Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Six Hours and Forty-Five Minutes From 2015 ...

... and I find myself drifting back to a post I made almost exactly four years ago, as you can tell from its title.  Much of its basic advice still applies, but I'd like to take this opportunity to expand upon it a little.

As was the case four years ago at this time, the political climate stunk.  The Democrats lost both houses of Congress this time, instead of just one--and by margins that make the Republicans look far more invincible than they actually are.  And this happened despite a number of positive developments on the national front, especially the quickening pace of the economic recovery, which can be fairly blamed on no one but President Obama and the Democratic congressional majorities that put his policies in place, before the Party of No took over.  Still, the legacy media was hell-bent on promoting confrontation-in-DC stories (easier to report than real news) and, with the help of the GOP and its craven tactics, it worked.  For now.

For now, and not for much longer.  A party whose majorities rest on the unholy trinity of voter restrictions, dark money, and gerrymandering does not have a future, regardless of what is in its past.  This was an election the Republicans took because they've gamed the system.  And, frankly, because we let them.  And when I say "we," I'm not just talking about the Democrats in office.  I'm talking about the Democrats, and progressives generally, that didn't show up at the polls, didn't organize, didn't contribute, didn't blog, tweet or share online, and generally decided that it's OK to let the country go to hell because perfect solutions are the only ones that work.

A little friendly advice from someone who has spent nearly sixty years looking for perfect solutions (yes, me):  they don't exist.  Yes, the lesser of two evils is still evil, but it's still less evil, and more righteous.  And the only person who has the power to stop the greater evil is you, Mr. and Ms. John/Jane Q. Voter.  And if you don't do what you have to do to stop the greater evil, you share a measure of responsibility for its success.  That's right.  As was the case in 2010, this one's on all of you who did nothing.

And that matters tremendously, because politics, as I've said before, is more generational than local.  What we saw in 2014 is, potentially, the last gasp of a dying generation, one that made its fortune on the shifting economic sands of supply-side economics, and one that will do anything to try to hang on to that fortune before the debt that supports it destroys it.  And by anything, I mean destroying you instead.  They're happy to see you working four jobs to pay the rent.  They're happy to dream of you using whatever Social Security you get to pay off your student loans.  They're happy to see you living in a fraction of the financial circumstances you deserve, because that makes it all the easier for them to win.  And unless things change, they will win--or we will all go down together.

Apathy is a trap, built by the undeserving oppressors to keep the undeserving subjects in place.  "You can't help yourselves," they tell you.  "We're the only alternative," they will assure you.  "Get over yourselves and get used to it, because we're the only reality you'll ever know."  Are you just sitting there, buying this garbage?

Well, stop it.  Take the advice of my late father-in-law, whom I lost a year ago.  He made it through D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge with a broken back, and still managed to build a clothing business and raise two families.  His last major piece of advice to my wife and me is that you have to fight for everything in life.  Nothing comes easy, and certainly not if it's worth having in the first place.  It's advice she and I have taken to heart this year.  We've faced many challenges, but also received many blessings--a new granddaughter, a new car, and a paid-off house.

So, don't look at the political wreckage of the past year, and think that a better future can't be built.  That's the recipe for the sucker's paradise the GOP is trying to build for itself.  It CAN be done.  It MUST be done.  But it WON'T be done without you.  Make a commitment to make a difference in 2015.  A better society is waiting for you, IF you decide, as Captain Picard of "Star Trek:  The Next Generation" might put it, to make it so.

And thus, I close with the same words I closed in 2010:


Monday, December 29, 2014

Detroit By Air

I know of no more graphic illustration of how 70 years of bigotry and public policy have combined to decimate a great American city than this photo essay in The New York Times.  Take a look--and then resolve to combat the evils behind it.

Michigan, How Could You?

Of course, this is just in the lower house of Michigan's legislature.  But any discrimination against gays is reprehensible, especially when it threatens to take this form.  Let's hope and pray that this bill goes no further.

How To Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing That You Are)

That's the title of this interesting piece I stumbled upon.  It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but I still offer it as food for thought in the New Year.

"Right To Work" Doesn't Work!

And here is an astonishing confession to support that.

Is The Race To Please The 1% Slowing Down?

Maybe it is.  Good news for the rest of us and, in particular, New Yorkers worried about the cost of living.

Two New Year's Resolutions For The Democratic Party

Stand up for people like this one, who are organizing to meet basic rights.

And stand up for the kind of government that stand up for people like him, and the people he wants to help.

And Here's The Source Of Senator Lott's Common Sense

The ACA is working, whether conservatives like it or not.

Surprising Common Sense From Trent Lott

When it comes to the ACA, mend it, don't end it.  It fits in with both popular opinion and conservative tradition.  The new Congress should get to it, before the activist right-wing Supreme Court mucks it up for all of us.

How Popular Is Rape Among Men In This Country?

This popular.  To paraphrase Jefferson, this makes me tremble for our country, when I reflect that God is just and His/Her/Its/Their judgment does not tarry forever.

May There Continue To Be Many More Like Him

One of the original defenders of New York landmarks, still going strong.

Finally, Some Media Integrity On Benghazi

In the form of a belated apology.

Ten Surprising Things That Originated In Baltimore

I'll have to admit that, as a native, even I was surprised.  Take a look.

"The Interview": War In The Age Of Information

By now, there's a good chance that you've seen "The Interview," the Sony Pictures comedy about an attempt to assassinate the president of North Korea.  It says a great deal about the times we live in that it's possible to use the words "comedy" and "assassinate" in describing the same movie in a single sentence.  But what's far more remarkable is the fact that, for the first time in American history, your right to see that movie has been compromised.

Or has it?

As we all know by now, threats were made by way of the Internet, and allegedly from North Korean sources, that terrorist attacks would be made against theaters that showed "The Interview" on its scheduled release date.  Theaters began to abandon their plans to show the movie and, as a consequence, Sony cancelled the release.  Subsequently, people protested the cancellation as cowardly, and the protests reached the point at which Sony capitulated in the other direction, releasing the film on a limited basis in theaters, and also on selected Internet platforms.

But was there ever really a threat in the first place?  Here's one skeptic's view on the subject.  He outlines a number of plausible possibilities, but overlooks a rather important one, especially considering the fact that we're talking about Hollywood.

Sony got a lot of publicity out of the story.  And, perhaps, an even larger audience for "The Interview" than it might otherwise have had, especially at Christmas time with competition from a number of other releases. Not only that, but it got an opportunity to immediately send the movie onto the Internet, which is rapidly replacing theatrical release as the primary mode of film distribution.  And, by ultimately refusing to cave to the North Korean "threats," the studio gets the goodwill derived from being perceived as a defender of First Amendment rights, here and around the world.  All the sort of things that, in Hollywood, studios and artists hope to derive from a truly great publicity stunt.

Well what if this was one?

I mean, why is that so unlikely?  Thirteen years down the road from 9/11, we've largely incorporated into our day-to-day affairs the possibility that, at any moment, we may be wiped out.  And while we're not crazy about the idea of being wiped out, we've pretty much resolved to go on living the lives we want to live, in spite of it.  That attitude is reflected in the poll numbers showing large-scale opposition to Sony's initial cancellation of "The Interview"'s release.  Who's to say that Sony didn't have access to research showing that that opposition would be the majority reaction to cancellation of a film due to terrorist threats?  Or even conducted its own research on the subject?  Here's my point:  once you know how people will respond to a given set of circumstances, the next logical step is to generate publicity connected to those circumstances that will benefit you.

At the same time, all of the foregoing doesn't rule out the possibility of a threat, from either an overseas or a domestic source.  Which begs the question:  what is particularly threatening about "The Interview"?  It's a movie, right?  Movies come and go all the time, especially comedies.  Empires don't rise or crumble on the strength of a single film:  "The Great Dictator" didn't stop Hitler from nearly conquering Europe.  But North Korea and its president, Kim Jong-un, might conceivably feel threatened by its premise to try to prevent the film's release.  They might feel that threatened by its premise--in other words, by an idea--because that is the nature of the age in which we now live.

