Saturday, September 21, 2013

Go Get 'Em, Eric Holder!

Thankfully, we have an Attorney General who isn't afraid to stand up for voters' rights, even when the Supreme Court attempts to make it impossible.

Should Churches Be Taxed?

This article answers that question with an enthusiastic "Yes."  I'm not so sure I'm quick to agree with that.  Many churches conduct educational and charitable functions that would easily qualify for tax-exempt status if conducted by secular organizations (and do, in fact so, qualify, with the help of lawyers such as myself).  It would certainly be discriminatory to tax churches that engage in such activities.

On the other hand, the fact that an article like this can even be published with any degree of seriousness says quite a bit, sadly, about how polluted religion has become with politics--mostly (admittedly not exclusively) by the Religious Right.  It is no less discriminatory to give churches a tax exemption even if they electioneer to the same degree that non-exempt organizations (like political parties) do.

This is why the IRS needs to be able to examine the activities of organizations with exemptions, whether they are churches or other types of non-profits, on a case-by-case basis to ensure that their political activities do not exceed what Federal law permits.  And this is why it is not a "scandal" when they do so.  The only related scandal occurs when politicians who benefit from the mixing of church and state prosecute the IRS for doing nothing more than its job.

Are you listening, Darrell Issa?  Of course not.  You belong to a party that long ago lost any capacity for listening.  Are you listening, America?  You should be.

Memo To Gun Owners: The NRA Doesn't Work For You

Here's an example.  Remember how the NRA scares you about gun-control legislation, holding the dreaded prospect of a secret register of gun owners over your heads?  Well its too late.  The secret registry already exists.  But it wasn't created by the government, and the government doesn't own or have access to it.  Guess who does?

And what's to stop them from giving that information to anyone who can help expand its wealth and power--including government officials?

The NRA doesn't care about you, or your rights.  It cares deeply, passionately, solely about the NRA.  And if you do nothing about it, you'll have helped to sell everyone's rights down the river.  Including yours.

America Is On The March--But Which Way?

In an earlier post, I stated that, in contemporary America, the road to the center runs to the left.  Which is why it's worth following the national news to determine which way Americans are running.

Two recent election stories paint competing pictures of that direction. First, the recall elections in Colorado, in which two Democratic state senators were driven out of office via NRA-fueled campaigns opposing them for their role in supporting state gun-control legislation.  Second, the Democratic primary outcome in the race to be the next Mayor of New York City, in which a Democrat who focused on wealth inequality won with enough of a margin to avoid a run-off.

In some ways, the Colorado elections might seem to offer the more significant clue, as Colorado is a "purple state"--a formerly solid-red state that has trended toward the Democratic column in the past elections.  And too, the issue at state--gun regulation--is as hot-button an issue as any right now in the nation, and certainly one with a very sharp partisan divide.

Well, gun regulation lost.  But did it?

It's easy to read too much into the outcome of the Colorado recall elections.  Certainly, the NRA jumped all over the outcome, attempting to use the senators' defeat as a means by which to put the fear of God, or re-election, into the hearts of legislators everywhere.

But the NRA's take-away doesn't really hold up under a closer inspection of the results.  To begin with, the gun-nut movement in Colorado attempted to recall four senators--and only got enough petition signatures for two.  This effectively guaranteed that the outcome, in terms of their initial targets, would be draw at best, and leave the Colorado Senate in the hands of the Democrats.  And the two that lost?  One of them lost by a margin of two percent, with record-low turnout that was dampened in no small part by thuggish Election Day activities by the gun-nut movement.

This is the bottom line of what we should learn from Colorado:  turnout is absolutely essential, even in what are considered to be safely Democratic races.  This should be a wake-up call for Democrats in 2014:  if you don't show up at the polls, and don't show up at the polls, you have no right to complain when a fascist minority takes over.  And you can count on the fascist minority to not give you a chance or an outlet for complaining.

What about New York, then?  Why should that matter?  It's New York, after all, a safely blue state.  And it's a primary election.  Why should it matter which Democrat wins, so long as it's not the unfortunately-names Anthony Weiner?

