Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I've Said It Before, But I Never Grow Tired Of Pointing It Out ...

... especially since stories about it keep popping up everywhere:  The redder the state, the greater the likelihood that it's a welfare queen.

See you in May!  And mazel tov to my new granddaughter, Ilana!

A "Landmark" On The Road To Recovery

I have said before that, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, you measure recovery from such a tragedy in decades.  We are now well into our second decade of the aftermath, and when I saw this, it brought to mind this.

It takes time, and strength, and hope.  And it doesn't require forgetting those we have lost.  But, as a nation, we can recover.  And move forward.  One daring step at a time.

Can Robots Create A Work-Free World?

Perhaps not work-free, but certainly one in which there will be more humans than jobs that need to be performed by them.  That's what worries this author in The New York Daily News.  He proposes Milton Friedman's guaranteed income as a potential solution.  I'm willing to go along with that, but it would take nothing short of a true political revolution to make it happen.

Then again, maybe that's how the revolution begins.  With robots.  All of this does raise anew an ever-present question:  does technology work for us, or we for it?  Let's hope we get the answer to that right.

Baltimore Is Indeed Much More Than "The Wire"

A spirited defense of my hometown, with which I am more than happy to concur.  Unfortunately, in the entertainment world, crime has something in common with sex--it sells.  But, if you've never been here, I hope that this article encourages you to visit.

"Socialized" Health Care In This Country Didn't Start With The ACA

It actually started with the Founding Fathers.  Take a look.

Does Conservatism Have ANY Principles Left?

Or has the whole movement become nothing more than a study in rank hypocrisy.  Take a look at this piece on the subject of religious freedom and gay marriage.  Nothing says "freedom for me, but not for thee" quite like it.

For that matter, take a look at this:  Hobby Lobby doesn't want its employees to have access to birth control, while it invests its funds in abortions.  Being an evangelical clearly isn't what it used to be.  

Are Conservatives Ready To Face Their Own "Adolesence"?

George F. Will, himself no stranger to adolescent arguments--or, for that matter, aiding and abetting felonies, such as his silence on the matters of how Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush each managed to steal their presidencies--recently launched this tirade against Barack Obama, who has labored for the last five years to undo at least some of the damage done by his infamous predecessors. In term-paper fashion--itself something of an adolescent strategy--Will attempts to identify four illustrations of the President's alleged arrested development in the latter's well-earned victory lap around the launch of Obamacare.

He faults Obama for a supposed "straw man":  the argument that no one would sign up.  Any cursory review of the anti-ACA rhetoric over the past several months would find that scarecrow to have very real legs.  He faults him for saying the debate over the ACA is over.  Perhaps Will, given his forte for helping to rig elections, doesn't regard any outcome he dislikes as The End.  But one would think that Obama's re-election, combined with nearly 50 unsuccessful repeal attempts and a rapidly shifting public mood on the subject, should end the debate over Obamacare's right to exist. 

Will further faults Obama for saying that the ACA is "working," declaring health care reform to be "a substantial net subtraction from the nation’s well-being," but offering no evidence of the "subtraction" or its "substantial" nature.  Tell that to the more than 10 million Americans who signed up for it--or the other ones who benefit from the law's provisions requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions.  The real subtraction that's happening now in health care is taking place in red states, where governors are refusing to accept the bill's Medicaid expansion provisions, despite the fact that doing so would save the states millions of dollars by offering an alternative to reimbursing emergency-room fees. 

This last point undermines Will's final attack on Obama as someone who allegedly thinks all attacks on him are personal.  Red-state governors are, in fact, undermining their own oaths of office by allowing thousands of their own citizens to suffer and even die because, well, they just can't afford to admit Obama might have had a good idea or two.  Will wants to pretend that, for him and his fellow-travellers in the VRWC, opposing the President is some sort of noble intellectual exercise.  Sadly, the actual, real-world death of Charlene Dill proves something else.

If Will is really looking for an adolescent argument, why not look to the conservative proclamation that the end of the Cold War represented "the end of history"?  All of the essential ingredients--straw person arguments ("some would argue for appeasement"), the shutting down of debate, the demonization of the opposition, the relentless assertion of superiority--are right there, and have been used to support a political tide of conservatism in this country that is supported everywhere but among the public.  The end of the Cold War was far from the end of history and, as it turns out, it wasn't even the end of Marxism--or, at least, of Marxist ideas.  Thomas Piketty, and his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” are proving that to be true.  As Paul Krugman has noted, the book's popularity has launched a full-scale panic among conservatives, a panic that, in the case of David Brooks, has already launched a changed view on inheritance taxes.

