Monday, December 30, 2013

Utah Isn't Just Legalizing Gay Marriage

They're also leading the way in ending homelessness, as it turns out.


I'm taking a pause for the end of the old year, and the start of the new one.  Make a difference in 2014, not just for yourself, but others.  Organize, contribute, and VOTE!  And have a safe and Happy New Year.

Printing Body Parts?

It's already in its early stages.  Take a look.

Even George Will Sees A Future For Alternative Energy

I'm sure it's because of some deep-pocket Republican connection but, if he wants to use his puerile column to promote fusion energy, it's fine with me.

The War Over Marriage Equality Is Over

I mean, if it's legal in Utah, where can it be stopped?  Nowhere, I hope.  But that won't stop the bad guys from trying.

Conservatives ALWAYS Like Government, When They're The Ones That Need It

It was true during the Bush stock market crash, and it's no less true about Obamacare.

A Pope I'm Tempted To Like, At Least

I have very strong negative feelings about the Catholic Church.  Not the parishioners, but the institution, which has exalted celibacy to the point of providing an unintentional shelter for child abusers.  But I confess to being fascinated by Pope Francis, who seems to be completely serious about preaching a gospel that focuses on poverty and the need to fight it.  I emphasize the word "need" here, because past Popes--indeed, many Christians--have tended to treat this aspect of the gospel as sort of a recommendation by Jesus, and not as an essential (perhaps the essential) part of His mission and ministry.  Instead, they focus on abortion and gay marriage--about which Jesus had nothing to say at all.

I would, frankly, like to see Francis tackle the issue of child abuse within the Church with greater transparency and energy.  But, in the meantime, I derive great comfort from the discomfort that he is giving to conservative Catholics in this country.  It's long overdue.

I should have known that any Pope who shares my father's first name can't be all bad.  Go Francis!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lessons From A Theater Tragedy

Perhaps it would be more accurate to call the recent partial collapse of the Apollo Theater in London a near-tragedy.  Although a large number of people were hurt, and some seriously enough to be sent to the hospital, no one was killed.  And for that, above all, we should be exceedingly thankful.

As things stand at the moment, there is no clear explanation as to why the collapse happened.  It is, however, a well-known fact that many of the older theaters in London's West End have suffered from years of deferred maintenance--and the Apollo, by all reports, was no exception.

Which is why, when I saw the news about the collapse, and after my concerns about fatalities were put to rest, my theater-preservation mind came to one very quick conclusion:  that it would not be long before the tear-'em-down crown would be out in full force.

And I was not completely disappointed.  This piece, from The Guardian, takes a somewhat two-faced attitude toward the subject, alternately talking about investment in old theaters while raising questions about their real value in the modern world.  Likewise, this piece from The Atlantic makes the case against historic theaters without quite coming out with a call for the bulldozers,  There's something to be said about the fact that, even after a crisis like the Apollo collapse, no one quite wants to use it as an excuse to level cultural and architectural history.

Except, as it turns out, if the someone in question is Andrew Lloyd Webber.  A former owner of both the Apollo and its next-door theater neighbor, the Lyric, Webber here argues for tearing both theaters down and replacing them with new, more modern theaters (presumably, ones more to Webber's Tory-leaning, profit-gushing tastes).  Leaving aside the intriguing question of what exactly Webber knew about the theaters when he sold them, and how much of their poor condition accrued on his watch, his diatribe against his former buildings and their counterparts on the West End overlooks the fundamental question:  what can be done to make owning and maintaining any theater affordable?

 Whether a theater is old or new, modernized or otherwise, the economics of the theatre make owning an operating such a structure daunting.  Theater in any form, traditional or otherwise, is a labor-intensive and capital intensive art form that competes with other media that have many more avenues for expanding their markets and spreading out their costs.  Any theater can only give one performance at a time to a very limited number of people, while a movie or TV show can move through a number of market mechanisms to an ever-increasing audience around the world--theaters, broadcast channels, cable, satellite, the Internet, and who knows what else may come in the future.  This dilemma exist for new legitimate houses as well as older ones--which is why, over the past several decades, almost no new legitimate theaters have been built without some form of subsidy attached to it.

Once you accept the fact that no legitimate theater can function without some form of subsidy, the question then becomes this:  what should we subsidize?  Do we want to subsidize modern theater buildings, with all the functionality of an airport lounge and half the charm?  Or do we want to subsidize our history, our heritage, our sense of a style and beauty that has its original roots in a specific era but, in terms of its impact on the public, is positively timeless?

As for how?  There are, truthfully, lots of ways, and finding them merely requires the right combination of creativity and will.  In New York, Broadway theater owners have been able for a number of years to sell the air rights over their theaters, and thereby able to maximize the market value of their land while obtaining the funds needed to maintain their landmarked properties.  Perhaps something along these lines could be used to ensure the future economic and physical viability of their West End counterparts.

In any event, safety does not require the leveling of history.  Let's hope, for history's sake and London's sake, that it finds a way to maintain its amazing stock of historic theaters for years to come.

Freedom Of Speech, Or Freedom For MY Speech?

That's the question all of us should be asking in the wake of the recent "Duck Dynasty" kerfuffle.  Should Phil Robertson have been suspended by the A&E network from appearing on the hit reality show, because he gave an interview in which he made remarks about African-Americans and gays that place him squarely somewhere in the 19th century?  For that matter, should he have been "un-suspended," as he was within days of the suspension?

Let's be clear about a few things.  First and foremost, there is no First Amendment issue here.  You don't think so?  Then stop reading this blog post right now, and don't come back until you've read the First Amendment, and maybe (if you're feeling ambitious) some of the case law interpreting it.  The First Amendment protects speech against suppression or limitation by the government, or an agent acting on its behalf.  It has absolutely no application to a relationship between two private parties, such as a cable network and a family.  Or, at the most, it has limited application in those situations, such as whether or not a "whistleblower" statute can be enacted against workplace misconduct.  Apart from such a limited application, however, A&E and the Robertsons have what amount in common law to a master-servant contract that can be governed by any terms they agree upon.  And, if A&E's contract with the Robertsons was such that it did not allow them to take exception to statements or actions to which decent people would object, then shame on it, as well as its lawyers.

That doesn't mean, however, that I agree with the suspension.  First, A&E knew they weren't getting into bed with The Best And The Brightest when they agreed to put this show on the air.  Second, Robertson's interview was not part of the show itself, even though the interview undoubtedly never would have happened without the celebrity aura that the show conferred on the family.  But, most of all, the network just gave Robertson an opportunity he didn't deserve to play the martyr card, an opportunity taken advantage of not only by the Robertsons but also their fellow-traveling publicity whores in the right-wing community--in particular, the one who knows how to write, but not to read.  I so love to write about her without mentioning her name; it's the torment that she deserves.

What should A&E done instead?  Publicly condemn and otherwise distance themselves from his remarks, of course.  Terminate the show as soon as its contract had run.  And vowed that the next time they create a reality show about a family, it'll be about an African-American family.  Or a gay family.  Or both.  The antidote to free speech badly used is free speech well used.

But the publicity whores' commentary is not without a valuable lesson.  Their vehement, overheated and generally incoherent First Amendment arguments on the Robertsons' behalf prove one point:  from the vast, right-wing conspiracy's perspective, it's civil rights for we, but not for thee.  Ask any liberal who's been on the receiving end of bad treatment because of their own political "incorrectness."  Ask the Dixie Chicks, or Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.  See if the publicity whores came to their aid.  You should not be surprised that the answer will be no.

Because, to a conservative, freedom of speech is freedom for their speech.  Don't ever let them get away with making that stick.  Your own freedom of speech will be forfeit.  And you will have given it away.

R.I.P., "Motormouth"

It;s hard, if you're a baseball fan, to accept the game in its current, overpriced, uncompetitive, drug-laden condition.  Doing so, however, becomes almost unbearable when you think about the players from decades ago--not just the exceptional ones, but the everyday ones who played hard and found ways to make themselves indispensable to both their fellow players and their fans.

