Saturday, January 24, 2015

Want To Do Something REALLY Useful For The Next Election?

Support progressives in deep-red states like Nebraska.  Send money.  Send yourself, to organize, and get out the vote.  Get in touch with progressives on the ground, and ask for ways to help.  But, above all, don't forget them.  They need us, and we need them.  And the country needs all of us.

Poetic Justice For Those Who Believe In Forced Religious Observance

A zombie Nativity scene in Ohio.

The Future Really Is Now, When It Comes To Prosthetics

Just ask this man, who can move prosthetic arms with just his thoughts.

Austerity Doesn't Work

And, to prove it, sometimes all you need to do is add water.  Just ask the Irish.

And, In Other ACA News ...

... it's reducing the number of uninsured, just like it was supposed to.  Sorry, Republicans.

So Stop Pushing It, Already

And, in the meantime, if even The Wall Street Journal can recognize that suing Obamacare out of existence is a bad idea, maybe the rest of us can, too.

In Praise of Mario Cuomo, For Taking The Long View

The recent passing of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo produced a number of media tributes to his legacy.  Here, from The New York Times, is one of my personal favorites, given my addictions to theater and historical preservation.

Most of us are familiar with what I would call the "legend" of Times Square's renewal:  the one in which Rudy Giuliani walked down 42nd Street, stared at all the bad guys and made them run away, so that he could single-handedly invite the Fortune 500 in to turn the street into a miniature version of the Bergen Mall.  That's the version of events that regularly shows up in the legacy media, with nary a hint of the truth.  And even the Times article only discusses a portion of that truth:  Cuomo's willingness to negotiate an end to an attempt to revive the district with office buildings, in exchange for a modest facelifting on 42nd Street that made it more pedestrian-friendly.

The truth, however, is that the Times Square success story is one that stretched over nearly a decade, and involved the acquisition of most of the buildings on a single block of midtown Manhattan, the expiration of leases, the seeking of new tenants, and the determination of how the overall effort was to be financed.  The office-building project, to which Cuomo negotiated a successful end, was one of those efforts, which was undone as the economy went into recession in the early 1990's.  Many plans were made, and remade, as the political and economic structure of New York changed over the years.  And many people scoffed at the overall goal of "cleaning up" Times Square, either because they thought the goal was unrealistic, or because they were concerned about the harm that might come about as small, non-pornographic businesses were displaced by the mega-clout of mega-corporations seeking mega-profits for their contribution to urban renewal.

Sadly, that latter concern was justified.  Today, on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the smut shops are gone, but so are a lot of other smaller businesses that were legitimate in every sense.  A friend of mine describes the block as a corporate theme park and, given the proliferation of chain businesses that have sprung up on it, it's easy to see how that label is justified.  Worst of all is the state of nine historic theaters on the block--or, rather, what's left of them. Saving these theaters was supposed to be the salve that made the destruction of five Broadway theaters for the Marriott Marquis Hotel palatable.  Of the nine, five--the Harris, Liberty, Empire, Apollo and Lyric--were largely destroyed, sacrificed to alternative corporate interests (or, in historic preservation parlance, "adaptively reused."

And yet, the block is clearly safer than it was.  And some of the theaters--the New Amsterdam, the Victory (now the New Victory), and the Selwyn (now the American Airlines)--are legitimate theatres again.  Even bits and pieces of some of the other theaters have some degree of theatrical/performance life:  the Apollo and Lyric (as parts of what is now called the Lyric Theater), the Liberty (as a nightclub/diner), and the Empire (as the gateway to a multiplex).  And, in the middle of it all sits the ninth theater--the appropriately-named Times Square Theater, intact, and awaiting a tenant who can find a way to make the building work.

None of this would have happened without a leader like Cuomo, someone committed to a fair and open process, someone who worked in the interests of everyone, and, perhaps above all, someone with a vision for New York rooted in the city's idealistic best, and not its cynical worst.  Thankfully, he lived long enough to see all of that effort pay off.  As a nation, we would all be better off with consistent leadership of that caliber, rather than the self-seeking and short-term-thinking that characterizes much of what passes for "leadership" in contemporary society.

Cuomo's legacy as a politician and a person, in these respects, is certainly not limited to Times Square.  But you would be hard-pressed to find a part of the City where that legacy is more vibrantly visible.  Thanks, Governor, and rest in peace.

