Friday, December 31, 2010

Forty-Five Minutes Before 2011 ...

... I decided to look back at my first post for 2010.  In it, I expressed a hope that we would not have a rerun of the 1994 elections.  Well, we only had a partial rerun; that's bad enough.  I also expressed the hope that comprehensive immigration reform might resurface.  Instead, even the relatively modest and compassionate DREAM Act got summarily kicked to the legislative curb.

Most disturbing of all to me, however, was the fact that we are much further away now than we were then from being a nation that argues and gawks less, and thinks and builds more.  But giving up simply makes one a collaborator with the bad guys.  You remember how hard you worked for change in 2008?  Well, get out of the tea bagger dumps, and work harder!  Your values are the only ones that ensure any type of future for any of us.

Most of all, if you're out there and reading this, on Blogger or Twitter, drop me a line.  Give me feedback, positive or negative.  If you are there, and this blog has helped you in any way, I'm grateful.  If you're not out there ... well, it's fun to write anyway!  And I'm grateful for the fact that the Internet helps us to communicate, organize, and build a better nation.  Thank you, Al Gore!  (Well, he may not have invented the Internet, but he helped expand its range and utility for all of us.)

So, what hope to express for 2011?  The same one for last year.  We've never needed to heed that hope more than we need to, now.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Farewell, Detective Dietrich

One of my all-time favorite performers, and one of my personal inspirations when it comes to comedic acting.  We're lucky to have them at all--and, in his case, lucky that we can still watch his work.

Is Arizona The New California?

If, by that, we mean is it a bellwether for the rest of the nation, the answer may be yes.  It certainly seems to be as divided as the rest of American is, and as paranoid about immigrants.  Let's hope the state changes for the better, and soon, in that case.

Should The Speaker-To-Be Get On The Wagon?

Some people seem to think so.  It's difficult to say whether Boehner having a drinking problem would be good or bad news for the rest of us.  It may diminish the effectiveness of his leadership, and lead to a Democratic resurgence.  But it could also permit the passage of a lot of truly terrible legislation.  Ultimately, for his sake and everyone else's, let's hope he stays dry for at least the next two years.

Less About Health Care Reform, And More About Conservative "Judges"

That, at any rate, is my view of the Federal court ruling in Virginia that the mandate to purchase health insurance included in the health care reform bill violates the Commerce Clause.   Read my lips:  it isn't a mandate.  If you don't buy the insurance, you pay higher taxes.  It's a choice--and, at worst, it's a tax increase, which is as Constitutional as eating a hot dog at the ball game.

Unfortunately, the judge who made this idiotic ruling is one of many examples of how the Federal bench has been polluted with right-wing Republican ideologues.  When is Obama going to get moving on filling the record number of judicial vacancies, and give the court system some semblance of independence again?

Perhaps Only In Obama's America ...

... could this be happening.  It's really not all that surprising.  If we can elect a black President, why shouldn't segregation be on the decline?  It's only bigots who have stood in the way of this.  Unfortunately, there are still a lot of them, disguising their bigotry as a reverence for history.  Hopefully, each generation, we lose a few more of these idiots.

This Shouldn't Be Necessary

Namely, private bills for individual immigrant cases.  This simply illustrates how, when given a choice between crafting a solution and using the issue, Republicans will always opt for the latter.  Why address comprehensive immigration reform, when they can use the issue to maintain and expand their power by spreading fear?

If there was any justice with respect to the issue, there would be literally millions of private bills.  Not all undocumented aliens are without legal status due to any fault on their part.  Most of them (surprise!) entered lawfully.  And no, not all of them are Mexicans.

But, until the people of this country are ready to have a truthful, factual discussion about immigration, private bills may be about as good as it gets for a lot of deserving people.  Including, I suspect, some you know.

Why I Think We'll Be Talking About Something Other Than The Deficit Soon

Because this never changes.

It CAN Be Done!

Building a self-sustaining economy that is focused on reuse of resources, especially ones that we continuously produce, that is.  If we're so much better than the rest of the world, and it can be done in Sweden, why not here?

Think High Taxes Can Be Avoided?

Think again.  The shift in this country's economy from manufacturing to personal services all but guarantees that taxes will have to rise for someone.  This explains why.

So why not raise them on people who can afford to pay them?  They'll still be millionaires.  This isn't about socialism, folks; it's about survival.

