Thursday, December 31, 2015

And A Glimmer Of Hope, As Well, For The New Year

I had a flat tire on New Year's Eve.  No kidding.  Not an ideal night for having a flat tire, if there is such a thing.  Especially as it happened in Virgina, as I was travelling home from work, and I still had over 40 miles to go.  And very little hope of getting help.

Or so it seemed.

Fortunately, I am a AAA member, and called for help.  It came in relatively surprising speed and, as it turned out, with even greater efficiency.

I was expecting at best that the roadside assistance worker who came to my aid would put on my spare tire, and I would make it back to Baltimore wondering if I could get my tire replaced in time for me to return to work in Virginia this weekend, given the fact that the intervening day would be New Year's Day.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  My AAA contractor found that my tire had been punctured by a nail, and believed that he could fix it.  Frankly, I didn't share his optimism, but decided to give him a chance.  It would spare me a weekend headache if he could.

And, as it turned out, he did fix it, with the result that, however belatedly, I was able to complete my drive home tonight on the same four tires I had this morning, and was able to see in the new year with my wife in the comfort of our home.

There is, however, another dimension to this story that is worth sharing.

The AAA contractor was a middle-aged, Central American native whose English was a lot less than perfect.  It occurred to me how many people would focus on that fact, and allow themselves to get unreasonably upset over it, perhaps to the point of calling AAA and demanding that someone else come out to help them.  Naturally, I didn't do that and, as a consequence, I benefited from the man's expertise in fixing my tire.

Sadly, we as a nation talk about immigrants in the most condescending way imaginable, forgetting that those who came before us were strangers and sojourners in this land originally.  They were equally incomprehensible to the natives they encountered.  And they treated not only those natives very badly, but also treated badly the Africans they brought over here by force to work for them.  Not many of them would have offered aid, as my AAA contractor was able and willing to offer me.

And, because we believe our own mythology about manifest destiny, we overlook our sins of the past and treat immigrants in the present as not-quite-worthy objects of our compassion.  We imagine that it is the immigrants alone who benefit from immigration.  It is much harder to see ourselves as part of the same immigration narrative that has benefited all of us (the slaves and the natives excepted) who have come to these shores.

We do indeed save immigrants.  But they also save us, by renewing our society with their energy, their loyalty, their talent and their compassion, the compassion that stems from an abiding awareness of their own good fortune, and a concomitant need to share that good fortune with others.  My wife has worked tirelessly to save many immigrants, and I have helped her do so. Tonight, I got saved by one.

I wished him a Happy New Year, and do so again here.  I wish all of us a Happy New Year, one whose happiness stems from a deep-seated knowledge of our need for each other, and an appreciation of how immigration has, and always will, help to fill that need.

A Concern For Our Nation In 2016

It's actually 2016 here in Baltimore as I'm writing this.  I'm fond of saying that years ending with a 6 have been lucky for me because, as a general rule, they have been.  I find myself not so sure that this year will be a lucky one for this country.  It may instead be the beginning of its end.

I'm not talking about the seemingly unending presidential race when I say this, although anyone who's watched the Republican side of this process, as it has unfolded through the media, might understandably believe that I'm referring to that.  I'm not even talking about political leaders generally.  I'm talking about we, the people, and our national temperament.

Our politics, the medium through which our democracy is supposed to mediate and resolve its problems, has become little more than a vehicle for dividing us to an extent that seem, at the moment, to be irreconcilable.  This has happened as a consequence of more than thirty years of trickle-up economics.  Give to those who already have so much, and those folks will transform it into more for all of us.  That was the theory.  It is not the reality.

The reality is that giving the folks who already had so much simply gave them the wherewithal to do what they have always wanted to do:  to effectively purchase the rest of the country.  This is so painfully obvious that even the poor, undereducated white male voters that make up the GOP base have turned on their former masters.  Thus far, their former masters have kept them at bay largely by reminding them of how much both the exploited and the exploiters hate the people who act like they have all of the answers because, in fact, they do have many of them--educated liberals, who are also compassionate enough to help even people who hate them.

But this process of reminding hasn't restored the former unity between the exploiters and the exploited.  It has simply filled the exploited with a burning desire to buy as many guns as possible, and shoot anyone and everyone they don't like, whether those people have a "D" or an "R" after their names.  And it has even raised the question not only of whether democracy can survive, but also whether or not the United States itself can survive.  You need only read articles like this one, as well as this one, to understand why I feel that way.  I would be surprised if, after you read them, you don't feel the same way as I do.