Paul Blair was one such player.  If you saw him play, as I had the privilege of doing, you didn't see all around greatness, but you saw someone who got the most out of his ability to read fly balls and, most of all, his speed.  As much as any other player, Blair showed that in baseball, speed is both an offensive and a defensive weapon.  I'll never forget the inside-the-park, grand-slam home run I watched him hit against the Kansas City Royals.  And Orioles pitchers who played with him will never forget the ways in which his fielding lowered their ERAs.

And, in his personal life, he was nothing less than a total class act.  It is somehow fitting that he died while participating in a bowling tournament for charity.  R.I.P., Paul.  Thanks for the memories.  And thanks for the personal example of how to live.

Why Hillary Clinton Should Breath A Sigh Of Relief

Because the Republican most likely to run well against her in 2016, Governor Fatslob of New Jersey, is in the process of being exposed for the criminal bully that he really is.  Take a look.

His 60%-reelection was all about exploiting the corrupt nature of New Jersey politics, not popularity.  Nobody should think otherwise.  But, if the GOP wants to kid itself into doing so, it's fine with me.

What To Do With Those Subsidies Big Oil Doesn't Need

Here's one suggestion, anyway:  devote some portion of them to subsidizing the infrastructure needed for electric cars.  The development of that infrastructure could remove the last major obstacle to true energy independence in this country.  It's worth a try.  Socialism for the rich, on the other hand, isn't.

Think "Free Enterprise" Can Replace The Post Office?

Better think again.  Oops.  Looks like Obamacare's not the only major enterprise struggling to get its act together.  Good thing the Post Office is constitutionally-mandated.  Someone needs to remind the Republicans of that.

Two States Down, 48 To Go

When it comes to electing real socialists, that is, politicians who don't run away from the label like it's poison.  First Vermont and now Washington State (or, more specifically, Seattle).  It's not quite sea-to-shining-sea, but it's a nice start.

Sorry GOP.  The defining issue of 2014 isn't going to be "Obamacare."  It's going to be the minimum wage.

Two Places To Begin In Talking To The Tea Party

First, ask them to look at what their 1-percent friends want to do with unemployment benefits.

Next, show them that the worst socialists in the country are the ones on Wall Street.

THEN ask them if they still want to join forces with the 1-percent in playing a lottery that the 1-percent rigs against them.

"Remember Who The Real Enemy Is"

If you're a "Hunger Games" fan, you know that those are words of advice given to Katniss Everdeen as she prepares to go back into the arena in "Catching Fire," the second book (and movie) of the series, which show how a future ruling elite manipulate and intimate a divided population by forcing their teenage children to fight to the death.

Here in 21st-century America, however, we have our own Hunger Games, minus the gladitorial trappings.  Instead of divide-and-conquer games, we have divide-and-conquer politics.  And we, the people, cheerful participate in them, through our greed and laziness.

How does it work?  Well, it's best summed up in a joke I've seen on the Internet a number of times, in one version or another.  Basically, it goes something like this:  a 1-percenter, a Tea Partier, and a union representative attend a party, and are presented with a plate of 10 cookies.  The 1-percenter immediately takes nine of the cookies, turns to the Tea Partier and says "Watch out for that union guy--he's after your cookie!"

Funny, right?  Except for the fact that the Tea Partier buys it.  He desperately grabs the last cookie from the union rep, and leaves the most productive member of the group without reward for his labors.

Because it's time to face reality.  The 1-percent make money by gambling, while the union workers (and those who want to be union workers) create the real wealth, through skill, teamwork, and persistence that often challenges the odds.

And the Tea Partier?  He or she lives in a state that is largely depending on Federal tax dollars from elsewhere.  He or she lives in a state with low levels of accomplishment and high levels of social dysfunction.  He or she is, if anything, even more oppressed than the union workers, because they earn fewer wages and have far less access to public services (especially education) that could and should make a material difference in their lives.  For these reasons, the Tea Partiers should be natural allies of the unions, the only proven form of organization to make the lives of average citizens better.

But the Tea Partier throws in his or her lot with the 1-percent.  Why?  Because they think the 1-percent has gotten what the 1-percent deserves, through either hard work or skill?  No, they would agree with the unions that the 1-percent are just people who've won the investment lottery.  The difference, in the case of the Tea Partier, is that the 1-percent has gotten what the Tea Partier thinks he or she deserves--a chance to win that same lottery.  This is why the cut-spending-and-taxes argument works so well with Tea Partiers--they think that it gives them the same lottery ticket that the 1-percent have.  Many of them share the 1-percent's aversion to hard work, talent and perserverance.  Why, those things are for suckers.  Why not roll the dice with the wealth created by others, and take a chance on winning it all?

And therein lies the rub:  All of us CAN'T win it all.  The 1-percent know that, and spend their time playing political games that have the effect of dividing the Tea Parties from the unions, and prevent both groups from combining into a powerful force that could build a rational society based on shared wealth and responsibility.  After all, if that were to ever happen, casino capitalism would come to a screeching halt, and in its place would be a market-based society in which access to basic needs and opportunities for advancement could be equally shared.

But this will never happen, until those of us in the union-based, progressive side of politics start to engage the Tea Partiers in a dialogue about how wealth works, and show them that wealth isn't created by a handful of investor-kings but by all of us.  Adam Smith's book is called "The Wealth of Nations," not "The Wealth of a Privileged Few."  Smith understood, far better than his modern-day acolytes, the need for laws and collective activity to generate wealth.  Doubt me?  Try something:  read him.  And then talk to the nearest Tea Partier about how the creation and accumulation of wealth really works.  A lot of it has to do with values that are not only union values, but Christian ones as well.  It's not an accident that Solidarity, the union that helped end the Cold War, was as much about Christianity as it was about workers' rights.

We need to take a page or two from "The Hunger Games."  Start talking to our fellow "tributes in the arena," the Tea Partiers, and convince them that progressive values are traditional, even religious, values as well.  If we can do that, perhaps, one day--together--we can learn to fight the real enemy.  For my part, I hope and pray to do my part with this in 2014, and I hope and pray that you will do yours as well.

The Real War On Christmas

It's been more than a few days since I posted here, but I've had one of the best reasons in the world for that--Christmas.  I hope that your Christmas was, in one way or another, a special time for you and for those you care about most.  In my case, that was definitely true; I got to spend the day with my immediate family, and particularly enjoyed spending time with my granddaughter.  She has come such a long way in the past year, physically and personally, and I both hope and pray that it continues, at least to the point (knock on wood) where she can dance at her grandchild's wedding.

And now, to make a small shift from the personal to the political, I have more than a few words to say about the so-called "war on Christmas."

You know what I'm talking about.  The use of the phrase "Happy Holidays," so as not to offend non-Christians.  The injunctions against creches on public property.  And, in the case of school Christmas concerts, the removal of religious references from Christmas songs.

I'm forced to concede that, as it relates to the latter, there's a good point there.  I'm opposed to censorship, as well as rewriting songs for the same of not offending non-believers.  I think it's akin to rewriting history as well as works of art--which is, after all, what songs are.  It would be far better to either omit religious songs and focus on Santa Claus and Rudolph, or just warn people in advance that they're going to be exposed to religious music and let them decide whether or not to attend.  To "edit" the songs seems to me to be an anti-historical attempt to pretend that Christmas is not, nor never was, a religious holiday.

Apart from this, however, the proponents of the "war on Christmas" argument seem to want to pretend something else:  that Christmas in the United States is purely a religious holiday.  To take that approach is to deny that so much of our observance of the holiday--evergreens, parties and gift-giving--is an appropriation of pagan customs done for the purpose of making the holiday more popular, especially among those who don't believe.  Moreover, as a holiday (religious or otherwise), celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Jesus makes no factual or Biblical sense, as has been documented time and time again.

Even worse, however, is to pretend that other holidays are not being celebrated at this time of year--or that the people who celebrate them do not enjoy the same right to do so that Christians have to celebrate Christmas in whatever way they choose.  To do so is to promote true religious warfare--the exact opposite of what freedom of religion in this country is supposed to mean.