It's Not Obama We Should Be Challenging

It's Congress in general, and the Democratic members in particular.  We should be putting pressure on THEM to deliver, and recruiting candidates for the primaries and the fall elections in 2012.  THAT's what the tea baggers did, and it worked for them.

Obama has shown that he will not push any harder than Congress lets him.  You can only change that by changing the Congress.  Finding a more liberal President is an exercise in futility; electing a more liberal Congress may not be. 

And, Speaking Of War, By Which I Mean Iraq ...

Why is single-payer health insurance good enough for the Iraqis, but not for us?  Try to answer that one, Mr. Speaker-to-be.  And don't look for the answer in the tea bags.  They don't know what they're doing--and, come Wednesday, they'll be demonstrating it on a regular basis.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

For That Matter, War Hawks Are On The Decline

Yes, it's easy to talk tough about war and national defense when you think it's just a matter of blowing the bad guys up with the touch of a button.  But war is never that easy.  There is always a human price tag, on all sides of every conflict.  The young man described in this article is surely one of many who has taken the journey toward a truth he didn't expect to find.

This is not to say that we can afford not to be tough.  What we need is a defense and foreign policy based on shared sacrifice, both personal and financial, as well as on achievable goals and willing international partners.  It's the only way that works.  And it's worked for us before.  We just have to remember that.

Wonder Why "Values" Politics Is On The Decline?

For my part, I think this article suggests why.  Family values are all well and good, but, in real life, they cost money.  Anybody who's ever tried to support and raise a family (including me) can figure than out.  Even the Republicans have done that, which is why they've abandoned almost all pretense at trying to woo so-called Reagan Democrats with "values" politics.  Instead, as the recent battle to the death over millionaires' tax cuts has shown, time and truth have exposed them for what they always have been, first and foremost:  economic royalists.

Not Giving Up On A DREAM

Unfortunately, the rate of progress in other areas, most notably immigration, seems to be headed in the wrong direction.  I hope Obama pushes back hard on this next year.  The short-term political cost would be real, but the long-term political and human cost of not doing so would be far greater.  Demographics and globalization are on the side of immigration advocates.  Ultimately, so is simple human decency.

Better Late Than Never!

That applies to this post, as well as the substance of it.  For those of you who are discouraged by the course of progress, consider this:  Obama dragged across the finish line two important liberal objectives that nearly swallowed Bill Clinton:  health care reform, and gays openly serving in the military.  You can lament the rate of progress, but you should never use the rate as an excuse to not work for it.

... And A Glimmer Of Hope On Deficits

I'm not sure what's more surprising here:  the fact that I agree with Ross Douthat, or the fact that I agree with Tom Coburn.  But let's hope there's more of this kind of willingness to confront our budget challenges from both parties in the next Congress.

Good (And Green) News For Modern Man

At least some in the evangelical movement, which I left behind years ago in part due to its knee-jerk conservatism, seem to get it when it comes to respecting the Creation.  I met Richard Cizik, who's mentioned in the article, many years ago, and was deeply impressed by both his sincerity and intelligence.  He didn't hold against me* the fact that our political orientations were different, because we agreed on matters of faith.  If anyone in the evangelical community can make inroads in political progress on environmental issues, it's him.  Let's hope--and pray--for the best over the next two years.

*Edited August 31, 2011 to add "against me."

Think The Millionaires' Tax Cut Will Trickle Down To You?

Think again.  It's basically a foreign aid program.

Aren't We Number One In Anything?

Well, yes, in debt and denial.  Everything else, apparently, is a different story.

Can It Be So Bad If Krauthammer Hates It?

Perhaps not.  Once in a long while, I'm forced to agree with old Chuck.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

OK! OK! I've Done It!

I used the New York Times Budget Calculator to balance the federal budget, and I did it with an equal mix of tax hikes and spending cuts.  Take a look.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Sins Of The Father ...

... have consumed the life of his son.  Perhaps now, Madoff will have some ability to understand how his greed has truly destroyed people's lives.

Maybe There's Some Hope, After All

It appears that it's still possible for the world to come together on climate change.  One more reason to look forward to the day when the United States rejoins the world.

I'm Surprised Conservatives Aren't Eating Themselves Alive

After all, their arguments are doing just that with each other.

Friday, December 10, 2010

... And He DEFINITELY Needs To Quit Tobacco

No, I'm not talking about his addiction to cigarettes, although giving them up wouldn't be a bad idea as well.

