Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Lying After All These Years

Nate Silver really should know better.  For reasons both unknown and incomprehensible to me, he's decided to help Newt Gingrich sell his latest book, by way of an interview published on Silver's generally excellent Web site,  Not surprisingly, the deservedly former House Speaker rewards this adulation by doing the one thing he absolutely does best:  lying.

In this interview, he describes the 1980s and 1990s as a time of uninterrupted economic growth, thanks to Reagan-era tax policies.  He conveniently overlooks the fact that there were, during this period, not one but two major recessions that were only reversed when Democrats took the lead and insisted on paying the bills Republicans were running up--by raising taxes.

Even more disingenuous is his arbitrary distinction between Obamacare, which he describes in starkly statist-socialist terms, and Medicare, which he describes as "part of the Bismarckian insurance state because it in fact pays all the money to the private sector."  Well, guess what, Newt?  So does what you call "Obamacare," which is why a lot of people on the left are unhappy with it.  This quote illustrates Gingrich's other gift, relative to his lying:  manipulation of words.  By describing Medicare as "Bismarckian," he makes it sound like something conservatives supported from its inception, when he knows (or should know) that conservatives initially denounced Medicare with the same rhetoric they're using to denounce health care reform.

Obviously, Gingrich is attempting to re-introduce himself to the public in a way that allows him to lay the foundation for a presidential campaign.  This speaks poorly of the potential Republican alternatives, if a politician as thoroughly discredited as Gingrich thinks of himself as having a shot.  There are so many examples of the man's lowlife nature that it's difficult to list all of them, and nauseating to even try.

I'll settle for this, for right now.  Back in 1994, he had the gall to use the unfortunate murder-suicide of a young South Carolina mother named Susan Smith and her two children to claim that "there's a sickness out there, and the only way to cure that sickness is to vote Republican."  Wrong, Newt.  The catastrophe in the Gulf, on top of the catastrophes of the Bush-Cheney Administration, on top of the double exercise of fascism known as the Reagan and Gingrich Revolutions, are all the evidence anyone needs of the real sickness afflicting America.  It's a sickness that's afflicted this country for thirty years, and it may yet suck this great country down into the oil hole poisoning our waters.

And, as imperfect as it is, there's only one real cure:  vote Democratic.  On that note, I wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day, especially to those in uniform, here and in harm's way.

Can He Afford To Sit Back Any Longer? Can We?

The BP-induced, Louisiana-destroying (and possibly nation-destroying) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been dominating the national news for weeks.  It will probably continue to do so for months, which is now the time frame being given for getting this environmental monster under control.  And, in the middle of all of this, where has Barack Obama been?

He's been to the Gulf.  Twice.  On what amount to presidential drive-bys.  And he still hasn't convinced anyone that he feels their pain, not even among his friends in the media, who seem to think that is all about the need for him to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Frankly, I couldn't disagree more.  The media coverage of Obama's response to the Gulf disaster has, like so much in what passes for contemporary American culture, shown a preference for endlessly examining style at the expense of substance.  For something a lot closer to the mark, take a look at a recent column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.  In it, he rebuts the argument that the spill and Obama's response to it is his "Katrina."  (If anything, it's an extension of the Katrina-sized lack of oversight the Bush administration gave to its oily friends in the petroleum industry.)  Rather, he argues, "It's his 9/11"--that is, an opportunity to seize the moment and redirect ourselves away from a future based on oil.

But, since his inauguration, when has Obama seized the moment?  He's been content to let others (particularly Democrats in Congress) drive the debate and, often, do his proverbial dirty work for him, and then step in at the last minute just in time to claim a victory he didn't really win.  As Friedman himself says, "Why does everything have to emerge from the House and Senate? What does he want? What is his vision? What are his redlines? I don’t know."  Neither do I, Tom.  And I'd like to know.  And there are about 300 million other Americans (not to mention billions in other countries) who would love to know.

Too often, Obama seems to be content to sit back and wait for some sort of national consensus to emerge on every major issue, so that he can then step in and "bless" it.  To me, that makes him seem less like a latter-day FDR, and more like a latter-day Jimmy Carter.  I admit to liking Carter more than many people (I voted for him twice), but even I couldn't stand his dithering on issues--especially when it seemed that, for the most part, he was on the right side of them.

Apart from my concern about the spill and its effects on the Gulf and, possibly, our nation, that's what worries me most right now.  More and more, I don't think this moment is Obama's Katrina, or his 9/11.  I fear that it is his Iranian hostage crisis--and that it may suck down a Presidency, a movement and a great nation with it.

