Sunday, May 22, 2016

It's Past Time For A Baltimore-Washington Transit System

As all of us who live in the Maryland-Virginia-District of Columbia area know, the DC Metro system that serves the District and its suburban counties in two states has had a lot of physical problems, as might be expected of any 40-year old.  For someone like me, who remembers when the Metro was a very new-fangled thing (and when the concrete vaulting in the underground stations was cleaner and had fewer cracks), it's hard to believe that much time has passed.  In that time, the system has added new lines while expanding old ones.  In the process, it has fueled (pun intended) astonishing economic growth across the region it serves, helping to transform it into one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, regions in the country.

That said, the system on which so many of us depend is in very serious physical trouble.  Stations, tracks, wires, and access/egress points all are badly in need of basic maintenance, the sort of maintenance this country used to routinely pride itself on as one of the things that made us the envy of the world.  But, as most of us know, we stopped taking pride in that many years ago, about the time that tax cuts for the rich became the latest political "in" craze.  And now, in a nation starved for funds just to keep its roads, bridges and tunnels in shape, the DC Metro system has become the poster child for our infrastructure neglect.

Sadly, this has happened just as a major public transit project, Baltimore's proposed Red Line, was systematically killed by a governor desperate to prove his willingness to cut spending, even if it meant throwing away a billion dollars of federal aid in the process.  Frankly, as someone who believes strongly in the environmental and economic desirability of mass transit, I have not been able to get over this unbelievable insult and injury to Maryland's largest city, at one time the sixth largest city in this country.  In part, that is because I cannot believe how little resistance there has been in response to Larry Hogan's Biggest Mistake; even the presumptive mayor-elect, Catherine Pugh, has signaled that she is not going to push back against this mistake.

And, as a consequence, I have found myself searching the Internet for some sign that maybe, just maybe, there were people like me who gave a damn about this issue.  And, in the course of that searching, I found this.

And, even though it was a map based on the now-dead Red Line, inspiration hit me.

No matter how much emphasis Congressional Republicans put on smarter management as the key to reversing the fortunes of the DC Metro, the reality is that the system will need more money.  Which means federal money, given the fact that Congress controls the budget of the District and almost everything on which it depends.

Why not maximize the impact of that money, and allocate enough to build a truly two-city mass transit system, like the one on the linked map?  Why not, as I suggested in a previous post on the Red Line, use dedicated publicly-controlled solar and wind powered resources to help fund such a system, so as to reduce the need for taxpayer dollars to fund such a project?  Why not create a transit system that would, in any case, generate more taxpayer dollars, by jump-starting the economy at both ends of the bi-city corridor?  And, speaking of that corridor, why not recognize it for what it is:  an economic entity on a scale with the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago metropolitan areas?  Why shouldn't it have a subway system to match?

And why shouldn't we all get behind it?  Right now, when both cities are filled with people starved for access to work?  Let's give them that access.  Let's give them that future.  Let's give all of us a 21st-century mass transit system, or even a late-20th-century system.

And let's get started today.  Before another unnecessary accident happens on the DC Metro.  And before another politician tries to use that accident to further sabotage civilization.

Criminal Conspiracy, Or Fifth Column? You Decide

I mentioned in an earlier post that the Republican Party is either a criminal conspiracy, or a fifth column.  Those are admittedly strong words.  I did not write them lightly, and I do not defend them lightly.  But I felt it necessary to use a separate post to explain why I believe that statement to be true.

First of all, since the words "fifth column" have not been in common usage for a while, I offer a definition from an admittedly humble but, at least in this case, reliable source:  Wikipedia. Basically, it refers to any organized effort to destroy a cause, or even a nation, from within. Ironically, during the 1940s and well into the 1960s, the term "fifth column" was enthusiastically used by conservatives in the United States to describe various segments of American society they didn't like--unions, students, actors, and so on.