Don't lecture the President on the subject of arrested development, Mr. Will, until you've come to terms with your own stuck-in-the-'80s psyche.  The adolescence you end may be your own.

They Don't Have To Like Obama To Vote Blue In November

I don't know about the rest of you, but it's still April (for a few more hours, anyway), and I'm already sick of seeing articles like this one, which are designed to have the effect of making Democrats and their supporters just sit at home on election night and let the Republicans coast to the control of Congress the punditocracy seems to be so eager to see.  What's particularly frustrating to me is that I thought (or, at least, hoped) that the trend of these pieces would start to abate, now that Obamacare has happened and the Republic hasn't come to an end.  If anything, they're getting worse--and they're doing so despite poll data that doesn't support the conclusion they're dying to jump to (sorry for the misplaced preposition).

The attempt to justify the landslide predictions now has only two legs:  (a) traditionally, off-year elections have lower turnout, favoring Republicans, and (b) seven Senate seats currently controlled by Democrats in red states are on the ballot, giving Republicans a statistical chance at taking the Senate.  I'll revisit (a) another day and focus for the time being on (b), since that is essentially the heart of Weigel's piece, and is a point that gets beaten to death in the press in any case.

But, of course, it can't truly be beaten to death, because it was dead from the very beginning.  Here's why.  It doesn't matter whether Obama was popular in the seven at-risk states for Democrats.  In 2008, when he was at the height of his popularity nationwide, he lost every one of those states, with the exception of North Carolina.  The Democratic Senate candidates in each of those states won, despite the fact that the votes chose John McCain (and, unfortunately, Sarah Gasbag) in the presidential contest.  Red-state Democrats exist for a reason; they know how to run in red states.  That's not an accident.  And the fact that three of those states are having open contests without incumbents doesn't matter, either.  Montana, for example, tends to send Democrats to the Senate even as it sends Republicans to the White House, while South Dakota tends to split its Senate delegation between the parties--and the other current Senator from the Mount Rushmore State, John Thune, is a Republican.

The fact is that Republicans would need a net gain of six seats to make Mitch McConnell the majority leader in the Senate--and that assumes that McConnell makes it past two formidable obstacles:  a Tea Party challenger in the primary, and Alison Lundergan Grimes in the fall.  If Grimes wins what now appears to be a very winnable election, the GOP would need a net gain of seven seats to take control--essentially, a landslide in the popular vote.  I defy anyone, even Weigel, to find you or me a poll that makes it even look possible for that to happen at the moment.

And, I'll admit, I'm writing about the moment.  Things could change.  The GOP has financial and media firepower that Democrats and their supporters can only dream about.  The economy could tank.  There could be a major reversal of fortune overseas.  But, by the same token, none of these things could happen.  The economy could continue to grow.  An extreme summer, or more domestic gun violence, could move the needle of popular opinion in the other direction.  The bottom line:  we live in a political and communications world where events and opinions move at the speed of light.  It's certainly not the case that anyone's "doomed" right now.

And it's looking less and less likely that Obamacare will be a Democratic drag, as this shows.  There might even be reason to think about Democrats making gains in the House.  One thing's for certain:  if Weigel is correct about a Republican Congress trying to "defund" Obamacare, I wish them the same luck they had with it last fall.  It would certainly be an indictment of their own political bankruptcy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

How Many More Children Have To Die ...

... before we enact common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.  Even one is too many.  This one certainly was.  Cry a little.  And then, work like hell to avenge him.

Maybe, If They Start To Starve, They'll Turn Blue

I can't think of anything else that will do it.  In any case, it's clear that living in a red state equals hunger.  Take a look.

A Man-Bites-Dog Obamacare Story From Georgia

Is this a sign that Republicans are finally ready to buckle on Obamacare, or a sign that Georgia is getting ready to at least turn purple.  Who knows?  Maybe it's win-win.

Farewell To Two Men Progressive Should Call Heroes

One a Democrat, who held his party together at a critical time, the other a Republican who put partisanship aside for the good of the Republic.  Thanks, Ambassador Strauss and Judge Walsh.  Safe travels to the power lunch on the other side.

Even In The Reddest Of States ...