I pray that I'm wrong.  But I fear that I'm right.  Please, Mr. President, prove me wrong.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

One Example Of Why I Think The Term "Sports Journalism" Is An Oxymoron

I have long been an admirer of New York Daily News baseball writer Bill Madden, regarding him as one of the Big Apple's least parochial sports reporters, as well as one who has written frequently and thoughtfully about the intersection of sports and various social issues.  That's why I was shocked to see, in one of his recent columns, an endorsement of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's refusal to withdraw the 2011 All-Star Game from Arizona, and thereby put pressure on the state to repeal its obnoxious new immigration law.  His reasoning?  "There are, after all, two sides to this issue, and why should Selig bow to political pressure over a law that 51% of Americans (to 39%) support."

Not to put too fine a point on it, Bill (and Bud), but there are ALWAYS two sides to an issue.  Sometimes, there are more than two.  The real question is whether MLB and you have the guts to land on the right side of the issue.  And who says the popular thing always equates to being the right thing?  If Branch Rickey had followed Madden's reasoning, Jackie Robinson would never have played for the Brooklyn Dodgers (and all of us, including the ones who hated Robinson at first, would have been the poorer for it).

Madden spends a lot of time in baseball clubhouses, clubhouses that in our time are filled with immigrants (and not just from Latin America, either).  He's covered the sport long enough to first-hand how broken the immigration system is even for people who try to play by the rules; just ask any player who has been late for spring training due to visa problems.  He should know better than to spew this kind of idiocy in a paper published in the most nationally and ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the world.  I can only wonder how he's being greeted in clubhouses now.

"Sports journalism."  If there's a bigger oxymoron in the English language, I don't know what it is.

The Real Reason Behind The "Pro-Life" Drift

I'm going to begin this post with a bit of a disclaimer:  I hate the term "pro-life."  I've never considered the opponents of abortion to be "pro-life."  Their views of most social programs confirm Barney Frank's savagely funny joke that they view life as beginning at conception, and ending at birth.  In fact, I don't think they can even be described as anti-abortion.  Taken together, they're an anti-sex movement, one that wants to channel sexual energy for other conservative purposes, such as war or religion.  If you remember the Anti-Sex League from George Orwell's "1984," you know exactly what I'm talking about.

That said, I will use the term "pro-life" as a term of communications convenience in this post, in order to discuss this article from  The author notes that, according to polling data, more Americans are identifying with the pro-life position on abortion.  In particular, young people are beginning to trend in that direction.  The conclusion the article draws is that this is happening primarily for political rather than moral reasons--i.e., the presence of a liberal Democrat in the White House serves as fuel for those on the right generally, including pro-life activists.

That may be true for boomers on that side of the fence.  For younger pro-lifers, I think it's a little different.  The article quotes sources indicating that Gen Y may have had its views on abortion influenced by abstinence programs, or such scientific advances in the prenatal field such as ultrasound imaging.  Those phenomenon may have had an influence, but I think something else is at work.

Post-boomer children constitute the first generation in American history that could have, in theory, been legally aborted, in whole or in part, thanks to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.  Boomers expected that being born into such a world would make those children grateful for being wanted.  Instead, it has made them feel more like lucky survivors.  Instead of thinking "Isn't it great?  My parents loved me," they may be thinking "Thank God they didn't abort me, and prevent me from living and loving."

Keep in mind:  I say that as someone who agrees that the question of an abortion should lie between the prospective mother and her doctor, and no one else.  But that is not going to stop post-boomers from having what-if moments.  And, if that inclines them more in the pro-life direction, so be it.  In the meantime, we should all be working to reduce the need for the raising of the issues, through adoption reform and public education programs that promote birth control (including programs aimed at young audiences).

That's a pro-life position that I'll be happy to take, any day.

And Now, For Something Different (From The World Of Baseball)

Another naked link, more or less.  But, again, it speaks for itself.  If you're any kind of baseball fan, I defy you not to be moved by this.

It's Time To Stop Pushing The "Hitler" Button

Newt Gingrich is not the first person who has compared a political opponent (in this case, President Obama) to Hitler (or Stalin, for that matter).  But it's time to declare a moratorium on this rotten, putrid, pseudo-substitute for meaningful political discourse, once and for all.

Let's boil it down to basics:  when President Obama systematically kills 10 million people, including 6 million Jews, you can compare him to Hitler.  If he launches a program to accomplish this, you can compare him to Hitler.  But to do so in the absence of such a horror, you not only diminish the evil of both Hitler and Stalin, you expose yourself as both a liar and a cheat, a person who manipulates words to distort reality for self-serving purposes (in this case, promoting his latest book and his own Presidential prospects).  Gingrich, of course, has made a career out of this:  he once went so far as to provide Republican candidates for office with a list of negative adjectives (e.g., "sick," "weird," and so on) that they could use against their opponents.  I'm not sure which aspect of this is worse:  the fact that Gingrich thought of this as a smart idea, or the the fact that he doubted the ability of his own party's candidates to come up with insults.

