Sunday, January 20, 2013

Think Federal Spending Is Historically High?

Think again.

Once again, never trust what you get from Tea Baggers, congressional Republicans, or other members of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

And with that, I'm off for a week or two.  Go Ravens!

One Answer to Rising Coastal Waters

Make lemonade out of lemons.  Or, in this case, fresh water out of salt water.  It has the potential to reduce the rising tides, and create new jobs.

Which reminds me.  You want more jobs?  Take chances on new ideas, and find markets for them.  It's called capitalism, and it's what capitalists are supposed to do instead of asking the government to bail them out.

Is Michele Bachmann A Political Trilby?

This article seems to suggest just that.  I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.  She clearly has an empty head; somebody has to fill it.  But that just begs the question of how many political automatons the wealthy have placed at the levers of power.

An Open Letter To Pat Roberson

Dear Jerk:

I was a born-again Christian for about 12 years.  For much of that time, I was forced to explain, and even defend, your money machine that masquerades as a ministry.  How glad I am that I no longer need to do that.  If anything, your naked hypocrisy and personal viciousness toward anyone who disagrees with you made it easier to realize that following God meant no longer following the likes of you.

But, if you're really willing to descend to this level of viciousness when it comes to women, you should do everyone a favor and stop pretending to have anything to do with the Bible.  And stop now, before God decides to spew you out of His, Her, Their, or Its mouth(s).

Believe me, some of us might be willing to do a lot worse.

In the name of God,
Stephen Rourke

Is the Public Option Inevitable?

Conservatives seem to be endorsing its use around the world, and are even reluctantly embracing it here.

Who knows?  Maybe one day, when they realize that it would require less government and business spending on health care than we currently pay, they could even embrace it as a small-government, cost-cutting measure.

There He Goes Again ... And Again ... And Again ...

Tom Friedman, that is.  How many more of these plague-on-both-their-houses, let's-find-the-vital-center columns is he going to write before his bosses at the Times, and other editors and publishers, realize that false equivalencies are just that--false?

What Is A Bigger Threat To Fox News?

Its guests who challenge its orthodoxy on taxes?

Or its hosts that challenge the evasiveness of House Republicans?

Either way, it's nothing more than a money pit for ambitious, avaricious men.  How much more money will it swallow, before the truth swallows it?

Can Gerrymandering Save The GOP?

In the pre-Obama era, this question would be ludicrous, regardless of which party was supposed to benefit from it.  The Obama era was supposed to make it even more ludicrous, by ushering in an era of "post-racial politics."

If only.

Our national politics today are, if anything, more dependent on racial identity than they have ever been.  This is in fact why the Republicans are willing to brag about their use of gerrymandering to save their House of Representatives majority, and why are are also talking about tying Electoral College outcomes to outcomes in congressional races.  Gerrymandering has allowed the GOP to leverage their popularity among white voters, by packaging them into majority-white districts.  And, ironically, they may have been helped by the Voting Rights Act's provisions encouraging the formation of majority-minority congressional districts.

We need to get back to a political culture where we deal with issues, not identities.  And the only way that's going to happen is with Federal legislation that cracks down on gerrymandering, and balances concerns about minority representation with rules that focus on geographic logic.  Only then can we stop pretending that gerrymandering in either direction can save either party.  In the case of the Republicans, gerrymandering isn't going to stop the demographic changes that have and are taking place in the United States.  What will they do when there aren't enough white people to stack the redistricting deck in their favor?

The gerrymandering fixation is only one of many signs of how badly unhinged the party of Lincoln has become.  What else would you expect?  It's composed of Christians who refuse to help non-Christians, and businessmen who undercut their consumer base by charging higher prices to liberals.  No wonder the few sane ones are leaving, like this Kansas state senator (and Kansas is hardly a hotbed of liberalism).  If they keep going in this direction, they'll only be buying a one-way ticket to oblivion.

Which, at this point, is fine with me.

A Quick Envirnomental Fix?