Last summer, on "Mad Men" (one of the few reasons I watch TV), Don Draper's new advertising agency is threatened by the loss of Lucky Strike, the client that provides most of its revenue.  Prospective business runs away from it, while another agency uses it to leverage another client.  So what does Don do?  Change the subject.  He takes out a full-page ad in the New York Times, entitled "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco," to plant in everyone's minds the idea that his agency dumped Lucky Strike, and not the other way around.

That's what Obama needs to do.  Change the subject.  Here's one indication that he gets that, and is prepared to do it.  If the Republicans want to talk about taxes and deficits, fine.  Make them do it on your terms.  This is what leadership is all about, Mr. President.  Do it.  Quit tobacco--literally and metaphorically.

Obama Needs To Be Less Like Spock

Last year, when the latest "Star Trek" movie came out, Newsweek published a cover story explaining the series' enduring popularity in the context of the then-new presidency:  in troubled times, we needed a cool, logical, Spock-like president like Obama to guide us through our national troubles.  So the reasoning ran back then.  Fast-forward to today:  in the wake of last months' electoral setback, everyone is telling Obama that he needs to, in effect, become more like Dr. McCoy.  Mr. Cool needs to become Mr. Hot in order to survive the change in the national temperature.

There may actually be something to this.  After all, in one early episode, even Mr. Spock himself learned the limits of logic, and found a justification for having "a nervous breakdown."  I don't think that a nervous breakdown--or "spite" is the answer.  But I do know that, when the national dialogue turns into a fistfight, you'd better be armed with something more than good ideas and intentions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Don't Have To Admit ANYTHING About Your Tax Cuts, Bushies

We knew this all along.

Losing Teams Lose Because They're Made Up Of Losers

Case in point.

Two thoughts, Mr. Scott, because you're obviously not capable of having even one:

1.  He's shown his birth certificate.  Get over it.

2.  Wait until someone gives a damn about either you or your team before you go to this much trouble to make yourself look like an idiot.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sad News

She would have been a terrific First Lady, even though I think we're otherwise lucky that her husband never made it to the White House.

Compromise, My A**!

Okay, let's try to short this out, by starting out with some of the short-term reaction.

He doesn't like it.  She doesn't like it.  And he doesn't like it.

Well, a good compromise is one that's hated by folks on both sides of the fence, right?

To quote John McLaughlin, "Wrong!"

Because the grand deal struck by Obama and the GOP is simply the alternative stimulus package proposed by Republicans two years ago--extended unemployment benefits and a heap of tax cuts.

As I see it, Obama is trying to "sell" the benefits extension as a concession to him.  Forget it.  No sane person with even a basic understanding of the issues involve believes that this is any kind of concession at all.  Walking away from unemployment insurance is every bit as politically suicidal as walking away from Social Security.  Boehner and McConnell know this, even if The One has yet to figure it out.

That's why Congressional Democrats, who are far from being the red-eyed socialists Rush Limburger thinks they are, are ready to make Obama walk the plank on this one.  In their eyes, he's earned it.  In my eyes, too.

I'm soliciting advice regarding the easiest way to remove the "I Stand With The President" bumper-sticker from my Prius.  Thoughts, anyone?

And Bernie, let the filibuster begin!

What Now For The Democrats, Indeed?

Grow a pair and get a spine, eh?  All the things Democrats are (correctly) saying to Obama, they should be saying to themselves.  Get over "The One," and start focusing on the ones that matter by organizing and fighting like our lives depend on it, because they do.  Thanks for saying so, Mr. Kuttner.

Not Such A "Loserman," After All

Who knew he even had this much backbone?  It's a shame that it isn't true across the board.

The Decline And Fall Of The American Empire?

If this is correct, and I'm hard-pressed to argue with its reasoning, it suggests to me that in the forecasting of America's future that was at the heart of the 1980 Presidential election, Jimmy Carter was right, and Ronald Reagan was wrong (what a surprise).  If anything, both men were wrong, because neither one saw how bad it could be--worse, in the end, than a "crisis of confidence" or a "malaise."

Then again, as Lord Keynes once said, in the long run we're all dead anyway.  (Tug McGraw version:  when the Sun novas and destroys the Earth, no one will care what Willie Stargell did with the bases loaded.)  Still, as this article suggests, the extended short run may make some of us wish we were dead.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Does Greed Know No Boundaries?

Does it even stop you from supporting heroes?  Then you have to wonder if we have a country left to defend.

Raise My Taxes!

My basic argument on this subject, in a nutshell.

