Sunday, August 24, 2014

Perhaps The Ultimate Argument Against Privatizing Public Services

When the obligation to pay bills is deemed to be greater than the need for something as basic as water, something has gone seriously wrong with our priorities.  Yes, Detroit and its citizens should pay their bills.  But in a more human way than the one described here.

I really wonder, sometimes:  who will save us from ourselves?  We're the ones who put these people in charge, either by active support or indifference.  The only thing that will stop them is active opposition.

We Are Not Now, Nor Have We Ever Been, A "Christian" Nation

Doubt it?  Read this.  And then share it with as many doubters as you can.  If we're going to base our laws on the original intent of our founders, we should at least be honest about what that intent actually was.

And Why Do We Need Reasonable Restrictions On Guns (Part 2)?

So that ordinary, peaceful citizens don't have their everyday lives disrupted by fools like these.

The Real Danger Of The Hobby Lobby Decision

It allows corporations to have the rights of both corporations and individuals, but without any of the restrictions imposed on either.  We have, constitutionally, attempted to do something that God cannot by definition do:  build something bigger than ourselves.

Something that has the power to swallow all of us.

From Your Mouth To God's Ears, Mr. Erickson

Mr. Redstate himself agrees:  the GOP is nothing but a bunch of corporate shills.

And Why Do We Need Reasonable Restriction On Guns?

In part because some men seem to view them as an alternative to women.  Take a look.

Oh, What A Tangled Web Scalia Has Weaved!

That is, when first he practiced to deceive everyone into thinking that the Second Amendment's "militia" language was just surplusage, to be tossed out the window as quickly as possible in favor of an individual constitutional right to bear arms.  So the Supreme Court held, in a 5-to-4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller v. District of Columbia, with the majority's opinion authored by Scalia.  And yet, per Scalia, that right was not an absolute one; it was subject to "reasonable" restrictions, according to a paragraph tacked on to the end of the opinion and otherwise seemingly at war with the rest of it.  In effect, Scalia was trying to have it both ways on the issue, without any precedential or philosophical justification for doing so.

Putting it in the vernacular, Heller is one hot steaming mess of a decision.  The one thing on which both gun rights advocates and gun control advocates agreed on at the time it was released by the Court is that the floodgates were now open to new cases deciding the parameters of "reasonableness" when it comes to gun laws.  And, indeed, those cases have been brought into and decided by lower Federal courts.  So where is the Court, when it comes to these opportunities to clarify its Heller handiwork?

In its own version of the witness protection plan, as it turns out.  And not likely to emerge from it for a long time.

One can easily understand why.  Consider the sheer number of laws that now exist, either promoting or restricting the rights of gun owners.  Every one of those laws can theoretically be considered either "reasonable" or "unreasonable," depending on the eye of the beholder.  The same can be said of every law designed to replace any law not found to pass constitutional muster.  This is a conservative Court that defines that conservatism in part by taking the fewest number of cases possible.  The last thing it wants to do is turn into a traffic cop for the back-and-forth battles between the NRA and advocates of public safety.

Why did the Court set itself up this way in Heller?  The Slate article hyperlinked above possesses one tantalizing clue:  the suggestion that Justice Anthony Kennedy would not have voted with Scalia if Scalia hadn't inserted the language about "reasonable" restrictions.  That paragraph is more consonant with Kennedy's approach to constitutional issues than Scalia's.  It also explains why that paragraph feels like it's been copied and pasted into the decision from another case.  In effect, it was the price Scalia paid for Kennedy's vote.  (And don't think that sort of horse-trading doesn't go on in the Justice's chambers.  Bismarck's admonition that no one should see how laws or sausages are made applies as much to judicial chambers as it does to legislative ones.)

It would not help matters for the Court to adopt my view of the constitutionality of gun ownership.  That view, simply put, is that the Second Amendment was enacted to protect the slave patrols, that the Thirteenth Amendment effectively nullified it, and that gun rights are, per the Tenth Amendment, divided between the states and the people, with the latter enjoying the right to own guns and the states being permitted to reasonably police that ownership.  Federal restrictions are permissible if identifiably tied to a specific federal power.  That perspective, even if written into an opinion by the Court, would not put the Court in a different position from the one it now faces.