Greenland has melted.

Islands of trash are forming in the oceans.

And Antarctica has literally started to turn against us (although maybe it just doesn't like the 1%)

When it comes to global warming, the only "hoax" is the one perpetuated by climate deniers.  The problem is real, serious and, perhaps worst of all, accelerating--perhaps beyond our control.  We need to act urgently, and hopefully find an answer that can start to save the planet quickly.

Is nuclear power part of that answer?

I used to think that it could be, but have become more and more concerned about whether it can ever be safe.  And there is literally no margin for error with nuclear power.  One mistake in one plant might be enough to destroy the planet and the human race.

However, even without that danger, it still may not be enough, according to this, which suggests an "everything" approach.  Which is fine for the near term, but raises this question for the long term:  what do we do when we confront the fact that the fossil fuel component of "everything" is going to run out?

It's not enough to look at the next few decades, folks.  Ultimately, we're going to have to find a way to do much better than that.

A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy?

It's already started to form.

And it may be helped by Obama's former campaign operation.

All I can say is this:


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Should Obama Declare War On The Republicans?

This article makes the case for answering that question with a "yes."  It makes the case very logically and eloquently, pointing out that Obama has, in fact, already started to do so.  And the author is not the only one who's noticed.

Personally, I think that Obama has been making war on the Republicans all along.  He's just been doing it with enough finesse that the rest of us have been too slow to notice.  But, if you think back to the struggle over passing health care reform, it's pretty easy to see what I'm talking about.

When the Democrats lost the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy to Scott Brown, it was universally accepted as a message that Obama should scale back his efforts to something more "bipartisan" (translation:  innocuous).  It would have been easy enough for Obama to do that, if all he cared about was getting along with everyone.  And it would have handed Republicans a political victory at the expense of not only the American people, but Obama himself.  It would have exposed him as someone who cut and run at the first sign of electoral smoke.  And, in fact, a president who cared only about re-election would have done exactly that.

But, of course, that's not what Obama did.  With the help in the House of Nancy Pelosi, who put her position as Speaker on the line, Obama put the full weight of his Presidency behind passing a bill that brought the country closer than it has ever been before to universal health insurance.  It cost Pelosi and the Democrats control of Congress, and it was thought at the time to put Obama on a glide path to a one-term presidency.  As it turns out, Obama looked that risk right in the eye--and didn't care.  He didn't care, because the accomplishment was worth the risk. He put principles ahead of power, and country over career.  (And the same could and should be said of Pelosi as well.  Note to John Boehner:  there's more to the job than bourbon, chain-smoking and suntans.)

If that's not making war, I don't know what is. 

Then again, maybe the evidence that Obama has been making war all along is the degree to which he has completely unhinged his opponents.  When someone like the semi-reasonable-sounding David Brooks is forced to make the argument that Obama has turned the Republicans into lunatics, you realize that his side really, truly, absolutely run out of things to say.  (I suppose Sean Hannity talking about secession might, arguably, fall into the same category, but I doubt it.  We are talking her, after all, about a man who wrote about about fighting liberals called "Deliver Us From Evil.")

Ah, but there's the debt, you say?  The debt is to the GOP what the strawberries were to Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny":  that's where they'll really catch him red handed.  Or maybe not.  After the debt-ceiling debacle, in which Obama took the Michael Corleone approach of giving them nothing--and won--nothing should be surprising to anyone.

Above all, this should be unsurprising to any veteran observer of politics:  the best way to win a war is to not look like you're fighting one.  Obama, clearly, understands that.  Maybe it's everyone else's turn to "get it."

Farewell To Two Baltimore Giants

To Earl Weaver, who made the local baseball team a national treasure.

And to Steven Muller, who took a local university that was already a national treasure, and turned it into an international one.*

*Full disclosure:  I'm a "Hopkins brat" twice, as my late father taught at the University and my mother worked at the Hospital.  But that just makes me appreciate Dr. Muller's contributions all the more.