And if in fact the U.S. were to break up into one or more nations, there is no guarantee that the breakup, or its aftermath, would be peaceful.  It has been decades since this country has seen any kind of systematic violence from the left.  But no one should think that the potential for that brand of violence to re-surface doesn't exist.  That potential, right now, manifests itself in relatively small ways.  But those small ways are the tip of a giant iceberg of anger among many on the left who feel, not without reason, that their nominal leaders have largely abandoned them.

Whither America in 2016?  Jump ball, in my opinion.  The proverbial hinge of fate could swing either way.  No nation is guaranteed an indefinite life and, given the fact that decay is the natural order of things, no one should assume that our nation does not have an expiration date.

But, to borrow the last line of the movie "Gladiator," not yet, not yet.  Or, at least, I hope not. Rather, I hope, and I pray, that this year ending in 6 will good for us all, as well as me.

The Beauty Of New York's Subways

As documented by an artist devoted to celebrating that beauty.

How To Solve The Problem Of Plastic Waste

Tiny worms, of all things.

Why We Need National-Level Gun Control

Because the states, those "laboratories of democracy" conservatives love to talk about, prove that it works on the state level.

Why We Desperately Need The NEA

It's very simple:  to prevent the 1%-ing of our nation's culture.  You can read more about this here.

How Easy Is It To Get Guns?

Let this New York Times article show you.

How To Fight The New American Aristocracy

By battling offshore tax havens, as outlined in a new book, which you can read about here.

The Worst Sort Of 9/11 Deniers

One of the problems of challenging conservative dogma is that, as a preface, you're forced to repeat the obvious, just to inoculate yourself from undeserved ad hominem attacks.  So here goes.

9/11 was a terrible tragedy for our nation, for the victims and their families and friends, and generally for the cause of freedom and peace around the world.  The perpetrators deserve our condemnation and our punishment.  Nothing excuses their murderous actions.

But, like it or not, several things explain why there actions are possible.  And, even in America, even with a conservative government, sometimes we are part of the explanation.  Whether we like it or not.

Here is someone named Paul Sperry, doing the one thing with 9/11 that dishonors the victims the most; turning their tragedy into political ammunition for the right, especially as part of their ongoing attacks on higher education.  All because some professors on some college campuses are daring to suggest that we, the people of this country, and some of our leaders, may have inadvertently contributed to the first terrible world tragedy of the 21st century.

Once again, conservatism dies on contact with the truth.

Because, whether Mr. Sperry wants to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that our actions did in fact contribute to the events on that terrible day.

We hired Osama bin Laden and his followers as our official proxies in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.  We abandoned both him and his followers once they were no longer useful to us.  And then allowed his hatred of all things American to fester, to metastasize into a desire to manipulate the nation that abandoned him through murder of the innocents.

And he knew that he could do it.  Because, like it or not, he understands Americans better than many Americans understand themselves.  He know that conservative Americans, and their leaders, are nothing more than hammers that see every problem as a nail.  And he knew that he could manipulate that tendency to accomplish his ultimate goal:  to get America to turn on itself and, potentially, self-destruct.

And we have, indeed, turned on ourselves.

We have transformed ourselves into a police state, with little dissent and even unbridled enthusiasm, We fought a war based on false pretenses, one that cost trillions of dollars and, far worse, thousands of brave and noble young lives.  And, on top of that, we still do business with the Saudis, the people who breed the brand of Islam that rises up to kill us.  All because our "leaders" can't wean themselves off of the oil money that pays for their careers, and costs us our nation and its ideals.

Osama may be dead, but he may have already won, unless we can somehow learn that our propensity for trying to manipulate world events comes back to bite us almost every time.  To say nothing of our propensity for being manipulated.  Trust me:  there are Muslims who have learned that lesson of 9/11 very well, and who even now are planning to destroy us with what they have learned.

We can only turn all of this around by staring it in face in the first place.  Even if that results in a national rebuke (say, next November) of American conservatism, which is what the Paul Sperrys of the world are really afraid of.  We might as well begin on college campuses.  That's where the next generation of Americans is beginning its adulthood.  Maybe the lessons they learn will help to re-make America in the image of its founders, and not in the image of Mr. Sperry, who represents the worst sort of 9/11 deniers.

Wall Street Afraid Of Republicans?

It's true.  Nothing illustrates how lost the GOP is more than this does, either.