We all share a planet of rapidly depleting resources, with few palatable options for the future.  War, the conventional historical means of obtaining those resources, no longer makes sense, in that it would do little more than use up the remaining resources at an even faster pace.  Information is the one resource that continues to grow at an exponential pace.  And it is the one resource that holds the key to whatever future awaits the human race.  Which means that future disputes between nations are more likely to be conducted, and resolved, along channels of information.  Which also makes it more likely that their really was a North Korean threat; after all, who is to say that North Korea shouldn't have seen "The Interview"'s premise as a form of potential aggression?  By the same token, who is to say that North Korea's subsequent Internet problems weren't a cyberattack by our government?

We may never know the answers to any of these questions.  But we can expect more and more confrontations like this one across cyberspace, whether real or staged.  And we should, for the sake not only of our individual lives but also of our collective interest, remember one thing about the cyber-age:  the only privacy you have is the privacy you refuse to surrender to the Web.

Before You Oppose Obama On Cuba, Consider This

Like a growing number of Americans, I have had the opportunity to visit Cuba under the Castro regime.  I did so in 2003, as part of a group trip organized by the League of Historic American Theaters.  This trip was possible, despite the political climate at the time, due to a U.S. State Department program granting licenses for visits to Cuba by groups of Americans with a cultural-exchange purpose for traveling.  In the case of the LHAT trip, we went to Cuba to visit a variety of historical sites, including performance venues, and to meet with local experts on the culture and the processes involved in restoring landmarks.

The trip left me with mixed, but very powerful feelings.  In describing the trip to others, I have often said that to me, Cuba is either sadly beautiful, or beautifully sad.  As much as anything, this feeling comes from the fact that the island is frozen in time, and suffering from the effects of a horrific economic system that, notwithstanding small efforts at liberalization, still emphasizes central planning at the expense of innovation.

Much is made, of course, of the cars, all of which date from various decades prior to 1961, except for the Soviet-era vehicles that are still on the road.  But it is also the buildings as well, which also reflect the styles of earlier eras, but are falling apart in varying degrees.  And too, it is the eerie quietness that pervades much of Havana, and the surrounding area.  There is commerce, but it is being conducted on such a reduced level that one feels like a visitor in a small town, and not a city of more than 2 million.

On the other hand, there are the Cuban people.  And they show neither resentment nor a lack of language skills when it comes to dealing with Americans.  English was spoken pretty freely in most of the areas we visited, and our spending was very much appreciated.  Due to the embargo, all of this had to be done in cash, which the Cubans then exchange into the currencies of countries that have diplomatic ties to the U.S. as well as Cuba, and then ultimately into Cuban currency.  And American fashions are extremely popular, especially as related to baseball; my only confrontational moments came when I tried to protect my American baseball caps (Orioles and Mets) from being snatched off of my head.

Perhaps the moment that summed up much of the trip for me was our visit to the Gran Teatro de La Habana (Great Theater of Havana), which you can learn a little more about here.  As you can see from some of the photos, it is an architectural feast for the eyes.  Having seen the building close-up, however, I can tell you that it is in very sad shape.  On the day we visited it, however, its stage was being animated by elementary-age girls taking a dance class.  As I watched the girls leave the class with their backpacks and designer-label clothes, I was struck by how much they reminded me of their American counterparts.  And, as I was getting ready to leave for our tour bus, I was equally struck by the sight of one of LHAT's preservation professionals, an expert in plaster and paint, inspecting a long crack in the lobby wall.  One of his colleagues joked to him "I'll bet you can't wait to get started on this."

I think that all of us should feel that we can't wait to get started on the process of ending five decades of diplomatic futility.  The embargo has not made anyone in Cuba hate Castro less; if it did, Castro would have been driven from power years ago.  If anything, it has handed him a propaganda weapon that has kept him in power, despite the fact that his regime has created economic conditions that should make any self-respecting people ready to revolt.

And, at the same time, it has handed us an opportunity to practice the best kind of diplomacy:  the person-to-person kind.  There is no more powerful tool in spreading freedom than by introducing those who do not have it to those who do.  That, all by itself, is plenty of plutonium for the advancement of democracy.  And when you add American dollars to the equation, it all but guarantees the kind of non-violent liberation we achieved by similar means among the other nations of the Soviet bloc.

That is why President Obama's initiative to open up relations to Cuba should be welcomed by everyone, regardless of their political leanings.  We are not handing the Castro regime a weapon; we are taking one away from it.  We are also opening up opportunities for trade and cultural exchanges that will ultimately shake the rotting foundation of the current government, and replace it with one that will be better for both the Cuban and American peoples.  In the process, we will open a new and historic chapter in our often-troubled historic relationship with Cuba (remember the "Maine," anyone?), and also in our relationship with Latin America as a whole.

I don't believe that the President's new policy will generate a huge backlash among the American people; public sentiment has been trending in the direction of approving such an initiative.  But, of course, the usual Republican congressional suspects have already opened fire, including Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  My advice, Senator:  take some time to listen to your people and, instead of reflexively opposing Obama, do the right thing--by them, and by the people you and they left behind.  It won't hurt your Presidential prospects, such as they are, and it may help you cut yourself and everyone else loose from the dead weight of a failed policy.

And, if you have the opportunity to go to Cuba, go.  You'll see what I've been talking about.  You'll have a great time.  And you'll help a captive people take further steps to freedom.

Rudolph Giuliani: Public Enemy Number One

Five days before Christmas, a horrific crime occurs.  Two New York City police officers are murdered by a deranged madman with a gun.

Those who have protested excessive use of force by police, including media commentators, ask that the victims on both sides of the badge be remembered and honored.

But that's not what happens.

The advocates of excessive force see this as an opportunity to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor.  And show signs of succeeding.  They are aided and abetted by their allies in the media, who resort to manufacturing stories to advance their "cause."

The result?  Even though the mayor, Bill de Blasio, is invited to speak at one of the officer's funerals by the officer's family, the officer's colleagues turn their backs on their boss.  The boss who was elected by the people they are sworn to protect.

However much those officers may have intended their "gesture" as a sign of respect for their fallen comrade, I doubt that most of those watching saw it that way.  I did not.  I saw it as a sign of contempt for the process and the people they are meant to serve.  At the very least, it is a sign of contempt for the family of the deceased, if not for the Mayor and those of us who support him.  Especially on the issue of police tactics, and their potential for misuse.

At a time when sanity is needed more than ever in this country, and especially in its greatest city, we appear to have precious little of it.  I certainly don't expect any from PBA president Patrick Lynch, who has a well-documented history of self-serving insanity.  But every resident of New York City (and I speak as a former resident) has the right to expect the city's Mayor, the person elected by all of the city's citizens, to bring the city together at a time when some seek to divide it against itself.  That obligation applies no less to those who have formerly held the office.

But one of those former office-holders, Rudolph Giuliani, doesn't see it that way.  He has chosen this moment to attack his successor in the most vile, dishonest way possible.  The man whose law-enforcement policies included sodomy, the pillar of virtue who loves marriage so much that he's tried it three times, has joined Lynch in turning this tragedy into a blood-on-your-hands attack on his political enemies.

What about de Blasio offends Giuliani in particular?  The fact that, prior to the officers' death, the mayor had talked about instructing his biracial son to be careful in his dealings with the police.  As if de Blasio had no reason to do so.  As if tragedies such as Eric Garner's were not reason enough.  As if the reasons for such instructions do not pile up on almost a daily basis.

