Monday, July 29, 2013

The GOP DOESN'T Hate Health Care Reform

It's scared to death of it, but only because it will succeed.  Paul Krugman can see it.  And so can folks in Maryland.

The GOP Contra Democracy

This column by Charles Blow of The New York Times contains the most astonishing confession I have read in over 40 years of reading political journalism.  I quote:
Last week Rob Gleason, the Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman, discussed the effects of his state’s voter ID laws on last year’s presidential election, acknowledging to the Pennsylvania Cable Network: “We probably had a better election. Think about this: we cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He won — he beat McCain by 10 percent; he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably voter ID helped a bit in that.”
There's no way to read that imbecilic, fascist statement without concluding that the modern Republican Party, the political descendants of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Eisenhower, has absolutely no faith in an open democracy.  It can only win if you don't vote.

And if you don't vote, you're no better than the Republicans are, and deserve what you get.  So please vote.  Don't drag me and the rest of the people who care down with you.

Shout It From The Rooftops! (And Generate It From There, Too!)

What amazes me about this article is not the idea that rooftop-based solar power could be a rival to utilities.  It should be.  What amazes me instead is the following quote:  "According to the Energy Information Administration, rooftop solar electricity — the economics of which often depend on government incentives and mandates — accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent of the nation’s power generation."  (Emphasis added.)

Less than a quarter of 1 percent!?  Hell, we're nothing if not a nation of rooftops!  Put solar panels on as many of them as possible!  Then we'll see a real rivalry.  Or maybe, just maybe, we won't see any utilities.

This Is NOT OK, Whether You're A Republican Or A Supreme Court Justice

Let me be clear about one thing, before I go any further:  I have nothing but sympathy for Clarence Thomas' nephew, and I am certainly not criticizing Justice Thomas for speaking out on behalf of a member of his family.  But all of us have an obligation to point out the yawning gap between his outrage on his nephew's behalf, and his jurisprudence relating to the Eighth Amendment.  Whether that gap is derived from ignorance, or I've-got-mine hypocrisy, it has no place in the heart or mind of someone who represents the last line of defense when it comes to the equal protection of the laws.

If Clarence Thomas cannot see the disconnect between his outrage and his written opinions on the law, he has absolutely no place on any court, let alone the Supreme Court.  If he had any decency, he would resign.  If Congress had any decency, it would impeach him.  If the rest of us have any decency, we won't rest until he's replaced by someone who understands that the law must exist for everyone, or it exists for no one.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Who's At Fault For Detroit's Default?

If you're unlucky enough to be Charles Krauthammer, the suspects are the usual ones (well, usual if you're unlucky enough to be Charles Krauthammer):  corrupt Democratic officials and the unions that love them.  True, he gives a bit of a nod to the failure of American car companies to adapt to a changing world.  But only a bit of a nod--and even that goes nowhere in explaining the failure of Detroit as a municipality, as opposed to the success or failure of Detroit as the Motor City.

Like most conservatives, Krauthammer believes that (a) all government policy is bad, except when it requires the invasion of Iraq, and (b) all failures in American life can therefore be laid, in some way, shape or form, at the doorstep of government.  Or, at least, that's what he wants you to believe he believes.  If he were serious about criticizing government policy as it relates to Detroit, he would take on the policies that encouraged suburbanization, or free trade without regard to its negative consequences.  Like it or not, those are both government policies that have been devastating to cities all across the country, not just Detroit.  Krauthammer, however, will never criticize those government policies:  they have been very good to the political interests Krauthammer represents.  He and his colleagues in the right-wing spin machine always want you to believe that its always about big versus small government, as opposed to government for the few or the many, the real goal being a government just big enough for the few.

As Detroit is the ultimate one-industry American town, it's difficult (unless you're Krauthammer & Co.) to extrapolate much about urban America from this crisis.  There is something to be said for laying most of the blame on Detroit's public officials, who all too often chose corruption over civic virtue.  (Whether they were in bed with unions more than they were with corporations, however, is another story.)  Other cities with economies formerly based on one or on a handful of industries, like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, have managed to reinvent themselves without knocking on the door of bankruptcy.  So it seems Detroit's downfall was not inevitable.

What does seem inevitable, however, is that Detroit's bondholders will, in bankruptcy, get what is left of the goldmine, while its public-employee pensioners will get the shaft, even though the city's pension liabilities are only about one-sixth of its liabilities to bondholders.  That is completely consistent with bankruptcy law, but it is another reason why, contrary to the view of some, it should NOT be easy for a city or a corporation to file for bankruptcy.  Investors, unlike workers, always have more choices when it comes to ways in which to make money.  Despite that fact, we have bankruptcy laws that reward investors literally at the expense of workers, a form of socialism for the rich that was made worse by the so-called bankruptcy "reform" bill that limited the ability of many individuals to get the "fresh start" their better-heeled counterparts can still obtain.