Nothing Illustrates Our Gun Insanity More Than This Does

Owing money to the gun dealer who sold the ammunition that killed your child.  Disgusting.

How To Respond To Pope Francis' Conservative Critics

As explained by Fox News' Shepard Smith.


Or, one more reason why I'm proud of my alma mater.

You Can't Say You Love Baseball If You Didn't Love Yogi (And I Don't Care HOW MUCH You Hate The Yankees)

Here's Mike Lupica to explain why.

Thankfully, They Failed

Republicans, that is, in trying to sabatoge a global climate deal.  And now, Obama has another legacy item, and the world perhaps has a cleaner, brighter future.

Is "American Exceptionalism" All It's Cracked Up To Be?

American exceptionalism.  It's the new, Obama-age battle-cry of American conservatism.  It was the foundation of their attack on Obama's earliest efforts to launch health care reform.  America should be celebrated, in their minds, for the fact that it doesn't offer free, universal access to health care, unlike every other industrialized society in the world.  That makes us different from the rest of the world, and therefore, for that reason alone, makes us better than the rest of the world.

Even though health care is more expensive than it is anywhere else in the world.

Even though Americans have to leave the country just to get treatment and medicines that are routinely available in other countries.

Even though tens of millions of Americans have no access to health care at all.

Even though medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies.

Just doesn't matter.  If anything, all of the above proves just how exceptional we are.

Not prosperous.  Not happy.  Not optimistic.  Just exceptional.

That exceptional status is cold comfort to millions of Americans who can only dream of living in a country where the economic problems that crush so many people simply don't exist.  Not to the extent that they exist here, anyway.

Like Norway, recently voted the world's best country for the 12th year in a row.

Or Germany, a social democracy with more billionaires than every European country but one.

The conditions in these countries have a very simple explanation.  In Europe, even in a county like Germany with a very conservative government, people are completely unafraid of a very simple word.


Socialism is associated in this country with top-down societies where power is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few.  Hmmm ... guess than means America under 30 years of Republican politics must be a socialist country.  After all, their policies are why things they way they are here.

But what if socialism really means something else?

What if socialism is simply the idea that society is more prosperous and more dynamic if the wealth of nations is more evenly shared among the peoples of the nations that produce it?  And remember, Adam Smith called it "The Wealth of Nations," not "The Wealth of a Handful of Kleptocrats."

What if socialism simply meant "We're all in this together, we all produce the fruits of our labors together, we should share them in a way that promotes the individual interests not just of a few individuals, but every individual."

What would be so bad about that?  It works everywhere around the world.  Everywhere but America, where it's never been tried.  Not in the country that could more easily afford it than any other.

Because, remember, its all about the exceptional, folks.  Without being exceptional, we're not really Americans.

Maybe it's time we start asking who this "exceptionalism" really benefits.  And then, start electing more people like this one.

Wouldn't that be a pretty exceptional thing for the New Year?  I think so.

And It's Not Just The Rich Asking For It

Raising taxes, that is.  Managers are asking for it, too.

Maybe This Is What It Takes To Raise Taxes On The Rich

That is to say, rich people coming forward and asking for it.

Carly Fiorina Didn't ALWAYS Hate Hillary

It was a very differnt story back in 2008.

The Affordability Of Immigration

It more than pays for itself.  When are we all going to wake up to that fact?

And Sanders Might Be An Affordable President, Too

Take a look.

Maybe Bernie Sanders WOULD Be A Successful President ...

... if he can win the support of a Liberty University graduate.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

By All Means, Put A Price Tag On Progressive Values

One of my greatest frustrations over the years with the course of Democratic campaigns is the manner in which they treat the issue of taxes.  They have allowed Republicans to turn what Oliver Wendell Holmes rightly described as the price for civilization into a partisan weapon, as if the market-place Confidence Fairy was all that was needed to grant them the things they want the government to provide, from M1 Abrams tanks to vaginal wands.  Or, for that matter, as though paying for all of the things all of us need with debt instead of cash was somehow a more "conservative" way of financing the national government.

A big part of the problem is that Democrats have allowed Republicans to talk in not-so-glittering generalities, linking "taxes" and "tax increases" on "wasteful spending" and "social programs."  The reality is that 80 cents of every tax dollars goes to pay for three things;  Social Security (including Medicare), defense spending, and interest on the national debt.  In other words, three of the most sacred cows there are when it comes to the U.S. budget.  By the time you get thought most of the remaining 20 cents, past things like education and transportation spending (again, broadly supported) you're down to maybe a penny or so for those awful "social programs."  And some of those, like unemployment insurance, are things that people can't do without in tough times.