Truthfully, I'd be happy to have Gingrich run against Obama.  He's an unbelievably juicy target, a gift to the left that just keeps on giving.  How would you campaign against him? Where would you start?  His messy personal life?  His failed Speakership?  His hypocritical opposition to "big government," in the face of the fact that he has benefited from public spending his entire life?

No, actually, you start with his willingness to push the Hitler button.  The next time he does it, the reporter who is covering him should slam him with questions.  And if he or she doesn't, they should be fired.  As for Newt, contrary to his vibrant fantasies, the American people aren't going to be hiring him anytime soon.

This One REALLY Speaks For Itself

I've been trying to get away from just posting links, without adding some value of my own to them.  But I came across this on, and I don't think I can add anything to it.  With regard to the difference between the public and private sectors in their respective ability to handle finances, and the ridiculous way in which we tilt the field toward the private sector, this speaks for itself.  Read it, and see if you disagree.

And then, for reinforcement, see my earlier post on North Dakota's bank.

It's Only May, But He's Clearly No Mr. October

Or Mr. November, for that matter.  What a coward.  Less than a week ago, he was chomping at the bit to go to war on behalf of the tea baggers, promising not to "mince words."  Instead, after an abbreviated media roll-out, during which time he couldn't figure out whether the Civil Rights Act was a good idea or not, he pulls this stunt.

Maybe the Civil Rights Act isn't the real problem, however.  Maybe it's the rank hypocrisy of the tea baggers, who claim to be mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore.  But, when it comes to the thing they go on and on about--big government--they just go on taking and taking it.  When they get a load of what Mr. Paul thinks about Social Security and Medicare, they'll do everything they can to keep his libertarian hands off of it.

I Don't Believe The Right Wing Polls!

Back in the '90s, when "Crossfire" was still on CNN and annoying us all from the left and the right, John Sununu, fresh from his secure phones at the Bush I White House, blamed the rising fortunes of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot on the usual conservative suspect:  the liberal media.  He even reduced his contempt to the level of a T-shirt, one that he actually wore one time on the show.  Its slogan:  "I DON'T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA."

The question of how liberal the media are or are not is beyond the scope of this post; indeed, it's spawned its own cottage industry in the book world.  Personally, I have always adhered to the view, articulated by a wise person whose identity I have forgotten, that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.  And the majority of those owners have always been conservative.  In fact, in the age of Murdoch and consolidation (I'm not sure that I'm not repeating myself there), it's even more so that way.  Thankfully, the Internet allows me and many others to provide a counterweight.

But that hasn't stopped the right-wing MSM and its best friends, the right-wing pollsters (yes, Scott, I'm talking about you) from trying to game the political system as much as they can.  Take a look at this.  Charles Blow's column is almost routinely a good read, and I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusion:  that the left will win, because the left has better ideas.  But the polls he cites to support of his expectation of pain this fall for Democrats and their supporters defy rational belief.  A plurality in favor of offshore drilling, in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf?  I don't believe it.  And, frankly, after Tuesday's special election in the 12th Congressional District, in which the 1-point poll lead by the Republican candidate faded into an 8-point loss to his Democratic opponent, I doubt that I'll be believing it anytime soon.

Maybe the people are wising up.  Maybe they're not taking as long as they once did to catch up to liberals with the truth.  And maybe, just maybe, the right-wing media cabal is beginning to realize this, and is engineering its polls to its own perceived advantage.  (Still listening, Scott?  Good--because I'm still talking about you.  Especially since you expect us to believe that the not-ready-for-prime-time Rand Paul has a 25% (!) lead in the Kentucky Senate race.

All together, everyone.  Say it with me.  In fact, SHOUT it with me:


Monday, May 17, 2010

Strange Bedfellows At 10 Downing Street

That almost sounds that it would be a good title for a play, if I say so myself.  Unfortunately, it's a real-life comment on the new coalition government that has taken control of Britain, in the wake of national elections that left no political party with a clear majority in the House of Commons.  As a consequence, the left-of-center Liberal Democrats (jointly, the political heirs of William Gladstone and Roy Jenkins) and the decidedly right-of-center Conservative Party have formed a coalition government. with David Cameron of the Conservatives as Prime Minister, and Nicholas Clegg of the Liberal Democrats as his deputy.

In an age of hyperpartisan politics in our own country, it's tempting to see this as some kind of harmonic convergence that will be uniquely able to respond to the demands of our times.  David Brooks certainly sees it that way.  But given the fact that the overwhelming majority of the country voted for the two left-of-center parties (Labour and the Liberal Democrats), as well as the very real and sharp political positions of the coalition parties on every major issue, it's hard to see the Cameron-Clegg partnership as anything but a marriage of political convenience, united in the short run only by the recent distaste for Labour that in turn was largely generated by the unlikeable personality of Gordon Brown (who, in the charm department, was no Tony Blair).