You don't hear that from them so much any more.  Maybe that's because, by now, they have been exposed themselves as the ultimate fifth columnists.  Think about that for a second.  Nixon's undermining of negotiations to end the Vietnam War, on the eve of the 1968 election.  Watergate, the scandal that swallowed Nixon's subsequent Presidency.  Reagan's undermining of the return of the Iranian-held hostages, on the eve of the 1980 election.  The Iran-Contra scandal.  And, of course, Bush vs. Gore.  And these are only the highlights of Republican scandal over the past half-century.

Think we can call this a pattern?  I sure do.  Think we can all this breaking the law?  I sure do. Think this undermines the quality and character of our government, and even our civil society, as a consequence.  You bet whatever you want I do.  And you should, too, if you've got an ounce of what Americans used to pride themselves on having a lot of--common sense.

And it's never going to end unless we do something about it.  Take a look at two recent examples.

There can be no more basic function of government than ensuring public safety.  The Republicans have said so, over and over again, for decades and decades.  That's how they justify their military-first approach to foreign policy, and their law-and-order approach to domestic policy.  But, when it comes to deadly diseases, safety be damned--it's just an opportunity to negotiate away other forms of spending they don't like.  And, if public safety has to be held hostage so that they can play political games with Democrats and their supporters, so be it.  Even if that means ignoring one biological threat, Ebola, to do very little in fighting another threat, Zika.  Frankly, they don't care which one kills you first, as long as they can use it to pick up seats in the next election.

And then, there's the rule of law.  Remember the Clinton impeachment trial?  The one that was supposed to be all about the rule of law?  They took the position that perjury in a civil trial was in effect a high crime and misdemeanor against the people of the United States.  They effectively stopped the business of this country for two years, allowing its enemies more time to plot against us, over the constitutional equivalent of jaywalking.  Because nothing, nothing, was more important than the rule of law.

Except, of course, when you can bend the rule of law for your own purposes.  When, for example, a vote that would have advanced LGBT rights surprisingly goes against you, and you re-open the vote for a little last-minute arm-twisting, to get the result you want.  Because getting what you want is far more important than what the people of this country want and need.  Because, as far as you're really concerned, the rule of law isn't a principle, but a partisan club to be laid to rest when it gets in the way of what you want.

Criminal conspiracy, or fifth column?  I think they're both, but does it matter?  Either way, this wretched excuse for a political party belongs on the ash heap of history--after it's voted out of office. But that's up to you.

Hillary Needs To Become A "Honey Pot"

I just finished saying my piece to Bernie Sanders' supporters.  Now I've got a few choice words for the woman who has all but stopped him from winning this year's Democratic nomination for President, Hillary Clinton.

First of all, congratulations.  No matter what happens from here on in, you've made history.  And that history caps off a remarkable career of public service, as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. No one can take that away from you, and no one should try.

But don't pick out a color scheme for the Oval Office just yet.

It's bad enough that you'll be facing a Republican nominee who have been given hours upon hours of investigation-free media exposure for whom "journalism" has become synonymous with rubbernecking a traffic accident.  It's bad enough that you've been under the microscope time and time again, without anyone finding any fire behind the smoke generated by what you aptly described the vast right-wing conspiracy.

But, before you can even begin to worry about Donald Trump or a hostile media, you've got something much more basic to worry about:  your own party.

We are not in the 1990s, Madame Secretary, and have not been for a while.  We no longer exist in a political environment where centrism, even assuming that centrism is an easily definable thing, can cut it, politically or otherwise.  That is in no small part due to many changes at the federal level during that mixed bag of a decade, changes that had the effect of undoing much of what had been accomplished by the New Deal.  Those changes had the effect of pushing us back toward the economic state of the late 1800s and the early part of the last century.  Economic imperialism is alive and well as a result, and any road to the center must consequently extend from the left.

And centrism, in any case, requires two sides to compromise.  Where are the compromises from the Republicans who have controlled the last three Congresses?  Where are their alternatives to health care reform, to fighting climate change, to fighting terrorist threats, or to address the needs of stateless immigrants living in our society.  For the love of whatever Higher Power you believe in, where at least are their alternatives for creating jobs?   And, above all, where is the willingness to meet with the other side to resolve each other's differences.  Nowhere.  To these Republicans, it is more important to be a conservative than it is to be an American.

