP politics as "more of the same" during the campaign was spot-on accurate.

Where he has failed is in enrolling Americans in his vision. With a conservative press arrayed against him, with Tea Partiers toting guns to their rallies and painting swastikas across his likeness, and with citizen and Congressional inertia to overcome, Obama needed to keep campaigning, to stay out of the weeds, and to let all the dirty work be done by his chief advisors. He needed to co-opt FDR's fireside chats, and upload videos to Facebook (not just Twitter sized status updates) and YouTube every week, with much fanfare and without much assistance from the mainstream press, explaining every move, and getting the attention of younger voters to stay connected to what he is doing. When he veered to the right on foreign policy, he needed to do a better job of explaining it, to do a better job acknowledging that he was doing something that ran counter to his campaign rhetoric and why he was doing it. He did say that his administration was going to make mistakes. He needed to call attention to them better. And -- most of all -- he needed to characterize his political opponents as the immature brats that they were.

I know this has little to do with the deficit, per se, but the fact that the deficit is lower now than during Bush's final year says a lot. And he's not saying enough to show the public that he has made things better.


Andrew Sullivan does a point-by-point rebuttal of Rick Hertzberg's defense of why he's a liberal, then suggests we all discuss. Here's Hertzberg:
I value political liberty and political rights (freedom of thought, speech, conscience, and the press, the right to vote, civil equality) more highly than economic liberty and economic rights (property rights, freedom of enterprise, freedom from want, economic equality). I’m in favor of progressive taxation and generous public provision of education, pensions, and health care. I think people should have enough to eat and a roof over their heads, even if they haven’t done much to deserve it. I reject the idea that the market is the singular bedrock of society while everything else is a parasitical growth. I want government to do something about environmental degradation and gross social and economic inequality. I’m a secularist and a supporter of equal rights for women and gays. And when it comes to wanting World Peace, I’m practically a Miss America contestant. So I’m a liberal.

Here's Andrew:

I also revere political rights (freedom of thought, speech, conscience, and the press, the right to vote, civil equality) but regard them as underpinned by the emergence of the autonomous individual that modern economic liberty made possible. I believe in simple and flat taxation of income and consumption and a generous public provision of education (the key to opportunity), but I think the welfare state should remain a minimal safety net and means-test benefits for those who are in real need, not grant them to everyone regardless of wealth. I believe in universal better-than-bare-bones healthcare, but oppose the government controlling it, and would be fine with the wealthier buying more of it and thereby getting better treatment.

I don't believe in mandatory provision of food and shelter to those who have decided to be free-loaders, as opposed to the unlucky or incapable. I think the market is the least worst system of allocating wealth and creating growth without which no welfare safety net can be afforded. I think the government absolutely has a role in protecting
public goods like the environment, but should do so with great modesty about the limits of its own wisdom. I believe government should only try to redress economic inequality if such inequality becomes so great it threatens social cohesion and stability. I'm a secularist because I am also a believer, think the state hurts faith, rather than enables it, and that Christianity is more authentic the further from actual power it gets. I believe in world peace but also believe that this can only be achieved by the threat of war at times, and that military action should be a very last resort - but a real one, against those who would threaten us or destabilize the world.

And here's me, point by point:

I am with both in their love of political rights (freedom of speech, expression, thought, press, and conscience, voting, civil equality), but I disagree with Andrew that they are underpinned by "the emergence of the autonomous individual that modern economic liberty made possible." I believe that the reality of the "autonomous individual" makes economic liberty necessary, and makes political and personal freedoms essential. However, I reject Hertzberg's freedom heirarchy. I would not sacrifice economic liberty to have political liberty, or vice versa, because all freedoms are interdependent. I think taxing income and consumption with a flat tax is a good idea in principle, but it has to confront the reality that the poor and lower middle classes spend a lot more of their incomes in order to meet their daily needs, so, like Hertzberg, taxes need to be somewhat progressive so that higher earners take some of the proportional burden off lower earners. I don't believe that the government should be the sole source of education, pensions, or health care, but that it should be in those businesses as a way to keep the private sector reasonably honest and competitive, as well as provide a safety net for those who can't access those services through the market.

Like Andrew, I believe that the welfare state needs to be means-tested and minimal, but I also believe that food and shelter, being basic human needs, ought to be provided regardless of whether or not people have done anything to deserve it. Further, if a person earns an honest wage, he ought to be able to count on solvent and efficient Social Security and efficient Medicare systems. Andrew wants the recipients of the welfare state to be only people who deserve it, and for the system to be able to weed out the free-loaders. It's a reasonable approach but it's not pragmatic. I believe that we can't build a system that prevents free-loading; in other words, the locked door only keeps out the honest man. People are gonna get through no matter what the system looks like. So you just have to build waste into the budget to account for it.