Because invincibly Democratic New York City has been governed by Republicans for 20 years, with Republicans running hard to the right on crime and tax breaks for the wealthy.  In that climate, it seemed like only a tough-on-crime, soft-on-Wall-Street Democrat could stand a chance on becoming Mayor.  And there was a candidate who fit that bill:  Christine Quinn, the City Council President.  And, if her policy positions offended any Democrats (and they did, including yours truly), she offered some demographic consolations:  the possibility of giving New York City its first female Mayor, and its first openly gay one as well.

But Quinn didn't win.  She didn't even come in second.  She, and the rest of a crowded Democratic field, lost decisively to Bill de Blasio, the city's Public Advocate.  More than any other candidate, he used the current condition of New York to point out the obvious:  in a city where everyone works together to produce more wealth than any other metropolis, the rewards are not merely unequally shared, but are "shared" in a way that guarantees opulence for a few without ensuring survival for everyone else.  That message did not cost him votes.  It gained him enough votes to avoid a runoff election that everyone else thought was a foregone conclusion.  And it has him polling with a double-digit lead over his Republican counterpart.

The message of de Blasio's campaign is one that, sadly, has deep and devastating relevance for the entire nation.  It overpowered the "safer" messaging of Quinn and the other candidates, and it has him running ahead of the candidate for the party that has run the city for two decades.

Are you listening to what New York is telling you, Democrats?  It's safe to talk about the elephant in the room, and call him out for what he is:  a monster that cares more about holding on to wealth and power than about making a great nation greater.

Follow his lead.  And lead America back toward the center, by turning to the left.

John Boehner: Party Leader or National Leader?

 The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers ...
--U.S.Constitution, Article I, Section 2

The Speaker of the House of Representatives holds a constitutional office.  He, or she, has a constitutional obligation to act on behalf of the nation, and all of its people.  He, or she, is chosen by all of the members of the House to act on their behalf.

Not on behalf of a majority, or a majority of a majority.  On behalf of the whole House.  On behalf of the whole nation.

But you would never guess this by watching John Boehner, who has never stopped acting like a caucus leader even while serving as Speaker for the past two years and nine months.

As a matter of fact, he has not even been acting like a caucus leader.  Even a good caucus leader knows how to read the riot act to his craziest followers, being mindful of the fact that politics is the art of the possible, and that a party that specializes in political suicide will not be a party--or, at least, a national party--for very long.  A good caucus leader knows how to balance serving the needs of the caucus members with the need to work with the opposition.  A great caucus leader knows how to do this in such a way that the whole nation benefits as a result.  But even a merely good leader knows that a leader who acts like a follower with everyone ends up with no respect--and will not be a leader for very long.

John Boehner is Speaker of the House.  But he is an elected national leader who has chosen to remain a party leader, and has done so by acting like a follower, allowing the most insane members of his party to make demands he knows cannot be met, and pretending that he is somehow bound to follow "the majority of the majority."

Well, the majority of the majority is, by definition, a minority of the body that John Boehner has been elected to lead as Speaker.  He should have let Eric Cantor deal with the Tea Party crazies, and made it clear that he would only support legislation--be it the Federal budget, or comprehensive immigration reform--that could win the support of members from both sides of the aisle.  That's what he would have done if he had a clue about the Constitutional nature of his job.  That's what he would have done if he understood that leadership and self-assertion go hand in hand.

But all he has shown is that he likes the short-term perks of his job, and that, for now, he needs the help of the crazies to keep those perks.

Which is why we are on the verge of a government shutdown nobody wants (except the crazies, of course).  Which is why we could have CIR right now, except that the crazies, and therefore Boehner, won't allow a vote on it.  Which is why, at a time when the deficit is falling and public spending is desperately needed to provide jobs and growth, we have a House of Representatives looking for new and more exciting ways to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

Because John Boehner, its Speaker, has opted to act not as a national leader or even as a party leader, but as the leader of the Tea Party caucus, a caucus that doesn't want to be led, or even to share leadership.  It just wants to destroy everything it doesn't like, in the name of freedom--its freedom, not everyone's.

Which is why, after the next election, neither the nation nor its House will have to worry about either John Boehner, or the Tea Party, ever again.