And that is why the Berniecrats are not falling in line behind you, Madame Secretary.  They remember you as part of the Administration that dealt away AFDC and Glass-Steagall, thereby giving poor people no floor to stand on and rich people no ceiling to limit their greed.  They see you, even now, appearing to protect those "accomplishments" by refusing to listen to them about income inequality and too-big-to-fail banks.  They remember your willingness to accept speaker's fees from at least one of those banks, and wonder why you won't tell us what you told them.

All of that has to change, as of right now.  A recent New York Times article suggests that you may be able to win Berniecrats over to your cause--or, at least, enough of them to win--if you offer them the political equivalent of honey.  I have two suggestions for doing just that, and they revolve around two people:  Elizabeth Warren, and your husband, the 42nd President.

I'll begin with Bill first.  None of us should ever forget the fact that the W-Cheney fiasco might never have been possible without your husband's extra-marital extracurricular activities.  I don't like to bring up a painful subject, but how can I help bringing up something that no one has forgotten? Trump has made it clear that he has no intention of letting anyone forget it.  And, in any case, no one has forgotten Bill's willingness to "deal away" key parts of the New Deal.  That's why Berniecrats and folks like me cringe when you talk about putting him "in charge" of the economy.

Forget that idea.  Let him adopt a cause as First Husband, and focus on promoting that.  And, instead, put someone in charge of the economy who really understands it, and who also should be your running mate:  Elizabeth Warren.  She understands that a successful economy depends on everyone, and must reward everyone.  She understands that trickle-down economics is really gusher-up for the investing class.  She understands that wealth or the lack of it does not equate to virtue, and that government should be an umpire to enforce the rules for everyone.

Make her your vice presidential candidate, and she will become your Vice President, as well as making you President in the process.  Put her in charge of measures to reign in Wall Street and pump up Main Street.  And, most of all, admit that not all of your husband's ideas were good ones, and that some of them need to be replaced with better ones.  Do these things, Madame Secretary, and you just might be in the Oval Office after all, with at least some of the Berniecrats rallying to your cause.

Take a look at what Michelle Goldberg of Slate has to say about both your husband and Warren. Please.  And don't waste any more time.  Get out the honey, and get it out now  Before Bernie's bees decide to stay in the hive on Election Day.

The Majority Isn't The Majority If It Doesn't Show Up

For the voting, that is.

I'm saying that now because, despite a spate of recent victories in the delegate hunt, and in part because of depleted funds in the pursuit of those victories, it appears that at some point, and certainly no later than the Democratic convention in July, Bernie Sanders is going to be forced to concede the Democratic Party presidential nomination for 2016 to Hillary Clinton.  Sanders seems, at this point, to be in no mood to make that concession, and his followers likewise are in no mood for him to make it, both arguing that their cause goes beyond the nomination itself and toward the building of a progressive movement that can effect lasting political change in this country.

That's all well and good.  But I have a pair of relevant questions, for both Senator Sanders and for his followers:

WHERE WERE YOU IN 2010?

AND WHERE THE BLOODY HELL WERE YOU IN 2014?

Those were the mid-term years of the Obama Administration that so many of your worked and spent your tails and credit cards off for in 2008 and 2012.  Those were the years that could easily have made the difference in making a great presidency an even greater one.  Those were the years that could have ensured the enactment of cap-and-trade legislation, and comprehensive immigration reform.  Those were the years that could have helped to undo ruinous Supreme Court decisions against voting rights and campaign finance reform.  And, speaking of the Supreme Court, those were also the years that could have helped to ensure a progressive federal judiciary at all levels of the court process for a generation to come.

Didn't happen.  Because you didn't show up.  You expected Obama to do it all, to somehow audaciously turn on his hopeful charm, and make all things bright and beautiful without the energy and voices of those who formed presidential majorities twice.  You forgot that we live in a system of divided power, designed to thwart major changes without approval of those changes across three branches of government.  Worst of all, perhaps, you forgot the most important lesson of the eight years immediately prior to Obama's arrival in the Oval Office:

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS NOT A POLITICAL PARTY; IT IS AT BEST A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY, AND AT WORST A FIFTH COLUMN.