If Christians really want to defend the true meaning of Christmas, and make that meaning invincible against so-called secular "attacks," the very best thing they could do is to devote their time, energy and other resources not in telling people how to celebrate, but in showing them how to celebrate--with public acts of kindness, charity and fellowship.  Incidentally, that is the best way to not only celebrate and promote Christmas, but to celebrate and promote Christianity:  to accept the reality of living in a secular world, and giving it a tangible witness of a better way to live in it.

And that, so far as I'm concerned, is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.  Happy Holidays, regardless of what or how you celebrate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

And A Ray Of Hope Regarding Gitmo

The general who backed it says that it should be shut down.  Can we go ahead and do it, finally?  Or do we have to wait until more of the yahoos can be convinced it's a good idea.  Sadly, I'm guessing the latter.  But I've never been more confident that it will eventually happen.

Nevertheless, A Ray Of Hope Regarding Guns

This map offers some promise of progress toward sensible gun regulations.  As was the case with marriage equality, perhaps a state-by-state approach works more effectively.  Whatever we need to do, let's do it, finally.

Law And Order For Thee, But Not For Me

Conservatives love the rule of law, so long as they're the ones choosing which laws to enforce, and which ones to ignore.  Case in point:  Colorado and gun control.  Every one of these sheriffs should be removed from office and prosecuted--peaceably, or otherwise.  And, if it proved to be otherwise, I will mail Colorado the tear I shed.

Want Photographic Proof That The Right-Wing Media Are Lying Hypocrites?

Here you go.  They went after Obama for this, but not Cameron.  That's all you need to know about how much their "critique" of the President is based on race--nothing else.

Safe Travels Across The Sun's Anvil, El Aurens

As much as anyone else, and more than most, you are my acting hero.  Your performance in "Lawrence of Arabia" propelled my interests in show business and history into lifelong passions, both of which have served me well.  I wish we could have met but, as is the case with all screen actors I have seen, your films made that possible to a degree.  In any case, save me a spot at the oasis on the way to Aqaba.

And RIP.  No one I know deserves it more.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In America, The Era Of Human Sacrifices Has Not Ended

That's all that we've learned in the year since Newtown.  The Second Amendment is our God, and, in a year's time, 194 sacrifices have been offered to it.  Take a look.

"Embrace The Suck," Indeed--With The Emphasis On The Latter

The deal reached this past week between Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray and her House counterpart, Paul Ryan, is being hailed by all of the supposedly sensible voices in the DC political and press establishment as an example of bipartisan sanity, of the truly great things that can happen when Democrats and Republicans work together.

Well, there's what they say, and then there's the truth.  Turns out that you don't have to think it's wonderful to vote for it or, for that matter, encourage your fellow House members to vote for it.  You can, in fact, vote for it while you're vomiting over it.  Or, in the immortal words of House Minority Leader (and, hopefully, soon-to-be-Speaker-again) Nancy Pelosi, you can "embrace the suck."

True, this budget leaves entitlements untouched, and true, it restores a portion of the sequester cuts.  But it ratifies the GOP's no-new-taxes philosophy, while achieving deficit reduction on the backs of career civil service employees--the latter being supposedly acceptable, because they're so grotesquely "overpaid."

Let's start with the latter "point," and call it what it is.

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.

Public employees are not overpaid.  In fact, in may cases, they are grotesquely underpaid for the responsibilities they are frequently required to face.  The truth of the matter is that they earn the salary and benefits they get.  For that matter, so do the rest of us.  There's more than enough money in our economy to pay everyone the salaries and benefits that public employees can and should get, and everyone would benefit from the spending that would result if everyone were paid that well.  For an excellent summary of why this is true, take a look here.

As for the "revenue raisers" in the deal, they consist of those old Republican standbys:  asset sales and user fee increases.  At this rate, we're going to run out of assets to sell, and run out of users to make the fee increases work.  In fact, those increases could be thousands of times the average annual per-person income of the users, and it still wouldn't even come close to balancing the budget.  Oh, and like it or not, Republicans?  A fee increase is no different from what must people call "taxes."  Here in Maryland, we (briefly, thankfully) had a Republican governor named Bob Ehrlich who tried to play that game, and no one was fooled by it.  Republicans do this because anti-tax politics is the only thing that gives their party a pulse.  But they are running out of time in which to fool people with tactics like that; the rest of us are catching up to them.

And, on top of all of this, they still want to cut unemployment benefits and food stamps.  If Democrats roll over on those issues, they might as well raise the white flag now for 2014.

If it really means deals like this one, then to hell with bipartisanship.  Let the reporters who love it so much take a few of those cuts themselves, and see how swell they think they are when they're on the receiving end of them.  Haven't the many give enough to the few already?  Haven't they given more than enough?  At what point do we stop pretending that splitting the political difference does not mean the same thing as sharing the burdens of making our country work?

Those aren't rhetorical questions.  The answer to each of the first two is "Hell, yes!"  The answer to the third one, as far as I'm concerned, is that we should have reached it by now.  And the fact that we haven't makes me wonder if we'll ever reach it.  Or if we'll reach it in time to save ourselves from our own greed and stupidity.

The Tea Party's "Tipping Point," And What It May Mean For 2014

So, at long last, John Boehner is finally telling off the Tea Party.  After we've all gotten past a hearty chorus of "It's about time," we're left to reflect on what it might mean, both generally and specifically.  It's easier to figure out the former than the latter.

Generally, Boehner, who has at least some understanding that deal-making is necessary to make divided government work, has overruled his better instincts and let the Tea Party do all of the thinking for his caucus ever since it took control of the House in 2010.  There was at least a semi-plausible reason for doing so:  at that point, the TP folks looked like they were the GOP's only hope for votes that could help them peel back the Democratic gains of the previous two elections.  In 2010, they actually did peel back some of those gains and that, combined with the continuing disappearance of moderate Republicans, gave Boehner little choice but to let the inmates run the asylum, and hope that he could eventually find a way to harness their energy into productive channels.

Last week, however, Boehner effectively admitted in public that he had given up on finding a way, and the remains of the Republican establishment followed suit.  Why was they willing to do this, knowing that it would result in a GOP civil war at a time when all they had to do was let Obamacare fall apart, and reap the electoral awards in 2014?

Because they now know that Obamacare isn't going to fall apart.  To be sure, there will be more negative coverage of the health care reform roll-out, because the right-wing press hates Obama and what's left of the MSM feeds on conflict.  But that isn't stopping the ACA, nor its long-term success.  It is even now possible to think that, in 2014, the ACA could be a net plus for Democrats--or, at worst, an issue with neutral impact compared to other, more salient political issues.

So Boehner gambled.  He allowed Paul Ryan to work out a budget agreement with Patty Murray that was, as much as anything, designed to put the political misery of last October's shutdown behind their party.  Then he used that accomplishment to tell off the TP's shadow funders, standing up for the autonomy of his caucus members and otherwise acting more like the political leader he should have been all along and less like the bagman he had most become.

Because what Boehner has always wanted, more than anything else, is to be Speaker of the House.  He was willing to be a TP spokesman for as long as he thought that was what was needed to stay in the Speaker's chair.  But he and his party are getting a different message from the polls right now, one that's telling them to act like grown-ups and find ways to work with Democrats.  Because that's what voters really want him to do--in fact, it's probably what they wanted all along.

If that's the general meaning, what are the specific ones, as they relate to national, and progressive priorities?  Harder to say at this point.  But Boehner's hiring of a former McCain aid to work on immigration reform is a hopeful indication that, at least on that issue, it may yet be possible to make some progress in 2014.

And, speaking about 2014, what about the impact that all of this will have on the elections?

I tend to agree that, given the general trends of mid-term elections and the current mood of the voting public, that a successful tacking to the center by Republicans will likely result in good news for them at the polls.  The bigger question, however, is whether the tea-baggers, and their shadowy deep pockets, will let them do it.