See what I just did?  I got rid of all of the empty rhetoric about "waste, fraud, and abuse," and actually turned the federal tax-and-spend debate into something that uses numbers everybody can understand.  It's not such an original idea:  Ronald Reagan did something like this during his first year in office, in an attempt to illustrate the damage done to the U.S. dollar by inflation (and to sell specious tax cuts that did far more damage to the dollar than inflation ever did).  And it played a role in redefining the discussion about federal spending that persists to this day.

Why can't Democrats do the same thing?  Well, as it turns out, maybe they can, as Bernie Sanders showed during the most recent Democratic presidential debate.  Sanders was attacked by Hillary Clinton for proposing a plan that she claimed would require an unaffordable hike on middle-class taxes.  It was classic Bill-and-Hillary rhetoric:  out-GOP the GOP when it comes to protecting the middle class on taxes.  But Bernie turned the tables on her rather cleverly:
Now, when Secretary Clinton says, “I’m not going raise taxes on the middle class,” let me tell you what she is saying. She is disagreeing with FDR on Social Security, LBJ on Medicare and with the vast majority of progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, who today are fighting to end the disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth that doesn’t provide paid family and medical leave.
What the legislation is is $1.61 a week. Now, you can say that’s a tax on the middle class. It will provide three months paid family and medical leave for the working families of this country. I think, Secretary Clinton, $1.61 a week is a pretty good investment.
See what Bernie did?  He did what I did a few minutes ago.  He costed out his thinking in a way that gave the American people a kitchen-table view of the cost of his proposal.  $1.61 a week.  Not even the cost of busfare.

And here's where it could get really interesting.  What if you paired that kitchen-table analysis with something that wasn't a  middle-class tax hike, like a tax on derivatives or a reduction of corporate subsides.  What capitalist takes pride in taking money from the government?  Only in America.  Let's see how much pride the GOP takes in that form of American exceptionalism.

This isn't brain surgery (except, perhaps, to Ben Carson).  This is so easy.  All that's needed is a Democrat who's willing to pick up the rhetorical baton Bernie provided and run with it.  And it wouldn't hurt if the DNC stopped scheduling debates for nights when nobody is watching, in an effort to protect Hillary from her own mistakes.  Memo to Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz:  You've got a good product.  Find a better way to market it.

The Case For Impeaching Justice Scalia

It seems that the Constitution provides a somewhat lower standard for allowing federal judges to continue in office than the standard established for Presidents.  Whereas Article II, Section 4 only allows impeachment of Presidents for "high Crimes and Misdemeanors," federal judges, including of course the Justices of the Supreme Court, are allowed to continue in office so long as they exhibit "good Behaviour" (Article III, Section 1).

Hmm.  Good Behaviour.  Wonder what conservatives think about that British spelling in the founding document of American exceptionalism?  Oh, well, never mind.  My point is that, in exchange for a lifetime opportunity to rule upon legal issues that not only affect Americans but everyone else in the world, "good Behaviour" doesn't seem like an awful lot to expect in return.  And, of course, one person's good Behaviour is another person's unconscionable treason.  It's something of an eye-of-the-beholder thing, isn't it?

Except, perhaps for the case of Antonin "Nino" Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Now, Nino has, over the years, distinguished himself in a number of ways.  There has been his refusal to recuse himself in a number of cases in which he possesses an interest, a friendship, or some other connection that might, well, influence his decision about the outcome.  There was his decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which he decided that half of the language of the Second Amendment (the half that conservatives don't like) simply doesn't exist (or doesn't matter; read the decision and you be the judge, pun intended).  And, of course, there are those rhetorical flourishes that right-wing voiceboxes like George Will like to view as possessing "scathing wisdom."  Take, for example, Scalia's recent dissent in the most recent failed attempt to get the Supreme Court to gut Obamacare, in which he dismissed the majority opinion as "pure applesauce." Applesauce?  Wow. Feel the pain from an insult like that.

All of these episodes arguably can be seen as examples of something less than truly "good Behaviour," meaning that a case could be made with one or more of them that good ol' Nino should appear in the well of the U.S. Senate at the center of an impeachment trial.  But, just in case the above-listed indiscretions don't do it for you, I invite you to consider this.