... they're catching on to sustainable energy.  Even though it's directly south of an oil boom, a wind farm is being built in South Dakota.  May it be the first of many to come.

Now THIS Is The Road To Affordable Housing!

If historic buildings can be recycled as hotels, why not recycle them as middle-class housing, with solar panels and other sustainable features to subsidize the cost?  Let's get cracking on this!

Everywhere But In The United States ...

... there is high-speed rail creating, as I noted earlier, a physical Internet linking people in reality almost as closely as they are linked in cyberspace.

But not here.  Shame on all of us, for not demanding more and better, every day.

The Ultimate Act Of Guilt?

This is perhaps the dark side of my earlier post on class treason.  Instead of coming forward to repent of their sins and undo the consequences, they choose the ultimate exit.

Sad.  May they find mercy on the other side--and may the rest of us work to undo their wrongs on this side.

The Corruption Of The Rich Knows No Boundaries

It can even lead them to treat the most defenseless human beings without a crumb of anything other than selfishness.  Take a look here, at an admittedly shameful chapter in my home town's past.

History Is Fed Up With Conservatives Standing Athwart It And Yelling "Halt!"

Especially when they weigh as much as the corrupt, corpulent Governor of New Jersey.  You may have stopped the electric car in New Jersey for now, Chris Christie, but we'll soon see what Federal prosecutors have to say about your bullying.

The Revolution May Not Be Televised, But It May Come With Fries

If it can happen at McDonald's, it can happen anywhere.  And everywhere.  Organize a picket of your local McDonald's.  If everyone just does that, we'll see how quickly things can change.

And Now, For A Note Of Encouragement

If you want to look at 10 reasons why you should never give up your dreams, take a look.

How Do You Recruit A Class Traitor?

That was the question brought to my mind by Jedediah Purdy today.  The headline is a little bit misleading, in that, while it contains a call for the rise of class treason by members of the investing class, it offers no prescription for one.  And that's at least honest, because there is none--not, at least, in the sense of a straightforward plan with identifiable, achievable steps toward making class treason happen.

It's an understandable call, when you consider American history in the mid-20th century.  The three Democratic Presidents that did the most to move progressive causes forward into reality--Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson--were class traitors, who understood how their class operated but also understood the need to betray its self-interest for the greater good of the country.  We are now into our third Democratic Presidency since Johnson, and none of those three successor names--Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama--will ever have the resonance of their predecessors among progressives.  (I'll make a slight exception for Obama, since his story is still being written, and he may ultimately be able to claim the ACA as a major achievement.  But, as even he might concede, a lot will depend on the outcome of 2014).

But I find Purdy's piece to be irritating, in that it seems like an exercise in the type of wishful thinking progressives start to engage in when the road to Nirvana starts to look hard and long, as it so often does.  "Maybe a class traitor will save us."  "Maybe another Roosevelt, Kennedy or Johnson will come along."  "Maybe the voters in red states will finally wake up."  Sometimes, I think that, if progressives had a chance to change our national motto, it would be changed to "Maybe, Maybe, Maybe."  Or if they had a chance to select a new national anthem, it would be John Lennon's "Imagine."

However, as even Obama is fond of pointing out, it takes more than imagination and hope to make change happen.  It takes hard work, sacrifice and compromise--the latter being the ugly reality that you don't always get to move the needle as far as you would like.  You have to be content with moving it as far as you can.  But the bottom line is that you've moved it, and given the next generation a chance to move it some more.  History is a relay race, with the goal being to take the baton and do the best possible job you can of handing it off.  You don't get all the credit.  You're not meant to do so.  It's a team effort, always, and it appalls me that progressives, of all people, need to be reminded of that fact.

I tend to agree that class traitors are helpful.  They have knowledge and resources, and both are badly needed.  But the only way to "recruit" them, if at all, is by being out on the barricades every day, not being afraid of confrontation, and not letting short-term fatigue get in the way of a better society in the long run.  It's the only way to make it happen.  But it does happen, if you simply keep on showing up and not giving in.  That's how you end up getting people like this.  And this.  And it is so worth it.  Something to keep remembering, on the days when the barricades start to look like mountains that can never be climbed.

Because we can climb them.  Together.  By moving forward, this election year and every day of every year thereafter.  If we do that, the class traitors will come.  I suspect that many of them are just waiting to see if anyone will welcome them.  Let's show them that we're here for them, and we're not going away.

Does FiveThirtyEight Serve Its Master Of The Moment?