I'll have more to say about this point in a subsequent post.  For the moment, I think it's enough to support it to remind the reader that the previous Administration used a national tragedy to lie us into an unnecessary war for which we are still paying the price--not only in lives and dollars, but in the complete destabilization of the Middle East (thanks, ISIS) for decades to come.

Please don't sit there and pretend your hands are clean.  You might as well have voted for the Tea Party.  You might as well have voted to put the future of the nation into the power-grabbing hands of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell  You might as well have helped launch the political career of Donald Trump, the founding father of the "birther movement."

Instead, try to imagine how different it might have been if you had shown up.  And how essential it is for you to show up.  And how you can make up for it this year.  Because you are the majority.  But only if you honor the sacrifices that have been made for your right to vote by actually voting.

If you don't like Hillary, I understand.  I'm not thrilled about her either.  But the lesser of two evils is still less evil, and still stands in the way of the greater evil.  And, even if you don't want to be part of helping women break the ultimate glass ceiling, show up anyway, and vote for Democrats, third-party candidates, and ballot initiatives that support progressive causes.  Don't let those people and causes suffer because of a fixation on the presidential race:  that's how we got into this mess in the first place!

Please prove you are the majority.  Please put the best interest of the nation ahead of your legitimate and justifiable disappointment in the outcome of the nomination process.  That process, in and of itself, badly needs reform to make it more sensitive to the will of the people.  But the best way to ensure that the process becomes sensitive to the people is for the people to show up in the first place!

So please show up.  The nation needs you.  It doesn't need Donald Trump.  It doesn't need the Tea Party, which is pretty much all that's left of the GOP.  And it doesn't deserve either one.

It deserves the majority.  Please help make sure the majority shows up, this year and every election year from now on.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Abortion, And The Newtonian Physics Of Politics

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So said Sir Issac Newton, the founding father of physics.  It plays out in politics in much the same way.

The ultra-conservative 1950s gave way to the non-conformist 1960s.  The swinging 1970s gave way to the more puritanical 1980s.  The right-wing, anti-government politics of the 1990s gave way to the return of Big Government with a vengeance in the 21st Century, first in a military way with Bush, and then in a more progressive way with Obama.

And so it is with abortion.  Since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, the anti-sex* opponents of abortion have dedicated their lives to chipping away at a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.  And they have succeeded to a degree that should frighten anyone who values individual freedom.

There have been concerns raised by older feminists that Gen X and millennial women may, in the face of this kind of success, take freedom of choice for granted.  I understand and respect that concern, but, based on reality, I'm not entirely sure that it should exist.  If anything, as this Slate article shows, it may be having the opposite effect, galvanizing an entire generation of women to stand up for their rights.

Looks like Newtonian politics, thankfully, is alive and well.

*As a matter of principle, I refer to the so-called "pro-life" movement as an anti-sex movement, for reasons I detail here.

The Needless Victims Of Faith Healing

There is a sad but true joke about those that believe in God, but expect Him (or Whomever) to only express Himself through miracles.  It goes like this:

A man is on the roof of his house, with floodwaters rising all about him.  He is offered help by a balloonist in a balloon, a helicopter, and a powerboat.  He refuses all of the offers, claiming that
he believed that God alone would save him.  He ends up drowning, goes to Heaven, and asks God why he was allowed to drown.  God's response:  "Well, I tried.  Who do you think sent you the balloonist, the helicopter and the powerboat?"

The point should be painfully obvious  God does not need to violate His/Her/Its/Their laws in order to be real.  God does not have to be spectacular in order to give us what we need.  And God, above all, does not need any so-called followers whose alleged "faith" depends upon putting God to one or more tests.

That latter blasphemy is exactly what faith-healing believers do.  And, when they subject children to the tortures of faith-healing, they become doubly heinous.  Parents of children like the one in this story can't be punished enough.  At the very least, laws should be changed everywhere to make that punishment possible.