The market provides the most efficient and reliable method for creating and spreading wealth, but capitalism, racism, elitism, and xenophobia renders the market dishonest and unfair. It's stacked against people who actually have to start at the starting line, in favor of those who were born with a healthy head start of family, academic and business connections. I think the market is the best way to confront environmental degradation, but I think politics and religion have infiltrated the market to such a degree that reality has become elusive. In those cases, a secularist government must step in and provide controls, guidance, and laws to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in the private sector, as well as spend large amounts of taxpayer funds in infrastructure building and public education to foster a mind-set in the populace that we are dealing with a real problem. Andrew might believe that the government needs to be modest about the limits of its wisdom in this area, and I would agree; but in today's hyper-politicized debate about climate change, and when we're dealing with a significant number of elected officials who believe the planet is only 6,000 years old, a modest amount of wisdom is likely the most wisdom we're going to get.

Andrew wants the government to step in to redress economic inequality only "if such inequality becomes so great it threatens social cohesion and stability." Well, we're already there; we've been there for a long time, and inattention to this inequality during the first decade of this new century/millenium has only exacerbated this problem.

Above I mentioned the need for a "secularist" government. The government can't completely prevent its own workers from letting their religious beliefs influence their conduct, but I agree with Andrew that the government needs to be religion-neutral as much as it can, realizing at the same time that 95% of the people in this country believe in God. And as for world peace, I'm a pacifist. I don't think war really serves any useful purposes other than killing people on both sides and ruining society. We will always have to confront people and/or nations who believe that armed conflict is the solution to whatever problems they may have, and we have to be ready to confront those threats. But I think fantastic groundwork can be laid to prevent those threats from surfacing with effective diplomacy, diplomacy that isn't rooted in American exceptionalism and/or the fear of another terrorist attack on our soil. We are a great nation, but we have to agree to share the stage again with other great nations, some of whom have great ideas, great people, and a great wealth of knowledge and traditions to share.

Finally, I believe that government should have no role in legislating morality of any kind, other than to insure that American citizens are free to exercise their rights and enjoy their privacy without government intrusion.

So, after reading both Hertzberg and Sullivan, I can't say I'm either a liberal or a conservative. I'm a pragmatist, a realist, very liberal in some ways, and very conservative in others. I could be considered a libertarian to some degree, but today's libertarians want to shrink government to an unreasonably small size, leaving every American to fend for himself in a freewheeling market that will likely not react quickly enough to provide opportunities for he who can't create his own opportunities.

Reading Andrew's blog is so great because he provides so much information in his space that allows people (like me) to synthesize my own perspective, and to allow it to be influenced and honed as more information becomes known.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Obama's Deficit

Put this is your pipe and smoke it, Tea Partiers:

The federal government budget deficit shrank in fiscal 2010, but the big gap was only $122 billion lower than the record high set a year ago.

The U.S. spent $1.294 trillion more than it collected in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Treasury Department said Friday.

The deficit amounted to 8.9% of gross domestic product. That's down from fiscal 2009, when the deficit of $1.416 trillion was 10.0% of GDP.

Spending fell and revenues rose in fiscal 2010 as the economy recovered from the deep recession that contributed to the nation's troubled fiscal condition.

Not diminishing the fact that a $1.294 trillion deficit is a big problem that must be overcome, and the attention being placed on it is appropriate. But we have to acknowledge that the recovery is ongoing, albeit more slowly than we'd all like. But in fiscal 2010 "spending fell." That means we spent less than before. This tells me that Obama is still on the right track.

If he is smart -- and he is -- he and all other Democrats should be shouting about this every time they have a rally, are on TV, have a radio mic in front of their faces, or put out an ad on YouTube.

Quote for the Day

Your new album in part critiques the Iraq war. Do you think that art can still impact the conversation when it comes to politics?

I don't think politics can impact politics. No matter what we do, it doesn't impact anything. I feel like it's unfurling in a way that it can't stop, no matter what you say. Do I think art can change the world? When I have that question in my mind, I think of Bob Dylan, who wrote songs about losers; he romanticized losers. I think he created empathy. How much do you care about other people, or do you just not care about them at all? To me, that's politics.

-- The always irrepressible Laurie Anderson, in an L.A. Times interview

"Multikulti" has failed

So says Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, at a recent gathering of members of the ruling Christian Democratic Union, a conservative German political party. She said that immigrants needed to do more to integrate into their society, including learning German.