If Detroit's bankruptcy filing illustrates anything, it is about the crying need in this country for public policy that redresses the balance, or lack thereof, between the investing and working classes.  At the very least, Detroit's public pensioners need to be spared the lion's share of the pain; even Michigan's Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, seemed to suggest as much last week.

And speaking of Republicans, Mr. Krauthammer, consider this:  if, as you say, the solution is more Republican influence in state and local government, a la Wisconsin, exactly how do you explain this?

You're right, Chuck.  We should criticize government policies.  If only we could agree about which ones.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Does Social Media Get A Bum Rap?

I've always thought so, but I had a sad, poignant experience last week that reinforced that feeling tremendously.

By way of Facebook, I learned that a close friend of mine from college had passed away after a long bout with cancer, leaving behind a husband and many, many friends.  I had known (again, by way of Facebook) for some time that she was getting chemotherapy, so this news was not a surprise.  But had it not been for Facebook in the first instance, I might not have had the opportunity to reconnect with her at all, to learn about her life in New York with her husband, her travels, and, mostly, how little she seemed to have changed in the past 35 years.

For me, as well as many others (my wife included), Facebook has been a way of having a virtual class reunion with so many people from so many parts of my life--college, high school and even elementary school--as well as a way of staying connected to my current circle of family and friends.  I realize that this may seem like a perfectly obvious point.  But the perfectly obvious sometimes has a way of getting lost in the pace of contemporary life, especially when we allow it to be filled with trivia rather than substance.

And the only real problem with social media, so far as I am concerned, is that people tend to fill it with trivia rather than substance.  Hence, endless pictures of cats and plates of food (full disclosure:  I'm a past offender), mixed in with pithier thoughts, ideas and experiences.  It's a reminder that technologies, no matter how simple or complex, be it a quill pen or a social network, is morally and aesthetically neutral.  Ultimately, they take on the values we choose to give them, be they beautiful or ugly, wise or asinine.  In the case of social media, they are mirrors through which, by way of the Internet, we are reflected to the rest of the world.  We can make that a reflection of real value, or one of emptiness.  Happily, my late friend choose the former, and both her life and Facebook wall reflected it.

Rest in peace, Reba.  Thanks for leaving behind only good memories, and good posts.  May we all follow your example, and fill the Internet with love.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

See What Having A Spine Does?

It gets you to a place of common sense when it comes to the filibuster.  Maybe, just maybe, Obama and Congressional Democrats should try it more often.

"Pro-Life Liberalism"?

I'm not sure how far I'd want to go with that thought, since I believe in a woman's right to choose.  But I have to agree with Ross Douthat otherwise, namely, that Texas Democrats should focus on the economic and health-care implications of Texas' new anti-abortion law.  It may very well be the key to turning Texas, and other red states where this sort of nonsense is going on, down the true blue path.

Life Without Sex?

I'm not an advocate of that type of life (;-)), but that is the focus of this article.  Read it in any case.  I've never read a more mature piece than this on the subject of human desire.

Arm Yourselves, Liberals!

If only to protect yourself from the likes of this guy.

The $60 Trillion Dollar Question

According to this, that's what the cost of ignoring global warming is up to now.  Along with the prospect of seeing whole cities, and even nations, disappear.

We desperately need to shift the focus from dire predictions of the seemingly inevitable, and start talking about the nature and cost (and, perhaps, the economic benefits) of taking positive action.  It's the only chance we have of getting people to stop thinking about this as either a hoax, or as the inevitable.  It's neither of those things--but it may be the latter, unless we start putting our best feet forward now.

Will we do it?  At the very least, $60 trillion is hanging on the answer. 

And, As For The House ...

Sorry, John Boehner.  It IS about you.

You're not just a party leader anymore.  You are Speaker of the House of Representatives, whether we like it or not (and most of us, including me, don't).  You hold a constitutional office, and a responsibility not only to every member of the House, but to every American as well.

You don't have the option of hiding behind an arbitrary "rule" that ensures minority government hiding behind "a majority of the majority."  You can no longer pretend that allowing committee chairs to cherry-pick issues and subpoena opponents to death is "deliberative."  You can no longer let the inmates run the asylum, and pretend it's an AMA convention. This country has a mountain of pressing national business, and it can't be solved simply by repealing laws, a standard even you can't meet.