So, what to do?  Even if our politics weren't polarized up to our eyebrows, I don't think any of us has an easy way out of this mess.  Ultimately, I believe what we need is a constitutional amendment to enshrine sensible gun policy into our basic law.  It may happen one day, and I hope I live to see it.  But, to paraphrase George Washington in one of his dispatches to the Second Continental Congress:  dear God, what precious lives will be senselessly lost before we get there.

The Polls of August: More Mischief Than Movement

Julius Caesar may have needed to beware the ides of March but, for us in modern times, it's the month of August that needs to keep us on our toes. Yes, August, the month during which most of the world goes to sleep.  Except, of course, for those who mean political mischief.  It is no accident that the lead-up to both World Wars occurred in August, when Yugoslav nationalists plotted to assassinate an Austrian nobleman and his wife, and Hitler plotted to invade Poland.  Deeds of this nature are always easier to carry out when everyone else is on holiday and thinks, for a few fleeting moments, that all is right with the world.

Without meaning to draw exact comparisons, August has also been the month during which, in election years, Republicans have found political gold in behind-the-scenes dirty work.  And Democrats, often resting on misplaced overconfidence, have frequently joined everyone else at the beach, and let themselves be caught napping.  One of the best (or worst) examples of this occurred in August of 1988, when Michael Dukakis was sitting on a double-digit lead over George H.W. Bush, and suddenly found himself fending off rumors (planted by Lee Atwater) than he had seen a psychiatrist.  Dukakis, by taking the month off to rest up for the fall campaign, effectively created a news void, one that the opposition swiftly filled.  And, speaking of swift, much the same thing happened to John Kerry 16 years later, when he went body surfing while his military record was slimed , in part by people who had never put on a uniform.

Barack Obama is not Michael Dukakis or John Kerry.  And the Democrats have learned a thing or two from their own history over the years.  But neither of those facts mean that the Republicans aren't going to try to make mischief during August.  As has been the case over the past few election cycles, their weapon of choice:  opinion polls.  Once upon a time, opinion polls were conducted independently and with complete statistical rigor, so that everyone--the parties and the public--had every reason to trust the results.  But, in the Fox News age, neither independence nor statistical rigor applies.

Consider Rasmussen Reports, for example.  For years, RR has manipulated their numbers to inflate the leads for Republican candidates, then dialed back those results as the election date grew closer so that the final result was statistically "accurate."  That way, during the campaign, they allow themselves to be used as a Republican campaign tool, but almost always are in a position to tout their "accurate" final results.  Consider further Fox News on Election Night 2012, when its statistical analysts were predicting a Romney "landslide," with Minnesota leading the way.  As George Will would say, "Ahem."

And then take a look at current results of polls for the generic Congressional ballot.  Per Rasmussen, it's a tie; per Fox, the Democrats have a 7-point lead.  True, they're not polling exactly the same universe; the Rasmussen poll was conducted among "likely" voters, while the Fox poll was based on registered voters.  But even that fact demonstrates the ability of pollsters to manipulate results.  And, even taking that difference into account, a seven-point difference can't be created without additional manipulation.  (Incidentally, I liked the fact that I got a right-wing pop-up ad when I logged onto the Rasmussen site a few minute ago.  Think that's a sign of their impartiality?)

My guess is that Fox is trying to frighten its audience (right-wing voters)with the prospect of living under neo-socialist rule, while Rasmussen is trying to give its higher-end audience of right-wing pundits and campaign managers ammunition for the campaign trail.  And they're counting on no one paying enough attention to notice or care about the difference.  My advice, to progressives:  don't find despair or comfort in either poll.  Take to heart the old adage that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

And, in the meantime, ignore media hysteria about polls like this, which are geared solely along Rasmussen-type lines.  Take this advice, from FiveThirtyEight.  And organize, donate, and vote.  Don't let the polls of August become the reality of the next two years.

UPDATE, 08/25/14:  Nate Silver weighs in on the subject of polling today.  Personally, I think he's underestimating the role that cheating plays.

We Are All Victims Of Our Lowered Expectations

In so many ways.  Construction, both public and private, is but one example.

You get what you pay for, folks.  Most so-called "savings" exist only in the short run.  If you care about the long run, pay for it--and then you'll really be able to save.

I Can't Let August Go ...

... without reflecting on the fact that, one hundred years ago this month, the world was transformed by the first war to engulf nearly all of it.  To tackle that subject properly is way beyond the scope of this blog, but I am happy to commend this to your attention.  It's well worth reading.

