Monday, December 30, 2013

Utah Isn't Just Legalizing Gay Marriage

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


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

Printing Body Parts?

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

Even George Will Sees A Future For Alternative Energy

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

The War Over Marriage Equality Is Over

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

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

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

A Pope I'm Tempted To Like, At Least

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

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

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lessons From A Theater Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom Of Speech, Or Freedom For MY Speech?

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

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P., "Motormouth"

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

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

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

Why Hillary Clinton Should Breath A Sigh Of Relief

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

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

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

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

Think "Free Enterprise" Can Replace The Post Office?

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

Two States Down, 48 To Go

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

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

Two Places To Begin In Talking To The Tea Party

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

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

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

"Remember Who The Real Enemy Is"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real War On Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

And A Ray Of Hope Regarding Gitmo

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

Nevertheless, A Ray Of Hope Regarding Guns

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

Law And Order For Thee, But Not For Me

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

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

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

Safe Travels Across The Sun's Anvil, El Aurens

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

And RIP.  No one I know deserves it more.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

In America, The Era Of Human Sacrifices Has Not Ended

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

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

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

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

One Road To A Carbon Tax.

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

Will Seniors Leave Republicans Out To Dry In 2014?

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

Saturday, December 7, 2013

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

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

Why We Should Invest More In The Arts And Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And A Few Choice Words For Robert Kuttner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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