Monday, December 15, 2014

Do Your Job, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission!

Fortunately, this has since been dropped, thanks to public outcry (in which your humble and obedient servant participated).  But it should never have been considered in the first place.  The Commission needs to either work harder or ask for more resources, not look for innovative ways to goof off.

"Is Christie Running? The Pigs Say 'Yes'"

Oh, the places we could go with that New York Times headline.  But we'll overlook the obvious, even though it's tempting not to do so, and just note that His Immensity has decided it's OK to veto a bill overwhelmingly supported by the residents of the state he's currently "governing," so long as doing so meets with approval by Iowa caucus voters AND helps him get an undeserved promotion to higher office.

Dream on, Your Obesity.  The pigs may say "Yes."  The rest of us are going to give you a big fat "NO."  And I do mean "fat."  Sorry, I guess I couldn't overlook it, after all.

The Times, They Are A-Changin' For Obamacare

Most people would rather change it than repeal it.

The Day You Lose An Election Is The Day You Start To Win The Next One

That's written with apologies to Roger Sterling and the writers of "Mad Men."  But here is a pair of polls that validates my point.

Good Immigration Policy Is Good Economic Policy

And here's an expert opinion on why President Obama's executive action on behalf of immigrants will help all of us.

And, Speaking Of Confessions ...

... here's a welcome one:  Reagan's Labor Secretary admitting that "Reagannomics" was, as Dick Cheney might put it, a crock.

What Does The Republican Party Stand For? Whatever It Can Get Away With

It's easy enough to come to that conclusion just from the so-called budget bill that just got approved by Congress over the weekend.  Just in time for the holidays, it's a combined Tea Party Christmas tree and a badly-stuffed gargantuan turkey for the rest of us.  (That may be an insult to turkey's, but I'll live with it.)  The single worst thing about it is that it ratifies, with the help of Democrats, legislative blackmail via "must-pass" legislation.  Unless someone in the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Truman can learn to grow a spine, this is only the beginning of whittling away civilization, inch by inch.

But that's not all they think they can get away with.  There are much worse things.  Such as torture, and the ability to be prosecuted for it.

By now, of course, you've heard about, and perhaps even read, the Senate's report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were used on terrorist suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  I will not list its finding in detail for that reason, although you can learn more about the specifics here if you have not done so already.  It's bad enough that it exceeds the boundaries of international law AND was used against the innocent--and all without taking out bin Laden, which President Obama was able to do without torture.

But what's even worse, if you can imagine such a thing being possible, is that the release of the report was followed up by what was tantamount to a confession on national television.  Former Vice President and torturer-in-chief Dick Cheney appeared last Sunday on "Meet the Press" to say not only that he would do it all over again, but to express no concern whatsoever about the killing of an innocent man in his drive to get "bad guys."  On the subject of persecuting the innocent, this is Cheney's response:  "I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States."

No denials of the specifics, even though he separately referred to the report itself as a "crock."  As with domestic politics, in the international arena, to a Republican, the end always justifies the means.  And, just as Cheney did with regard to the international arena, one Republican congressman has used those exact words to justify the budget bill.

And why shouldn't they feel that way?  The United States government, even under Obama, is not going to make any effort whatsoever to either prosecute the guilty domestically or turn them over to international justice, any more than he is apparently going to oppose using budget bills as instruments of ideological blackmail.  So what does the GOP have to fear?

Which is why I take issue with the concept, recently advanced here, that the government should instead issue pardons in order to establish the illegality of the interrogation process.  A pardon only goes into effect once it has been accepted.  And none of these men have any reason to feel a need to accept such a pardon.  Why accept a pardon when there's no threat of prosecution?  If you cared about the rule of law enough to do so, you wouldn't have authorized the illegality in the first place.  This is why Cheney felt free to offer his confession on Sunday.  He knows he'll pay no price for it.  It is this sort of fecklessness about international law by the nations who supposedly observe it that has lead at least one observer to question the need for an international court in the first place.

What does the Republican Party stand for?  For itself.  Not for you.  And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll hopefully shake off your cynicism about politics, and realize that, no matter how hard you try to run away from politics, politics runs after you.

Can Any Of Us Breathe Right Now?

Trayvon Martin.  Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.

And those are just the best-known cases.

Consider the case of Cedric Bartee, shot to death by a police officer even after Bartee put his hands up and begged the officer not to shoot.

Or Rumain Brisbon, shot to death while delivering fast food, because a police officer allegedly mistook a pill bottle for a gun.  Let's take a minute to reflect on that one.  Now ask yourself:  Have you ever seen a pill bottle that even looked like any type of firearm?  Me neither.

Or Howard Morgan, a decorated former Chicago police officer who was shot 28 times by members of his old department--and then convicted of attempted murder because some of the arresting officers were shot, even though there was evidence that their wounds were self-inflicted.

Or Brandon McKean, who was stopped on a cold day by a police officer because he was allegedly making people nervous by walking down the street with his hands in his pockets.  (Note to parents of African-American children:  Buy your kids gloves.  Now.)

To borrow a phrase from Tom Friedman:  Do you get it now?  I hope so.  Even conservatives seem to be getting it.  The Garner case is such an egregious example that even the right-wing chattering classes were bothered by it.  I guess there's something about the words "I can't breathe" that actually manages to get past the layers of filters conservative commentators set up in their brains to block out the truth.

Frankly, I'm forced to wonder if any of us can breathe now.

I'm not going to blink at the obvious.  This is all about white violence against African-American men, backed up by the power of the state.  This is fundamentally about racism, the original sin of American that continues to corrupt our civic and individual lives.