Like a lot of progressives, I became a regular follower of Nate Silver's site in the run-up to the presidential election of 2008.  It offered the most detailed statistical analysis of an election that I had ever seen--and, of course, one that presaged a great Democratic victory.  But this was back when Nate was operating on his own, without a corporate master to please.  Since then, he's had two corporate masters--not surprising, since we live in an age where money follows short-term success, no matter the nature of the source or its success.  But they are corporate masters with very different orientations, and no one, no matter their professed objectivity, is completely immune to the whims of the people in charge.

So it is more than fair to compare Silver's subsequent work for each of his masters, and look for signs of those whims among the numbers.  And there is no better point of comparison that Silver's various takes on the burning domestic political question of the day:  which party will control the Senate after the 2014 elections?

Let's start with Silver's answer to this question back in his New York Times era, which you can find here, and read for yourself.  It includes a race-by-race analysis of each contest, with ratings of the statistical probability of each race's outcome, and an overall assessment that hedges its bets not only about the likelihood about its accuracy, but the impact of the actual outcome on the subsequent election cycle.  It strives, in short, to be as cautious in the interests of fair-mindedness as it can possibly be.  This speaks well of not only Silver, but the Times as well.

It's a much different story now that Silver's working with ESPN--and not alone, but with a host of minions that apparently took months to put together, judging from the help-wanted ads that appeared on Silver's old site for months.  Silver now apparently wants to put statistical analysis in the service of everyone, not just politics.  All well and good.  But his political analysis has apparently taken a sharp leap to the right, in that he is now predicting a Republican Senate gain of between six to 10 seats--and doing so despite the fact that other polls show the election moving in a much different direction.

I can hear you muttering now, "Yes, but the new assessment is a year closer to the election than the Times piece, so of course it's going to be different--and more accurate."  Uh-uh.  In the Internet age, a month is an eternity.  Just ask Barack Obama, who looked deader than a doornail after his first debate with Romney, but won the election going away less than a month later.  An election assessment seven months out is no more likely to be accurate than an assessment made a year earlier.  The Nate Silver who wrote for the Times clearly knew that.  The Nate Silver that now works for ESPN has one of his minions defend the incredible accuracy of early polling.

I suspect that Nate had more of a truly free hand at the Times, which, its reputation among conservatives to the contrary, truly is what Fox claims to be:  fair and balanced.  Their Op-Ed pages have featured, on a regular basis, the likes of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and even Bill Kristol (whose hiring must have been in a moment of real weakness; he didn't last long).*  ESPN, however, is a different story.  As a sports network, its customer base has a more conservative slant, and needs to find ways to feed that base as much red meat as possible.  Don't forget:  this is a network that once thought it was a great idea to hire Rush Limbaugh as a color commentator for its NFL coverage.  And we all know how well that worked out.

I don't think that Nate is a bad or dishonest person.  Ultimately, like the rest of us, he's just someone making a living as best he can.  But I think he's made a very bad business judgment by throwing in his lot with ESPN, and he may already be regretting it.  Do not be shocked if this latest corporate marriage does not last long--and Silver finds himself, once again, looking for someone with numbers to help pay for his numbers.

*FULL DISCLOSURE:  The Times has published several Letters to the Editor from me on the subjection of preservation for historic theaters.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Do The Oberlins Of The World Still Matter?

I am a graduate of Oberlin College.  I say that with a great deal of pride, because of Oberlin's place in the perceived hierarchy of institutions of higher learning.  I say that with much gratitude, because Oberlin accepted me as a student despite the fact that my high-school grades were more checkered than they should have been.  But I say it with some degree of ambivalence, because of Oberlin's knee-jerk addiction to every single leftist fad on the planet.

It was this fad that pushed me, at an impressionable age, from a position of strong liberalism in politics toward the middle of the road--and even, in some cases to the right.  And it was not merely the stridency of the leftism that bothered me, but the unwillingness of those who advocated it to even engage in a dialogue about the pros and cons of their position versus the alternatives.  This created a climate that was exactly the opposite of what was supposed to characterize a liberal-arts college.

What is amazing about Oberlin is not only was this the case in the 1970s, liberalism's last real decade of political strength, but it is also the case today.  In an America transformed by Ronald Reagan and Wall Street into a banana republic, the campus is still an outpost not simply of leftism, but of the kind of leftism that would rather insist on its own answers than ponder anything that might question it.  There is no better example of this than the recent kerfuffle over "trigger warnings." 