Farewell To A Real Sports Hero

It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.  So goes the old sports cliche.  But, like all cliches, it's wrapped around a kernel of truth.  And how you play the game is reflected not just in sportsmanship, but also in the obstacles that players have to overcome.

That's why Ron Santo was a hero, and should be considered as such whether or not you are a Cubs fan.  Read this, and you'll understand why I say that.  Safe travels, Ron; here's hoping there's a World Series in heaven for you.

Ignore Sarah?

Sorry, Charles.  I'd like nothing better than to do this.  But ignoring that which deserves to be ignored doesn't make it go away.  And it just allow the object of your "ignorance" to claim that you're afraid to disagree with him/her/it/them.

Like it or not, you have to engage the enemy.  Democracy expects no less of all of us.  It's the only way to stop them from spreading lies like this, and effectively re-writing our past.  It's a short step from there to writing our future without us.

You Can Always Count On One Thing From Republicans ...

... and that's saying one thing, and doing another, whether it's Federal spending, health insurance, or anything else.

"Stockholm Syndrome"? Or Something Worse?

You can add me to the list of frustrated progressives who wonder what will it take for President Obama and Congressional Democrats to grow a little spine, and stop negotiating with themselves when they should be fighting for the goals of the people who voted for them--and gave money to them (myself included).  Obama, in particular, is a total mystery at this point.  Whether it's extending the Bush tax cuts or anything else, it seems that the President seems determined to simply say "How high?" every time John Boehner and Mitch McConnell say "Jump!"

It's been suggested by some commentators that Obama may have been effectively "taken hostage" by the Capitol Hill GOP, that he has been so personally intimidated by the way it does business that he is a victim of "Stockholm Syndrome," identifying with his "captors" to the point at which he effectively regards them as his "friends."  Frank Rich has said as much in today's New York Times; here is another sample of this line of thinking.  But if this is in fact happening--and I'm not saying it isn't--I suspect that more is involved besides intransigency on the Republicans' part, and fecklessness on the part of the White House.

To me, the 800-pound-gorilla in the room of the Obama Presidency can be summed up in one word, one that I'm almost afraid to type even as I write this:  assassination.  (I pause here to knock on wood and say "pu-pu-pu!" under my breath, to avoid tempting fate.)  I think it's fair to say that not since the last President from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, has a President's life been in such constant danger--and, sadly, for the same basic reason.  (The Civil War years were probably also the last time the nation has been as divided as it is now, but that's a subject for another post.)  It's not a state secret that the security surrounding Obama is higher and more constant than the security provided for any other American President.  And there should be.  Sadly, in spite of reaching the point at which we can elect an African-American to the White House, we do not live in a "post-racial" society.  We are every bit as racist as we've always been.  As a law school friend of mine (himself an African-American) once told me, we just do a better job of hiding it.

All of this can't help but influence the overall political atmosphere in D.C., and the Obama-GOP dynamic in particular.  To what extent is the GOP aware of this?  What do they know about any actual or potential threats to the President's life?  To what extent--if any--are they involved, perhaps in a material way, with these threats?

These are, and should be, disturbing questions.  I do not ask them easily.  But, if we're going to openly talk about "Stockholm Syndrome," we might as well take the discussion to the next level.  It may be necessary to prevent the hostage, and the rest of us, from becoming the victims of a far greater tragedy than losing an election.

How To NOT Clean Up A City

This past week, The New York Times published an article celebrating the "end" of the process of "cleaning up" Times Square.  No doubt it has been cleaned up, in the sense that it is no longer a vice zone.  But, as I stated in the Comments section of this article, the end result is decidedly a mixed bag.

Of course, the focus here is not on Times Square as a whole, but on the block of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues--"the Deuce," in the street-speak of another era.  But it's understandable that this block would be the focus, since it was the epicenter, in every measurable way, of the depravity of the district in the mid-to-late 20th century.  If you lived in New York, as I did in the early 1980s, you need no one to explain that to you.  But walking down the block today, one sees a (to borrow a phrase from another contributor to the Comments section) a different kind of pornography--the pornography of a corporate theme park, where chain stores have created a kind of Anywhere U.S.A. outdoor mall in midtown Manhattan.