But the empowerment of the military reflected in all of these tragedies has no reason to stop at the line of race.  Make no mistake.  The same government that can stop a black youth for keeping his hands in his pockets can just as arbitrarily stop you one day and ask you to empty your pockets.  Or take a "friendly" peek at the contents of your smart phone.  It'll be in your "national interest," of course.  Or "community safety."  But what it will be ultimately all about is about power--conservative power, expanding the one aspect of government they're madly in love with, the one that shoots bullets.  And bullets are made to be shot.  Today, it's Howard Morgan.  Tomorrow, it could be any of us, whether or not we're black.

This is why some of us were opposed to the PATRIOT Act, and other equally ill-advised measures enacted after the 9/11 attacks.  We understood that freedom can't be defended if it's thrown away.  And that getting it back once it's been thrown away is damned hard.  That's why we had a revolution in the first place.

I agree with Charles Blow in The New York Times.  This is the moment for a new generation of civil rights leaders to step forward and make a difference.  But it should also be the moment when everyone who cares about making a better world comes together with them.  Whether the issues is racism in our neighborhoods or the safety of the entire planet, progressives should be on the march together.  We are the new silent majority.  And we should be silent no longer.  Otherwise, Eric Garner will not be the only one who can't breathe, because the life will have been squeezed out of our country.

One more think:  a little unsolicited advice to the police.  Stop thinking that your problems are your critics, whether in office or on the streets.  They're your bosses.  It's not the other way around.  And just because we're grateful for your sacrifices, that doesn't mean you can't listen and learn from us.  That's not "disrespect" we're giving you.  That's civilization.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Go Back To The Tax Rates Under A Republican President

Specifically, Dwight Eisenhower.

Do You Qualify For Obama's Immigration Relief?

Take a look.

How Progressives Can Benefit From An Environmental Slogan

Think globally, act locally.  It's how the Tea Party first took over the GOP, and how the GOP used the Tea Party to take over everything but the White House.  It applies not only to environmental action, but action on every priority important to progressives.  Here's an example of how it can work in relation to the minimum wage.

Irony Weeps, Indeed

Under the category of colossal gall, you can file Ted Cruz's recent request for President Obama to "compromise" on immigration.  This article is all the rebuttal that Senator Cruz needs, but I'll add just one though for the Senator's benefit:  when the Framers were wary of monarchy, the people they were thinking about were people like him.

Go After The Johns!

That's how Sweden is combating prostitution.  And it's working.

The Power Of Fear

Let a former conservative explain to you how it works.  And, from his explanation, and his experience, let him give you hope that fear can be defeated.

Who's Responsible? You--And No One Else

As I write this, the House of Representatives has passed a one-trillion-dollar-plus spending bill to keep the federal government running (almost all of it, anyway) until the end of the current fiscal year, next September 30.  The exception, of course, is for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through the end of next February, to give the new all-Republican Congress a crack at somehow undoing President Obama's executive action on immigration.  I say "somehow," of course, because the president's executive action is going to be funded by the user fees of the applicants trying to take advantage of it, leaving them only the enforcement aspects of immigration to cut.

But I digress.  As inhumane as the GOP's current immigration stance is, the details of the spending bill all by themselves, along with several other end-of-the-year bills, provide a very worthy home for the Devil.  By now, you have all read or seen news about the GOP's plan's to raise the level of individual campaign contributions to $1.5 million, and to repeal the Dodd-Frank provision against using taxpayer-backed accounts to gamble in the markets.  The House bill just passed contains both provisions, and is currently on its way to the Senate, where they may or may not survive.  (The smart money says yes, but the smart money hasn't reckoned with Elizabeth Warren, nor the unlikely pairing of Senators David Vitter and Sherrod Brown joining across party lines to oppose the change in Dodd-Frank.)  A spending bill cannot be filibustered, however, and I suspect that there are enough spineless Democrats to join with the GOP caucus and get the bill to 51 votes.  As for Obama's promise to sign it with these poison pills, I'll leave that for a future post.

Those poison pills, however, are not the only goodies you're getting as a consequence of the Republican Party's expanded power.  Here are a few others:

The freedom for employers to cut payments from pension plans, in the name of "saving" the plans;

The diversion of funding for student loans to student loan lenders, in the name of helping them "service" the loans;

The blatant giveaway of 2400 acres of Apache land to a foreign mining company, a last-minute goodie from John McCain (which can now compete with Sarah Palin for the honor of being the worst decision he's ever made);

Many more, including gutting IRS and EPA funding, a fuller listing of which is provided here.  And this is by no means the end.

I noted a moment ago that this is a consequence of the GOP's expanded power.  It could just as easily be attributed to fecklessness on the part of the Democrats, or President Obama, who seems ready to resort to Clintonism in order to get through the last two years of his presidency.

But, ultimately, it's not about any of them.

It's about you.  And especially, those of you who sat at home on Election Day, thinking that the politicians would be so upset by your absence that they would respond by doing exactly what you wanted.

But politics doesn't work that way.  Not in a democracy, and not even in the plutocratic version of democracy we now have.

It's all about noise.  It's all about presence.  And, before those two things can happen, it's all about not giving up.  Because there's never a reason for giving up.  Not in the values we cherish, and not in the record of history.  If history teaches us anything, as I am fond of saying, it's that all empires crumble--from without, from within, or both.  But your silence and apathy won't make them crumble.

Do you still want change?  You have to change.  If you don't like the Democratic Party, then don't accept either it or the GOP as the status quo.  Give the status quo a good solid kick where it hurts.  Change the Democratic Party.  Form a third party.  Or a fourth one.  But stop crying, and start getting determined to make the bad guys cry.

All of these disasters I've listed are on all of us.  Unless we start doing something about it.  Right now.