As of the moment, that's a great big question mark.  It's not really good news when a sitting Speaker of the House decides that his electoral future depends on starting a civil war within his own party.  It means that his future, and perhaps the country's, depends upon his taken a leap into a void with an unknown and dangerous bottom.

And that question mark is all the more reason why progressives should organize, contribute and vote next year as though their future, and the country's, depends on it. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Find Myself In The Incredibly Awkward Position Of Defending Newt Gingrich

But, in this case, I have a good reason.

Safe travels, Madiba.  May they be easier than the ones you had in this world.  Once you have arrived, I know you will receive the glory you deserve.

One Road To A Carbon Tax.

Raise the gas tax.  It's a tough sell, politically, but it might actually appeal to folks on both sides of the aisle.  Take a look.

Will Seniors Leave Republicans Out To Dry In 2014?

NPR, from your mike to God's ears.  More on 2014 in a later post.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Sorry, Scott Fitzgerald, But There ARE Second Acts In American Lives

In the political life of Jerry Brown.  In the economic and cultural life of California.  And, if California really is the bellwether of American trends, in the progressive life of the United States.  Doubt all of this?  Doubt no longer.

Why We Should Invest More In The Arts And Culture

Because the financial returns, as well as the aesthetic ones, justify it.  Take a look.

If I were President--we should be so lucky--the NEA/NEH budget would run into the billions, not the low millions.  It would easily be the best thing I or anyone else could do for the country.

Aside from getting Wall Street off the people's backs, that is.

And A Story That Should Be Much, MUCH Bigger Than Anything About Obamacare

And that, simply put, is the unwillingness of employers to pay their employees a living wage.  Not their ability, mind you.  Their willingness.  Because, at a time of record performance by the stock market and banks--both of which, you may recall, were bailed out by you and me when they were proven to be less than infallible--even bank employees need help from the federal government.

And what about employees of the number one company on the Fortune 500Their employees have to hold food drives.  This company could easily afford to pay its employees a living wage, but chooses not to.  It literally does not care if its employees cannot eat.  Anyone who supports a company like this should have their head examined.  And any company that treats its employees this badly should be treated by the government as criminals, not wards of the state.

Wards of the state, however, is what American captains of industry have become.  For those on the right who feel that they are in some sort of desperate struggle to save traditional capitalism, I have bad news for you:  that struggle ended in 2008, and statism won.  We now have state-sponsored "capitalism," truly the worst of both worlds, in which profits are privatized and losses are publicized.

If this doesn't make you get politically active in 2014, nothing will.  And you will deserve the fate that overtakes you.

And A Few Choice Words For Robert Kuttner

After reading this piece, I may never subscribe or contribute to The American Prospect ever again.

TAP was created as an antidote to the plethora of right-wing journals that have littered the political landscape over the past several decades.  As such, it has mostly done its job well.  But, from time to time, its articles have succumbed to the tendency of liberals to wring their hands and declare defeat for all time every time the political road gets bumpy for one or more of their causes.  Kuttner's assessment of the ACA's prospects in the wake of the Web site problems is, sadly, a prime example.

I'm particularly annoyed by Kuttner's completely bogus assertion of the political landscape for health care reform prior to the enactment of the ACA.  In his view, all Obama had to do was expand Medicare, and he could declare "mission accomplished."  Kuttner even goes so far as to say that this is what "many of us wrote at the time."  Well, my memory on this subject differs rather significantly from Kuttner's, in that I very clearly recall the Medicare-expansion concept as being a last-minute effort to include some kind of "public option" as part of the ACA.  It was never the benchmark for what health care reform could be, in terms of political reality.  Even then, the proposal was limited to individuals 55 and over--hardly the definition of "Medicare for All."  And it was being sponsored by then-Senators Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, two men who, although Democrats, can hardly be defined as liberal heroes.

Kuttner's after-the-fact revisionism seems to be an exercise in finger-pointing.  It is, in part, but it's also a classic example of how the lazy idealism of some liberals sometimes threaten to eat the entire progressive cause alive.  People who allow the perfect to serve as the enemy of the good never have to do any of the heavy lifting to make even the good a reality.  They can pontificate, they can point fingers, they can spill endless prose over the contours and details of a supposedly perfect world--but they never have to get their hands dirty with the ugly political details that are part and parcel of making any kind of progress worthy of the word.

And, when things go wrong (as they always do, from the perspective of these folks), they never have to worry about anyone pointing fingers at them.  Oh, no.  They've been purer than the driven snow all along.  And they can get started looking for the new progressive "hero," the person who will be perfectly perfect from day one--but who will likely never get anything done, or even be elected in the first place.  The word "compromise" is embedded in the word "politics" and, when a political system is set up they way ours is, to discourage massive change that turns on a dime, it stops "perfection" dead in its tracks.

Repent and reconsider, Mr. Kuttner.  Obamacare is far from perfect, from either a liberal or a conservative perspective.  It is, like most compromises, a horse create by a committee.  But it moves us decisively in the right direction, and there's every reason to think that it can be made to work.  We may never get a better chance to begin real health care reform than this one.  Don't throw it away for the sake of a purity that politics can never reflect.

A Few Borrowed Words From Mark Twain About The State Of Obamacare

Simply put, its death has been greatly exaggerated--both by the Republicans, and the MSM allies.

Let's begin with the big story of November--the ACA Web site, and its technical problems.  I'm not an apologist for those problems.  If anything, as an ardent supporter of health care reform, I am furious with the inability of HHS to not have this up and running on time and perfectly.  Secretary Sebelius and her colleagues knew for four years that they were going to have to do this, and have no excuse.  This is not about whether government Web sites can work; anyone who ever uses the IRS web site knows that it is possible for a Federal agency to have a Web presence with a very high degree of functionality.  And, as an attorney, I use the IRS site on a frequent basis.  If the ACA Web site had anything close to the functionality of the IRS site, we'd already be having a very different conversation about Obamacare right now.

But, as it turns out, most of the problems with the site have been, or are well on their way to being fixed.  This is even true of a new one that has cropped up recently--i.e., the transmission of applicant information from the site to insurers.  Again, this does not justify the initial problems, and an investigation as to the nature and source of those problems is fully justified (yes, even if it is led by Republicans).   But it also does not justify a wholesale repeal, or even a scaling-back of the ACA or its provisions, many of which have already gone into effect and are, in fact, quite popular.

And the proof of the success of the site fixes are in the enrollment numbers, which show that more people signed up in the first two days of this month than in all of October.  Those aren't the only numbers showing that Obamacare is working; its estimated cost has actually gone down.  When was the last time anybody said that about any government program?

And, at the local level, it is even easier to see how well the ACA is working, particularly in states where local officials are working with the law and not against it.  As for its critics on the left (including me), who have argued and continue to argue for a single-payer system, take a look at Vermont.  I believe that the ACA will become the political Trojan Horse that brings single-payer health insurance into this country for good.

Perhaps this is why public opinion has turned in a more favorable direction for Obamacare.  And why those on the left, who saw the ACA as a sellout of the single-payer cause, are changing their tune.  And why even some Republicans like this one are changing their tune as well.  Perhaps, in the latter case, it's just as well:  they have no alternative of their own.  And their desperation to stop the law is showing in the nature of the tactics they are now turning to.  Fake Web sites?  Really?  What an irony:  fake Web sites to stop a program dependent upon a gradually improving one.

As Carl Sagan might have put it, health care is no longer a theory, but a fact.  And it's not going to go away.  The GOP would do themselves and the rest of us a favor by canning the games, and serving their country by helping, not hurting, the implementation of a law whose time is long overdue.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

And Yet Another Reason To Re-Instate The Glass-Steagall Act

German conservatives--or, at least, one of them--think it's a good idea.  Shouldn't that suggest to conservatives in this country that maybe it's a pretty good idea?  And should that suggest to liberals that this can be a winning issue in 2014--as well as a springboard to even greater reform of the financial industry?