G-d willing, that is.  Because He, She, It or They works in mysterious ways.  And history teaches us that America's learning curve is very steep.  Which is why Winston Churchill once said that you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing--after they've tried everything else.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Just One More 9/11 Post

But a worthy one.  This is my kind of memorial.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's More Powerful Than A Gun In Stopping Violence?

Courage.  One woman's personal courage, in particular.  Enough said.  For now.

Except for this.

May the victims of the Navy Yard tragedy rest in peace.  May their family and friends be comforted.  And may the rest of us get up off our asses and stop being afraid of the NRA.

What North Carolina Is Proving

Namely, that the need for the Voting Rights Act has not gone away.

The Real Difference Between Democrats And Republicans

Democrats worry about the suffering of everyone; Republicans worry about their own suffering.  But sometimes, when it comes to their own suffering, it just might be enough to get them to see the proverbial bigger picture.  On the subject of health care, here's one example.

Then again, here's another.

Why No City Or Neighborhood Should Ever Be Declared "Dead"

Because, as long as there are people who want to stay, there will always be a fighting chance for life.  Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York is an excellent case in point.

During the New York City blackout of 1977, no single neighborhood was more devastated by rioting and looting than Bushwick.  An already poor area, Bushwick lost most if not all of its merchants as a consequence of the rioting during the blackout, and the subsequent abandonment of the neighborhood by many of the few survivors.  To this day, one can find parts of Bushwick where the damage done during that terrible night is still visible, and unrepaired.

The devastation is best summed up by a letter to the editor in The New York Times, in response to an article about a plan to turn an old brewery in Bushwick into a shopping mall.  The author flatly stated that "Bushwick is dead," and urged that the money for the project be put into neighborhoods with a better chance for revival.  "Let Bushwick rest in peace," the letter concluded.

Well, artists and other urban pioneers weren't prepared to do that and, today, Bushwick is out-pacing the neighboring community of Ridgewood in Queens when it comes to rising rents.  When I lived in Queens in the late '70s and early '80s, Ridgewood was considered the more desirable of the two neighborhoods; now, on a market basis, it's the other way around.

Take a look, and take heart from Bushwick's story, especially if you live in an area that hasn't had its revival yet.  And reflect on the role the arts could play in making it happen for you.

Will Wonders Never Cease, Part 2

The institutional racism of the University of Alabama's Greek societies is appalling, but the sight of white and black students marching together in protest of it is inspiring.  May this be the beginning of a truly new South.

And One More Helpful Hint For The Democrats In 2014

Point out to the American people that Republicans deem a six-figure income to be an inadequate wage.

Inadequate for whom?  It shouldn't be inadequate at all for a member of "The People's House."  Especially when the median income for The People is less than one-third of what the complaining Republican House member makes, and is in fact a step back from the 1989 level.

If Congressman Gingrey really feels stuck, I know of a lot of Democrats who would be happy to help him with his predicament--by throwing him out of office and back into the free market he and his colleagues champion.

Democrats should not only make an issue out of his feeling "stuck," but also combine it with a campaign pledge to cut Congress' budget and members' salaries.  Then we'll have a chance to find out who's really in favor of "less government."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Road To The Center Runs To The Left

I know how the Democrats can retake control of Congress.  In spite of gerrymandering.  In spite of voter restrictions.  In spite of the post-Citizens United flow of mystery money.


By doing what they should have done years ago.  Run to the left, to energize their base.  And argue like hell, at the same time, that they are really running toward the center.

I know what you're thinking.  They can do this now because, over the past five years, what's left of the Republican Party has engaged in a public free-fall toward total insanity.  But the truth of the matter is that they should have done it years ago.  Thirty-four, to be exact.  Just as Saint Ronnie was getting elected and preparing to charm the rest of us into bankruptcy.

Because, after all, that's how he did it.  By running hard to the right, to energize his base, and argue like hell (or heck, at least), that he was running toward the center.

Whether he was busting unions, or regressing tax rates, he always painted a verbal portrait of his actions that were meant to invoke not a brave new world, but a nostalgic old one.  He wasn't taking America in some unfamiliar, evil direction.  No, he was simply restoring its long lost past.  And not even the actual past that we had, but the Hollywood version of that past--the version that we, filled with glamorized images of our 20th-century rise to power, pretended had actually happened.  So there was nothing to fear.  Not even fear itself.  All we had to do was trust that Reagan's actions were not sinister when his words were so appealing, and we would all be living in the "great, big, beautiful tomorrow" that his former corporate patron, General Electric, promised America at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair.