Even A Broken Clock Like The New York Post Is Right Twice A Day

No media outlet wanted to go after the 9/11 bad guys more than the New York Post did.  No other outlet was a bigger media cheerleader for the fraudulent war in Iraq than the Post and its publisher, Rupert Murdoch, the man who brought right-wing politics into mainstream American media.  And no other media outlet, with the exceptions of the other ones Murdoch owns, have spent so much time ignoring the real nation that we should have been going after.

Saudi Arabia.  The home of most of the hijackers  The source of the Islamic extremism that motivated them to become terrorists.  And, sadly, one of the key suppliers of the substance that has done more to corrupt our society than any other:  oil.

But maybe things are changing.  Maybe the truth can, over time and with enough exposure, overcome its unpopularity.  Maybe even a right-wing rag like the Post is willing to expose the real bad guys.

And, now that it has done so, maybe the rest of us should ignore Saudi threats and get behind a truly bipartisan effort to go after the real bad guys.

It's about time  Every 9/11 victim that lost his or her life or health, and every member of their families would agree.  That should be reason enough.

There Are No More Excuses For Opposing Alternative Energy

But, of course, the folks in the pockets of the fossil-fuel industry keep on trying.  My personal favorite has always been the one about Hollywood activists and their private jets.  I've already dealt with this issue in at least one previous post, but it's so much fun going after this ridiculous argument that I feel like I should take advantage of every chance I get to do it.

Especially when I read an article like this one.

It illustrates how far this technology has come in such a very short time.  And it also illustrates how far it is likely to go  Quite literally, around the world.

One is forced to wonder what the fossil-fuel tools will come up with as an argument against alternative energy once Leonardo DiCaprio is flying from premiers to conferences and back again on his own solar-powered jet.  Then again, maybe they'll finally become converts.

That might be a miracle.  But, as the article demonstrates, perhaps we are living in an age of miracles We'll see.

Criminal Negligence And The Cleveland Police

How does it happen?

How in the name of God does an officer get on the police force of a major American city with a documented background from prior police work that shouldn't allow him to be the security guard for a one-toilet washroom?

How do the officers responsible for hiring him get a slap on the wrist?

And how do the officers of said police department get away with bald-face lies about the shooting of a 12-year-old boy that are flatly contradicted by the available evidence?

If you're wondering why I'm raising all of these questions, read on.  This should lead you to raise the same questions, and many more.

But there's one thing it won't do.

It won't cause you to question why African-Americans have far more reason to fear the police than anyone else in American society should have.

Perhaps It Takes Two To Get To The Moon

Two sectors of the economy, that is:  public and private.

The national railroad system and the Interstate Highway System were both products of the intersection of public and private interests.  The nation's economic and military interests required an effective system of transportation; private business interests had the means to facilitate that through the invention and development of railroad and automobile transportation.  Together, the public and private sectors were able to give America the land transportation it needed to unite the economic interests of the nation and give vehicles the mobility they needed for our national defense.  And yes, a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, gets credit for the IHS (while simultaneously making Democrats wish there were more Republicans like him).

Why can't the same thing happen with space travel?  NASA, although operating at a fraction of the budget it used to have, is still capable of producing incredible space-related technology, while private investors like Elon Musk are coming up with innovative new vehicles for reaching out into space. Maybe, if Washington, can get away from bickering, it could spend some time working on a way to get NASA and the Musks of the world to work together.

And get us back to the final frontier, so that we're no longer just exploring it in movie theaters and on TV screens.

A Market-Based Alternative To Taxation?

Trickle-down economics.  We know it doesn't work, and yet we're still married to the idea.  At least, those in charge of the political economic system and their bagpeople in Congress are still married to the idea.  And that's bad enough.

In the past thirty-five years, wealth plainly hasn't trickled down.  It's trickle up to the investing class, and out to tax shelters.  It sits in banks as a hedge against the fear and trembling brought about by the near-crash of 2008.  God forbid that should happen again, say the Wall Streeters, because we know that we can't con the voters into bailing us out again.  We'd rather let our money rot in banks than take a chance on investing it in something that actually might make even more money, both for us and ourselves

And we know we don't have to worry about tax hikes, because we've got the public convinced that, if Washington comes after us, they'll come after Main Street as well.  So we're sitting pretty, right?

