Sunday, July 27, 2014

We Need More Journalists Like This One

Once, journalism in this country was full of people who didn't give a damn about anything except the truth, and the need to tell it.  Not any more.  Which is why we can ill afford to lose people like Michael Hastings, who, even in death, is reminding us of things that many of us--including some in power--would like to forget.  RIP, sir.  And may you example inspire thousands more to report the news as you did.

Not EVERY Republican Hates Obama's New Climate Rules

Here's one that doesn't.  In Indiana, nobody's idea of a bleeding heart state, no less.

Oh, From Your Mouth To God's Ears!

Bush on trial for war crimes?  At least one person from his own Administration thinks that it could happen.  If international law means anything, it should.

Back When Republicans Could Be Sensible ...

... there were more men like this.  RIP, Senator Goodman

The Harder You Push The Pendulum Back ...

... the harder it swings in the other direction.  The inhibited 1950s gave way to the wide-open 1960s.  Now, slowly but surely, the Republican Empire of this century's first decade is crumbling, thanks to its own persistent refusal to bend even a millimeter.  Good work, GOP.

Here's An Example Of A State Making An Adult Fiscal Decision

Maryland, the state that is doing what it takes to fix its roads and bridges, and provide public transportation.  My home state.  Bravo!

Legalized Gambling: A Fiscal Road To Nowhere

It's hard for me to admit this, as a near-lifelong resident of the East Coast, but until a month or so ago, when I was shooting a Web series, I had never visited Atlantic City.  I had, of course, read about its decline from its glory days in the early 20th century, and about its supposed revitalization by casino gambling.  I've seen advertisements promoting casinos, and bus trips to the casinos, and heard stories from friends and relatives about the casinos.  So I fell into the trap of thinking that it must all be true--casinos have been a great thing for Atlantic City, and would obviously be equally great everywhere (including Maryland, where several casinos have already opened, with a new one about to open in downtown Baltimore).  After all, apart from the casino stories, most of what I knew about Atlantic City came from the board game "Monopoly," which uses the names of AC streets for its board spaces.

Well, all I can say from having been there is that you could color me unimpressed.  The casinos themselves were gaudy and massive without otherwise being exciting, or even modestly inventive.  And they appeared to be anything but crowded, if the level of street traffic was any indication.  And keep in mind that this was on an early summer weekend, a time where people's thoughts ordinarily turn toward recreation.  Not a whole lot of recreating was going on.  And, from what I could see of the city apart from the casinos, nobody was going to go there to recreate for any reason whatsoever.  After a while, I found myself longing for a chance to pass "Go" and collect $200; that would have been more fun than anything else I saw.

Which is why this did not strike me as a surprise.  It probably wouldn't have surprised me in any case because, in an economic slump like the one from which we have been slowly emerging, entertainment spending is the first budget item most households cut.  You can't live without food, clothes, shelter and transportation but, when it comes to leisure time, there are always ways to economize.  It's probably safe to say that the people who have kept AC's casinos afloat have been the professional gamblers and the addicts--the latter, of course, being the people who shouldn't be there at all.

That vulnerability to economic hard times, combined with the over-expansion of gambling by state and local governments in the wake of AC's initial successes, is why governments need to end their own fiscal addiction to gaming revenues as a cowardly cop-out from what they should be doing--making grown-up decisions about taxes and spending.  Even when the current recovery reaches its peak, the gaming money isn't going to be the Mississippi River of income most politicians have up until now thought that it would be.  There are simply too many gaming venues, both physical and online.  And the severity of the past downtown is going to encourage a lot of folks to be more cautious about non-essential spending.

I loved it when then-Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland described casino gambling for the state as a "no-brainer."  Leaving aside the fact he's well-qualified to make no-brainer decisions, it takes no brains to see casinos as an alternative to making hard choices--just as it takes no brains to fail to see the fiscal fallacy in that thinking.  It is past time for politicians everywhere to level with their citizens and tell them the truth:  legalized gambling isn't a pot of public gold.  It's a source of public vice that still leaves us begging the question of how to pay our bills.

As for Atlantic City, I wish it the best of luck.  Maybe they should bring in Parker Brothers and work with them to create a "Monopolyland" theme park.  That way, maybe, just maybe, someone besides the house would have a chance to win.

An Eye For An Eye In The Holy Land

In the interests of both full disclosure and clarity, I need to preface this post with a few qualifications.  Long before I had the good fortune to marry my wife (who is Jewish, as are my stepchildren), I was and still am an unqualified supporter of Israel's right to exist and to defend both its existence and the lives of its people.  I recognize the obvious truths about Israel's Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians within its border:  they do not share my view, and have sought for decades to destroy Israel and Israelis by any and all means.  I do not believe there is any cure for the hostility that most Arabs feel for their brothers and sisters in Abraham.

But that does not change one simple truth stated years ago by Gandhi:  an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  That is the more true when one is fighting a war in which the other side defines martyrdom as victory.  And a successful war strategy cannot depend on creating as many martyrs as possible.

The current level of conflict has come about for two reasons:  Israel's current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not want a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinian people have elected terrorists to represent their political interests.  As long as either of those reasons continues to exist, there will be no end to the current level of violence; as long as both of them exist, the violence will continue to escalate--and, given the centrality of Israeli-Palestinian interests to governments around the world, no one can safely predict where it will stop.