Congress, Not Just Boehner, Is Guilty Of Treason

By now, everyone is aware of John Boehner's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.  Given the current efforts by the Obama Administration to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran, as well as the long-standing desire of American and Israeli conservatives to turn Iran into a nuclear pancake, political leaders and media commentators have both raised the question of whether Boehner's invitation is at least in part a hands-across-the-water attempt to sabotage the negotiations, thereby increasing the likelihood of an American-Israel war against Iran.

And, given the fact that Article II of the U.S. Constitution puts the foreign policy powers of the nation squarely in the hands of the President, some commentators have gone further to delve into a highly provocative question:  does this invitation constitute treason?

Sometimes lost in the discussion of treason as a patriotic and moral issue is the fact that it is a legal one as well.  The Constitution spells out the legal boundaries of that issue in Article III, declaring that treason can consist of an overt act having the effect of giving aid and comfort to one or more enemies of the United States.   Boehner's invitation certainly meets the requirement of an overt act.  But does it also meet the requirement of aid and comfort?

For an answer to that question, I invite you to take a look at this article, which squarely raises the question of whether Boehner's action amounts to treason.  The author raises three important facts in connection with the invitation:  prior attempts by Republican Congresses to use Netanyahu as a political foil against Democratic Presidents (Clinton and Obama), Netanyahu's currently tough re-election effort, and the complete lack of notice given to the White House regarding the invitation.  In some ways, that last one is the one that compels me to see actionable treason here.  It makes the invitation impossible to view as anything except an attempt to blindside the President (especially given the timing, almost immediately after the State of the Union address).  How could that not be seen as something that Iran would view as a sign of weak American resolve?  If a Democratic Congress attempted to do something similar to a Republican President, you can bet that the GOP would criticize Congress on exactly that basis.

But the author goes beyond that, to raise the possibility that Boehner may have overstepped his legal authority to negotiate with a foreign leader, or even to receive campaign contributions from him or his allies.  Those are relevant questions, given Netanyahu's re-election prospects and the invitations given to him by past GOP Congresses.  And what we know already demands some sort of independent investigation that would provide answers to those questions.  Take, for example, Netanyahu's view, expressed here, that "American is a thing you can move very easily."

On the other hand, we may already have something that is tantamount to a confession:  rookie GOP Senator Tom Cotton, who seems to have made a rookie mistake by stating publicly that the purpose of the invitation is to sabotage the President's negotiations with Iran.  Don't believe anyone could do something so stupid and corrupt at the same time?  Well, just take a look.

From an objective standpoint, there is already enough evidence to justify an investigation.  But, as far as I'm personally concerned, there's enough evidence to bring in a verdict.  Not only Boehner, but the entire Republican caucus in both houses of Congress, is guilty of treason in this affair.  And it isn't limited to this affair:  take a look at how the Senate is handling debate over the Keystone pipeline bill, claiming the pipeline will create U.S. jobs while defeating amendments designed to guarantee the fulfillment of that goal.  On top of that, they're doing it without debate.  Government is supposed to work in the open; only spies or saboteurs get to work in the darkness.  Which of those latter two categories does Mitch McConnell fit into?

If Obama does nothing more than stand in opposition to the den of vipers at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, he will be doing us more than just a favor.  He may very well be saving the Republic.  To borrow a phrase, stay tuned.  And pray that someone will investigate this Congress--even if it is only to try it in the courts of public opinion and the ballot box.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

One Very Good Reason Why Jeb Bush Should NEVER Be President

Of course, I'm being just a bit coy here; there are in fact oh-so-MANY reasons.  Let's start with the fact that he's a Bush, and that clearly worked out so well the first two times we went in that direction.  Then, of course, we go on from there to realize that there's no reason to think the third time would be the charm.  Actually, those are the only two reason you need; lather, rinse, repeat, and you'll never even THINK about putting another Bush in the White House.

But, just in case you really do need something specific to hang the hat of that decision on, I invite you to consider this.  A governor willing to meddle in a family squabble for political gain is not someone I want making middle-of-the-night decisions about my fate, or anyone else's.

If They Can't Agree On Anything Else ...

... at least Democrats and Republicans can still agree on something that may, in the context of our current situation, seem like an extravagance, but could provide the key to our long-term survival as a species:  space flight.

If You Can't Raise The Minimum Wage ...

... the least you can do is ensure that everyone knows how much CEOs are being paid.  Then workers and shareholders can have a say in whether they think current levels of executive compensation are really a good idea.  And, of course, CEOs are so confident of their value as reflected in their pay that they won't mind having the opportunity to brag about it.

Or will they?  Stay tuned.