Maybe not.

Maybe the answer is negative interest rates, a de facto market-based penalty against hoarding cash. Maybe, if people won't jump off the investors' diving board, they need to be pushed.  Maybe, if we push them hard enough, they'll start spending, and interest rates can start to climb again, along with everything else, including wages.

It's worth a try.  Something's got to give, if we're ever going to get out of the liquidity trap.

Fighting Climate Change With Bonds?

I've been interested for a long time in the idea that it's possible to solve political and social issues through the power of the markets  Of course, economic boycotts are one very time-honored, and effective, way of doing this.  Boycotting lettuce helped Cesar Chavez fight on behalf of produce pickers.  Boycotting the sale and purchase of Krugerrands helped to end apartheid in South Africa. And I suspect that the current rounds of boycotts against states that enact anti-LGBT laws will someday work as well.  Thank you, Bruce Springsteen.  And boy, does XHamster really know how to hit guys where it hurts.

But there are positive ways of doing essentially the same thing.  U.S. Savings Bonds are a good, traditional example; they have helped for decades to raise money for the defense of our nation   Now, the power of bonds may soon go to work against a different type of danger to our nation: climate change.

Take a look at Senator Barbara Boxer's efforts to enact a bill that would enable Americans to buy bonds that would raise money specifically for the fight against climate change.  It's a good idea; it enables people who care about the issue to take direct action against it.  And it does so in a way that allows people to target their money, and how much of it they want to spend, against the problem. One of the reasons Social Security has the level of support it has is the fact that it is supported by a dedicated tax (albeit one that ends up raising revenues to support Republican tax cuts).

Bravo, Senator Boxer.  Here's hoping your good idea cuts though the partisan chaos and becomes a reality.

"Tort Reform" Finally Exposed For The Fraud That It Is

The subject of this story is not a happy one.  It details the injustice that state caps on non-economic damages in personal injury cases have wrought for women in sexual assault cases.  And yet, I could not help reading it without feeling something close to what H.G. Wells meant when, after his predictions of a second World War and a blitz on London came true, he sent his friends the following terse message:  "God damn you all.  I told you so."

I have long been--in fact, always been--a staunch advocate against so-called "tort reform"--for two reasons.  (Full disclosure, before I go any further:  I am an attorney who, in the early days of my career, handled some personal injury cases, and still have friends and colleagues who do so.)

First, they take the power to decide justice out of the hands of jurors, and subject justice to an arbitrary and capricious limit hand-picked by jurors without any regard to the nature and severity of injuries suffered in a wide and individualized variety of cases.  Second, they put that power in the hands of insurance companies that, knowing the upper limit of their exposure as a consequence of the caps, can simply cost-out that exposure and pass it along to their insureds--in full, I might add.  Texas in the years before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, had the most restrictive "tort reform" provisions AND the highest health insurance rates.

True, some verdicts are ridiculous, and deserved to be challenged and reduced.  And, even before the advent of "tort reform," the legal system had tools in place that made that possible.  In addition to the right to challenge a trial decision in appellate court, the amounts of money awarded in a jury decision can be adjusted through post-trial motions.  Those tools are still in place, and allow the adjustment of outrageous awards on an individualized basis.  Everyone has heard about the infamous "McDonald's coffee" case, but not everyone knows exactly how it turned out.  It turned out in a way that demonstrates that "tort reform" is no better than a solution in search of a problem.  And the only problem it effectively solves is the need of insurance companies to make easy profits.

The Slate article is all you need to read to get a sense of how unfairly damage caps work against women.  The equally ugly truth is what the article doesn't detail:  the extent to which the whole "tort reform" movement is simply another illustration of how conservatives take power out of the hands of the people, in the name of "protecting" them from alleged corruption.  In that sense, for example, it is a close cousin of term limits, the rules that confiscate not only your right to vote (and mine), but also your right to run for public office.  No, not completely.  But more than enough to undermine the needs and concerns of the voters--including those of conservative voters.