One would hope so.  But you've got to get out there and help make it happen.

And A Ray Of Hope On The Minimum Wage

This is one of many reasons why I feel that the minimum wage is going to be the Trojan Horse issue of 2014, the one that Republicans won't see coming, but will eat them alive.  I'll have more to say about this in a later post.

But the article, indirectly, does raise one point of harmonic convergence (potentially)  between liberals and libertarians:  if the debate between the two is not about whether the pie should be redistributed, but how, it's a debate that's well worth having.

A Ray Of Hope On Campaign Reform

I'm hard pressed to believe that this is real.  But, if it is, I think it's mainly the result of Democratic donors and organizations stepping up in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and showing that they're prepared to fight fire with fire.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  bullies have no exit strategy when you stand up to them.  They just exit.  And it's the only way they'll ever do so.

Filibuster Reform: Hip, Hip ... Hooray?

You can, unfortunately, basically color me "meh" on this subject.  I'll explain why after I sum up the two basic reactions from the left on this subject.

One, and no doubt the predominant one, is best illustrated by this piece in The American Prospect, which does as good a job as can be done in listing the reasons why progressives should be doing cartwheels up and down Capitol Hill over Harry Reid's undoubtedly bold gamble to require straight up-or-down votes on all presidential appointments (except, for the time being, for Supreme Court appointments).  The other, less partisan perspective is best summed up here, which correctly identifies Reid's election of the so-called "nuclear option" as the last nail in the coffin of the Senate's bipartisan character.

So, why am I "meh" on this?  Because I'm mourning at the same time I'm cartwheeling.  And, mixed in with the mourning, is my cautionary thinking about the long term impact of this. And I say this despite the fact that there is no doubt in my mind--absolutely, positively none--that Reid had no choice.

I'm familiar with both the plague-on-both-their-houses argument when it comes to filibuster abuse, as well as the incredibly dishonest assertion that the abuse all started with the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.  The Prospect article correctly notes that Bork was not filibustered; his nomination failed on an up-or-down vote.  Likewise, as also noted by the Prospect, Democrats have allowed up-or-down votes on any number of ideologues put forth by Republicans for either executive or judicial positions.  Actually, on that point, the Prospect's argument could have been boiled down to two words:  "Roberts" and "Alito," both of whom clearly lied their way through confirmation hearings to ensure their ability to rewrite American jurisprudence.

As for the plague argument?  Take a look.  It didn't start with Robert Bork.  It started with the election of a black President.  And it reached its culmination when Charles Grassley effectively decided that he was going to single-handedly keep the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Reagan era, even if doing so meant giving that court a back-breaking workload.  Essentially, Reid realized that he was in the position that Obama was in during October's shutdown--one in which he was being blackmailed.  Reid didn't make a choice because he had none.  He had to find a way to make the Senate work, and he did it.

But, as even he knew, he did it at the cost of whatever ability the Senate still had as an institution to facilitate consensus across party lines.  There is and was a lot to be said for that ability.  The difference between democracy and war is the difference between talking to each other and shouting at each other.  One path leads to progress, while the other at best leads to chaos.  You don't have to be a so-called "centrist" to mourn the loss of a tool that facilitated dialogue over destruction.

And make no mistake:  the days are numbered for the filibuster in any form.  Once Republicans regain control of the Senate, they will do away with what's left of it and turn the World's Greatest Deliberative Body into a miniaturized version of the House of Representatives, using their "pain" over Reid's decision as an excuse.  If anything, I believe that their abuse of the filibuster was part of a win-win strategy for them:  deny Obama a working Administration in the short run, forcing Reid to step in, and thereby gain an excuse to make the decision they were too cowardly to make in 2005--when they brought up, for the first time, the idea of eliminating the rule.

So this may be good in the short run, but it may yet prove terrible in the long run, especially if the long run gives us GOP control over both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.  On the other hand, this may also change how voters vote in Senate elections, knowing that their vote is far more consequential without the power of an organized minority to blunt it.  That knowledge, in turn, may reshape reshape voting patterns in unpredictable ways.  We can only wait and hope.

But we can feel a little short-term pride in having a Senate leader who is clearly far braver than his opponents.  Reid, a former boxer, threw the right punch.  We will all need to keep up with him and keep on punching ourselves, if we are to prevent the end of filibuster abuse to lead to a Republican tyranny.

My Previous Post Should Have Been The Last Word On Kennedy ...

... but I think I'll leave the last word up to Bill Maher, especially since he does it so much better than I do.

You're right, Bill.  Our heroes are better.

What If JFK Had Lived?

That question, and the answers to it, one of which you can see here, form one of the two dominant trends in the inevitable media coverage of the 50th anniversary of his assassination.  The other trend is the inevitable loss-of-our-national-innocence commentary that surfaces from various sources, primarily from conservative ones who want to see Kennedy's tragic death as some kind of Pandora-box opening to all of the evils of the 1960s.  On the other hand, most of the what-ifs come from the other side of the spectrum, the imaginings of those who think that JFK, given two terms, would have inevitably led America to even greater heights of progressive politics that it otherwise achieved, and would have helped us avoid the descent into right-wing disaster that began with Richard Nixon and the Southern Strategy.

Neither side is completely correct because, as Anthony Lappe explains in the linked article above, history "is a dialectic. What may seem like a miracle in the present might have long term consequences no one can predict."  While it is true that history has many before-and-after moments, and Kennedy's assassination was certainly one of them, how we respond to those moments, in literally millions of decisions great and small, have as much of a bearing on the unfolding of history as the moments themselves.  A decision other than the one made at any given moment has, at the very least, the potential to become yet other before-and-after moment.

In consequence, the answer to the question "What if he had lived" is that it may not have mattered, in a purely political sense.  I am, in saying that, completely sensitive to the fact that it was an enormous personal tragedy for Kennedy's family, friends and political supporters.  Indeed, regarding the member of the latter group, JFK's death was also the death of their political involvement.  But, for many more, it inspired them to rally behind his Administration's stalled domestic agenda, which, in turn, may well have been the force that made much of that agenda a reality.  That, and Lyndon Johnson's legislative skills, which illustrate history's dialectical nature in yet another way.  What if Kennedy had been succeeded by a President with lesser legislative skill?  Perhaps, for the left, the real takeaway should be that progress is a force that can draw as much strength from tragedy as it does from anything else.

And, for the those on the right, the takeaway should be that Kennedy's assassination was simply one of many corks that, once removed, unbottled many oppressed voices that had been held back for decades, especially during the repressive climate of the 1950s.  There was already plenty of violence, especially racial violence, surfacing in the early years of Camelot.  And the public grief to the tragedy of his death did not spare the nation from enduring more grief five years later, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kennedy's brother Robert were also assassinated.  Whatever "innocence" was enjoyed by Americans prior to November 22, 1963, it was an innocence waiting to be shattered--because far too many of our countrymen and women did not enjoy this supposed state of grace.

If there is any aspect of JFK's Thousand Days that I consider to be truly indispensable, it was his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It was a crisis essentially forced upon him by his failed efforts to appease right-wingers through the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the maintenance of outdated NATO weapons systems.  Those reactionary forces did not let up once they learned what Kennedy learned about the Russian missiles in Cuba; as represented by the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they demanded an immediate military strike.  They were, in effect, asking their President to compound two major mistakes with one more that would have launched World War III.  Kennedy knew this, and resisted their efforts, finding a solution that saved political face for everyone and, more importantly, saved the world.  As a practical consequence, and as an everlasting example of the value of diplomacy over war, it is enough of a legacy for any President.  It's possible that someone else could have pulled it off, but I doubt it--especially considering the crucial role that his brother played.  If you have never read his account of the crisis, "Thirteen Days," you owe it to yourself to do so.

Oh, and as for those conservatives like George Will, who claim Kennedy as a conservative because he cut tax rates, forget it.  If they really want a 70% tax rate on top earners, I'll be happy to be bipartisan with them any day.