And Here's An Example Of Why I Think Warren Should Stay In The Senate

Her focus on economic fairness gives her the opportunity, and the long-term potential, to unite people and political leaders in both parties.  Here's an example.

Nice Try, David

David Brooks seems unusually encouraging here with regard to Elizabeth Warren's presidential prospects.  I suspect that Brooks wants Warren to be the Democratic nominee in 2016, because she'll be easier to target for defeat than Hillary, as the "leftier" of the two.

I tend to doubt that Warren really wants to be President and, for my part, I'd rather keep her in the Senate rather than see her political career come to a term-limited conclusion.  I think that she has the potential to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Edward Kennedy, and be the Senate's liberal lion for a long time.  (No, in using the word "predecessor," I did not forget the eminently forgettable Scott Brown.  It's just that I remembered he was forgettable, and forgot him.)

In the meantime, David, be careful what you wish for.

A Four-Party Congress?

This gives you some idea of what it would look like.  I'm not entirely sure that it would be a bad idea; the combination of diluted party power and deal-making might actually accelerate the process, and led to some progress, which would be better than the current stalemate.  But, on the whole, I still think it's better for Democrats to just be Democrats, and trust in the common sense of the voters (so long as they're allowed to vote).

He Thinks It's A Damn Fight--And I'm Glad He Does

Watching President Obama's State of the Union address last night, and sifting through the media reaction to it afterwards, I was reminded of a moment from Sylvester Stallone's first "Rocky" movie (or, as I sometimes like to call it, "the good one").  The moment comes early in the film's climatic fight between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the world heavyweight champion.  Creed has staged the bout as an exhibition commemorating the nation's Bicentennial but, for Rocky, it's a last chance to show what he's got as a boxer by "going the distance" with Creed.  When Creed complains to his trainer about the punishment he's taking, reminding him that this is supposed to be an exhibition, his trainer snaps back at him.  "Well, someone forgot to tell him that!  He thinks it's a damn fight!"

Clearly, that's what the President thinks, judging from his speech.  And I for one couldn't be happier.

The Republican Party has never liked Obama.  And neither has the legacy media.  He won two elections (more about that later;-)) not only without their help, but in the face of massive, unprincipled, nearly insane opposition that, despite its mendacity and sheer lack of patriotism, would have crushed a much lesser politician.  That would have been especially true of a politician like Bill Clinton, who put himself into a position to be blackmailed, and lived to regret it, as did the rest of us.  But Barack Obama is not a lesser politician.  Barack Obama is not anybody's puppet, or tool.  Barack Obama rocks.  Hard.

And the Republicans and the legacy media have never forgiven him for it.  The former, because he's black (sorry, I'm just the messenger here), and the latter, because he's won without--in fact, in spite of--the lack of blessing they chose to confer on him.  All this has done is accelerate, for both of them, the lack of relevancy that history and the forces shaping it have decreed for both of them.

For the past two years, since the President did the "unexpected" (except to his supporters) and get re-elected, the GOP and the LM (legacy or lamestream; either one works) have teamed up to create their own, overpowering anti-Obama narrative.  They squashed an immigration bill supported by the American people and more than two-thirds of the Senate.  They allowed the Republican-controlled House to get away with passing virtually nothing to help the American people, on the theory that they should wait until after the 2014 elections and their expected electoral gains.  And they received those gains through the worst combination of dark money and voter suppression in modern history.  On top of all of that, they have spent the past two months joining hands in demanding that President Obama kneel to this craven, corrupt Congress--a Congress elected by the lowest voter turnout in 70 years.

What leader in what is still supposed to be a democracy would, or should, bow down to such bullying?  Did the Republicans or the LM bow down to the Democrats when they won across the board in 2008?  Did either of them bow down to Obama or Senate Democrats in 2012?  Was their any serious effort in either instance of the GOP "reaching across the aisle"?  Did the minority Congressional leadership do anything in response to those defeats except come up with new and more exciting ways to obstruct the people's business?  And was that leadership ever called out by what passes for the traditional press?   Then or now?

This is a damn fight.  And Obama's SOTU address shows that he recognizes it and is willing to engage the Republicans in it.  He's the leader of a co-equal branch of government, and has no obligation to bow down and worship John Boehner and Mitch McConnell for their election "victories."  After all, as he gently reminded them, he has two of those as well.  And that reminder was neither rude nor arrogant; it was far nicer than this.

Obama is very much feeling comfortable in the Presidential saddle, and all of us should be grateful for it.  I am.  The Republicans and LM need to find a way to get over themselves, and get on with the business of serving the people, instead of serving themselves.