If you can't face the fact that you've been a failure, the American people will help you to face it next year, gerrymandering or no.  And, in the spirit of bipartisanship, when you'll need to drown yourself in bourbon, I'll be the one who's buying.

Don't Believe The Corporate Media (Especially When It Comes To 2014)

By now, I imagine you've seen the same depressing drumbeat I've been seeing in the corporate media.  The Democrats will lose the Senate in 2014.  They have the majority of incumbents up for re-election.  Many of those incumbents are in red states, and three of them have already abandoned their seats.  The president's party always loses Congressional seats in mid-term elections, and Obama's ratings are in the tank.  Most of all is the eerie specter of Obamacare around the corner, ready to unleash its socialistic harm upon an unsuspecting America.

Don't believe any of it.  First and foremost, this is all coming from the corporate media, the folks who like to reduce politics to a who's-up-who's-down sport, the better to obfuscate the real issues that might actually make people mad at their corporate masters.  They want to be able to show pictures of Obama so frustrated he's about to cry, while the solidly Republican Congress convenes another historic impeachment proceeding (although, if we're going to have those proceedings every time we have a Democratic President, they're going to become less and less historic).

Okay, so that's something of an ad hominem (maybe an ad medium) argument.  Let's take a look at some facts.

First, there's the incumbent/red state argument.  As things stand right now, no blue-state Senatorial incumbents are in danger of losing.  Iowa, the one blue state where an incumbent has stepped down, appears to be in no danger of changing colors.  (Iowa, by the way, which sent Republican Charles Grassley back to the Senate in 2012, has a history of splitting the difference when it comes to the partisan identity of its Senators, a point I'll come back to in a moment.)  As for New Jersey, it has a Republican Senator as a placeholder for the late Frank Lautenberg, thanks to the self-serving efforts of Governor Fatslob (er, Christie).  But he is more than likely to be replaced by highly popular Democrat Cory Booker in a few months.

Republicans, who otherwise have 45 seats currently in the Senate, would then need a net pickup of 6 seats in order to take control of it, given that a 50-50 split would be broken by the Democratic Vice President, Joe Biden as Senate President.  That means they would need to pick up at least six out of seven current Democratic Senate seats from red states in order to take control of the chamber.  The seven states, in alphabetical order, are Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.  It would only take a firewall of two incumbents to stop any Republican takeover--and I can tell you right now (knocking on wood) that Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan are going to form that firewall (and more on why in a moment).  And they are very likely to be joined by Tim Johnson's successor, given South Dakota's history (a la Iowa) of ensuring itself bipartisan reputation in the Senate.  The other four?  Tossups, with the possible exception of West Virginia, where it appears that the Republicans will have the stronger candidate.

And here's the kicker.  Republicans will need that six-seat red-state pick up while holding on to every single seat they currently hold.  That's no longer a given, when you look at Kentucky and Georgia, where suddenly the Democrats have fielded strong candidates while the Republicans will be tearing themselves apart with primary battles.  (Ah, Mitch McConnell, you've REALLY earned this one!)

Then there's the voter math.  A net switch of six seats in the Senate would require the voter profile of a wave election, one in which the Republicans were up by six to eight points in generic polls.  I don't know about you, but I follow the generic polls pretty closely, and I haven't seen a single one that gives the Republicans anything even close to that kind of lead.  In fact, most of them don't give the GOP any lead at all, with the possible exception of Rasmussen (whose "reputation" speaks for itself).  As for Obama, he's not going to be on the ballot and, as bad as his approval ratings are, Congress' ratings are worse.  At least the President's ratings are well into double digits.  And the prognosis for Republicans gets even worse when you look at their prospects among specific key voter groups:  women, the elderly, evangelicals and even their own registered voters.  Women voters, in particular, will help to keep the Senate Democratic, which I believe will translate into good news for Landrieu, Hagan, and the Democratic challengers in Kentucky and Georgia.

Ah, yes, but Obamacare!  That will save the Republicans and put them over the top!  It's a socialistic nightmare!  It's Stalin with a stethoscope!  I mean, it's not like it's going to reduce premiums for health insurance in some of the most expensive markets in the country--Oh, wait!  But that doesn't matter.  The Obama White House is so completely staffed with nincompoops that they won't be able to roll out reform next year!  Right?  RIGHT?  Wrong.

Don't believe the corporate media and their lies.  The Democrats may lose Senate seats, but not control.  And I'm not sure they won't pick up one or two.  In fact, given the currently dismal standing of Republicans, I'm not sure that the Democrats couldn't turn next year into a wave election that benefits them.  All they have to do is talk about socialism for the rich, but not the poor, as embodied in the House farm bill, and they might be able to bring Tea Partiers and the Occupy movement together.  It could then be the House that flips.