What if he had lived?  Ask not, to borrow a phrase.  But remember to ask what you can do for your country, and do it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The "Hastert Rule" Is A Form Of Sedition!

And here's where you can do something about it.  Sign it.  Today.

Is Anyone "Out There"?

In space, that is.  Turns out that we may be looking at them without realizing it.  Then again, we're so stuck on ourselves that maybe we don't want to.  I've often thought that the reason we haven't come into contact with extraterrestrial life is not because it doesn't exist, but because it's systematically avoiding us.  Perhaps with good reason.

Scouting Isn't What It Used To Be

Or so it seems.  These idiots would have been reamed out of the Cub Scout pack that made a huge difference in my stepson's life and, by extension, in my life as well.  Do people really feel the need to destroy something more significant than themselves, just to inflate their own poorly-managed self-esteem?  If most Americans believe that, we may already be dead as a nation

Farewell, Bill Mazer

You were as smart as you were classy, just like the city you made a better place for being a sportscaster on its airwaves.  When I lived in the Big Apple, your sportscasts on Channel 5 (back in its pre-Fox Metromedia days, when it was a much better station) were one of the things I enjoyed most about living in New York.  It is sad for me to have to let go of one more part of a very special era in my life.  But I am grateful for that era, and your part in it.

If you don't know who I'm talking about, take a look.  And mourn with me the loss of someone special.

Atheism Is A Faith

And now, it has its own megachurches to support it.  I'm not an atheist--I believe that it's actually more logical to believe in God than not--but I support the right of everyone to choose their beliefs.  Perhaps, in the case of atheism, their megachurches will give them the strength and solidarity they need to function in societies that are openly hostile to them--a hostility that, in fact, makes a mockery of freedom of religion.  Just as freedom of speech is the right not to speak, freedom to believe is also the freedom not to believe.  Without freedom, there can be no true faith of any sort, whether in God or anything else.

Who Says Beauty And Brains Can't Co-Exist?

Not Volvo, which has come up with the most elegant charger for an electric car.  Take a look.

More Theater Success Stories In Charm City

Lately, in Baltimore, it seems like everything’s coming up roses for old theaters.

Last month, the Senator Theatre, Baltimore’s best-known and most beloved movie palace, reopened after a nearly-full restoration and expansion, with several smaller theaters added next to the main auditorium to give the building the programming flexibility of a multiplex.

Not long after that, the Parkway Theater was sold for one dollar, as part of a larger deal to make the theater the home of the Maryland Film Festival.  And the Apex Theater, long an X-rated movie palace, was sold at auction; the new owner has not announced his plans for the building, but has not ruled out the possibility of continuing its use as a theater.

And, most recently, the suburban Pikes Theater, which was converted into a restaurant several years ago, reopened part of the building as a two-screen film house showing first-run movies.  This is a welcome change from the misguided Baltimore County plan that turned the theater into a restaurant to “strengthen” a proposed Restaurant Row in the area that never really developed.  Apparently, the folks behind this concept never heard of the phrase “dinner and a movie.”  Perhaps now, the theater can become a magnet not only for restaurants but other businesses as well.

The proverbial jury is still out on all of these projects, but they are all welcome news to people like me, who believe that these old buildings have tremendous intrinsic value and equal potential as economic engines for their neighborhoods.  It is worth noting that all of these projects involve varying levels of partnership among public and private individuals and organizations.  Partnerships of this sort are the only way to address the complex issues involved in making these buildings function and thrive in an era with so many competing forms of entertainment.

All of us in Baltimore should do what we can to support these newly revived playhouses, and do what we can to save the ones that still await some form of rescue.  Together, all of us can make Charm City an example of the economic dynamism that historic theaters can—and do—create.

Stephen Explains It All To "Clarissa"

Dear Melissa Joan Hart:

I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you but, contrary to your delusions on the subject, you are not a “victim” of political hate.

You are an actress possessing, at best, a mediocre ability to act and, somehow, you’ve managed to parlay that into phenomenal success on not one, but two television series, in both of which you were probably the least convincing performer.  I’m sorry but, when I watched “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” with my stepchildren, I watched it for the aunts and Salem, the cat.  As far as I was concerned, without them, there was no show.  And I suspect I’m not the only one who felt that way.

This, combined with your ability to parlay that success into other projects in which the limits of your talents were even more exposed, is probably far more, professionally and financially, than many performers of equal or greater ability will ever achieve in their entire lifetimes.  Apparently, that’s not enough.  You also want all of us to believe that, based on some nasty Tweets that you received when you declared your support for Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential election, that you are a political martyr deserving of an unending amount of sympathy and support from your fellow Americans.


I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing from performers with conservative views about how their careers have been sabotaged by their “coming out” in favor of Republican office-seekers.  Where is the evidence of this?  Where is the record of anyone being driven out of show business in this country because he or she supported Republican or conservative causes?  Where is the record of them being, like their liberal counterparts in the Red-baiting 1950s, driven to flee the country or commit suicide because of political views that fell far short of Communism, but were nevertheless deemed “suspicious” to the political paranoids of the time?

There is no such record, because it hasn’t and won’t happen.  Today’s Hollywood doesn’t give a damn about politics; all it cares about is money.  If you show you can make that, you could support Attila the Hun and still clean up on Oscar night.  In fact, Hollywood was much more caring about politics back in the days when the studios (run by very conservative men, I might add) controlled the business.  When Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California, he had no more ferocious opponent than these men, who threatened to move to other state if he won.

Tell me, Ms. Hart, have you been subjected to that level of opposition?  I didn’t think so.  People have the right to send nasty Tweets, just as you have the right to support Governor Romney or any other Republican.  I’m sure it won’t stop you from making more mediocre television, or making more money off of it.  Please feel free to do so.  And please remember how lucky you are to have a career in the first place.  You will probably end up with more of a career than a lot of more talented, deserving liberal friends of mine will ever have.

Stephen Rourke (@TheRhinosHorn)

Want Brooklyn Charm At A Fraction Of The Cost?

Then take a look at Newburgh, a city north of New York that has suffered greatly from urban flight over the past several decades--but now appears to be poised for a comeback, thanks in part to the rich, historic quality of its housing stock.  And its revival is being fueled in part by the presence of a historic theater making a comeback, as well.  So much the better.

Are Red States Finally Getting That Climate Change Is Real?

Could be.  Take a look.  Let's hope so.  The rest of us not living in denial, but in the same world as the deniers, need them to do so.

Memo To The Washington Post: Fire Him, Already

Richard Cohen, that is.  He's written one awful column after another, but his piece on interracial marriage really takes the cake.  There's no justification for this.  Or his future employment at the Post.

And no, Mr. Weigel, the problem with the column is not that Cohen's bigoted remarks can't be supported by facts.  Bigotry, by definition, can never be supported by facts.  No one can prove that all members of a specific segment of the human race carry a specific positive or negative quality.  The problem with the column is that it's bigoted--and the Post, by publishing the column, has bought into that bigotry.  It can only redeem itself by firing the source of the bigotry.

Right now.

And, Speaking Of New York ...

... this really caught my eye, and made me reflect on how much the influx of wealthy people into New York has raised the cost of living in general.  Thirty-plus years ago, when I lived in the city and took Social Security claims, I remember seeing the bills of sale for the medallions of retiring New York cab drivers.  They averaged about $65,000, meaning that their value in the interim has increased by almost 1500%, or an annual average increase of more than 45%.

This is why conservatives worrying about returning to the pre-Giuliani days of street crime have nothing to worry about.  Those criminals have literally been priced out of town.  They've been replaced by a different class of criminal, one that is well-schooled in reverse Robin Hood politics.

Which is why de Blasio is so essential.  And why, for the sake of the city I love so much, I hope with all my heart that he succeeds.

Does Progressive Politics Need Third Parties?

In the early part of the last century, the rise of progressive politics, and the Progressive Party in particular, sparked a political reform movement in the United States than ultimately found the fulfillment of many goals in the period running from the New Deal to the Great Society.  Thereafter, third party movements in this country have tended to mostly be of the conservative variety (see:  George Wallace, 1968) or were non-partisan in nature (see:  Ross Perot, 1992 and 1996).