Clarifying, she did go on to say that "should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don't speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here."

In Europe and America, immigrants have created separate cultures within the cultures of their host countries. Personally, I've seen whole neighborhoods in Los Angeles where I cannot read a single store sign or billboard -- Koreatown is one example, and Glendale and parts of Hollywood are nearly totally Armenian, and there are still other neighborhoods near Downtown L.A. where Spanish is the predominant language.

In America, I think more integration is necessary, including the learning of English. And it needs to come from the top, whether the federal or state government. I'm not a big supporter of bilingual education. If we want to teach immigrant kids English, then teach in English in an immersion-style program. I have two friends' kids who are in Spanish-immersion school programs, where they speak nothing in class but Spanish all day, and they can speak English when they get home with their parents or on their free time. The problem is that Spanish is only one of the many languages spoken here. But at some point, don't school administrators need to set priorities about which languages will get attention, and the other will have to make due?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

A plurality of Americans (48%), in a recently released poll from Bloomberg, thinks the Republicans' Pledge to America is a good idea, and more than half (55%) think the idea that the deficit is out of control and threatens our future to be essentially true.

But all of the ideas floated out there by Republican lawmakers to get a hold of the deficit -- raising the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age, privatizing Social Security, etc. -- receive a cold or lukewarm response.

So we really like the idea that things ought to be done to reduce the deficit, but when it comes to taking action and actually making cuts, we lack the balls.

Nice, Meg, but Who the Fuck Cares?

Reason's Tim Cavanagh posts the Not Your Job Prize, awarded to Meg Whitman for her ad in L.A.'s Jewish Journal that touts her support for -- wait for it -- Israel. Now, we Jews can be provincial just like everyone else, but in a goober-natorial race for California, Meg Whitman's support for Israel means about as much to me as what brand of kitty litter my neighbor uses. Actually, means less than that.

First it was Meg's leasing office space in East LA to woo Latino voters, and now this. Pretty soon she's gonna be doing shots of Jack in a Terminal Island bar to garner support from the Longshoremen's Union.

There are a lot of Jewish Republicans, to be sure. It's akin to what happens when a Jew fully assimilates into Gentile society. In other words, we Jews can take leave of our senses, whether for short bursts of time or for the rest of our lives. But any Jew who votes for Meg Whitman as the result of her position on Israel will be digging California's grave. Let's hope there are some Jews who bother to write the Jewish Journal in protest. Like I will.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Video of the Day

Everyone Loses.

Paragraph of the Day

From a Christwire article headlined "Pot Smoking Radicals are Using the Internet to Turn America Into a Socialist Sex Utopia." First of all, sounds nearly perfect to me, except the Socialist part. Anyway, here's the paragraph:
How can we let this happen in the United States of America? This was once a great, no an INCREDIBLE country! We were the leaders of the free world. We led in FREEDOM and RIGHTEOUSNESS! And now that is being thrown away so our kids can enjoy their reefer kicks in broken down cars in factory parking lots. God and Country have been sacrificed because our young people would rather hang out on the couch, changing the channel from Christ to cartoons, stripping down to their dirty jockstraps and unclasping corpulent bras so they can grope each other in stoned fantasy lands of “free love” fetish play where every finger finds a hole, every mouth finds a nipple. God forbid our enemies invade, they would discover our hearty children fornicating in every corner of this country, drugged out of their minds, bare behinds in the wind… And knowing the lusty and immoral cravings of those swarthy barbarians, they would most likely jump right in and ride our young heathens off into the sunset of America’s greatness, slapping and howling to Allah all the way.
My emphasis. Funniest shit I've read in a long time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Watch and Learn, and Vote Correctly

Here are two items that perfectly illustrate why a vote for a Republican candidate in November is the wrong choice. The first is a comic strip forwarded to me by a Facebook friend:

The second is this YouTube compilation of clips of Republican Senate and House members being interviewed by the media, including the conservatives Fox News and MSNBC's Morning Joe, asking for specific proposals about what Republicans would cut from the budget as they claim to be the party of fiscal discipline and responsibility:

One of these gasbags suggests, to his credit, a freeze in discretionary spending. Good for him, but he's months late, as President Obama announced that in his State of the Union speech last January.