In any case, sorry, Repubs.  Next year is not your year.  And your friends in the corporate media can't make it so.

UPDATE, 7/30/13:  See what I mean?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Minneapolis Musings, OR The Road To America Runs Through Historic Theaters

I mentioned in my last post that I was off to Minneapolis for the annual conference of the League of Historic American Theaters.  I'm back now, and wanted to share some observations--not so much about the conference, but about the League and what I see as the true importance of its work.

The League is a trade association that brings together the owners/operators of historic theaters in the United States and Canada with professionals in the field of preservation.  Those descriptions are gross simplifications; each group contains a considerable amount of range in types.  The owners/operators range from citizen groups that have identified a theater to be saved to the senior management of fully restored theaters.  On the other hand, the professionals cover every stage of the restoration and operation process from consultants who conduct feasibility studies and help create business plans to ticketing and marketing professionals and insurers.  In between are a host of individuals and companies who provide goods and services directly related to physical restoration--painting, plastering, rigging, lighting, draping, seating and especially architectural design.  In fact, the genesis of the League was the shared interest among several architects in the death--and potential rebirth--of older theaters.

Which perhaps begs the question:  Why should they be reborn?

Well, as surprising as it may be, it makes sense.  Dollars and cents, in fact.  That's true not just of saving older theaters, but historic preservation generally.  An August 26, 1999 article in The Baltimore Sun stated that “[h]istoric districts in Maryland have created $40.3 million in wages and 1,600 jobs over the past 20 years, and they have higher property values than nonhistoric districts, according to a study commissioned by the Maryland Association of Historic Districts.”  

And that's just in Maryland.  The Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, a city often cited in national discussions of urban distress, once conducted a study of the impact of the Cleveland Playhouse Square development.  Among other conclusions, the study estimated that every dollar of ticket sales, another $2.20 was spent in so-called ancillary purchases, including food, parking, concessions, and transportation.  Those conclusions find reinforcement in the following conclusions from a Louis Harris survey:  “when asked to rate Cleveland on 27 factors important in choosing a business location, the city’s top executives consistently ranked the area’s top notch cultural and arts institutions among its 10 greatest strengths.  When residents of the four county area were polled about what they liked most about Cleveland, they most often named culture and the arts.”

Real as those and related statistics are, they do not even begin to capture something else that is just as real from my own childhood and the experiences of others.  Theaters are the incubators not only of individual memories and dreams, but collective ones as well.  They provide places that take us out of isolation, and into a larger world of laughter, sorrow and learning that is shared.  It is not far-fetched to say that theatres have a role in promoting democratic society, by promoting a shared sense of culture and commerce.  It is therefore not surprising that, all over the country, cities are reclaiming their cultural heritage, and their economic lifelines, through the preservation of their history, and in particular their performing arts history.   

In a real sense, each of these theaters are an address at which each one of us resides, and a part of which resides in each one of us, and of all of us.  Each time we lose one of these amazing buildings, we lose an irreplaceable part of ourselves.  At a time in our history when we spend so much of our time talking at each other through electronic media, we need places designed to share ideas and experiences with each other.  Frankly, I think we've never needed them more than we need them now.

That's why I'm proud to be part of the League, as well as the Theater Historical Society of America, an archival organization that documents and preserves records and relics of these amazing buildings.  And that's why you should get involved with either or both of them.  Especially if somewhere in your neighborhood, there's one that is waiting for you to help bring it back to life.

Don't wait any longer.  Our history, our culture, our democracy all need you.  Now.

NOTE:  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to mention that portions of this post were taken from my 2004 testimony before the Baltimore City Council on behalf of Baltimore's Parkway Theater.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

If You Are Looking For A Truly Bipartisan Cause ...

... look no further than the resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act, the repeal of which was the seedbed for the economic disaster of 2008.  Both Democrats and Republicans are supporting this.

So what does it say that Elizabeth Warren is behind this?  Maybe, just maybe, its a sign that the road to the center lies to the left.

And, with that, I'm off for a week to Minneapolis for the League of Historic American Theaters' Annual Conference.  More about that later.

Stop Looking For Moderate Republicans!

This is a party that robs the poor to feed the rich, and that regards a woman with a tampon as being more dangerous than a man with a gun.

A party like that is not capable of moderation.  Or, for that matter, democracy.

A Truly Biblical Voice

During my sojourn in the world of evangelical Christianity, I spent part of my time as a Baptist.  I might still be a Baptist today, if the majority of its voices were like this one.