But, as Bill de Blasio showed this month, there may once again be room for third parties with progressive programs.  The Working Families Party might very well be one of many examples, as the country moves to the left and the two-party duopoly tries to cling to a Reagan-era view of what life in America should be like.

It's tempting to think that parties like the WFP would tend to dilute progressive strength at the polls, by dividing that potion of the vote with the Democrats.  I would have felt that way, about 20 years ago, but now I'm not so sure.  It may very well be the case that now, progressive third parties are what's needed to help the Democratic Party keep pace with the electorate of today, and not the more conservative electorate of the 1980s and 1990s.

Good luck to the WFP, and to de Blasio in particular.  The reactionaries are already lined up against him.  Let's hope he remembers where his electoral strength came from.

They Said It Couldn't Be Done ...

... but, as usual, they were wrong.  America is virtually energy-independent.  Thankfully, Jimmy Carter has lived to see this, given the merciless pummeling he received for making this goal the centerpiece of his Presidency, especially from the likes of George Will.

Which proves that real intellectualism beats pseudo-intellectualism all the time.

The GOP And Immigration: The Right Thing, Or The Extremely Right Thing?

One of the reasons why I'm not a politician, despite a nearly life-long interest in politics, is that I would only seek elected office to do the right thing (or things, since, as far as I'm concerned, there are quite a few that need doing).  And, sadly, most politicians don't function that way.  They read polls, and then do the popular thing.  Sometimes that intersects with the right thing but, often, it doesn't.

On the other hand, what are we to do with politicians who will not act on what is both popular and right?  Especially if there are 11 to 12 million of us living in a country we love, even though we don't have the papers to prove it?

That, I'm afraid , is where we appear to be today on the question of immigration.

According to polls, a majority of Americans want an immigration reform bill that includes a path to legalization, and even citizenship, for the undocumented, even in the case of likely voters in Republican-leading swing districts in the House of Representatives.  You would think that this would be something that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives (as well as the leader of the majority caucus), would want to address as promptly as possible, even if for no other reason than for the sake of keeping his current job.

But Republican politics stopped functioning logically a while ago.  As it turns out, there is no Republican majority--or, perhaps, even a Republican Party anymore--unless a tiny minority of yahoos show up in great numbers to vote.  The Reagan majority of yore has become a collection of factions that cannot even agree on a budget, as we saw last month.  Which is why the Speaker of the House--the whole House, mind you--is slow-walking to death an issue of importance not only to the majority of the American people, but to the long-term survival of his own political majority.

So, to the question recently raised by the Baltimore Sun, the answer is no.  And the reason that immigration reform is not politically expedient for Republicans is as ugly as it is persistent, throughout our history up through the present day.  Of course, it's never framed that way.  It's always framed as a willingness to accept "legal" immigrants, as opposed to "illegal" ones.  This despite the fact that one reason we have so many "illegal" immigrants is because "legal" immigration isn't working for so many.  Take a look at one highly representative example, one that points ups a major problem with the current system--its tendency to divide families between or even among countries.

We live in a shrinking world, one in which cultural and economic needs demand greater global mobility then ever before.  The demographics of our society reflect this reality, whether the yahoos in the Republican Party like it or not.  John Boehner and his factionalized "majority" ignore that reality at their political peril--and at the peril of our nation's ability to compete in a global marketplace, and renew itself internally as well.  If it takes another election to make that point, so be it.  The harder you push against the inevitable, the more you destroy any chance you might have of benefiting from it.

In politics, as in physics, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  I suspect that, in 2014, Boehner and his extremely right colleagues will learn that the hard way.

Obamacare: There They Go Again

The vast, right-wing conspiracy, that is.  The Web site's a "disaster."  Obama "lied" about the ability to keep plans.  Therefore, scrap the whole thing and go back to Square One, and let corporate America serve as the death panels for the rest of us.

And, as always, none of this is true, even with the National Review spinning a real lie--that Obama wants to choose your health care for you, because that's the way liberals are.

The president didn't lie.  His statement applied to all then-existing health care plans, which, in turn, were grandparented into the ACA as passed--substandard requirements and all.  The cancellation letters, about which so many gigabytes have been spilled, apply to policies that were not being given this treatment, and which are being replaced by better policies at lower prices.   The letters, unfortunately, reflect the attempt by profit-seeking companies to maximize their profit margins at the expense of everyone else.  In turn, this reflects the only aspect of the ACA that should truly be considered a weakness--the fact that it essentially legitimizes health care as a profit-seeking venture, even to the point where health care companies were actively involved in writing the law.  Take a look.

There is a fair amount of "lying," however, going on here, such as the failed effort to blame the close results in the Virginia governor's election on Obamacare fallout.  There's also the fact that the cancellation letters affect, at best, six percent of all people currently insured (at least half of whom will be better off under the law).  Not to mention the ballyhoo about the Web site; apart from the fact that its problems are already about 60% fixed, it turns out that the Web site was under attack by right wingers.  Gee, what a surprise.  Imagine, right wingers not having enough faith in their ideas to let them stand or fall on their own feet.  I feel exactly the same way.  And it may not even matter if it isn't perfect by the end of this month.  It turns out that there is already a simple method for signing up for Obamacare.  It's called drugstores.

And here's something else you won't hear from the right-wing spin machine:  the Medicaid expansion by the ACA is an unqualified success, thanks in no small part to the handful of Republican governors with brains.  Gee, wasn't something like this originally proposed by liberals?  Wasn't it called something like .... like a public option?  And wasn't it precisely the conservative movement that beat that idea to death, saying that we're all better off in the hands of the profit-making companies that are now sending out those cancellation letters?  Oh, well.

You can, however, always count on the Nervous Nellies in the Democratic Party--whether they're named Mary Landrieu or Bill Clinton--to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  On the other hand, the Daily Kos may be right to suggest that something like Landrieu's bill is good politics.  It may be a vehicle for shifting the political battle away from repealing the ACA and toward improving it--something that polls support.  How about paying for the extension of bad policies by reducing subsidies to pharmaceutical companies?  Or lowering medical costs all together, by allowing non-disabled Americans under 65 to buy into Medicare--creating a public option at last?

You want to go on debating health care policy, Republicans?  Fine.  Bring it on.  If you want to make the ACA better, help the rest of us do so.  Because it's not going away.  And, for the next three years, neither is Barack Obama.  Get over it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

When Liberalism And Conservatism Intersect

Actually, it happens far more frequently than one might think.  And, in a democracy, it's often the only way anything good happens.  Conservatives are yielding on marriage equality (very slowly), and now some liberals are prepared to yield to Milton Friedman on the question of what Friedman called a "negative income tax," and what liberals have traditionally called a guaranteed income.

Makes you wonder how much of our politics depends on ideology, and how much of it depends on semantics.

Even The New York Post Gets It

Recycling, that is.  Whether it's the value to be found in recycling old buildings, or in recycling consumer goods, even a supposedly pro-Wall Street rag can't be used to wipe away the truth.

If You're Jewish, And Supported George W. Bush ...

... then how does this make you feel?  Personally, I could have told you this all along.

The Real Reason For The Shutdown

Obama's economic policies are working.  Which means that Republicans, who care more about power than America, will do whatever they can to destroy him.  And you.

Still feeling comfortable ignoring politics?

And Just A Few More Good Words About Terry McAuliffe

Specifically, gun control.  Yet another reason the NRA should be afraid of progressives, instead of vice versa.

TRH 2013 Election Edition

Well, based on my misplaced confidence as expressed in a previous post, I owe five people lunch.  It's okay; I'm good for it, as long as your tastes aren't hideously expensive.