Especially since poppies still grow in Flanders Field, teach us lessons that too few of us have learned.

It's Not Just Pat Robertson--It's Glenn Beck, Too

I guess this makes it official:  Bush and Cheney blew it on Iraq.

If Only There Were More CEO's Like This One

One who understands that it takes all of us to make an economy work.

Then again, maybe there are.  Let's hope so.

Ayn Rand Is Killing Sears

Well, not single-handedly.  First of all, she's dead, even if her rancid books have a zombie-like life.  And second, even if she were alive, it wouldn't matter.  One of her followers is destroying America's oldest department store in order to prove how great capitalism is

The Case For Adaptive Reuse

It's affordable.  It's ecological.  It preserves and respects history.  And, you end up with some really amazing results.  Take a look.  The last two are my favorite.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Lame Duck Can't Be Bullied; Why 2014 Will NOT Be 1994

Well, I suspect all of you have been reading the same polls I've been reading.  Especially since, in my case, I read them daily, from several different places on the Web.  And, if you're on the same side of the fence as me, the view of the U.S. Senate's future is not encouraging.

Consider this article, from FiveThirtyEight.  Like most pollsters, it assumes that Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia will flip to the GOP.  Like most pollsters, it notes that there are otherwise six currently blue Senate seats with races that are too close to call.  If the analysis of Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia is correct, and the GOP merely takes half of those six seats, Harry Reid will not be the majority leader in the next Congress.  A 50-50 split of the statistical ties is a fairly likely outcome, even without polls showing a "wave" election (which, so far, they do not).  Of course, the stipulation here is that the GOP has to hold on to all of its seats.  But this seems increasingly likely, now that Georgia is reverting to true red form, and despite the tantalizing possibility that, come next year, there could be a little less wrong with Kansas.

So it may be time for progressives to confront the possibility of Barack Obama facing the last two years of his Administration with an all-Republican Congress.  The possibility, not the guarantee.  But the possibility nonetheless.  If that happens, how much should we worry?

When it comes to executive appointments, a lot.  I doubt that Obama will be able to get so much as an under-Secretary or an island-nation ambassador confirmed by a body under the control of Mitch McConnell (or John Cornyn, should Alison Grimes be the giant-killer I hope she is).  When it comes to budgetary politics, somewhat less.  McConnell has spent some time lately strutting up and down the political runway like the second coming of Blaze Starr, tossing off promises of shutting down the government so he can take Obama to his own personal woodshed.  But ... well, you know how well that worked out before.  Still, the budget process is often the birthplace of some ugly compromises.  Remember the sequester?  Something like that could be in the offing.

But only up to a point, and that brings me to my main point.  Barack Obama will be a lame duck.  And a lame duck, especially one as smart as Obama, is in no position to be bullied.

To be sure, any legislation Obama proposes will go nowhere.  But, for the most part, the same fate will await any bill that the GOP Congress passes--if they can agree on bills to pass, that is.  Obama could look at the stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, removing the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, DACA, and the successful promotion of green energy, and say "That's my legacy.  Here are some nice vetoes to pass around the caucus.  Have a nice day, John and Mitch."

Or, he could do more.  Much more.  His recent track record on regulations regarding carbon emissions, and his prospective administrative actions on behalf of immigrants, suggest that he's prepared to do more.  Much more.  And even though administrative actions do not have the same level of permanence that legislation has, they help to create a new status quo--one that even the Tea Party would have a hard time changing even if 2016 is an all-GOP year.

In any case, Barack Obama is not in the position that Bill Clinton was in 1994.  He does not need to prove himself a "centrist" to win re-election.  He is not prone to "bimbo" eruptions.  He is not the president of a country still pining away for the misty-eyed charms of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan has been gone from the political landscape for a quarter-century.  This is a different age.  And Obama's current place in it, approval ratings notwithstanding, is a far less vulnerable one than Clinton's in the Age of Newt.

For these reasons, I believe that a GOP Congress in 2015 and 2016 might be something we can survive.  It might even help us flourish, if Obama's actions are big enough and GOP divisions and mistakes are big enough to help set the stage for Hilliary in 2016.

And, in any event, it's not over until it's over (thanks, Yogi).  Any number of reasons exist to think that a GOP Congress is not inevitable.  And all of them depend on you.  I leave you to take it from there.  I'm hoping that you do.