Sadly, it's rare to find an evangelical Christian who believes that the right to life doesn't end at birth.  I hope, and pray, that that will change soon.

A Video You Must See

This is a speech at the United Nations by Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot in Pakistan for the capital crime of reading.  (Well, it is a capital crime in Pakistan, if you're a woman.)  She is one of the heroines of our time, and someone who gives me hope for the future.  You owe it to yourself, in short, to look and, even more importantly, listen.

The Greatest Marketing Scam Of Our Time ...

... has got to be bottled water.  It is no safer than tap water; in fact, very often, it is NOTHING MORE than tap water, placed in a bottle that in turn will probably not be recycled and will thereby contribute enormously to our ongoing environment disaster.  And that does not even get into the issue of the contamination of the water itself, while it sits in that plastic bottle.

OK, so it's not healthy, after all.  It's a great bargain, right, when you compare it to bottled sodas, right.  Afraid not.

Do yourself a favor.  Buy a reusable canteen.  Fill it with tap water.  Carry it around with you, and know that you're both drinking and living responsibly.

The Beginning Of Compromise ... Or The End?

What are House Republicans so afraid of?

If the Senate bill on comprehensive immigration reform bill is so horrendous that it's not even worth saving as the basis for a compromise, why not take it up for a vote and vote it down?  Take the bill off the table completely and start from scratch, if you really have the courage of your supposed convictions.

But they don't.  Even doing that would be real legislating, and these clowns are not all about real legislating.  They're all about holding onto power, even if that is largely the power to say "no" in an age that is otherwise turning against you.  Which is why they're deep in the process of trying to figure out a way out of their dilemma.

At the heart of their dilemma is the question of a pathway to citizenship for the 11 undocumented immigrants here in this country.  Their Tea Party supporters won't accept any pathway, even though the country as a whole supports one (albeit with conditions, a battle that progressives conceded long ago).  The immigration issue thus forces them to confront the central question concerning the party's fate:  do Republicans want their party to be a national party, or a faction?  And the Senate bill, which is far more enforcement-heavy than it needs to be in an era of record deportations and voluntary departures, threatens to expose their own hypocrisy by putting a solution on the table after years of shameless conservative exploitation of the issue (and thanks to Jennifer Rubin, of all people, for making this point and other generally sane ones).

The inconvenient truth about the Senate bill is that it is not only bipartisan enough to have attracted the votes of 68 Senators, but bipartisan enough that, if put to an open vote in the House, it would sail through with plenty of votes to spare.  But, because it offers a path to citizenship, it doesn't have the support of "a majority of the majority," and John Boehner would forfeit his Speakership if he allowed such a vote.  Boehner, however, knows that the House cannot afford to do nothing when the nation is clearly expecting it to do something to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, the emerging resolution is not encouraging.  It consists largely of a effort to cherry-pick the issue by offering a citizenship pathway to DREAMers, an increase in high-skilled employment visas at the expense of current family visa quotas, and enforcement that would go beyond any ability of the nation to pay for it.  Such a bill, if enacted, would further divide immigrant families and bankrupt the nation even further.  It may appease the few remaining moderate Republicans on this issue, like Ross Douthat, but it will never appease the tea-baggers, and would be a non-starter both for Senate Democrats and President Obama.

So, when it comes to CIR, are we at the beginning of compromise, or the end?  Sadly, at this point, I'm inclined to think the latter.  But, I'm open to being proved wrong.  And I am confident that, one way or another, CIR will be a reality soon. The arc of history, and the needs of our county and those who live in its shadows, both demand it.

UPDATE, 7/14/13:  It looks like Mr. Douthat is getting it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The "Plexiglass Effect" In Politics

Many years ago, back when Bill James began publishing his Baseball Abstracts, he wrote in one of them about what he called "the plexiglass effect."  This referred to the case of a play who statistically overachieved in one season, then underachieved the following season and thereby brought his overall statistical performance back to where it had been before either season.  In effect, the player's statistical performance "snapped back" like a piece of plexiglass that had been bent too much in one direction.

I've thought for some time that their is something of a "plexiglass effect" in our nation's politics--or, at least, the application of the Newtonian principle that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."  The New Deal era gave way to the Eisenhower-Nixon-McCarthy era, which in turn gave way to the liberal explosion in the 1960s, which generated a backlash into Nixon and Reagan ... well, you get the idea.  It is why, when you graph progressive progress (and human progress generally, outside of politics), you end up with a jagged line rather than a straight one.