If Rudolph Giuliani truly loved New York as much as he says he does, he could and should have worked behind the scenes with de Blasio to defuse tensions between African-Americans and the police.  I suspect that de Blasio would have welcomed such help.  It's not as if he's insensitive to the divide that has grown deeper in the wake of the officers' deaths.  He requested the protesters of Garner's death to suspend their activities until after the officers' funerals, which could have been a first step toward a healing process.

But, if you're "America's Mayor," and a well-known publicity moth madly in love with the media flame, who go behind the scenes?  You've got a security business to run, and what better opportunity to burnish your tough-guy-for-profit credentials than the deaths of two police officers.  That matters more than the city you supposedly love so much, especially now that Republican primary voters have shown that they'll never elect you as president.

I don't want this crisis to reach the point at which de Blasio has to consider doing something like this.  So I've got a much better idea.  Let's make Giuliani our new Public Enemy Number One.  No, I'm not talking about giving him a martyr's death.  I'm not advocating more violence, or even more confrontation.  I'm advocating exactly the opposite.

Shun him.  Don't give him air time.  Don't give him a public forum of any sort.  Boycott the man in every conceivable way.  Don't do business with him.  Don't allow him to do business with you.  And, should you have the misfortune to encounter him personally, turn your back.  Remind him of what it truly feels like to be powerless.  And then maybe, just maybe, he'll begin to understand that the police are not the only victims here.

One more thing.  Let me go back to the beginning and remind you that these two officers were murdered by a deranged madman with a gun.

Why do deranged madmen in this country have such easy access to guns?  And which side of the political divide promotes that access?  I'll say this much for now:  it isn't the side that Lynch and Giuliani thinks has blood on its hands.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do Your Job, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission!

Fortunately, this has since been dropped, thanks to public outcry (in which your humble and obedient servant participated).  But it should never have been considered in the first place.  The Commission needs to either work harder or ask for more resources, not look for innovative ways to goof off.

"Is Christie Running? The Pigs Say 'Yes'"

Oh, the places we could go with that New York Times headline.  But we'll overlook the obvious, even though it's tempting not to do so, and just note that His Immensity has decided it's OK to veto a bill overwhelmingly supported by the residents of the state he's currently "governing," so long as doing so meets with approval by Iowa caucus voters AND helps him get an undeserved promotion to higher office.

Dream on, Your Obesity.  The pigs may say "Yes."  The rest of us are going to give you a big fat "NO."  And I do mean "fat."  Sorry, I guess I couldn't overlook it, after all.

The Times, They Are A-Changin' For Obamacare

Most people would rather change it than repeal it.

The Day You Lose An Election Is The Day You Start To Win The Next One

That's written with apologies to Roger Sterling and the writers of "Mad Men."  But here is a pair of polls that validates my point.

Good Immigration Policy Is Good Economic Policy

And here's an expert opinion on why President Obama's executive action on behalf of immigrants will help all of us.

And, Speaking Of Confessions ...

... here's a welcome one:  Reagan's Labor Secretary admitting that "Reagannomics" was, as Dick Cheney might put it, a crock.

What Does The Republican Party Stand For? Whatever It Can Get Away With

It's easy enough to come to that conclusion just from the so-called budget bill that just got approved by Congress over the weekend.  Just in time for the holidays, it's a combined Tea Party Christmas tree and a badly-stuffed gargantuan turkey for the rest of us.  (That may be an insult to turkey's, but I'll live with it.)  The single worst thing about it is that it ratifies, with the help of Democrats, legislative blackmail via "must-pass" legislation.  Unless someone in the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Truman can learn to grow a spine, this is only the beginning of whittling away civilization, inch by inch.

But that's not all they think they can get away with.  There are much worse things.  Such as torture, and the ability to be prosecuted for it.

By now, of course, you've heard about, and perhaps even read, the Senate's report on "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were used on terrorist suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  I will not list its finding in detail for that reason, although you can learn more about the specifics here if you have not done so already.  It's bad enough that it exceeds the boundaries of international law AND was used against the innocent--and all without taking out bin Laden, which President Obama was able to do without torture.

But what's even worse, if you can imagine such a thing being possible, is that the release of the report was followed up by what was tantamount to a confession on national television.  Former Vice President and torturer-in-chief Dick Cheney appeared last Sunday on "Meet the Press" to say not only that he would do it all over again, but to express no concern whatsoever about the killing of an innocent man in his drive to get "bad guys."  On the subject of persecuting the innocent, this is Cheney's response:  "I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States."

No denials of the specifics, even though he separately referred to the report itself as a "crock."  As with domestic politics, in the international arena, to a Republican, the end always justifies the means.  And, just as Cheney did with regard to the international arena, one Republican congressman has used those exact words to justify the budget bill.

And why shouldn't they feel that way?  The United States government, even under Obama, is not going to make any effort whatsoever to either prosecute the guilty domestically or turn them over to international justice, any more than he is apparently going to oppose using budget bills as instruments of ideological blackmail.  So what does the GOP have to fear?

Which is why I take issue with the concept, recently advanced here, that the government should instead issue pardons in order to establish the illegality of the interrogation process.  A pardon only goes into effect once it has been accepted.  And none of these men have any reason to feel a need to accept such a pardon.  Why accept a pardon when there's no threat of prosecution?  If you cared about the rule of law enough to do so, you wouldn't have authorized the illegality in the first place.  This is why Cheney felt free to offer his confession on Sunday.  He knows he'll pay no price for it.  It is this sort of fecklessness about international law by the nations who supposedly observe it that has lead at least one observer to question the need for an international court in the first place.

What does the Republican Party stand for?  For itself.  Not for you.  And the sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll hopefully shake off your cynicism about politics, and realize that, no matter how hard you try to run away from politics, politics runs after you.

Can Any Of Us Breathe Right Now?

Trayvon Martin.  Eric Garner.  Michael Brown.  Tamir Rice.

And those are just the best-known cases.

Consider the case of Cedric Bartee, shot to death by a police officer even after Bartee put his hands up and begged the officer not to shoot.

Or Rumain Brisbon, shot to death while delivering fast food, because a police officer allegedly mistook a pill bottle for a gun.  Let's take a minute to reflect on that one.  Now ask yourself:  Have you ever seen a pill bottle that even looked like any type of firearm?  Me neither.

Or Howard Morgan, a decorated former Chicago police officer who was shot 28 times by members of his old department--and then convicted of attempted murder because some of the arresting officers were shot, even though there was evidence that their wounds were self-inflicted.

Or Brandon McKean, who was stopped on a cold day by a police officer because he was allegedly making people nervous by walking down the street with his hands in his pockets.  (Note to parents of African-American children:  Buy your kids gloves.  Now.)

To borrow a phrase from Tom Friedman:  Do you get it now?  I hope so.  Even conservatives seem to be getting it.  The Garner case is such an egregious example that even the right-wing chattering classes were bothered by it.  I guess there's something about the words "I can't breathe" that actually manages to get past the layers of filters conservative commentators set up in their brains to block out the truth.

Frankly, I'm forced to wonder if any of us can breathe now.

I'm not going to blink at the obvious.  This is all about white violence against African-American men, backed up by the power of the state.  This is fundamentally about racism, the original sin of American that continues to corrupt our civic and individual lives.

But the empowerment of the military reflected in all of these tragedies has no reason to stop at the line of race.  Make no mistake.  The same government that can stop a black youth for keeping his hands in his pockets can just as arbitrarily stop you one day and ask you to empty your pockets.  Or take a "friendly" peek at the contents of your smart phone.  It'll be in your "national interest," of course.  Or "community safety."  But what it will be ultimately all about is about power--conservative power, expanding the one aspect of government they're madly in love with, the one that shoots bullets.  And bullets are made to be shot.  Today, it's Howard Morgan.  Tomorrow, it could be any of us, whether or not we're black.