But Are They Also Bigots?

When you listen to Ann Coulter (if you must), you've got to wonder.

On the other hand, when you listen to Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison, you've got to wonder all the more.

If it's the case that the Second Amendment exists to promote slavery, was it effectively repealed by the Thirteenth Amendment?

This is why it's probably a good idea that I'm not on the Supreme Court.  I'd make that argument, and I'd do everything in my power to ensure that I'd win.

A Second Opinion About Gun Rights Fanatics

They're not only liars, but also crazy.

They claim to be conservatives, but ignore conservative heroes.

They claim to be capitalists, but are surprised when gun prices increase with demand.

They pretend to promote mental health as the answer to gun violence, even while opposing mental health laws.

And yet, even crazy liars can apparently wrap their heads around a sane truth.  This gives me some real hope that we can move towards sensible weapons restrictions.

Which, by the way, is what we should be calling these laws.  We restrict artillery.  We restrict atomic bombs.  We restrict other forms of weapons, and nobody raises a Second Amendment peep.  Why NOT restrict weapons that shoot bullets, especially ones that are ONLY designed as first-strike weapons against human beings?

"Well-regulated" means just that.  It's in the Constitution (and yes, the Bill of Rights counts).  Get over it.

On the other hand, in a post-9/11 world, am I the only liberal who thinks Rand Paul is making sense here?

A "Camden Yards" Approach To New Theaters?

I was down in Alexandria, Virginia today for an audition and, on my way down and back, noticed a lot of new commercial and residential development in Northern Virginia that was designed in a deliberately "retro" fashion.  Think townhouses that look like nineteenth-century brownstones, and office buildings in brick and stone with exterior ornamentation.

This, of course, has been something of a trend over the past few decades--a reaction, in part, to the overly-severe influences of Bauhaus-Brutalist architecture on the look of modern cityscapes.  It's another reflection of the fact that human progress, while upward, moves in a circular spiral rather than in a straight line, often revisiting old ideas and concerns repeatedly.  Or, as Sherlock Holmes once said, using another circular metaphor, the wheel turns and the same spokes come up.

This got me thinking about a prominent contribution to today's "retro" trend in architecture:  Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles, which had its 20th-anniversary season in 2012.  No one expected Oriole Park to launch a new trend in ballpark architecture, and I doubt that many people would think of Baltimore as a launching pad for a new trend in architecture.  But, as it turned out, the Orioles' new-old stadium became the prototype for a new generation of baseball ballparks, one that blended traditional architecture with modern amenities.

And thinking about Oriole Park, in turn, informed my reaction to this.

I'm thrilled that the Keegan in DC, like Everyman Theatre here in Baltimore, is recycling an older structure along with its history and architecture.  If anything, I wish that more theatre companies (and performing arts groups generally) would take advantage of the tremendous surplus of not only older theatres, but older buildings generally, to re-use them as performances spaces.  Doing so would go a long way to preserving and promoting the best of both performance art and architecture.  It would have enormous economic advantages for the tenants, in savings on the cost of owning their own real estate, and for the surrounding neighborhoods, in spurring the growth and development of local businesses.  And the "recycling" of existing structures has obvious environmental advantages as well.

I've long been an advocate of reshaping public policy to promote the restoration and re-use of older theaters as performance spaces.  A good way to start would be here in Baltimore, by reclassifying existing tavern liquor licenses as cabaret licenses, and selling them to property owners who would re-use old theaters and other existing structures as cabarets, with music and perhaps other forms of entertainment as well.  There should be other forms of public incentives as well:  grants, tax credits, zoning variances and so forth.  Some of this exists already, but it needs to be expanded at least a thousandfold.  The economic impact would far exceed the cost.

So, how about it?  Can I get a second for my "Camden Yards" approach?  I hope so.  And, in doing so, I hope that we can go even farther than we've gone in recapturing the glories of a supposedly bygone era.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's About Time!

Comprehensive immigration reform, here we come!