Now, the Tea Partiers are solidly behind the Republicans, and some of them claim, at least, to be in favor of putting everything on the table with regard to spending cuts. So how can any Tea Partier stand behind these people who lack any courage at all to state publicly, for the record, what cuts they'd make to the budget to reduce spending. You don't even hear them saying unequivocally (except the one guy arguing for a discretionary spending freeze) that they'd keep defense, Medicare, and Medicaid off the table. But these mealy-mouthed bastards don't want to say that, of course, for fear of alienating the Tea Partiers who have been screaming for cuts everywhere. And of course, President Obama, in his SOTU speech, also said that Defense, Homeland Security, and Veteran's Affairs were off the table for cuts.

So, as I'm someone who believes in fiscal discipline and responsibility, I'm looking to Obama, who has the right ideas, who has already put them on the table, spoken about them publicly, and actually taken steps to get it done. All the Republicans have done is publish a slick 42-page book talking about "taking a look" at getting on the road to a balanced budget. They have no new ideas other than making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, which didn't stimulate the economy enough to generate enough jobs (mostly because the wealthy were busy outsourcing those jobs to save more money). They lack any semblance of backbone, and merely talk the talk. Tea Partiers who vote Republican will probably do so because of social issues, which totally undermines their claims of seriousness on fiscal reform.

But if you look at the comic above, the real reason they want to vote Republican is because they hate Obama, the anti-colonialist, Marxist, Nazi, Kenyan Muslim who wants to wipe his ass with the Constitution. The uppity black guy who they can't faze, make mad, or whose character they can't impugn.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can/Will They Govern?

Dave Weigel, channeling David Frum, on what might happen if the Republicans gain control of Congress:
After the election, says Frum, after the GOP has recovered in record time, either it's going to have to move away from its campaign rhetoric or it's going to be unable to govern. "What happens in January," Frum says, "when the GOP majority arrives and the Bush tax cuts expire, the U.S. economy has deflationary shock, we don't have a program for pulling the economy out of inflation, and we don't have permission from party supporters or permission from voters to compromise? You have people arriving in office with highly apocalyptic vision of a president but programs they don't know how to execute on their own. It's a formula for crisis."
Yeah, sounds about right. I've been thinking all along that Republicans running now are nothing more than populists who really have no idea what they're going to do once they find themselves with some measure of power. They aren't going to get anything past the Obama veto juggernaut, and so then they'll be forced to run in 2012 with a do-nothing record, worse than the Democrats from '08-'10 because stuff actually did get done (just not to their liking).

In astronomical terms, the Republican Party, heated up by the Tea Party movement, is a red giant, soon to implode and burn itself out, turning into a black hole of socially conservative rhetoric where absolutely no good idea ever escapes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Taxpayer Receipt

Sullivan, once again. I liked the actual dollar figures, but figured it might be better to list the items as a percentage of your overall tax liability. So here goes:
Social Security 19.2722%
Medicare 11.5835%
Medicaid 7.1348%
Interest on the National Debt 5.3154%
Combat Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan 4.2439%
Military Personnel 3.5702%
Veterans' Benefits 1.3824%
National Parks 1.2844%
Federal Highways 1.1831%
Health Care Research 0.8619%
Foreign Aid 0.8533%
Education Funding for Low Income K-12 Students 0.7069%
Military Retirement Benefits 0.6037%
Pell Grants for Low Income College Students 0.5509%
NASA Space Program 0.5202%
Internal Revenue Service 0.3276%
Environmental Clean Up (EPA) 0.2161%
The FBI 0.2076%
Head Start 0.2020%
Public Housing 0.1944%
Drug Enforcement Agency 0.0581%
Amtrak 0.0413%
Smithsonian Museum 0.0207%
Funding for the Arts 0.0044%
Salaries and Benefits for members of Congress 0.0035%

As you can see, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up nearly 38% of this taxpayer's obligation, and this is for the median taxpayer. Right now (pdf), entitlement spending makes up about half the federal budget, and will increase to two-thirds in the next 20 years. If any voter out there believes that these three items should not be part of any serious discussion about reducing the deficit, then they're not serious, or simply uninformed. By being able to see in black and white where one's tax dollars are going, one becomes a more informed citizen.

Who would oppose implementing such an idea? Republicans, perhaps, who risk being discovered as the fiscal frauds they really are (remember, it was Republicans who added $32 trillion for Medicare D without offsetting one penny in revenue generation)? Democrats, who want to keep Social Security in a "lock box?" Until both sides sit down and take an honest look at how our federal dollars are being spent (foreign aid less than 1%, Head Start less than 0.25%), we'd be well on our way to real budgetary discipline, and WE THE PEOPLE could take credit for it.

Raising the retirement age to 67 will go a long way in adding to the Social Security coffers by delaying the paying out of benefits.