This is why some of us were opposed to the PATRIOT Act, and other equally ill-advised measures enacted after the 9/11 attacks.  We understood that freedom can't be defended if it's thrown away.  And that getting it back once it's been thrown away is damned hard.  That's why we had a revolution in the first place.

I agree with Charles Blow in The New York Times.  This is the moment for a new generation of civil rights leaders to step forward and make a difference.  But it should also be the moment when everyone who cares about making a better world comes together with them.  Whether the issues is racism in our neighborhoods or the safety of the entire planet, progressives should be on the march together.  We are the new silent majority.  And we should be silent no longer.  Otherwise, Eric Garner will not be the only one who can't breathe, because the life will have been squeezed out of our country.

One more think:  a little unsolicited advice to the police.  Stop thinking that your problems are your critics, whether in office or on the streets.  They're your bosses.  It's not the other way around.  And just because we're grateful for your sacrifices, that doesn't mean you can't listen and learn from us.  That's not "disrespect" we're giving you.  That's civilization.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Go Back To The Tax Rates Under A Republican President

Specifically, Dwight Eisenhower.

Do You Qualify For Obama's Immigration Relief?

Take a look.

How Progressives Can Benefit From An Environmental Slogan

Think globally, act locally.  It's how the Tea Party first took over the GOP, and how the GOP used the Tea Party to take over everything but the White House.  It applies not only to environmental action, but action on every priority important to progressives.  Here's an example of how it can work in relation to the minimum wage.

Irony Weeps, Indeed

Under the category of colossal gall, you can file Ted Cruz's recent request for President Obama to "compromise" on immigration.  This article is all the rebuttal that Senator Cruz needs, but I'll add just one though for the Senator's benefit:  when the Framers were wary of monarchy, the people they were thinking about were people like him.

Go After The Johns!

That's how Sweden is combating prostitution.  And it's working.

The Power Of Fear

Let a former conservative explain to you how it works.  And, from his explanation, and his experience, let him give you hope that fear can be defeated.

Who's Responsible? You--And No One Else

As I write this, the House of Representatives has passed a one-trillion-dollar-plus spending bill to keep the federal government running (almost all of it, anyway) until the end of the current fiscal year, next September 30.  The exception, of course, is for the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only through the end of next February, to give the new all-Republican Congress a crack at somehow undoing President Obama's executive action on immigration.  I say "somehow," of course, because the president's executive action is going to be funded by the user fees of the applicants trying to take advantage of it, leaving them only the enforcement aspects of immigration to cut.

But I digress.  As inhumane as the GOP's current immigration stance is, the details of the spending bill all by themselves, along with several other end-of-the-year bills, provide a very worthy home for the Devil.  By now, you have all read or seen news about the GOP's plan's to raise the level of individual campaign contributions to $1.5 million, and to repeal the Dodd-Frank provision against using taxpayer-backed accounts to gamble in the markets.  The House bill just passed contains both provisions, and is currently on its way to the Senate, where they may or may not survive.  (The smart money says yes, but the smart money hasn't reckoned with Elizabeth Warren, nor the unlikely pairing of Senators David Vitter and Sherrod Brown joining across party lines to oppose the change in Dodd-Frank.)  A spending bill cannot be filibustered, however, and I suspect that there are enough spineless Democrats to join with the GOP caucus and get the bill to 51 votes.  As for Obama's promise to sign it with these poison pills, I'll leave that for a future post.

Those poison pills, however, are not the only goodies you're getting as a consequence of the Republican Party's expanded power.  Here are a few others:

The freedom for employers to cut payments from pension plans, in the name of "saving" the plans;

The diversion of funding for student loans to student loan lenders, in the name of helping them "service" the loans;

The blatant giveaway of 2400 acres of Apache land to a foreign mining company, a last-minute goodie from John McCain (which can now compete with Sarah Palin for the honor of being the worst decision he's ever made);

Many more, including gutting IRS and EPA funding, a fuller listing of which is provided here.  And this is by no means the end.

I noted a moment ago that this is a consequence of the GOP's expanded power.  It could just as easily be attributed to fecklessness on the part of the Democrats, or President Obama, who seems ready to resort to Clintonism in order to get through the last two years of his presidency.

But, ultimately, it's not about any of them.

It's about you.  And especially, those of you who sat at home on Election Day, thinking that the politicians would be so upset by your absence that they would respond by doing exactly what you wanted.

But politics doesn't work that way.  Not in a democracy, and not even in the plutocratic version of democracy we now have.

It's all about noise.  It's all about presence.  And, before those two things can happen, it's all about not giving up.  Because there's never a reason for giving up.  Not in the values we cherish, and not in the record of history.  If history teaches us anything, as I am fond of saying, it's that all empires crumble--from without, from within, or both.  But your silence and apathy won't make them crumble.

Do you still want change?  You have to change.  If you don't like the Democratic Party, then don't accept either it or the GOP as the status quo.  Give the status quo a good solid kick where it hurts.  Change the Democratic Party.  Form a third party.  Or a fourth one.  But stop crying, and start getting determined to make the bad guys cry.

All of these disasters I've listed are on all of us.  Unless we start doing something about it.  Right now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What The Demise Of The New Republic Really Means

The mass resignations that, for now, have spelled the end of The New Republic have a message for progressives everywhere.  And a somewhat counter-intuitive one, given last month's election results.

For my part, my initial reaction to this news made me feel a little bit like the dancer in "A Chorus Line" who, upon hearing that her former acting teacher had died, cried because she felt "nothing."  Because I felt that I should feel something.  When I was growing up, my parents did not subscribe to many magazines, and most of the ones they did subscribe to were concerned with news and politics.  The New Republic was one of those.  But what I liked about it was its mix of liberal think-pieces on then-current policy debates and articles, including reviews of films and plays (even if their critic for both, Stanley Kaufmann, disliked almost everything on Broadway simply because he hated Broadway).  In hindsight, it seems fair to say that TNR nurtured the mixed interests I have in politics and culture that (I hope) is reflected in this blog.

So I can't fault Ross Douthat, in his most recent New York Times column, for mourning the loss of that mix that TNR has provided for over a century.  Likewise, I join him in missing the synthesis of ideas that policy journals like TNR have added to our political debates for decades.  Douthat is correct in identifying this loss as being partially a consequence of the Internet age.  In a world where every writer is also his or her own editor and publisher, nobody's thinking is corrected and blended to produce a joint perspective that is stronger and more accurate than any of its individual parts.  In musical terms, the Internet is a chorus in which every singer is trying to be a soloist.  It may be a great experience for each of the singers, but not so much for the audience.

But I am forced to part company with Douthat at the point where he asserts that TNR, "unlike many liberal outlets, in its finest years it published, employed and even occasionally was edited by people on the right of center — something some of us particularly appreciated."  He, of course, is free to regard that as an asset, just as David Greenberg in Slate is free to mourn its loss as depriving liberalism of a useful in-house voice of criticism.  For there is an enormous and significant difference between thoughtful self-criticism and rampant self-flagellation.  It is one thing to make occasional course corrections, and another to spend every moment envying the course that the other boat is taking.

And the latter tendency is what TNR began to succumb to when Martin Peretz bought in in 1974.  Peretz was and is pro-Israeli to the point at which every political issue discussed in the magazine was filtered through that particular policy lens--usually under the guise of debates about American military resolve, first in the Cold War era, and then in the post 9/11 world.  This matched Peretz's own views on Israeli politics, more Likud than Labor.  Over time, the strength of truly liberal voices in the magazine were diminished, with the calm reasoning of Michael Kinsley being replaced by the ravings of Mickey Kaus.  Kaus is an especially egregious example of the I'm-a-Democrat-who-likes-sounding-like-a-Republican-because-it gets-me-published type that TNR began to feature in the Peretz era.  He now writes for The Daily Caller, which should make one wonder if he wasn't really a Republican all along.