In this context, it seems significant that the coalition government's first proposed legislative act is a law that would guarantee themselves power for five years, replacing the current system under which they might be subjected to a vote of confidence within a five-year period.  This is not the sort of proposal that inspires confidence in the long-term prospects of this harmonic convergence--or those, for that matter, of Great Britain itself.  I think the only beneficiary here is Labour, which may very well be back in charge faster than you can say National Health.

I feel somewhat sorry for Clegg, who seems to have sold his soul--and the soul of a great political party with a rich tradition--simply for a seat in power.  It won't be long before he finds himself very much the junior partner in the new government, and his own party in revolt against him.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Immigration Ignoramouses

Full disclosure, in case you haven't read the the "About" section on the right-hand side of this blog, describing me:  my wife and I are immigration lawyers, who make our living primarily by helping immigrants navigate our unbelievably broken immigration system.  If you read the following and see bias, that's your privilege.  It also helps to identify you as part of the problem I'm about to describe.  Frankly, our occupations mean, if anything, that we know more about immigration as a political issue and a human nightmare than most Americans do.

Obviously, I'm motivated to write about immigration now in large part because of the incredibly vicious, disgustingly racist immigration law that Arizona recently enacted.  As most Americans know by now, the law allows the state's police to stop and interrogate anyone they "reasonably" suspect might be an illegal alien.  The law contains no guidance regarding the boundaries, for enforcement purposes, of "reasonable" suspicion.  But given the presence in Arizona of a large Hispanic population, combined with Arizona's notorious history when it comes to race (e.g., opposing the making of Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday), it's difficult to imagine Arizona police officers spending enormous amounts of time tracking down undocumented Canadians.  (I'm supposed to believe that they'll be staking out liquor stores in Phoenix or Tuscon, ready to grab the first person who walks out with a case of Molson's?  Please.)

It's tempting to fold a discussion of this disgusting law into the larger issue of the tea baggers, and their rank hypocrisy on the question of "big" government:  "Get it off our backs, so we can put it right on top of yours."  But I think it's been painfully obvious for some time that the tea baggers, and their fellow travelers in the political establishment, are about nothing but empowering themselves at the expense of everyone they hate.  I do think there is a connection between the law and the baggers' political ambitions, and I'm not alone in thinking that way.  What is more interesting to me, and more frightening, is the combination of ignorance and bigotry on the subject of immigration that threatens not merely our way of life, but our very character as a nation.

One example:  In the course of my work in Baltimore community theatre, I came across an ignoramus of an actor/director who referred to a Bank of America branch in the Fells Point area of the city as "the Bank of Mexico," because its customers were largely Hispanic.  Apparently, he's never been told that there are countries in Latin America other than Mexico.  Most of the Hispanic population he so cheerfully castigates are from Guatemala and El Salvador, and are in the U.S. lawfully under a law that gives them temporary protective status, complete with work authorization.  To paraphrase Jack Webb from one of my favorite "Dragnet" episodes, they're as legal as eating a hot dog at the ball game.

Another theatre-related example comes from last summer's League of Historic American Theatres' annual conference.  I was having a conversation with a British couple that comes to the conference every year in a tourist capacity.  Suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a representative of one of the restoration companies barreled up to us and interrupted the conversation.  Ignoring me completely, he went off on a monologue/diatribe about how happy he was to welcome them to the United States, as opposed to the "invaders" from Mexico who were draining our resources day by day.  (Digression:  study after study has shown that immigrants, documented or not, contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits.  But that's a subject for another post.)  This "gentleman" (I use the term advisedly) had no knowledge of whether the this couple had "papers," or of the fact that many of the "invaders" he refers to are not only documented, but also citizens.  What he knows is this:  the couple is white, and the "invaders" are brown.  FYI:  the couple was here lawfully, and are lovely people; I hated having them become a part of such a hateful moment.

Do you get the picture?  Immigration has replace affirmative action as the racial "wedge issue" of the 21st century.  This country's rich tradition of bigotry, in a world where money travels at the speed of light, prevents people from traveling at the speed of sludge (unless, of course, they're white).  In the process, at a time when our economy can use all the help we can get, we are effectively denying ourselves an enormous supply of human capital, much of which can and does fill jobs that even unemployed Americans won't fill.  Here is but one example; there are many, many more.

When it comes to immigration, ignorance is not bliss.  It is lethal, to both our pocket books and our souls.

I'll have more to say on this and other issues in the coming days.  I'm getting off to a late start in May, but I aim to catch up quickly!