Of course, more than three decades later, we should know better--and do, for the most part.  We should have known better from the beginning.  But we Americans have always believed in a future in which everyone joined together for the common good, giving up a little of themselves for the sake of everyone.  In the political world, defined by a system with two major parties, the cliche for this process is "finding the vital center."

Well, that's exactly what the Democrats should offer the American people, now and all the way into next fall.

Finding the vital center, by adjusting the minimum wage so that it regains the purchasing power it had in the 1960s.

Finding the vital center, by returning to workers the power to collectively bargain for its interests, and thus the power to gain all the rights we now take for granted, including a 40-hour work week.

Finding the vital center, by ending the practice of using public and private pensions (including and especially Social Security) to fund the egomaniacal fantasies of hedge-fund managers and other riverboat gamblers on Wall Street.

Finding the vital center, by returning to a world in which investment and commercial banks are separated.

Finding the vital center, in which mergers are not funded with debt, the way stock-buying was funded during the Roaring '20s.

Finding the vital center, by accepting the central role of scientific fact in our policy-making for the present, and our planning for tomorrow, as we once did in traveling to the moon and connecting the world through the Internet.

Finding the vital center, by once again accepting immigrants not as nation-destroyers but as nation-builders, and always remembering that the central icon in our national culture, after the Stars and Stripes, is a statue built to exemplify that view of new arrivals to our shores.

Finding the vital center, by once again placing at the center of our economy policy the interests of the consumer, the true leader in our financial empire, whose needs and desires create the opportunities that capitalists then exploit.

Finding the vital center, by ending the demonizing of government and recognizing that government in a democracy is "We The People," acting together for the common good, not "Them The One Percent" buying bureaucrats and politicians for self-serving purposes.

And finally, finding the vital center by returning to our post-World War II role in world affairs, not as a lone gunslinger, but as first among equals in a nation where cooperation is the first choice, and conflict is almost always a choice to be avoided.

I believe that the Democrats have to show Americans next year, for the sake of the party and the nation, that the road to the left is not a road to a foreign land, but rather a bridge to the kind of America they basically believe in, an America that existed within their own lifetimes, and that can exist again.

Because if they don't do it, they, and we, may never get another chance to find that vital center.  We may be stuck on a downward slide toward a Fascism from which we can never recover.  But if they can run to the left, and show the nation that doing so really is a run to the center, we may really become a shining city on a hill after all.

UPDATE, 9/19/13:  The Democrats' job may be easier than people think.   Here's someone else who agrees.

Democracy Gets It Right With The Twin Towers Site

And so, for the twelfth time since Al-Queda turned four passenger airplanes into terrorist missiles, September 11th has come and gone.

I once wrote that one doesn't measure recovery from a tragedy of this magnitude in days, weeks or months, but rather in years and even in decades.  We are now more than a decade beyond those horrible hours during which we electronically witnessed the deaths of thousands of innocents, some of whom were only beginning to truly live their lives.

For me, over these twelve years, the anniversary has frankly always been a bag of mixed emotions.  Part of that stems from the fact that it was my late father's birthday--and, no matter what, I feel bound a sense of filial duty and personal love to spend part of the day focused on him, and on what he meant to me and so many others.  But the mixed emotions are also about the day itself, about what it meant to the nation, and about how we remember and honor it.

I remember being appalled by the immediate use of the attacks as an excuse to not only unilaterally advance the partisan agenda of the party on whose watch the attacks had occurred, but to also willfully subvert the Constitution in order to do it.  The party of "toughness" wrote a feckless interpretation of our most fundamental rights into law, and handed terrorism a five-star victory even while cities were burning and bodies were bleeding.  I remember being beyond appalled by the march to war in which this same party successfully bullied not only their political opponents, but also the truth itself.  All of this compounded the damage done to the nation and our lives--and will take decades more of recovery, with no guarantee that it will ever arrive.