Remember how conservatives wanted to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, so that Ronald Reagan could run for a third term as President? They're the ones responsible for the Amendment in the first place!  They were afraid of "more Roosevelts."  That fear led them to shoot their own interests in the foot, although it spared the nation, and Reagan's family, the spectacle of Reagan beginning his long journey into dementia while still in the Oval Office.

Term limits, like "tort reform," are not designed to serve the interests of individual Americans, or the nation as a whole.  They are designed to do nothing more than punish constituencies that tend to favor Democratic candidates and causes, such as trial lawyers, and protect Republican candidates and causes, such as doctors  It is simply an extension of "divide and conquer" politics, the only kind that Republicans understand how to practice.  It tears the nation apart, at the expense of the interests and needs of the American people.

And we've had more than enough of "divide and conquer" politics.  Let's start dismantling a corrupt way of governing the nation by consigning "tort reform" to the trashcan of history in which it belongs.

Campaign Against the "Hastert Congress," And Vote It Out

How often is it the case that the perpetrators of the most heinous offenses are often describe by their family and friends as the nicest, most wonderful people you could ever imagine meeting?  Such is the case with Dennis Hastert, former Republican Speaker of the House and now exposed in court as a full-fledged pedophile.

That Hastert did what he did is beyond question; he has confessed to it, no doubt in the hope that the confession would, along with his deteriorating medical condition, earn him some measure of compassion, the same compassion Hastert denied his victims.  But the cursed Republican capacity for blind loyalty to a fellow-traveller is on full display, just in case Hastert's confession and dementia aren't enough to prevent him from doing serious prison time.  As detailed here, Hastert's former House colleagues have all written letters to the court where Hastert is on trial.  All of these letters allegedly attest to his many sterling Christian qualities.

Given the fact that the charge of the writing brigade on Hastert's behalf is being led by Tom Delay, a man who has faced his own running of the legal gauntlet, one feels free to question the seriousness that these testimonials should be given,  Even more, given the damage that Hastert has done to the lives of young men who didn't expect their wrestling coach to fill the rest of their lives with emotional torment, one wonders if Hastert should really be given any leniency at all.  On the other hand, prison is certainly not the place in which a child molester is likely to find any leniency; child molesters are at the bottom of the convict social totem pole, and don't always finish out their sentences as a result.

Whatever Hastert's legal fate, the revelation of his perverted conduct is an occasion to reflect on his career as House Speaker, which saw the birth of the "Hastert Rule," the rule by which the House was and is only allowed to consider legislation supported by "the majority of the majority"--i.e., most of the House Republican caucus  Even if that meant the considering of legislation supported by only a minority of the full House, and even if it meant that no bill supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority could be enacted, the Rule had to be followed at all costs.

We have seen, all too graphically, how this sort of posturing for the sake of maintaining power at the expense of the people's wishes and needs has entirely corrupted and poisoned Washington and, worse yet, left the entire country in turmoil and near-revolt.  In spite of this, and in spite of the public disgrace of its creator, the Hastert Rule still controls the House, and therefore Congress, in zombie-like style  Which is not surprising, given the 12th Commandment of Republican politics (after not speaking ill of a fellow Republican):  thou shalt not ever, ever, admit a mistake.

I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and cannot speak to the sources of pedophilia.  But I think it's fair to say that the Hastert Rule can be said to have its source in an old-fashion lust for power and control--and, underneath that, a deep-seated sense of insecurity and self-worthlessness that wrongly feels that power in any form can cure it.  It would not surprise me if pedophilia doesn't stem from the same sort of psychological phenomenon.  It has seemed to me for some time that most forms of sexual deviancy are some sort of effort to project an illusory image of power over a seemingly defenseless victim--even if the victim is somehow said to "enjoy it."

With all of this in mind, and with a deep sense of humility that comes from contemplating the pain of Hastert's victims, I nevertheless call on Democrats and progressives all across the country to declare war on what should be called the "Hastert Congress"--a Congress obsessed with its own sense of power rather than the concerns of the voters that elected it.  And there should be no embarrassment provoked by accusations that they would be somehow exploiting the pain of Hastert's victims.  On the contrary, they would be avenging it, as well as the pain the American people have experience as a consequence of Hastert's political lust.