Christie did, indeed, blow Buono (and, perhaps, the future of his state) out of the water.  This chart, courtesy of the Web site Real Clear Politics, shows that the average for all of the most recent polls in the New Jersey Governor's race, and the actual final percentages for each candidate, varied by less that a 3% margin--in other words, well within the statistical margin of error for most polls.  So, while the polls showing Christie winning by nearly 30 percentage points or more were outliers, so were the ones showing Buono with a deficit in the teens.  It's an interesting question as to why there was so much variation, and, in the end, it may just come down to different methods of sampling, questioning and statistical analysis.

But, by whatever margin, as that well-known election analyst Gertrude Stein probably once said, a win is a win is a win, and Christie won first and foremost by hoodwinking people into thinking he is a much more moderate politician than he actually is, clinching the process by his post-Sandy embrace of Obama.  Is Christie really that popular?  I'm sorry, but I'm still a dissenter, and here's one big reason why.  In the end, Christie's not-really-a-landslide may simply be all about an ancient principle:  Democrats win when people vote, and lose when they don't.  In turn, this leaves me with two feelings:  (1)  Progressives need to work like mad at turning out the vote in 2014, and (2) I'd love to see Christie at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016 against Hillary; it'll teach him in a hurry what it feels like to be Buono now.

Then, there's Virginia.  You've no doubt read all about how this is being read by what Paul Krugman describes as Very Serious People as an indictment of the Obamacare rollout problems.  Terry McAuliffe was supposedly supposed to win by seven percentage points, and actually won by two-and-a-half points.  This might be significant, statistically and otherwise, except for one thing:  when it comes to percentages of the voters for each of the three candidates, McAuliffe outperformed the average for all of the latest polls and the individual results for all but two of them.  Take a look.  Any shrinkage in the margin of victory appears to have come from voters moving away from Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, toward Ken Cuccinelli.  And, given that libertarianism is a mix of liberal and conservative views, it's more likely than not that the ones who stayed with Sarvis were left-leaning libertarians who couldn't stand McAuliffe based on his Clinton-moneyman past.  Bottom line:  in Virginia, the Tea Party shot the elephant in the foot again.  And the fact is that McAuliffe was far from the strongest Democrat who could have run and, in spite of that fact combined with a consistently negative attitude toward the ACA in Virginia, he still won.  That's something that should worry Republicans a lot more than it apparently does.

Congratulations to Buono, who fought an uphill battle with little support from her party.  Greater congratulations to McAuliffe, who now gives the Democrats one more Governor going into a critical election year.  And greatest congratulations of all to Bill de Blasio, who won the New York City mayor's race in a blowout despite the efforts of the New York Post and Rudy Giuliani to smear him.  I'd cautiously say it was, overall, a good night for Democrats, but it did contain a cautionary tale from Colorado on the subject of taxes.  Apparently, even a tax increase focused on education with wealthy supporters is a very tough sell.  I love the quote from the voter who said he didn't like giving the government a blank check.  Giving the 1% a blank check and getting nothing for it, apparently, is so much better.  Shame on him, and shame on Colorado voters.  They may not want to be another California but, if they're not careful, they'll end up as another Texas.  And, if Democrats aren't careful in how they frame the tax issue next year, they may miss a golden opportunity to defy history and send the Obama presidency out on the high note it deserves.

Milton Bromberg, 1923-2013

And now, for the explanation I promised in my last post.  It is as simple as it is sad, and yet should be more inspirational than either one.  My father-in-law, Milton Bromberg, passed away on November 3 at the age of 90, after a life that all of us would have--and should have--been proud to live.  It's best told in his obituary in tomorrow's Baltimore Sun, to which my wife, Cynthia Rosenberg, and I both had the honor of contributing.

For the rest, I offer the words of my eulogy, as delivered by me last Sunday at his funeral.

I first met Milton at a party thrown by a then-coworker of mine—a coworker, in fact, who would go on to become my wife, as well as my partner in the practice of law. And Milton had a little something to do with that. After that party, Cynthia and I started dating, and I discovered that Milton had gone up to her after the party and said something to the effect of “Whatever you do, get him.” I’m glad she did, and I’m glad Milton did what he did. As it turned out, however, that was only the beginning of how Milton Bromberg transformed my life, as he had done for many others before and after that fateful party.

To know Milton, of course, was to know about his heroic service for our country in the Second World War. My generation experienced that war primarily in the form of fiction: novels, comic books, movies and TV shows. Milton, and many other brave men and women, were not so lucky. For them, the war was a brutal, painful, deadly reality, and the ones that survived often carried wounds that were and are both physical and personal. Milton was no exception; in his case, combat quite literally broke his back. But even D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge could not break his spirit, or his instincts for survival.

Milton often told me and others that the real heroes were the ones who didn’t come back. But it’s the heroes who do come back, like Milton, who help us to truly understand the price of freedom. He was fond of talking about his experiences whenever he had the chance, and particularly when he would visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, and people spotting his bemedaled baseball cap stopped him to thank him for his service. Some of those stories actually do sound like something from Hollywood, such as his accounts of young women in newly-liberated villages shouting to him “Hey Joe! You got coffee for mama, tobacco for papa, chewing gum for bebe?” Sometimes, in the telling of this story, chocolate substituted for the appearance of coffee. But you get the idea.

Still other stories would be amazing even if they did appear in fiction. Of these, the one that stays with me the most is Milton’s description of his being captured and held overnight by a pair of retreating Nazi soldiers. Somehow, with a little aid from his childhood knowledge of German, he was able to talk his way out of being executed and was ultimately rescued by his unit, without the Stars of David on his dogtags being spotted. It is one of many reasons why I am fond of telling people that to know Milton Bromberg is to know that the Nazis never stood a chance.

But his post-war life shows that there was even more to Milton than courage under fire. As a clothing designer, he helped Haas Tailoring build a clientele that ranged from show business celebrities to cadets at West Point, finding in the latter instance a way of bridging his lives as a soldier and a civilian. And he became a family man twice over, becoming a devoted husband to two wives, and both a father and a stepfather. As Milton did when he married Gilda, I chose to become a stepfather on the same day I chose to become a husband. And I don’t mind admitting that I leaned very hard on Milton’s example when it comes to how be a stepfather. Basically, you forget the step, and focus on being a father. That’s what Milton did in his relationships with Gilda’s children, and that’s what I did my best to do with Shayna and Gabriel. Whatever success I’ve had in the process is something I’m more than happy to lay at his feet.

To live life as successfully as Milton lived it, I think that one needs good character as much as good fortune, and Milton’s character was abundant in goodness. No one outdid him when it comes to generosity. During the early years of our marriage, as well as the early years of our law practice, he helped us in countless ways. If we needed something for our home, such as a new couch, a new refrigerator, or a new kitchen floor, Milton stepped up to help without asking or bragging. When our law practice began to take off but we still could not afford to hire full-time staff, it was Milton who came in to work with Cynthia, setting up files, putting together exhibits, greeting new clients and buying Cynthia lunch. It is no exaggeration to say that there would be no Rourke & Rosenberg without Milton Bromberg, and the work he did for us in our early years.

There was more to Milton’s heart than kindness, however. Milton was a fighter, someone who learned from his childhood and again in the Army that life is a struggle, that nothing is to be taken for granted, that the gifts Hashem gives to each of us are not designed to build an easy chair for ourselves, but a fortress to protect those around us and to engage in the practice of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world. Long after he stopped working, and even after his world was reduced to the size of a hospital bed, Milton was a fighter. I have no doubt that he left this world only when he was ready to leave it, and when Hashem told him that he could finally rest. Even at rest, however, Milton will live on for all who knew him, as an example of how to live a long and successful life—by giving more than you take, and giving up only when you’re ready.

Rest in peace, Milton. Thank you for your service to your county, your embrace of your families from both marriages, and a life well lived that all of us should be proud to emulate. I couldn't have be a luckier son-in-law if I had tried, and I never had the desire to try. My solace is that you are at peace and without pain, and seeing many people you have missed for years--including the ones you considered the real heroes, the ones who didn't come home from Europe and the Pacific. I understand what you meant by that, but you'll always be a real hero to me.

At ease, PFC Bromberg. We will always miss you. And we will always love you.