Which brings me to the reason why TNR's death, assuming that it is final, leaves me feeling nothing.  Its philosophical castration at the hands of Peretz mirrors the decline and fall of the liberal movement in America.  Thanks to the extent to which liberalism has been co-opted by the Martin Peretzes of the world, liberals as a group have become too defensive, too self-doubting, and ultimately too week to say anything to the rest of America except "Me too, but ... ."  And even the "but" never gets past debating quibbles rather than anything of substance.

And all this, in the end, to do what?  To align yourself with some of the worst bigots in history, including Peretz himself.  His idea of Israeli foreign policy is wiping out every Arab, a goal as amoral as it is impossible.  But Peretz's bigotry doesn't stop there; it overflows into American domestic policy.  If you have a strong stomach, you can get the full flavor of it here.

So if this, in fact, is the end of The New Republic, I'm afraid I won't cry.  The only thing that might make me cry would be if progressives don't find the backbone to replace TNR with a journal--or an Internet alternative--worthy of the principles that give birth to TNR in the first place.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't Be Too Depressed About New York Landmarks

Many are still being saved and reused, like the Victoria Theater (as I reported the other day).  Here's another one.  Long live Pier A!

Weapons Are Made To Be Used

Hence, more guns, more crime.  Numbers don't lie.

Government Does Succeed

Whether the problem is Ebola or promoting solar energy.  Republicans don't want to tell you that, but Paul Krugman is happy to help you.

Curious About The Storage Closets Of New York Museums?

Take a look.

Lest You Doubt The Hypocrisy In Ferguson ...

... consider how differently the same prosecutor in charge of the Darren Wilson grand jury investigation deals with an African-American officer and a lesser offense.

Even Republicans Agree ...

... that Obama should have been on the campaign trail.  They're right.  Only Democrats have this kind of talent for shooting themselves in both feet.

Will The Supreme Court Gut Obamacare, And Thereby Give Obama A Chance To Improve It?

Once again, Obamacare is in jeopardy.  Or so it seems.

The Supreme Court is going to consider the question of whether, under the language of the Affordable Care Act, subsidies are permitted for individuals who purchase insurance through an insurance exchange operated by the federal government.  The lower-court suit is little more than a proxy for gutting Obamacare all together, since the "affordability" part of the ACA is largely based on those subsidies, and their loss would put the entire law in danger of total failure.  The suit is only possible in the first instance because of sloppy legislative drafting, which in turn was made possible by the rush to get the ACA from Congress to the White House.  Fixing the drafting would be easy, but would now require the approval of a Republican Congress.  You can figure out the rest.

On the other hand, is it truly that easy that easy for them?  You know most Democrats tend to be worry-warts, and even the possibility of a mortal blow to President Obama's signature accomplishment has them on red alert.  And, after last month's election, it's undoubtedly a lot easier for progressives to give in to despair.  But just because it's easier doesn't mean that it's true.  There are two powerful reasons to believe that Obamacare is not in danger at all.  And, even if those reasons should not help to carry the day for the ACA in the Supreme Court, there may actually be an opportunity for Democrats in the wake of defeat--if they are strong enough to seize it.

The first reason rests in the strength, or lack thereof, in the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case that the Court will consider.  As a matter of law, deference to congressional intent by the courts is quite extreme.  If the government gives any reasonable interpretation of a statute in implementing it, the government wins if that implementation is challenged.  In effect, the plaintiffs in this case would have to prove that it is unreasonable to assume that subsidized coverage was the intention of the Affordable Care Act.  Even granting that this Court has an appetite for challenging settled law, it seems doubtful that they would go as far as the plaintiffs want them to go in this case.  It would open up the proverbial floodgates to challenges to every drafting error made by every Congress--including many made by Republican Congresses.  The game simply wouldn't be worth the candle, and the conservative majority on the Court knows it.

And when the conservative majority on the Court isn't moved by settled law, it is surely moved by the power of the corporate interests it serves through that the Citizens United decision, as well as others.  And, whether conservatives like it or not, the simple fact of the matter is that Obamacare has been good for American corporations, especially health insurance corporations.  John Roberts and his cronies aren't going to want to upset that applecart.

And what if they do?  What should Democrats do then?  Spend all of their time crying in their beer?  Or do the one thing any political party should do in defeat--go on fighting for what it believes is right?  I don't know about you, but I think the answer is obvious.  Oppose any effort to use the Court's ruling to defund Obamacare, and push to make it even better--not simply by extending subsidized coverage, but making it even easier for states to set up single payer systems, as Vermont is currently doing under the provisions of the ACA.  Corruption on the part of one party is not an excuse for the other party to cave into it.  You don't end fighting by running from a fight--you end it by winning.

So, my advice to progressives regarding this latest twist in the road for the ACA?  Cheer up.  And then buck up.  Remember the words of Edward Kennedy, a lifelong champion of health care reform: 
For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage. We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.

In Defense Of Malia And Sasha

In case you have not seen or otherwise heard about this yet, allow me to introduce you to the latest, and without a doubt one of the most egregious, examples of right-wing bullying.

It turns out that not even so innocuous (and ridiculous) an event as the Presidential pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey is exempt from the shrill voices of the Republican echo chamber.  Not when the President in question is Barack Obama, that is.  This year, the President's now-teenage daughters, Malia and Sasha, attended the silly holiday event and, in the eyes of at least some spectators, appear to be bored.  Perhaps they were.  If they were bored, as far as I'm concerned, that merely shows that their parents and grandmother are doing a good job of raising them.  If they were so superficial and idiotic as to think this idiotic tradition should be a source of fascination to them, I for one would be deeply disappointed.

But Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), felt that their facial boredom, as well as their clothes, were nothing less than a national scandal.  Overlooking the fact that her job permits her to speak for her boss, and not herself, she decided to post the following on Facebook:
Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.
Dear Ms. Lauten:

Sasha and Malia are indeed in "those awful teen years."  And, by all reports, they have handled themselves and the position in society that they did not choose to have in exemplary fashion.  It's clear from the cheap shot at their parents you've tucked into your "letter" that you are just using them as a proxy for an attack on the President that you are not brave enough to make openly.  Your lack of courage and character in this regard is your problem.  Trying to make it a problem for these two young women, who have done nothing to you or your employer, is worse than reprehensible.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they are dressed.  This was not a formal event.  It is a stupid public ceremony that should have been retired long ago.  I'm sure they have much better things to do with their time (like their homework) than humor their father by putting in an appearance at it.  Frankly, humoring him IS showing a little class.

And that doesn't even take into account the fact this President, and his family, have spent six years subject to the most vitriolic hatred to which any president has been subjected to since Lincoln.  They have been the object of egregious racism.  They have been subject to a level of public and physical threats greater than any modern President and his family have had to endure.  And, thanks to the budget cuts approved by your employer's party, those threats have followed them all the way into the White House itself.  If, after all of that, they look no worse than "bored," they've shown more class than your party has shown in the last six years.

As for your "apology,"  color me unimpressed.  Your insulting post is out there on the Internet forever, where it will continue to inflict harm on Sasha and Malia, and provide aid and comfort to others who don't have the decency or the guts to criticize the President directly.  And, if you truly needed prayer to understand that what you did was wrong, you have no business whatsoever working in public service.

I do have a suggestion.

If you want your apology to be taken seriously, then take your own advice and "show a little class."  Or, at least, a little humility.  Go to the White House in person, and meet with the President, the First Lady, and their daughters.  Apologize in person.  And take a little time to get to know all four of them as people.  You will have demonstrated a true spirit of sorrow in the process, and you may end up making a small contribution to the public dialogue both sides of the political divide need to have.

And, on top of that, I'll forgive you as well.

Stephen Rourke

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Can Hillary Still Win?

If so, she's going to have to start by finding a different voice on economic matters from that of her husband.  Hopefully, he recognizes that as well.  By this time two years from now, we'll find out just how adaptable his legendary adaptability really is.