I fear, however, that Democrats will shrink at the thought of doing this.  They will think that it's not nice, not "classy" to do this.  Well, how classy have Hastert and his colleagues been.  They have lived by the sword  It's time for them to die politically by it--and for Democrats to show American that they are strong as well as compassionate.  They need to do so; Hastert is living proof that Republicans are neither.

Speaking Of "Laboratories" Of Democracy ...

... one of them appears to be on the verge of blowing up.  "What's the matter with Kansas?" asked Thomas Frank in the title of perhaps his best-known books on politics.  Well, Mr. Frank, under former U.S. Senator and current Governor Sam Brownback, the answer can be reduced to a single word:

Everything.

Massive budget deficits.  Massive cuts in public services.  Schools being closed.  And, on top of everything else, a shrinking economy.  All of which happened only after Brownback, with the aid and connivance of his Republican colleagues in the Kansas state legislature, attempted to show that so-called "supply-side" economics works at the state level as well as it did at the national level. They enacted sweeping tax cuts designed to supposedly unleash so much money into the local economy that jobs would sprout up like Kansas wheat.

Only jobs aren't sprouting.  And, as written by someone whose 400th birthday just recently passed, there's the rub.  Trickle-down economics are, in fact, working as well at the state level as they have at the federal level.  They are inflicting the kind of massive, unforgiving social Darwinism that only a philosophy based on narcissism can inflict.  Only with one tragic difference.  Ronald Reagan got away with "Reaganomics" because state governments did what they could to ease the pain.  And it worked, to a very small degree; the increase activity of state governments allowed conservatives to pretend that it was morning in America even though it looked more like twilight for any sense of the national common good.

To whom, however, does Kansas transfer its self-induced pain?  No one.  As is the case with state governments everywhere, with the exception of federal aid (and good luck getting that out of the current Congress), the state's only source of fiscal salvation is the government that served as the architect of its current misery.

And what is Kansas' government doing?  Engaging in a game of finger pointing.  Brownback, incredibly, is refusing to make any changes whatsoever.  In his view,  all of the Titanic's deck chairs are exactly where they should be.  And the legislators who helped him enact his Ponzi scheme are running away from him like droves.  You can read all about it here.

Incredibly, as the Daily Kos post notes, other states are advancing tax policies identical to the ones that have turned Kansas into an economic basket case.  And Arthur Laffer (what a deliciously ironic surname) has announce that the Kansas boat isn't really sinking, and will in fact soon benefit from the rising tide created by punching a hole in its hull.

Conservatives are great avoiders of the truth, by any means necessary.  The two leading theories among them explaining the Kansas fiasco are (a) the Laffer view, that the whole thing just needs more time to work, and (b) the theory that they cut the wrong taxes, by focusing on business taxes that businesses could easily avoid.

The problem with the Laffer view is that it puts conservatives on the same side as an old Bolshevik joke:  "Proof of the farsightedness of comrade Trotsky's predictions is that none of them have come true yet.''  One has to survive the short run to make it to the long run--and Kansas has no short-term options for survival other than to reverse course.  As for the "cutting the wrong taxes" argument, the truth of the matter is that everyone's behavior is shaped in some way by tax policy.  Increase sin taxes, and people will either pay up or sin less.  Increase gas taxes, and people will either cut back in other areas or drive less.  The wealthy, however, simply by virtue of being wealthy, will always have more options for dealing with any tax policy.

There is only two ways for Kansas' situation to get better:  for Brownback and his legislative allies to admit that they were wrong and change course, or for Kansas voters to vote them the hell out of office.  Conservatives, since the Reagan era, overlearned the lesson of Jimmy Carter's painful honesty and vowed to never, ever admit that they were wrong.

So it's in the hands of Kansas voters.  Either they vote the rascals out, or America will have 49 state laboratories and one that was blown up by bankrupt politics.  As always, Sunflower State voters, the choice is yours.  For your sakes, and because the rest of us don't want our tax dollars used to bail you out of your previous stupidity, PLEASE make the obvious (and right) one.