What's the relevance of all of this today?  Simply this.  The past twenty-five years in our national politics has seen a slow but steady march toward the left--two Democratic Presidents, three additional Democratic justices on the Supreme Court, and a Congress that has see-sawed between the parties but still managed to enact major reforms in health care and financial regulation.  And make no mistake:  it has made the other side mad as hell.  Which is why they have used the short-term advantage we gave them in 2010 by staying home to push us back as hard as they can on every issue--abortion, gun control, climate change, worker's rights, you name it.

But they are doing this in the face two overwhelming Democratic victories in the past three national elections, betting that somehow, the "failure" of Obamacare will solve all of their political problems.  It is the only card they have to play.  And what if it isn't theirs to play in the end?  What if (as I think) Obamacare isn't the massive failure they expect it to be?  What if the so-called "passion gap" isn't closed against them by their own actions in outraging women, minorities, union workers, environmentalists--in short, the real majority in today's politics?

The harder they push in one direction, the harder the backlash will be against them in 2014 and beyond.  If I were a Republican (I should be so unlucky), I'd worry about the great big slap in the face I'm going to get when the political plexiglass snaps back from the other direction--the one toward which the American people are marching.

For Trayvon Martin

There are no words that even begin to express the sorrow and anger I feel in response to the verdict in the Travyon Martin trial (which is what we might as well call it, since I think that the "not guilty" verdict in favor of George Zimmerman was foreordained).  Clearly, it is legal in America to be part of a neighborhood watch despite a background that would preclude membership in a police force, and to shoot and kill an unarmed young man despite being told to discontinue pursuit--so long as the young man is African-American.

The trial's outcome, and the level of public support for Zimmerman, should surprise no one in light of the real roots of the Second Amendment.  I've published this link before, but I'm offering it again, simply because it is the most meaningful tribute to Trayvon that I can think of.

May he rest in peace.  May his family and friends find peace.  And may the rest of us know no peace, until we can prevent an outrage like this from ever happening again.

And, if you really believe this has nothing to do with race, take a look.

Friday, July 12, 2013

And, On A Brighter Note (Literally) ...

... take a look at this.  If solar panels truly can create themselves, perhaps we have one more reason to embrace the future, rather than fear it.

Are We All Aboard The Pequod?

Chris Hedges thinks so.  Here's a column by him in which he argues for Melville's celebrated novel as a metaphor for the self-destructive nature, then and now.  This column is not cheery reading; Hedges is a writer of formidable talent, and the case he makes here is a convincing one.

But even if his case is accurate, and America is now on the verge of destruction just as Ahab and his crew were before the final assault on the White Whale, I prefer to think of the small crumb of hope that Melville throws his readers at the end--Ishmael's survival, and his tell of the tale as perhaps a warning to the rest of us that, to borrow from Tennyson, it is not too late to seek a better world.  Or, at least a better course.

If we are indeed the crew of the Pequod, may we find the moral courage to mutiny, so that his warning is not in vain, and our future is not forfeit.

So Who Wants "Freedom From Religion" Now?

Conservatives like to say that freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.  Well, anyway, not freedom from their religion.

But when it comes to your religion, or how you might choose to exercise it, freedom be damned.  Not when the power of the state can be used to ensure that you can never truly be free from the conservative view of religion.  Are you a minister in Indiana willing to perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples?  Well, be afraid, be very afraid.

And the rest of us should be, too.

To Tolerate The Intolerable?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the self-inflicted wounds of Paula Deen, and suggested that no good consequence could come out of media outlets cancelling her contracts with her, and consumers  boycotting her shows and publications.  It merely creates a martyr out of someone who doesn't deserve the status.

Much the same can be said of Orson Scott Card, the science-fiction writer and opponent of gay rights.  A film version of his book, "Ender's Game," is about to be released, and gay rights activists are urging an across-the-board boycott of the film in all of its distribution channels.  Rather than be chastened by this, Card has come out and challenged his opponents to see the film and thereby respect his right to be a bigot.  My words, not his.  But the same thought is there.  You can read more about it here.

This is a variation of the same basic "idea" behind all conservative rhetoric of the past 30 years or so:  not only must you respect our right to exist, but also our privilege to destroy you.  Apparently, conservatism is so feeble a political force that it can't withstand a defense from anyone willing to fight back.  And, to make this philosophical jujitsu work, conservatives use a tactic as evil as the idea behind it:  confusing the right of the believer to believe with the right of the belief to be accepted.  People have civil liberties; ideas do not.  Ideas, like commodities, sink or swim in the marketplace depending on their absolute quality, which is another way of describing their relationship to the truth.

Deen and Card have a right to exist, to make a living, to hold in their heads and hearts whatever ugly ideas appeal to them.  But they don't have a right to express their views that somehow supersedes the rights of others to not only hold contrary views, but also to fight back against ideas they reject.