One Answer To The Problems Of Vacant Urban Lots

Urban farms, a trend that has now spread to Baltimore.

Solar Power: A SUCCESSFUL Public Investment

Those are the facts.  Republicans certainly won't promote them.  Let's hope the Democrats aren't so shy.

In Harlem, The Apollo Gets A New/Old Neighbor

The renovated Victoria Theater, which will now serve as the entrance to a new hotel but will still contain a performance space.  I'm kind of surprised I'm embracing this as easily as I am, because, in my early days as a theater preservationist, I was not a big fan of this kind of adaptive re-use.  As I've gotten older, and more aware of the limits that modern life imposes on preservation efforts, my thinking about adaptive re-use has become more flexible.  It's always good to save as much as you can and, if projects like the Victoria accomplish that, I'm all for them.

In Chattanooga, The Camel Nose Of The UAW Pokes Under The VW Tent

With VW's blessing.  It's a long way from a true collective bargaining agreement, but it's a start.

One More Piece Of Good News From Election Night

Stacking state judicial elections was a complete failure.  At the same time, the fact that it was unsuccessful is all the more reason for progressives to work harder in the next election at taking back power at the local level.  Clearly, trying to do so is not hopeless.  Equally clearly, it's never been more essential to do so that it is now.

It's About Time, Mr. President--And It's Still Not Enough

In national elections, the two-month period between a big election victory and assuming power is a time when our national politics is basically in a victory-lap mode.  The party that wins is predicting that their good times will last forever, the party that loses wonders if it will ever win again, and the media is gloating about how they predicted the outcome all along (even if they didn't).  Rarely does anything happen during the two-month period to rain on this predictable parade.

Enter Barack Obama, stage left, pulling a giant thunderhead labeled "executive action on immigration reform."

For some of us, to extend the theatrical metaphor, the arrival of the president and executive action has been a little bit like waiting for Godot--something that seemingly would never happen, while we passed the time watching our vaudevillian politicians demonstrate the meaninglessness of life.  As it turns out, God writes better drama than Beckett did.  Godot, in the form of Obama, finally showed up, and in a big way.  And Republicans are furious.  To be sure, their anger is in theory based on the President has allegedly abused his power.  But history, the thing that conservatives supposedly worship, proves them wrong.  So that argument, much like the President's next budget, is dead on arrival.

Of course, their fury might actually account for something, if they could manage to unite around a united course of action.  And the corporate media are waiting for them to do just that; there's nothing they like better than beginning a headline or a news story with the words "Republicans United."  But that may be easier said than done.  Republicans may think, for the moment, that they can paper over their very real differences on the issue by talking about "outreach."  But real outreach means giving something to voters that goes beyond sloganeering, and the immigrant community knows it, even if the GOP doesn't.

For Democrats and their supporters, especially for those in the immigration community (immigrants, and their advocates), this is in fact a tremendous opportunity to spike the punch bowl in the Republicans victory party.  One is forced to wonder where we would be politically, had Obama gone against the wishes of red-state Democrats and issued his executive orders back in the spring.  Would the outcome in November have been significantly different?  It's certainly hard to imagine how it could have been much worse.

Putting 20-20 hindsight aside, here are the steps the Democrats should take to climb through the window of opportunity that the President has opened for them:

First, use the orders as a launch pad for a renewed effort at passing a comprehensive immigration bill.  As you have no doubt read by now, somewhere between 4 to 5 million undocumented people now have a chance to live their lives openly, thanks to Obama's executive orders.  However, that leaves somewhere between 6 to 7 million in the shadows.  This is because the relief provided by the orders depends fundamentally on either being a parent, or entering the U.S. as a child.  For those who do not fall into either category, Obama's actions offer no help.  And, even if they did, there would still be a desperate economic need for changes to provide more visas for foreign guest workers and investors, and faster processing times for petitions currently backlogged for decades.  That's right.  Not years.

As for foolish and empty Republican rhetoric about poisoning the well, or playing with matches, not only should it be ignored, it should be defied.  Obama should make a commitment not to sign anything until Congress sends him a bipartisan, comprehensive bill.  If they send him the bill previously approved by the Senate, fine.  If they send him something better, fine.  If they send him something substantially worse, veto it--and tell them to go back to the drawing board.  Tell them that their two previous years of stubbornness have helped allow a human rights crisis to fester, and that it will no longer be tolerated.  That stubbornness, combined with the magnitude and inhumanity of the problem, justifies a hard-line stance.

Second, use the orders and the effort to launch CIR as a vehicle for launching a broader argument in favor of economic fairness, and legislation to achieve it.  Much of the what-went-wrong analysis for the Democrats has focused on the absence of a strong message focused on economic inequality, and I agree with this.  Immigration reform is a key part of addressing inequality; it has been documented beyond doubt that immigrants, documented and undocumented, generate more in tax revenues than they receive in public benefits, which creates a bigger "pie" for all of us.

Far from being a weapon to use against Democrats in their efforts to broaden their base, immigration reform provides an opportunity for tying the needs of immigrants to the broader economic needs of voters--bank reform, a higher minimum wage, infrastructure repair, voting rights, union organization, student debt, and so on.  Democrats continuously shoot themselves in the foot by failing to understand that these are the types of issues that cross the North-South divide in our politics.  Immigration reform could a key in helping to bridge that gap in time for 2016.

So congratulations, Mr. President.  Thanks for spiking the Republican punch bowl.  And urge your allies in Congress and across the country to find other ways to crash the party.  Perhaps the outcome will be an even bigger and better celebration in two years--for the undocumented, and for all of us.  After all, all of us except for Native Americans are immigrants.  It's time to embrace that fully.  It's good politics, and, more importantly, it's the right thing to do--which is what our politics are supposed to be about in the first place.

A Few, Hopefully Helpful, Thoughts About Ferguson

By now, it is beyond any doubt that the election of the first African-American president in our nation's history did not herald the emergence of a "post-racial" era.  Far from it.  Rather, it has unleashed the racism that has been bottled up in a large segment of the American people, and that previously only surfaced in code, with "state's rights" being the most frequently-used code phrase of all.  It has served to reaffirm the position of racism as the original sin of the Republic, ignored in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, promoted through legal segregation and voting restrictions even after a civil war ended slavery, and used again and again in modern times by one of our two major political parties as a wedge issue, and as a major component of its national strategy.

It is not surprising that Missouri, given its key role in the nineteenth-century effort to keep America "half-slave and half-free," to borrow from Lincoln, should serve as the location for the flash point of the anger that has been building for some time about the decline of white power in our national culture and politics.  Geographically, the Show-Me State is at the intersection of the Union-Confederacy dividing line, and its history with regard to race relations has been described as "tortured."  The tragedy of Michael Brown's death, and the violence that followed, could easily have happened elsewhere in the state; the town of Ferguson was just the unlucky and unhappy landing point for the racial lightning that was always destined to strike.

And make no mistake:  there are two real and distinct tragedies here.  Whether you like Michael Brown or not, and whether you think of him as a criminal or not, he was unarmed and take from his family and friends by the power of the state.  You do not have to think of him as a pillar of the community to realize that this is not only wrong as it relates to Michael Brown, but to any one of us in a similar situation.  And thanks to the post-9/11 militarization of the police, any of us, and therefore potentially all of us, can easily be in that situation.

In fairness to the police, however, they are not aided by the efforts of gun-rights activists, many of them with racial motivations, to flood this country with firearms.  But the combination of firepower that now exists on both sides of the police-citizen divide desperately calls for a major rethinking of the distribution and regulations of firearms in this country, a regulation that was not only written into the Constitution through the Second Amendment (sorry, Mr. Justice Scalia, but that's the truth), but was also at one time supported by the National Rifle Association itself.  And, if the death of Michael Brown does not move you to support such a rethinking, perhaps this will.