Netanyahu, like most conservative Israeli politicians, believes that he can solve the problem by escalating the violence of Israeli responses to Palestinian attacks to the point at which no Palestinian terrorist is safe.  This is worse than madness; this is literally suicide.  Even if the Israeli armed forces could systematically kill every member of Hamas, or similar groups, it would only have the effect of expanding the violence beyond Israel's borders.  Every Muslim willing to die for his or her faith would have been handed a excuse for doing so--regardless of where they are on the planet.  This would not simply endanger Jews all around the planet, although it would certainly do that.  It could endanger everyone on the planet, if one or more terrorists gains the use of a nuclear device.

Neither Netanyahu nor the Israelis would have to worry about any of this, however, if the Palestinian people would stop putting their futures, and the futures of their children, in the hands of terrorist organizations.  As long as they continue to elect leaders who are content to conduct politics by weaponizing their own people, and cannot see that they are helping to perpetuate a nightmare with no end, they will have no help from outside their borders--perhaps not even from their fellow Arab nations, who could offer much in the way of practical help but systematically refuse to do so.

There seems to be little that outsiders can do to help, except offer to mediate, which the United States has tried to do over and over again.  We should, of course, continue to do so.  But our commitment to helping in this regard has to be conditioned on two principles:  acceptance of a two-state solution, and a commitment to ending terrorism that is enforceable, even if that means that renewed suicide bombing would give the Israeli government--and, perhaps, ours as well--the right to re-occupy and police the Palestinian territories.

Until all of this is in place, however, it will continue to be an eye for an eye.  Let's hope and pray that the world is not blinded in the process.

This Should Be A Part Of The Constitution

But, in the meantime, this will have to do.  Congratulations, Alan Grayson, for helping to enact a federal shield law for journalists.  And one more reason why we need you, sir.

Why The Border Crisis Is Not A Financial One

Because a public-defender system for deportations would pay for itself.  Take a look.

Bigotry Always Needs A Cloak

It can never work on its own.  Its cowardly, essentially evil nature always requires it to wear a mask.  Sometimes, as in the case of the religious right, the cloak or mask is an obsession with fetuses--an obsession that dies if when they become babies.

Especially black babies.

Rebuild By Rebulding

Detroit appears to be ready to do what we always do with our architectural past:  tear it down.  Far better to rebuild--better for saving history, money and the planet.  And one unasked (and therefore unanswered) question:  why does the blight exist?  And should the people responsible be rewarded for it?

Do Background Checks Work?

Yes, they do.  Now let's require them across the board.

"Supporting The Troops" By Denying Them Mental Health Care

That's the Republican way.

Campaign Finance Reform Versus Redistricting Reform?

To me, it's not a choice.  I'm very much in favor of both.  But this article from Slate makes a convincing argument for favoring the latter over the former.  I encourage you to read it, as I agree (for the most part) with the argument that it makes.  I would just add three additional arguments in favor of the thesis it advances, and emphasize one of its major points.

First, because the substantial damage to campaign finance reform has come by way of decisions from the Supreme Court, the damage can only be undone by amending the Constitution to permit the reinstatement and even expansion of the provisions that have been overruled.  Amending the Constitution, to put it mildly, is no easy task.  In the 224 years since the ratification of the Constitution, it has only been successfully amended 27 times.  Amendments must be approved by supermajorities at the national and state level, and in a country as fractious as ours, supermajorities are few and far between.  In contemporary America, a country that cannot even come together on the issue of child refugees, they are all but non-existent.  For this reason, any forward movement on this issue will have to travel a long road, with much patience being required of those who travel it.  As the Slate article shows, redistricting reform can be accomplished far more easily at the state level, as was the case in Florida.

Second, even though most progressives are reluctant to admit this, the truth is that we have our deep pockets as well--and those pockets cancel out much of the influence of the Koch brothers of the world.  It's worth noting, even though the mainstream media has largely ignored it, that the IRS flagged as many applications (if not more) from progressive groups as it did from conservative groups seeking tax protection in the aftermath of Citizens United.  We shouldn't be ashamed of this:  it simply reflects our success in the marketplace of ideas.  Liberals have money because liberalism sells.  And we shouldn't be ashamed or afraid to show conservatives that we can beat them on any playing field they choose.

Third, and related to my second point, liberalism's popularity in this county is due in no small part to the fact that it takes a more flexible, more local, more practical and less ideological approach to addressing the needs of Americans.  This is why, contrary to almost every piece of right-wing rhetoric you've probably ever heard,
the Democratic Party has never been a mirror-image of progressive parties in Europe.  And this is probably why, in 2012, Democratic candidates outpolled their Republican counterparts by a million votes.  The simple fact of the matter is that the current House Republican majority is not a natural majority--it is a gerrymandered one.  Take away the gerrymandering, and allow Democratic House candidates to continue tailoring their messages to their communities, and you may never see a House Republican Majority again.

Finally, as even the article concedes, this effort must be joined at the hip with Congressional action to fix the Voting Rights Act, which has also been damaged by the Supreme Court.  And that effort must also be joined by a greater effort by the Democratic Party to recruit minority candidates.  These things must be done to address the concerns of African-Americans who seek gerrymandering as the path to political power, through the creation of "majority-minority" districts.  They may lead to the election of minority officials, but they also dilute the power of the minority vote to join with other voters and elect officials who can set a progressive agenda for all Americans.

So read the article, and consider my additional thoughts.  And then, get out their and work as hard for redistricting reform as you do for progressive candidates.  Achieving the one is the key to electing more of the other.