If you're unfamiliar with this story, I'll let you get up to speed by clicking on the link and reading it.  If you are, I'll go ahead right now and say that the ridiculous nature of the policy proposed (and thankfully tabled, for now) should speak for itself.  How could any subject be taught with an uninhibited focus on learning if every instructor attempted to pad all of the subject's sharp corners to prevent every single student from being "triggered"?  Is it even possible to do this?  And, in any event, isn't it the mission of a college or university to explore and expand knowledge in any and all directions, no matter how uncomfortable those directions may be?

And yet, I would not be true to the spirit of those questions if I did not ask myself another one.  In a world that has found increasing comfort in mocking the hardships of others, are we not lucky to have places like Oberlin, where it is at least possible to openly acknowledge those hardships, and work toward ways to address them?  Isn't it fortunate to have schools where positions outside of the mainstream, and the mainstreams incessant need to compromise ("centrism," anyone?), can at least be explored fully, enabling all of us to discover not only their intellectual validity, but also their pedagogical and cultural functionality.  Isn't it amazing, in a society that has become paralyzed by the very thought of change, to have places like Oberlin where change can be more than a possibility?

Well, that's three more questions.  But they are interrelated and, as far as I am concerned, the answer is "Yes."  And this is why the Oberlins of the world still matter.  In fact, they may very well be our last, best hope for any kind of real change at all.  We do not need knee-jerk leftism, but, as a nation, we need the ability to ask questions, and to have faith in the possibility of coming up with answers.  Our political process has lost the ability to do either of those things.  We should be deeply grateful that schools like Oberlin at least make the attempt, however imperfectly at times, to do so.

I hope Oberlin is able to resolve the "trigger warning" debate, and I believe it will find a way to do so, at least for now.  But I hope and pray that its basic, iconoclastic nature never changes.  The 18-year-old version of me had a tough time wrestling with it.  The soon-to-be-58-year-old version of me thinks that we need it now more than ever.  Society as a whole should never be like Oberlin--but it should always have many Oberlins in its midst.

What Does And Doesn't Matter After Seven Seasons Of "Mad Men"

Last Sunday, I watched the premiere of the seventh and final season of "Mad Men."  As a two-career person and a grandfather (with another one on the way, G-d willing), my life is busy enough that I watch very little television on a regular basis.  "Mad Men" is and has been one of the very few exceptions to that rule.  I've watched, with one exception, every episode as soon as it was telecast, and have waited with impatience for the beginning of each 13-episode season.  The seventh season of 14 episodes will be shown over a two-year period (seven episodes this year, and seven in 2015), so my patience will be even more severely tested.  But I've always found it to be rewarded, so I know it will be worth it.  If anything, the limited number of episodes have allowed the show's creators to focus on quality, which they have done without flagging.

Beyond the fate of Don Draper/Dick Whitman and the other series regulars, what will we have learned after 92 episodes?  A few things, which I'll attempt to list and discuss here. 

Size doesn't matter.  Audience size, that is.  "Mad Men" has never had a large audience, even by the diminished standards of what constitutes a "large" audience in the cable/Internet age of TV.  Despite that, it has had a cultural impact in reverse proportion to its size.  It has been the object of all forms of media coverage, from gossip magazines to Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times.  It has led to a revival of period fashions in everything from clothes to cocktails.  It has found fans in all areas of society, including one in the White House.  By doing of of this, "Mad Men" has reinforced a truth about television that has been evident ever since "Star Trek" went from being a network flop to a syndicated hit:  success doesn't depend on a large audience, but on an intensely loyal one.  That type of loyalty is what attracts the interest of advertisers and journalists.  Which leads to my next observation:

Networks don't matter.  As AMC's first original series, "Mad Men" has transformed AMC and, to a large extent, cable television, by showing that cable can be a showcase for high-quality series as well as feature-length films.  But, while networks still have a place in production, they are no longer the great arms of distribution.  No longer do networks dictate when we watch TV, or even whether we watch TV on a given evening.  Technology, in the form of DVRs and Internet streaming, allow us to watch a show whenever we want, and while it may make the audience harder to measure, it may have the effect of expanding the total audience for a show, thereby making it most cost-effective to produce a series with the quality of "Mad Men." 