Violence breeds violence, and Brown's death is no exception to that fact.  And that statement is one of fact, not of support to the instigators of the second tragedy--the rioters in Ferguson allegedly "protesting" the grand-jury decision not to indict the officer who killed Brown.  Their anger was legitimate; their actions were not.  The destruction for which they, and they alone, are ultimately responsible, harmed white and black residents and businesses, promoted social division within the community, and provide political ammunition for those who view Brown's death not as a tragedy, as they should, but as a triumph.

Where do we all go from here?  And, in the immortal words of Rodney King, can't we all get along?

Where we go from here is peaceful, large-scale, sustained protest.  A successful reform moment isn't distinguished by the drama it creates.  It is distinguished by the unwillingness of its members to give up.  Instead of giving up, we must show up.  Every day.  In every state.  In every town.  And we must do it together, crossing not only geographic lines, but racial ones as well.  We must stop shouting, and start talking, and listening.  And, in the process, we must not forget that a young man was unnecessary taken from his family and his community.  We will never know what his life might have been otherwise, and what we might have lost as a consequence of his death.  None of us who become adults are who we are as teenagers.

And the organized protests must, inevitably, turn toward organized political action.  Toward electing politicians who believe in solving problems, not in dividing and conquering the people.  That, sadly, is the difference between the two major parties today.  And, lest you think I'm coming from an overly partisan perspective, consider this.  Frankly, in the short run, if you want to make a small difference, you can get involved in next Saturday's run-off Senate election in Louisiana, a state that was purged of much of its African-American population by the "response" to Hurricane Katrina.  Organize.  Contribute.  And VOTE.  Use the election to send a message to the divide-and-conquer party that the people are coming together, and on the march.

For a peaceful country.  For a united country.  For a country that does not use its young people as target-practice for its anger.  For a country that can face its original sin and finally overcome it.  For a country that can answer Rodney King with a simple "Yes, we can."

UPDATE (today):  Perhaps this is a small sign of hope.

Monday, November 24, 2014

History, Told In Pictures

Fifty photographs that may surprise you, but that also how little we change as a species over time.

How Reagan DIDN'T End The Cold War

Gorbachev and the East German government ended it.  Here's how.

Proof That The Arts Mean Dollars And Sense For Cities

They helped prevent Detroit's bankruptcy settlement from being far worse financially for the city's creditors and employees.  Let's hope that Detroit, in this regard and others, become a model for other financially distressed cities.

I Know No One Likes The IRS, But ...

... that shouldn't allow churches the freedom to try and serve God and Mammon at the same time.  Obama should tell the Service to grow a spine and go after these people.  I would, without any compunctions.

Hey Democrats, Want To Start Building A Bipartisan Platform For 2016?

Start with three words:  Repeal Citizens United.  Hammer them home at every opportunity that you have.  And it wouldn't hurt if you shoved this article in everyone's faces on a regular basis.

How To Save The Planet And Grow The Pie

Solar bike lanes.  Place along public roads, they can reduce pollution, and create a revenue stream for state and local governments.  Are you listening, Governor-in-Waiting Mizeur?

The View From An Independent

Take a look.  I agree with it, especially the part about the 50-state strategy.  Obama would have been nowhere without it.

Capitalism Explained

And yes, this really IS so funny that it hurts.  Especially since it's all true.  In any case, a reminder that, in real life, the only thing that capitalism has in common with the theory is the name.

THIS Is The Kind Of Minister Whose Political Views SHOULD Be Heard

The kind who reminds us that we are the change we seek.  I said that myself in an earlier post.  But perhaps not quite this well.

And A Memo To Maryland Republicans

Dump this guy.  Now.  Or Larry Hogan's puny hand of cards will get even smaller in a hurry.

Don't You Just Love It When They're This Honest?

I mean, about that N-word, Obama?  And my side is supposed to feel humiliated about Election Night?  Please.

Memo To Maryland Democrats: Get Over It

You nominated a gubernatorial candidate with no political instincts, despite the fact that he was given eight years to develop them.  In that sense, you deserved to lose.  Trust me, this is 2002 all over again.  Let Larry Hogan have his four years of incompetence.  It'll remind Marylanders of why they make the Free State a blue one.

And, best of all, this candidate will be waiting in the wings.  Someone who knows how to grow the pie, instead of just carving it up or raising its price.  Go, Heather!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Warren Anderson: A Portrait Of A Corporate Predator?

This New York Times obituary for Warren Anderson, the former chair and chief executive of Union Carbide Corporation, made me reflect on the life and times of his former corporation, some of which is (of course) is related in the obituary.

The obituary goes into considerable detail about the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India.  The tragedy, in addition to the horrific Indian loss in lives, turned Mr. Anderson effectively into a fugitive from Indian justice for the rest of his life, while the financial toll from the settlement with Indian authorities and the public relations toll from the accusations made by Indian officials, employees and residents eventually took Carbide from the top of the Fortune 500 ranks to its current status as a subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

I can't say that anyone foresaw the Bhopal tragedy.  Certainly, I didn't.  But I can't say that I was completely shocked by it.  By the loss of life, yes.  But not by Carbide's evasive manner of dealing with it.

Union Carbide came on my radar (apart from Eveready commercials) during the 1970s, when my fascination with New York City, which began with the World's Fair, led to an obsession with media stories about the city's decline and near-fall.  On the economic side, a major part of that decline was the departure of corporate headquarters to the suburbs or the Sunbelt.  When Carbide announced, in 1976, that it was moving its world headquarters from New York City to Danbury, Connecticut, it was an especially devastating blow, as 3,500 employees were leaving the city with the headquarters.  Pleas from city and state officials were to no avail, as Carbide officials cited "quality of life" considerations (i.e., getting away from the city's soaring crime rate, but also easing the commute for top-ranking executives who lived in the suburbs).

At the time, departures such as Carbide's were considered to exemplify the superior wisdom of nimble private-enterprise management, compared to the bureaucratic, tax-hungry perspective of public officials.  But corporate relocations--and the public incentives that often fuel them--have nothing to do with capitalism.  If anything, they reflect the laziness of both public and private officials who would rather play games than do the hard work of thinking about new and creative ways to make their companies, cities or states better.  Capitalism shouldn't be fueled by public-sector bribes, and governments shouldn't play favorites with their treatment of businesses.  Both practices are breeding grounds for corruption.

I'm not saying that, had Union Carbide remained in New York, the Bhopal disaster would never have occurred.  I am saying that the basic, looking-out-for-Number-One mentality that fuels these decisions, and the assistance provided in making them by public officials charged with looking out for the public interest, can be seen as the start of a slippery slope that begins in Danbury and ends in Bhopal.  If you are treated like a God, over and over again, you will be tempted to think you are infallible.  And, because you are not, that mindset makes you an inevitable, if not willing, agent of tragedy.

Perhaps Warren Anderson took to his grave the answer to question of what happened in Bhopal, and why.  Maybe it had nothing to do with the mindset that took Carbide to Connecticut.  But he was in upper management at the time both decisions were made.  It might have been his greatest gift if he could have found a way to share some insights into the Carbide mentality.  The corporation began its death spiral on his watch.  What he knew, or didn't know, might help other corporations, or public officials, from making the same mistakes.

A Little Advice By Way Of John Wanamaker

... you STILL are the change you seek.

I'm talking to progressives everywhere when I say that.  But I'm specifically talking to you, millennials.

This guy is partially right.  Obama and the Democrats need to offer you more to earn your vote.  But here's a little hint about the way in which democracy works:  you don't have to wait for them to do it.

And I'd like to offer a little inspiration from an unexpected source:  a one-percenter from an earlier century by the name of John Wanamaker.