None of that, however, changes what happened on September 11, 2001.  Over three thousand people lost their lives and, for a time, the greatest city in the nation feared for its economic (if not for its physical) future.  How do you honor and remember the victims?  How do you ensure the future of New York, the greatest and most successful intersection of culture, commerce and community in the history of the world?

As it turned out, democracy held the answer.

The City and State of New York opened the memorial/rebuilding process up to the public in an unprecedented way, giving thousands of people in New York and even across the nation an opportunity to give direct and specific input into what was to be built on the former site of the World Trade Center.  Architects from around the world were invited to submit proposals for both a memorial and new office space, and the public was allowed to vote on them.  Along with these proposals, there was heated debate about the general plan for the site itself.  Should it have any office space at all?  Should it have any type of tall structure at all?  What could be done to ensure protection against another attack?

The process was long and drawn out.  It ranged from the general plan to the most specific of details about the lives and dreams of the victims and the city.  It produced ideas ranging from rebuilding the Twin Towers to turning the entire site into a memorial park.  It led to the selection of a single proposal that, in turn, was refined by even more discussion and debate.  All of the discussion and debate was passionate, even angry at times, but it remained focused on the goals of remembrance and recovery.

And, in the end, that's exactly what we have on the site.

Two giant voids on the footprints of the Twin Towers, containing memorial fountains and the names of the lost.  A combination of emptiness, serenity, and memory.  Surrounded by new towers that will help to carry on the economic life of New York, and will help us to remember not just how the victims died, but how they lived as well.

Democracy isn't always pleasant or peaceful.  In fact, it's often the case that it's working really well when it is at its least pleasant and peaceful.  But it's the only political path that leads all of us to where we need to be.  We need to remember that fact, as much as anything else from September 11th, and hold as tightly as we can onto this messy, heated, drawn-out thing called democracy, and not let its enemies--within and without--take it from us.  Too many people have died for it.  Too few of the living realize not only how much we owe them, but also ourselves.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Will Wonders Never Cease

So the CIA has finally admitted it engineered the coup that put the Shah of Iran into power, and thereby set in motion decades of tragedy for us, and mostly for Iran.

America's foreign policy would benefit greatly, as would Americans, from an application of the Hippocratic Oath:  "First, do no harm."

How To Fight Gay Bigotry

This has a million times the impact of any boycott, folks.  (Yes, I know they later said it had nothing to do with Russia's new law.  But I think most people will choose to believe the photo over the words.  I know I do.)

Want To See The "Big Picture" Of Self-Destruction?

Here you go.

Printing Our Own Body Parts

It's got a long way to go, but it appears to be at least in jts infancy.  Perhaps, to borrow a phrase, ingenuity really is the greatest natural resource of all.

"Trash Into Gas, Efficiently"?

It turns out that we may be able to dig our way out of the mess we've created after all.  Take a look.

All Fat And No Substance

Turns out that's the answer to the question, "What do you call Chris Christie and his economic record?"  Here's hoping the 30-point lead His Obesity currently holds in the polls is a total sham, or I'll have to revise my estimate of the average Jerseyite's intelligence.

On The Other Hand, "Thinking Out Loud" Doesn't Help

I've always regarded Barack Obama as a very smart President, one who learned quickly from his mistakes and moved just as quickly to correct them.  But his handling of his proposal to destroy Syria's chemical-warfare capacity with air strikes has really made me wonder, as it has a lot of others.

The smart way of approaching this would have been for the Administration to come together internally on a clear, defensible strategy and then present that to Congressional leaders, all before going to the media, the nation and the international community with it.  Instead, Obama has created the appearance of a man whose strategy has a decidedly this-day, that-day quality to it.  First, he declared that he was going to launch air strikes, then he decided to submit the matter to Congress for a decision, then he announced that he may launch the air strikes in any event. 

And, in any event, he has not been clear about why these strikes are needed in this instance.  Personally, I believe that, if the Assad regime is using chemical weapons against his own people, and the international community is afraid to enforce its own norms because it is afraid of retaliation from Russia, Syria's ally, then no one should fault the United States for taking action that enforces those norms and serves its own national interests (particularly with regard to the defense of its own ally, Israel).  If I can boil the rationale down to a few lines, then so should Obama.  Why can't he do it?