Period doesn't matter.  Much has been made out of the fact that "Mad Men" is set in the 1960s, a decade that reshaped, and continues to shape, our political and cultural life.  This has allowed some people to dismiss the show's popularity as merely an exercise in nostalgia.  This has also conned a few producers into thinking that piggybacking on the show's popularity is easy enough to do, which led to short-lived exercises in '60s nostalgia called "The Playboy Club" and "Pan Am."  I did not watch the former and, given that it only lasted for three episodes, I don't think many other people did, either.  As for "Pan Am," it too was short-lived, although I did watch most of its episodes.  It was a show that had the potential to be another "Mad Men," and its four leading actresses did a good job with what they were given to work with.  But the writing never equaled the quality of the show's premise, particularly failing to give any of the characters much in the way of depth.  Which leads to my final observation:

Character matters.  For four years, AMC's tag line was "Story Matters Here," until it replaced it with "Something More."  As I like to tell people in my capacity as a reader for the Baltimore Playwrights' Festival, story is ultimately a function of character.  And there is no better aspect of "Mad Men" than its development of character over its past six seasons.  We have seen lives changed, yet fundamentally remain the same.  We have been surprised at times and yet, on reflection, the surprises have the feeling of inevitability.  And all of this has unfolded as much through the action as it has the dialogue.  In the process, the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, has told a Gatsby-like American fable of the virtues and limits of personal re-invention.  And he has done it against the background of the advertising industry, a world of image re-invention.  He has effectively written his great American novel.

Thank you for doing so, Mr. Weiner.  Good luck to you, and your talented cast and crew.  And may the lessons your show has taught be learned, and re-learned, by those that come after you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

And, Speaking Of "Reaganomics" ...

Nothing demonstrates the futility of conservatives trying to stand athwart history and yelling "Stop" than history finally moving forward in Chile, with Michelle Bachelet picking up where Salvador Allende left off, and over a half-century of Nixon-induced fascism masquerading as capitalism coming to an end.

Sorry, conservatives, but history has a funny way of running you over when you stand in its way.

Solar Energy Doesn't Just Make Sense

It makes dollars, too.  Take a look.

Once The Glue, Now The Wedge

Once upon a time (back in the 1980s, especially), social issues like abortion, feminism, gay rights and religion in public forums were the glue that held together the war hawks and the tax cutters and gave the Republicans "wedge" issues to use against Democrats.  Now the wedging is working in the other direction, as a new generation of Republicans is adopting positions to the left of the elders.

Time is working against the so-called "Reagan Revolution."  Its base is almost entirely over the age of 65.  Not to put too fine or too cruel a point on it, but what kind of future can it have?

Why "Big Government" Is Always Needed

Because there are some risks that only big government is big enough to handle, and the risks are worth taking for the benefit of everyone.  NASA' Morpheus project is an example.  Perhaps it will help pave the way for a public-private partnership in space, much as we already have with air and rail travel.  I hope I live to see it.

Don't Let Anyone Tell You Green Living Isn't Possible.

It's more than possible; it's already happening, and it's creating all sorts of exciting synergies, allowing us to solve social and environmental problems at the same time.  Collapsible woven refugee shelters powered by the sun?  Already happening.  And trust me, it's only the beginning.

Don't Steal Their Jobs. Steal Their Ideas.

That's exactly what Rick Perry and other red-state governors should do, when it comes to talking about blue-state economies and bragging about non-existent red-state miracles.  Stop beating up on your betters.  Learn from the successes of blue states--they're the ones generating the Federal revenues that keep bailing you out of the consequences of your failed policies and your stubborn unwillingness to learn.

The Best High-Speed "Internet" May Not Be The Internet

Instead, it may be high-speed rail, which, slowly but hopefully surely, may be coming to America at last.  Let me explain why.

If history teaches us anything, it is that every revolution in both communication and transportation has brought people in closer proximity to one another.  While the short-term results of that have not always been peaceful, the long-term benefits have ultimately been enjoyed by everyone--an explosion of commerce, an expansion of knowledge on almost every front, and (perhaps best of all) a greater understanding of different cultures along with a deeper appreciation of our dependence on one another.  The Internet age, perhaps the ultimate revolution in communication, is now a little more than a generation old (thank you, Al Gore, who really did help make it happen), and the long-term benefits of the World Wide Web in commerce, knowledge and cultural understanding are obvious.