If you're from Philadelphia, you already know who Wanamaker was.  The founder of what is believed to be the first department store in the United States, Wanamaker also was a major philanthropist in his home town of Philadelphia, and served as Postmaster General under President Benjamin Harrison.  In spite of those facts, his memorial at Philadelphia's City Hall has a simple inscription:

(Photo taken from

CITIZEN.  That's what John Wanamaker was to the people of Philadelphia, after he died.  More than a merchant, a government official or a philanthropist, he was a citizen.  He was involved in all aspects of his city's life.  "Citizen" was, as a consequence, the greatest title he could have been given.

Those of you who are experts on Wanamaker know that he was not a point-by-point progressive.  But that is not the point.  Rather, it is what his life meant to Philadelphians, and how they chose to honor him.

To be truly a citizen, one must be involved in all aspects of the life of your city, your county, your state and your country.  Not once in a while, and certainly not just every two years.  Or, for that matter, every four years, when the presidential elections show up.

You don't have to wait for Obama.  Or, for that matter, the next Obama.  And you certainly don't have to wait for the next opportunity to vote.  Why not decide to be the next Obama?  Run for office.  Follow the example of the GOP, and seize control of the Democratic Party at the local level.  Get yourself elected to local and state positions in government.  And run for Congress as well.

And, if you're not comfortable with being in the public eye, get involved anyway, and stay involved.  Organize.  Donate.  Register voters.  And never lose sight of the fact that Obama would never have happened in the first place, without you.  And someone like him will never happen again, without you.

Whatever you do, don't despair and drop out.  That simply guarantees the outcome the other guys want.  And it is never guaranteed.  They don't have to be in charge.  You're the ones who get to decide whether or not that happens.

So take this guy's advice.  And this one's.  And be a citizen.  Today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.  You won't regret it.  And neither will your children and grandchildren.

Unsolitcited Advice For The President And His Party

President Obama's post-election news conference was a relief, after last week's disastrous election.  And, I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that.  Especially in the run-up to it, before he appeared at the podium, with reporters debating amongst themselves how far the President would go to offer terms of surrender.  Would he crawl in on his hands and needs?  Would he offer up a singed copy of the ACA on a silver platter?  You get the idea.

And, while there were a few moments of platitudes about cooperation, which is about all the similar GOP platitudes deserve, I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised.

He didn't back off on his willingness to take executive action, especially with regard to immigration reform.  He didn't offer an apology for any of his accomplishments to date.  And he rebuffed the attempts of a reporter (from Fox, of course) to goad him into surrendering the last two years of his presidency to Congressional Republicans.

As Politico reported, there was no Clinton-style "pivot" designed to make Republicans or their supporters happy.  And that's exactly the right thing to do, after an election where two-thirds of the voters stayed home, and most of those people are your supporters.  And props to Obama for acknowledging that fact.

Like many of you, I have long been frustrated with the president's seemingly bottomless desire to start out on his knees in facing his opponents, and work his way down from there.  I'm taking the post-election news conference as a sign that those days are over.

They should be.  For him, and his party.  This is the essence of my advice to Obama and the Democrats:  break out of the "bipartisan" urge to surrender, and acknowledge what you are:  liberals.  Especially after an election in which liberalism won

Here are a few reasons why:

This election was not an anomaly.  It was the sixth year of a Democratic Presidency with a large number of red states in play.  There's nothing unusual when the party out of the White House loses seats after six years in power.  It happened in 1966, in 1974, in 1986 and in 2006.  Only the media, with its vested interest in being seen or read, says otherwise.  And it's high time for Democrats to stop worrying about whether the media likes them or not.  They don't.  So get over it, and get on with it.

You can win in a tough electoral environment for your party, if you don't apologize for who you are.  Going into this election, Republicans moved heaven and earth to make the Michigan Senate race a potential pick-up opportunity for them.  It didn't happen, because Gary Peters refused to run away from Obama.  Of course, it also helped that his opponent proved to have a talent for wackiness.  But so did other Senate Republican candidates, and they won.  Peters' willingness to stand up for his president and his party's values made the difference.  When 2016 rolls around, Democrats, and their patrons and voters, should look for more candidates like him.  Which leads me to this:

The 2016 electorate will not look like the 2014 version.  It will be bigger.  And younger.  The Republican base is essentially a dying base, that will diminish with each successive election.  President Obama and his allies in Congress need to remember that.  I expect that the president will remember that; I'm not so sure about his allies.  But I hope that I'm wrong.

The GOP controls Congress, but not the issues.  They spent the entire election running away from the issues.  Climate change is perhaps the biggest example; in fact, climate change cost them an election in this cycle, in deep-red Nebraska.  And it's not the only issue that going to haunt them over the next two years; with the expiration of the PATRIOT Act, the Republicans (to say nothing of the Democrats) will have to weigh the public's concerns about privacy in deciding whether or not to renew it, and to make changes in it.  This is one huge area where Obama and Democrats can take the lead, and recapture the loyalty of younger voters.  Students loans represent another.  As for the ACA, Republicans should be careful what they wish for; in its present form, the law has the potential to help people in states they control.  How far do they want to go in disrupting that potential?

It's no wonder that The National Review is telling the GOP not to govern.  The GOP has the election results.  Not the issues, not the majority of the people, and not the future.  Just a short-term election win in the long-haul struggles to make the greatest nation on earth even better.

Obama and the Democrats should not lose sight of any of this.  And neither should you, because ...

Liberals Lost, But Liberalism Won

If you're reading this, you are probably alternating between anger and depression.  As am I.  I've been doing that for most of the past five days.  How do I overcome it?

Simple.  By coming back to facts.  And this is the most important one about last Tuesday.  Other than the determination by the people of Kansas that they're going to experiment with economic suicide (and a senator who will continue to live in a La-Z-Boy in Virginia).

Liberals lost.  But liberalism won.  All over the country, in fact.

Start with what should have been the signature issue for Democrats in this election:  the minimum wage.  In referendums to increase it in four red states--three of which elected Republican senators the same day, with a fourth likely to follow suit--voters supported increasing it, as the also did in San Francisco and Illinois.

And it gets better from there.  Voters also rejected ballot initiatives restricting abortion, and approved ones to legalize marijuana.  And, in several instances, approved paid sick leave.

And fracking?  It lost.  In Texas, in the town that invented it, despite proponents outspending opponents by a 10-to-1 margin.  This is like a successful effort to ban tanning in California.

And where were the Republicans, the nominal big winners on Tuesday night?  What did they think of all of this?  We won't find out, I guess, until they take office next January.  Because they were too busy doing what they do best--deceiving the public--by trying hard to sound like Democrats, rather than the Tea Party.

What about the Democrats who sounded like Democrats?  Well, I have to admit there weren't a lot of them, because of bullying from the GOP and its media allies.  But they were there, and they won.  In Florida, and in Michigan (where the Democratic Senate candidate was the only Senate candidate not to run from President Obama).

So, unlike the media, and the Republicans, who have jointly concluded that conservatives have been given a century-long lease on life, what conclusions should we draw from the election disaster?

That it was about anger.  And GOP gimmicks.

The New York Times has described it as "The Tornado Election," saying that voters were simply so angry as to flatten everything in sight, without regard for who or what it was.  If that's the case, however, it's impossible to read this as an election whose outcome favors either party.  As I've said many times, anger isn't a philosophy, a policy or a program.  It's just anger, and it destroys everything it touches.

And if the Republican future now really depends on a combination of dark money, gerrymandering and voter restrictions, the party has effectively forfeited any claim it might otherwise have had to holding the hearts and minds of the American people.  The ballot initiative results forfeits it for them.

People, especially politicians come and go.  Issues are what ultimately drive politics, and dictate the outcomes.  The issues are clearly on our side.  It only remains for the Democrats and their supporters to remind people of that fact.  Every day.  From now until we're back in the saddle by November of 2016.

Which leads me to my next point ...