Think The Second Amendment Hasn't Been "Amended"?

Think again.

Yet Another Gun Lobby Lie

It's not guns, it's video games.  Or so they say.

But, as it turns out, and to borrow yet again from Larry Gelbart, sincerity is written on both of their faces.

Does It Make Sense To Declare War On The Poor?

That's what Georgia is doing, among other states.

The problem with "getting tough" on the poor generally, and the welfare reform law in particular, is that it destroys an entire class of consumers who, because they have no wealth to live on, are perpetually part of the consumption base.  In effect, they guarantee a certain level of consumption, in good times and bad, which in turn guarantees a certain level of production as well.

When the law was first enacted, many people wondered what would happen to the poor in hard times.  For my part, since I knew the answer to that question (and am not surprised that I've been proven correct), I've wondered whether our most recent economic plunge would have been as steep, had we retained that guaranteed base of consumption.

This is not an argument for welfare fraud.  There are, and always have been, ways to root out the bad apples without emptying the whole barrel.  But, sadly, I believe that we have lost sight of how interdependent our society is--and how, when we declare "war" against one part of it, we are really declaring war on everyone.

Perhaps technology can give us a way to make an immediate difference.  Take a look at a program that is copying a similar one in Kenya.

Out Of The "Centrist" Trap?

I'm also sick of the pundits who, in trying to avoid the liberal bias tag, insist that all of our political problems are the fault of both major political parties, and that we must therefore perpetually split the proverbial baby in half with "centrist" solutions.

It's not everyone's fault.  And, finally, some pundits are waking up to that fact.

Gun Rights Fanatics Are Liars

They make up lies to bolster their arguments (note:  always be a little suspicious when someone uses Hitler to bolster an argument).

And their ARE some forms of gun control that they like.  The kind that takes guns out of the hands of non-whites.

Which should tell you what their real agenda is.

Was Richard Nixon A Closet Liberal?

I get so tired of pieces like this one, which, in some misbegotten bipartisan spirit, attempt to paint Nixon's Presidency as some latter-day liberal paradise.  As someone who lived through it, I can assure you that, even without that little blip called Watergate, it was no such thing.

Yes, Nixon enacted some liberal programs and laws.  Keep in mind, however, that he did so in a very different political environment, one which included not only liberals but the New Left, including some who believed in violence to promote their views. Nixon, as well as other conservatives, was intimidate by all of this to attempt to co-opt it.

If there's any real lesson in Nixon's Presidency, it's this:  fight like hell for what's right--and against those who oppose it.

From Consumption To Reuse

It's the transition we need to make, so far as the basis of our economy goes, and it's already started to happen at Oberlin College, my alma mater.  Then again, if you knew Oberlin as well as I do, you wouldn't be surprised.

The Tea Party Is And Always Was A Publicity Stunt

And people aren't buying it anymore.

Why Aren't There More Jobs?

Yes, the economy has been producing more private-sector jobs, at least, at a painfully slow rate.  One can only imagine how many more jobs there would be without the steep decline in public-sector jobs, as discussed here.

This decline, of course, sits squarely on the shoulders of Republicans in Congress and state houses.  It has nothing to do with balancing the budget and everything to do with class warfare, Republican-style.  It represents their attempt to blackmail working people into voting for them, by destroying unions and union jobs and benefits, and shipping the savings overseas, leaving the rest of us to complete for a shrinking pool of minimum-wage jobs.  Even the Congressional Budget Office can't hide what they're doing.

In the long run, they are cutting their own throats because their profits come from our spending.  But in the short run, they think this form of blackmail will work for them.

Shame on you if you let it.  Those who fought for the rights and benefits we have, often at great personal cost, will never forgive you.  And neither will your children.

Does it take this to wake you up?  It shouldn't have to.  But, if it does, perhaps it hasn't happened in vain.

There Is No Easy Road To A Balanced Budget Heaven

You want big government?  You want small government?  Either way, you're going to have to pay for it.