The closest thing I can come to is the professorial nature of Obama's thinking.  He enjoys dialogue, weighing competing arguments and interests against each other, and letting circumstances play themselves out before he comes to a final decision.  As the son of a professor, I admire that style of thinking, and am frequently guilty of it myself.  Sadly, however, it doesn't work too well in the case of an international crisis.  All too often, the dangers and risks involved require quick thinking, clear action and, above all, assembling a compelling case to make to the people who have entrusted you not only with the fate of the nation, but also of their lives as well.

I understand that Obama is planning a media blitz and a speech to the nation this week.  Let's hope and pray that both reinforce his former image as a quick learner.

Partisanship Beyond The Water's Edge

How else to explain the different Republican responses to George W. Bush's call to destroy non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Barack Obama's call to destroy real ones in Syria?  This piece attempts to give some historical significance to this discrepancy, but only goes back as far as the early 1990s.  The history of this hypocrisy, however, goes back farther than that.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Republicans were primarily isolationist:  if an overseas conflict didn't directly affect the interests of the United States, it should be completely ignored.  That changed with the end of World War II, with the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the two major world powers.  Suddenly, we were on the world stage, whether we liked it or not--and our principal rival embraced an economic system that appeared to threaten our way of life.  At this point, the major political parties diverged significantly in their approach to the Soviet rivalry, with Democrats urging containment as the most efficient way of allowing the Soviet system to collapse under its own weight (which it did), and Republicans attempting to turn the Cold War into a hot one at every opportunity, even to the point at which a Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, escalated our involvement in an unwinable war in Vietnam because he was afraid of the domestic backlash from Republicans.

In fact, it is Vietnam that showed the Republicans how they could control foreign policy without even directly controlling the government, using traditional American fear of foreign influences as the fuel for their fires.  Thereafter, the mantra of Republican foreign policy was "toughness," i.e., acting as the overseas equivalent of the lone Western gunslinger who clears out the frontier town's bad guys.  Never mind that real-world foreign policy requires a more nuanced approach, as John Kennedy showed during the Cuban missile crisis.  If you could frame foreign policy in terms of American legend, and not international reality, you could win popular support and elections simply by appearing to embody the myth, even when some of your actions appear to go in a different direction.  Thus, during America's misguided eight years under Ronald Reagan, you had Reagan the tough guy, taking out the easy menace of an island nation, but willing to take a softer approach in dealing with Gorbachev, a far more deadly adversary than Grenada ever could be.

Then came the inevitable collapse of Communism correctly predicted by Democrats, and doubted by Republicans who, by this time, had a great deal invested in the economics and politics of "toughness."  All of a sudden, in a world in which everyone seemed to be moving toward democracy, where was the argument for "toughness"?  And what was going to happen to the supposed Republican "edge" in foreign policy?  The answer, as it turned out, was to pretend that Communism collapsed because the Communists were "scared" of Reagan's defense build-up, even though that had done nothing to change the actual military strategy the Soviets were pursuing.  On this shaky foundation, they have attempted to build the argument that they, and they alone, are to be trusted in responding to foreign and military crises.

The problem with doing so, however, is that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact satellite governments left Republicans without a real rationale for having an interventionist policy in the first place.  Thus, we have seen the GOP flip-flop on foreign and military policy among the Clinton, Bush and Obama years--reverting to an "isolationist" stance under Democratic Presidents, but finding excuses to intervene when they controlled the White House, using 9/11 as an excuse to invade a nation that had noting to do with 9/11.

Unfortunately, this approach has done as much, if not more, to divide the nation and pollute our political discourse than any domestic controversy.  The old adage that "partisanship stops at the water's edge," from which our nation drew tremendous political and military strength in the past, has been abandoned in favor of one that puts the most fundamental aspect of our nation's existence--our ability to co-exist with other nations--into the partisan quiver of arrows that is bleeding our nation to death.

Nothing has illustrated the damage done by this strategy than the current national argument over intervention in Syria.  Intervention in Syria, on the limited basis that the President has proposed, is absolutely essential to stop the spread of real WMDs.  However, because of the human and financial treasure spent on a war against WMDs that didn't exist, we no longer have the will to fight.  We are, in terms of our ability to unite in the face of an external threat, in a far worse position than we were in the post-Vietnam years.  All because the party of "toughness" decided that partisanship stops nowhere, if it can be used to cement its hold on power.