Is it possible to have a similar revolution in transportation?  Yes, it is, and high-speed rail is the key to taking the benefits of the Internet age and expanding them into our day-to-day lives.  Right now, each of us is able online to communicate, to trade, to share ideas and experiences all over the entire country in seconds with a high-speed connection and a few keystrokes.  Imagine being able to do something similar on a physical basis by way of high-speed rail.  In a matter of hours or less, you could be in the same room or rooms with those same people, building even deeper and stronger relationships with them.

The Internet would become more than just a modern-day Matrix for corporate America.  It would become a launching pad to interacting, networking and associating directly with people all over the country.  The implications would be as obvious as they are enormous, especially for politics.  It would be even easier for blue-state liberals to offer support to their long-suffering counterparts.  It would truly begin to equalize the distribution of support for political campaigns across all fifty states.  It would be harder to marginalize progressives, if they have the ability to literally be almost anywhere in a matter of hours.  And none of this even begins to touch on the benefits building a national high-speed rail system would bring to employment, investment, and energy conservation.

Small wonder, then, that conservatives hate trains so much.  It's a delicious irony.  Once upon a time, in nineteenth-century America (the original version, and not the twenty-first century one), railroads were a visible symbol of the nexus between capitalists and politicians.  Today, however, railroads scare capitalists and their friends in the punditocracy to death.  Less oil profits!  Less automobile profits!  More union jobs!  A lessened ability to manipulate the public through mass media!  I'm telling you, it's a conservative nightmare!

And, if the American people had their way, those conservatives would never wake up.  Here's hoping that the building of a national high-speed rail system becomes a major project of the next Clinton Administration.  And let's see 2014 the way we should see it--as a chance to launch this dream while Obama is still in office.

An Open Letter To William Kristol And Condoleezza Rice

I'm writing in response to this, as well as this.

My initial reaction to these pieces was to hear in my head the words of Joseph Welch to Joe McCarthy:  "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Can you really expect a nation that adopted a posture of unlimited military action around the world with no plan to pay for the posture, or for the consequences of it to the military and, in fact, the entire nation, to be anything other than war-weary?  Does it even matter to you that this nation was essentially lied into that posture--and that the two of you were and are responsible for a sizable portion of the lying?  Do you even understand that the cost of your misdeeds--the explosion of the national debt, the physical and emotional devastation of families, the unmet domestic needs of the nation that was supposedly being "defended"--will be paid for over decades?  And, in some ways worst of all, can you appreciate the fact that all of this happened while you and your cronies made--not earned, but made--trillions of dollars, for which you thanked the rest of us by hiding it in overseas tax shelters?

Neither of you, and none of your fellow travelers in what a truly great Republican once called the military-industrial complex, have any standing, moral or otherwise, to lecture the rest of us to start pulling our weight.  We've been pulling it all along--and then some.  We've been making sacrifices galore while the two of you and your cronies have not only made none, but profited from the misery of others.

Obviously, from these most recent examples of your self-serving claptrap, those profits just aren't enough.  Your rule for profits must resemble Newsweek's description of Russ Meyer's aesthetic:  nothing is obscene as long as it's done in bad taste.  And your bad taste has no bottom, just as your narcissism has no top.

Do either of you really want to prepare this nation for the necessity of another war?  Fine.  I'll be generous, because that's how we liberals roll.  I'll assume that the answer to that question is "Yes."  Assuming, then, that you have ears to hear, here are my suggestions.

First, repatriate the profits.  Payment should first go to reduce the national debt and pay for the needs of veterans, and thereafter to the physical and social rebuilding of civilian life.

Second, the next time you think we need to go to war, tell the truth, no matter how difficult or costly it may be to do so.  If you are going to ask a nation to sacrifice its financial and human treasure, you have to level with it.  Don't invent imaginary weapons.  Don't pretend you're looking for the enemy while you're letting him get away, so that you can go on using him as an excuse for the profits.  This nation has always shown a willingness to fight when there is a real reason.  And, on a related note, don't use the war as an excuse for partisan gain, by linking every political issue to it.

And third, the next time we need to go to war, come up with a plan to pay for it--one that includes everyone.  In war, no one is too big to either fail or to make sacrifices.  This is necessary not only to ensure victory, but also to ensure that war does not become a lifestyle.

That last sentence, however, like the linked articles, ends my generosity and begs an important question:  what is war to you--a moment in history, or a lifestyle?  On the strength of the available evidence, I'm forced to conclude that it may be the latter.

And if it is, shame on you.  And don't dare ask any of us to make sacrifices that you are not prepared to make yourselves.