Which brings me back to my earlier point about Deen, also applicable to the Card kerfuffle.  I don't think boycotts are morally wrong.  History has shown, time and again, that they can be a very effective non-violent tool for political action.  Just as freedom of speech is also the freedom not to speak, the right to assemble is also the right not to assemble.  But it's completely fair to think about this situation from a tactical perspective and ask whether a boycott is really the best solution.

Why not choose voice over silence?  Why not organize protests in front of theaters showing the movie, or stores selling the DVDs, that don't stop people from seeing the film but make them more award of Card's bigotry?  Why not even announce "Gay Card" nights, where gay rights advocates and their supporters show up at showings of the film and make everyone aware that they're here and queer?  Why not host fundraising parties showing the DVDs in which the proceeds are given to gay-related charities and political action groups?

Let's see Orson Scott Card try to tolerate that.  At the very least, it might shut him up.  At the very most, beyond him, it might turn a few enemies into friends.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

And Is The VRA Ruling As Bad As We Think It Is?

The decision to strike down Section 5 of the VRA actually gives Congress a chance to fix it.  Given the current political configuration of Congress, an immediate fix is not likely but, in the near to long term, such a fix is likely.  Despite Tea Party pressure to revive Jim Crow, the demographic trends of the country are what they are, and neither party can afford to ignore them.

And, even though liberals are in a minority on the Supreme Court, they are still in a strong position to defend, and perhaps even advance, the interests of those protected by the VRA.  They may be positioning themselves and the Court for a different ideological balance in the future--or so this author thinks.

It Was Not ALL Good News At The End Of June, However ...

... as the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act the day before they set gay Americans free to marry.  As a good friend of mine said, one step backwards along with two steps forward.

But there is a theory that this might actually reap electoral rewards for African-Americans and progressives generally.  That theory is surprisingly well-explained by none other than Ross Douthat in The New York Times.  Take a look.

Conservatism Contra CIR And America

Is comprehensive immigration reform already dead?

That might depend on what your media outlet of choice is.  If you're a reader of The Weekly Standard (and my sympathies to you, if you are), you no doubt want to believe that the answer is, or should be, yes.  But this article is less interesting as an argument against CIR than it is as an indictment of what passes for conservative political discourse and, ultimately, conservatism itself.  Where to begin?

Oh, I know.  Let's start with a little expose of hypocrisy, Bill Kristol style,  Previously, he published a piece in TWS in which he accused Vice President Biden of being a liar, based on a rhetorical stumble in a fundraising piece in which the Veep used the word "district" when he meant to say the word "state."  Seriously, Bill?  This is Joe Biden.  He's made an entire political career out of tripping over his words.  I mean, it's not like he's talking about the president delaying "aspects of Obamacare" when all the president has done is to delay enforcing the employer mandate ... Oh wait!  That's YOU, Bill, in the fourth paragraph of your own article.  Or was that one Rich's idea?  I'll leave the two of you to duke that one out.

With that out of the way, I'm happy to deconstruct the rest of Kristol and Lowry's nonsense.  Let's start with the idea that the bill "doesn't solve the illegal immigration problem," because it merely reduces said problem by 50%.  Ordinarily, solving a problem by that magnitude would be cause for naming an airport after someone--if the solution was authored only by Republicans.  If Kristol and Lowry have a plan for getting it down to zero--one that could actually exist in the world that you and I wake up in--what's stopping them from putting it on the table?  And that doesn't even take into account the fact that, contrary to a lot of conservative "rhetoric" (dare we call it lies?), Obama has set a record pace for deportations and Mexicans have set a record pace for returning to Mexico.  If there's an argument against CIR on this basis, it could only be because the problem has already largely been solved.  The argument that Obama has been lax on enforcement is right up (or down) there with Kristol's misguided Biden attack.

This leads into the next problem with their argument--that the Senate bill would unleash upon an unsuspecting nation "a flood of additional low-skilled ... wage-depressing" workers.  News flash, guys:  wages right now could only be more depressed if the minimum wage was repealed (and yeah, I know your working on that, but you're not there yet).  And there's a crying need for low-skilled workers; crops are rotting on the vine in anti-immigration states like Alabama in no small measure because of the local anti-immigration laws that geniuses like you have encouraged.  Contrary to what the Mickey Kauses of the world predicted, there's been no Steinbeck-like migration of American citizens to agricultural states to take these jobs.  And yes, low-skilled immigrants WOULD boost entitlement finances--because these workers will pay taxes but not be around long enough to collect benefits (or even become eligible for them).