How long our country will last, in that case, is an open question.  The tighter the grip a party has on a country, the greater the likelihood is that the country in question will be crushed--not from without, but within. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Bet On Your Ability To Rig The System

Because sometimes, the system just refuses to cooperate, even when it involves push-polling and Obamacare.

The Good Internet, Indeed

It's good for climate, in no small part because it's also good for political discourse.  Krugman's comment on Robert Samuelson is worth noting in particular, in that Samuelson is living, breathing proof that the other side has its own effete, elite, impudent snobs.  In contrast to Paul Samuelson (a far greater economist, but no relation), he proves that all men may be created equal, but not all Samuelsons.

Where Cutting-Edge Design Meets Old-World Craftsmanship

In a factory in Tennessee, which, in its own way, is demonstrating how much all of us need each other.

The Good News And The Bad News About Democracy

The bad news is that liberals have to wait for conservatives to catch up with them before anything of value can get done.  The good news is that, sooner or later, they do catch up--the honest ones, at least.  Take a look at these principles in action, in the context of drug sentencing.  Take another look, in a similar context.

The Real Enemies Of Academic Freedom

Not liberals, who are willing to use an old Catholic exercise in a way that makes today's Catholics and their secular allies in the right-wing chattering class nervous.  Thank goodness they weren't successful in their efforts to victimize this man.

But it doesn't mean that they won't try again.  If you have any connection to an institution of higher learning, whether as a student, a teacher, an administrator, a trustee or an employee, don't be intimidated by the false cry of "fire" by conservatives against supposed liberal bias in education.  Know where the real bias lies.

And push back against it with all your might.  It's work that can easily justify a lifetime.

Are Phone Booths Really A Thing Of The Past?

It's just possible that they could be recycled in a way that has additional environmental and economic benefits beyond their recycling.  Take a look.

A Modest Labor Day Proposal

Paul Krugman's most recent New York Times column, which he had the good taste to publish yesterday, on my birthday, effectively paints a grim portrait of Labor Day in the 21st century, one in which capitalists are the true "workers," and labor is treated as a gang of "moochers" who would have nothing without the willingness of capitalists to act like riverboat gamblers with the fruits of labor's hard work.  But that's because Professor Krugman is an economist, someone who is trained to think, and to use facts to do it.  It's a pity that our political leaders aren't inclined to do likewise.

Apart from the capitalists and the political class, then, the rest of us are, for the moment, left to talk amongst ourselves.  With that in mind, and since it is Labor Day, here is my modest proposal for getting things back to they way they used to be.

A few principles, first.  We are a country of parasites, in fact.  But the parasites aren't the people who work for a living.  It's the lottery players on Wall Street and the politicians they pay who do nothing.  They, after all, are the ones who do what true parasites do:  attach themselves to the host and feed off of it in such a way that the host never notices.  This is what has happened to our economy and politics, thanks to thirty years of reflexive Republican voting that was supposed to "balance out" the supposed statism of New Deal-Great Society politics.  The state is alive and well; it's merely been restructured to conform the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

There is no greater evidence of that than the fact that payroll taxes are stolen from a successful program, Social Security, to pay for two unsuccessful program, tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war.  Social Security is often unfairly derided as a Ponzi scheme; supply-side economics is the real Ponzi scheme.  Had we never been afflicted with either Ronald Reagan or the Bushes, Social Security would be the best-funded pension program in the world; now, it's on the verge of being auctioned off to the 1 percent--with what little security you have going along with it.

As a unintended consequence of all of this, American conservatism has effectively conceded, without having the wit to realize it, the role of the state in our economics.  Having won this concession, it is time to address the unequal economic yoke that that American conservatism has created, before it crushes America under its weight.

Which leads me to my modest proposal.

First, raise the minimum wage to $20.00 per hour, for both full-time and part time employees.  It will still be below what it would be if it had been adjusted for inflation from the very beginning.  And it will give workers a fighting chance to pay their bills.