And it's going to take a lot more than closing a few business loopholes.  It may mean closing or tightening loopholes all of us take for granted, such as the mortgage and charitable deductions.

In fact, it may well take what one writer has called "all of the above."  Take a look.

On The Other Hand ...

... we should be grateful for the few sane Republicans left, including this fellow.  Let's hope that he can be part of enacting sane restrictions on firearms soon.

Because the body count isn't going to stop with Newtown.  In fact, it keeps on growing, even where it has already claimed victims.

Republicans Versus Republicans

First Peter King, then Chris Christie.  Neither of them is in any danger of switching parties.  But both are in the position of having to fight their own party for the sort of relief that was once beyond debate.

No political party can survive the stress of this level of internal conflict.  It may take another election cycle, but I'm convinced that the party of Lincoln is on the verge of shredding itself to pieces.  I only hope the Democrats are ready to sweep them away, and take our country forward.

A Tale of Two States

One has cut taxes, and is broke.

And the answer is, apparently more tax cuts.

The other has raised taxes and has a surplus.

And the response there is, save it for a rainy day.

Which of these states is controlled by Democrats?  If you've clicked on the link, you already know.  And, I'll bet the answer didn't surprise you.

Unless, of course, you're a Republican.

Happy New Year, 2013 (At Last)!

It's taken me a little while to get started this year.  My family has been hit by a series of ailments, and I was among those hit.  But now that those are in the past ...

It's a little depressing to observe (as if I had a choice) how little seems to have changed in the New Year, at least on the political front.  Obama won re-election, and is now paired with a Congress with more Democrats (including an enlarged Senate majority).  All of this would seem to presage less Tea Party nonsense, and greater progress for the American people.

Then again, on the other side, we are talking about Republicans, the party defined by its inability to learn anything.  Including, on some issues, what century it's living in.

I'm going to overlook the opening week nonsense of introducing bills that have no chance of passage (e.g., Bachmann's introduction of yet another attempt to repeal Obamacare, a.k.a. the bill that is actually reducing the number of uninsured).  Instead, I'm going to focus on something the Republicans can actually use to damage all of us, for both the short and long run.

I'm talking, of course, about the debt ceiling.

I can't even begin to put into words how angry I am about the weaponizing of something that has always been beyond partisanship.  I'm sure that there are Democrats kicking themselves, thinking "Why didn't we use the debt ceiling as a way of stopping Bush in Iraq?"  I wouldn't have advised it.  I'm sure that the full weight of the VRWC and its press organs would have been brought down on them.

And, in the end, I don't think it would have worked.

Because, had they done so, it would have damaged the U.S. credit rating (as was the case last summer when the G.O.P. first decided to play this card).  It would have put the country in financial and military jeopardy.  It would have damaged the government's credibility, here and abroad.  And, for all of the forgoing reasons, the Democrats would have been forced to cave.

And Barack Obama knows this.

Which is why I think he's wise on this issue to take a page out of Michael Corleone's negotiating book, and give John Boehner and Mitch McConnell exactly what they and the rest of us deserve:


The Paul Krugmans of the world don't want Obama to negotiate.  They're right.  And that, by far, is the biggest problem with gimmicks like this (apart from the fact that they're gimmicks):  the minute you start using them, you're negotiating.  Not negotiating means doing only one thing:  nothing.  That puts the weight of the issue exactly where it belongs:  entirely on the side of the people who are begging you to kneel so they can hit you over the head with a club.

Trust me.  The rest of us may get hit, but Obama won't.  The "fiscal cliff" negotiations, and the early nominations for the next Cabinet, point toward an Obama who's learned how not to give away the store to those who are determined to be "unreasonable."  He's learned that he needs to fight.  And he understands that the best way to fight is to not look like you're doing it.

I don't know exactly how the road ahead is going to run.  I'm not sure Obama does.  But I do believe he knows how to walk it.

Which is why we should still follow him.  And be grateful he's still in a position to walk for us.