Then, Kristol and Lowry are allegedly concerned about the process by which the bill passed.  "[A] mistaken belief in central planning ... a stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks. ... the opposite of conservative reform, which simplifies and limits government, strengthens the rule of law, and empowers citizens."  For the record, the bill was introduced, amended and passed in "regular order," the very thing that Speaker Boner is constantly demanding from Democrats.  It was done with full input from members of both parties, and approved by more than a two-thirds majority of the Senate, including 14 Republicans.  It's a masterpiece of due process compared to that well-known, government-limiting, citizen-empowering triumph of conservative legislation known as the PATRIOT Act, which sailed through Congress in 48 hours, shredding the Bill of Rights along the way. 

In some ways, however, the most damning part of this article is its conclusion.  There's no rush for this, according to Kristol and Lowry.  If current polls are to be believed (a big if), Republicans will take the Senate and keep the House in 2014.  Why not wait until then, and REALLY stick it to Obama and the illegals?  And, above all, no compromises with Democrats.  All compromises with Democrats are inherently evil, because all wisdom resides with Republicans, and the real greatness of our system is that the Framers rigged it so that the status quo always wins, right?

Okay, I'm paraphrasing.  A little.  Okay, maybe more than a little.   But, unlike Kristol's slander of Biden and Obama, I'm not telling any lies.  Kristol and Lowry are actually making the case here for the following two propositions:  national issues can wait to be addressed until it's to the advantage of one party to do so, and, when they are so addressed, political victories are more important than national ones.  Putting it simply, Kristol and Lowry have no faith or trust in democracy, and love conservatism more than they love America.  In other words, they are what conservatives have been, for the most part, for the past 60-plus years at least:  un-American.

And it's time to just say so.  So that we can get them out of the way of comprehensive immigration reform ... and the fulfillment of the American dream, if not the conservative one.

UPDATE, 7/12/13:  And thank you, David Brooks, for a saner conservative view of the subject.

Bending The Arc Of History In San Francisco

Well, I'm back from San Francisco, and what an amazing week it was.  My hopes for the Supreme Court cases involving marriage equality AND for the Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform came true.  There weren't mass demonstrations in the streets (that got saved up for the Gay Pride Parade that took place on Sunday while we were headed back to Baltimore).  But the AILA members at the conference made up for it at the San Francisco Hilton, turning the event into a three-day mass demonstration of their own.  My wife has been attending these conferences for over a decade, and she said to a number of people as well as me that she had never been to one where the energy level was as high as it was this year.

The highlight of the conference for many of us who were there was the American Immigration Council's awards banquet, an event that doubles as a fundraiser for the AIC (and a very worthy cause, I assure you).  This year's honorees focused on the LGBT community, and was hosted by a (male) performance artist with the stage name of Peaches Christ.  This is one case where a picture (taken from AILA's Facebook page), is truly worth a thousand words:

Without question, the most moving highlight was the giving of an AIC award to the first gay couple who filed a marriage-based petition for permanent residence, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan.  They filed their petition in 1975, effectively trying to make new law and history.  Their reward was a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating that they had "failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."  I'm not kidding.  Those words were actually created by your tax dollars at work.

Adams and Sullivan ended up living on the run abroad, coming back to the U.S. and ultimately stepping back into the spotlight as the gay marriage debate moved to the political center stage.  Sadly, Adams died before his marriage to Sullivan could be recognized by USCIS; his portion of the award was accepted posthumously by his sister, with Sullivan at her side.  And yet, it was clear from Sullivan's speech that he understood that he and his spouse had not lived their lives in vain.  Just as it was clear to the rest of us that those who can now file marriage-based petitions, and those of us who help them do so, stand on their shoulders.

In the end, it doesn't matter what the cause is.  Progress is not an inevitability.  It does not come without sacrifice.  The status quo never yields graciously to the alternative of a better tomorrow.  But it is for that tomorrow that all of us must live, and make the most of what has been given to us.  We owe whatever happiness we have to the sacrifices of yesterday.  We can only thank the people who made them by doing likewise for those who come after us.

I hope that everyone who was with us in San Francisco during that historic week takes that lesson to heart, and makes it their life's calling.  If so, it will be better for all of us than just enjoying three days of amazing energy.  It would be tragic if we allowed post-convention politics-as-usual to discourage us, to take us off course, to imagine that we can do nothing and let somebody else fix the future.  There is no "somebody else" when the future depends on all of us.

If you take no consolation from my words, then take them from someone on whose shoulders our current President stands, Dr. Martin Luther King:  "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."  If you've started to bend it, keep up the good work.

And, if you haven't started, get going.  The rest of the human race needs you.