I'm not one of the ones who waxes nostalgic about the lack of "grit" (whatever that is) or excitement that typified the block as it was.  I don't miss the vice, and the neighborhood, with its iconic Broadway theatres and other landmarks (the Brill Building and Colony Records, anyone?).  But, like much of the rest of life, it's not something that lends itself to an either-or analysis, either, as attractive as that dynamic may be to a certain type of mind.  Looking at 42nd Street as it is now, I'm left with three nagging questions:

1.  The vice--where did it go?  Was it really somehow magically removed from the face of the earth, or was it simply pushed into other parts of the city, parts that didn't command the same level of tourist attention, or that otherwise lacked the social and political clout to fight back?  My own observations of the city, as a former resident and frequent tourist, lead me to suspect the latter, and that the "cleaning-up" has been largely a case of sweeping the "dirt" under other portions of the municipal rug.

2.  The small businesses--where did they go?  Not all of the business on the block were porn shops.  There were a lot of truly local small businesses--game parlors, lunch counters, the Times Square Gym and so forth--that thrived by catering to people of limited means.  Oh, that's right.  We now sit in judgment on those people.  In America in the early years of the new millennium, if you're not a multimillionaire, you're just a loser who, according to Rush Limberger, shouldn't even have the right to vote.

Seriously, there's no reason some place couldn't have been found for at least some of these businesses among the new skyscrapers that have shot up along the block.  And that leads to ...

3.  The theatres--why in the bloody hell did THEY have to go?  I'll qualify this a little bit.  I don't have a problem with Disney taking over the New Amsterdam; it's a theatre with a tradition of spectacle going all the way back to Ziegfeld, and Disney does spectacle as well as anyone.  I was pleased that the Roundabout Theatre Company took over the Selwyn, although I could have done without its corporate renaming.  (Interesting irony:  American Airlines abandoned Manhattan for Dallas in 1979; I guess they view renaming the Selwyn as a form of atonement.)  And I was especially pleased that the New 42nd Street Corporation took over the Theatre Republic--the oldest Broadway theatre still standing--and turned it into the New Victory Theatre for children.  (Footnote:  this happened during the administration of David Dinkins; keep that in mind when you hear Rudy Giuliani take all of the credit for the "new" Times Square.)

But this street, and this block in particular, owe their fame to their connection to live American Theatre.  And the three success stories I just mentioned do not outweigh the fact that their were once 11 theatres on the street, 10 of which were still standing in 1978, when plans for the street's renewal were first made.  Sadly, the remaining 7 have, for the most part, been wholly or partially demolished.  For example, the Lyric and Apollo Theatres, two mid-sized theatres perfect for plays or musicals, were largely demolished and have been replaced by a big barn of a theatre (with some recycled elements of their predecessors) that nobody wants to book, and has been the site of large, expensive failures.  Its current tenant, "Spider-Man:  Turn Off The Dark," looks like it may continue that trend.  The Harris Theatre, another house that was perfect for plays, has been completely demolished (except for its facade) and is now the site of a wax museum.  And the list goes on.

The main point here is this:  saving the theatres was publically announced as the primary goal of reclaiming the street.  And, for the most part, the theatres were not saved, though there were certainly way to do it, physically and financially, in a city that has the financial and artistic resources of New York.  In the process, the city has lost something unique to its character, and the nation has lost an important landmark in its cultural history.

An urban renaissance?  Perhaps.  A renaissance both urban and cultural in nature would have been even better.  We could have had it on 42nd Street.  We can't, now.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If They All Had This Type Of Guts ...

... the Democrats would be a party we could all be proud of.  In the meantime, three cheers for the voters of Michigan, whose recent electoral judgment is suspect, but who formerly had the good sense to put this woman in the U.S. Senate.

The Republican Bomb?

No, I'm not talking about their leaders or their policies, although I wouldn't blame you for thinking that I was.  I'm talking about this man, who invented the neutron bomb--the one that destroys people, but not property.  The current crop of Republicans are on target to destroy both.

A Question For Massachusetts Voters

Was Martha Coakley really so terrible that this was preferable?  The only good thing about this is that it demonstrates a level of callousness that will make the new House majority the shortest-lived one in memory.

Because if it doesn't do that, nobody will need to take the United States prisoner, because it's already dead.

A Timely Reminder Of Where Our Budget Problems Began

Hint:  It's not with the Democrats.

Let's Start December Off With The Completely Ridiculous!

I've known for a long time that narcissism is the biggest "ism" of the modern age, but I'm not sure it can achieve any greater height than this.  She needs to get over herself.  I mean, it's not like she can do anything practical with it, like sell it as real estate (think of the air conditioning bills you would have)!