Second, you want to eliminate Obamacare?  Fine.  Repeal it and replace it with single-payer health insurance for all Americans, which would be less costly than our present system, with or without Obamacare.

Third, replenish the Social Security trust funds and pay down the national debt in three ways:
  1. Eliminate all business deductions.  If capitalism supposedly thrives without the interference of the state, let business pay their own bills without the help of the public.  God knows they can afford it.
  2. Keep the existing tax rates, but tax ALL income from all sources, including foreign countries and estates;
  3. Impose a transaction tax on derivatives.  If nothing else, it will slow these transactions down and reduce their impact on the economy.  It will also make the players play the game a bit more carefully.
Don't like it?  Fine.  Come up with something better.  But stop pretending that prosperity comes from letting the people with the gold make all of the rules.  And stop pretending that we're feeding off of them.  It's the other way around.  It always will be.  Unless, like Professor Krugman, you start to think, and use facts to do so.

Is Journalism Dead? Sports Journalism May Be.

And, if Bill Madden's most recent New York Daily News column is any indication, sports journalism is really, really, really dead.

A little background:  I have a master's degree in journalism, and experience as a public relations consultant.  In addition, during my time in New York, I briefly worked for a company called Phone Programs, which produced (among other things) a pre-Internet sports scores service called SportsPhone, which provided sports news and score updates.  My PR work was more successful than my SportsPhone work:  I was promoted, then fired, by the company for allegedly not knowing enough about sports.  This begs, of course, the question of how I got promoted in the first place, which in turn makes me suspect that my firing had something to do with my feelings about using the N-word in connection with certain athletes.  Perhaps this is why I have long regarded the term "sports journalism" as oxymoronic.

In any event, I have worked in journalism, I have many hard-working, talented friends the field, and I care greatly about its future.  And, in an Internet-based communications world where anyone with access to a computer can pretend to be a journalist, it's depressing to see how standards have been debased to the point where no one--even professionals--think anything at all about lying, especially if the lying is done to protect a source.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to Madden's column, in which he uses the recent death of umpire Frank Pulli in a desperate attempt to whitewash the unwashable reputation of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.  In his column, Madden attempts to find some sort of hypocrisy on the part of former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent for giving Pulli an unannounced probation for gambling and associating with bookmakers, in contrast to the lifetime "ban" Vincent handed to Steinbrenner for the latter's "association" with Howard Spira, even though Vincent himself said that Spira's words couldn't be trusted.

Steinbrenner, however, wasn't merely "associated" with Spira.  He paid Spira $40,000.00 in exchange for Spira's efforts to obtain information Steinbrenner could then use to blackmail Dave Winfield in connection with a dispute between the Yankee owner and his outfielder.  Put simply, Steinbrenner and Spira conspired to commit a crime.  Moreover, the phone conversation that sealed their conspiracy was caught on tape, so Spira's testimony on the matter is irrelevant.  Add to this the fact that Steinbrenner already had a rap sheet in connection with Federal election laws--one that required a Presidential pardon to reinstate his rights as a citizen--and it makes perfect sense that Steinbrenner's punishment was greater than Pulli's.  And none of this even touches the fact that Vincent originally offered Steinbrenner a two-year suspension, which Steinbrenner then negotiated into an "agreement" for a lifetime ban, so that he could continue to work with the U.S. Olympic Committee.  The "agreement" was overturned, once the unpopular-with-owners Vincent was replaced by Bud Selig, was has since effectively acted as a puppet for the owner's interests.

With this column, Madden trades away what little pretense was left to his credentials as a journalist, and announces himself to the world for what he is:  a shill for the Steinbrenner family and, in the process, for a Commissioner's office that is completely controlled by ownership.  If there's any consolation in this fact, it lies solely in the fact that it affirms baseball's role as the national pastime--one that reflects the national tragedy in which money, power and the press conspire against the rest of us.  Madden's craven behavior is not an isolated case; too many of his colleagues exhibit it as well.  Nor is this behavior limited to sports journalism; take a look at Sunday news programs.  Where are the voices of anything other than money, power and the press?

Madden and his ilk betray the history and standards of a noble profession.  In the process, they betray the history and standards of a great nation.  Shame on them.  And shame on us all for tolerating it.