Now, I believe that eveyone is entitled to their opinion.  But not every opinion is entitled to belong on the nation's court of last resort.  And if there is one thing that all of us should expect from every judge behind every bench, it is not that they should be perfectly experienced, or perfectly wise.  But they can and must be as perfectly fair as possible.  And it is impossible to treat people fairly if you are someone who is astonishingly upfront about your view that all African-Americans are slow learners. Just because that description might apply to Clarence Thomas, Scalia's fellow Associate Justice and second vote on the Court, that doesn't mean it applies to black students at the University of Texas. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

So I respectfully submit to you that Scalia's demonstrated, almost prideful lack of fairness is the exact opposite of "good Behaviour."  And that everyone in this county who still gives a right royal damn about fairness ought to contact their Members of Congress and demand Scalia's impeachment. Right now.  Before he can take even one more step to turn the Constitution into pure applesauce.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sorry, Frank Bruni, But Larry Hogan Isn't A "Moderate" Republican--But, Then Again, Who Is, And Who Cares?

Periodically, some misguided member of the mainstream media will breathlessly announce to a world that no longer cares (if it ever did) that he or she has FINALLY found what all of us, in the collective eyes of the mainstream media, definitely want and need in political office--a "moderate" Republican. Most recently, this quest was declared at a successful end by Frank Bruni of the New York Times, who authored this unbelievable puff-piece on my state's current accidental GOP Governor, Larry Hogan.  Hogan, who stumbled into office thanks to a spectacularly inept campaign by his Democratic opponent, then-incumbent Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, has also benefited politically from a tough blow dealt him by fate: a cancer diagnosis that he has, thankfully, fought successfully.

Bruni's tribute to Hogan understandably shows respect for that fight.  But it then attempts to use that fight as a jumping-off point to paying tribute to Hogan's allegedly "moderate" style of politics.  It emphasizes statistics (poll numbers) and an avoidance of hot-button issues that have helped push the national Republican Party somewhere to the right of Ivan the Terrible.  It overlooks the fact that neither Hogan nor his health struggles have fundamentally changed the basically blue disposition of Maryland's politics.  He was not elected to impose Tea-Party policies on a state too sane to embrace them.  He was elected along with a state legislature that added Democrats to its ranks.  It isn't "moderate" to avoid hot-button issues under those circumstances.  It's Politics 101: the art of survival in a world where you know you don't really belong.

And, if moderation is to be found in policies or personal tendencies, Hogan is anything but a "moderate."  Bruni's article glosses over his dispute with Democrats on education spending, as if it was merely a tussle over numbers.  It is, in fact, a tussle over Hogan's willingness to use money that the General Assembly has formally appropriated for that purpose, as well as his attempts to steer that money toward favored constituencies, whether needed or not.

There is nothing "moderate" about taking one of government's most fundamental responsibilities, education, and turning it into a patronage program.  It's old-fashioned, brass-knuckled, machine-style politics.  The fact that it's being done with a smile, as well as a Korean wife and an African-American governor, doesn't change its basic nature.  Hogan isn't a "moderate" Republican; he's a mentee of Chris Christie, another Republican governor touted as a "moderate" because he governs a blue state, but one whose style of governing.  Perhaps Hogan has not blocked any bridges, but that doesn't diminish the bullying treatment he has given an issue that should be as above politics as any other.

Oh, wait.  He has in fact blocked a bridge.  This brings up something even worse than Hogan's abuse of education:  his treatment of the city of Baltimore, in the wake of last spring's riots. Rather than offering a middle-of-the-road approach that attempted to bridge the political, economic and social gaps between an African-American metropolis and its lily-white suburbs, Hogan took an axe to a project that would quite literally have built such a bridge:  the Red Line transit project that would have connected some of Baltimore's most troubled neighborhoods with suburbs to the west and east. Make no mistake:  this was not only a calculated punishment of city government, but also a response to white fear of black "criminals," in counties that supported Hogan in a major way.  The NAACP and the ACLU aren't fooled, and neither should the rest of us be.

So, as it turns out, the media search for a "moderate" Republican must go on.  But why does it need to exist in the first place?  What is "moderate" politics, really?  Is moderation just a question of giving each side 50% of what it wants?  Or, in a true marketplace of ideas, does it mean that both sides agree that one side might have some good ideas about some things, while the other side has better ideas about other things?  I'd like to believe it's the latter; after all, 50% of a bad idea is still bad--period.

And why must the "moderate" be a Republican?  Why not a moderate Democrat?  Regardless of how you define the concept of moderation in politics, it seems to me that there are more "moderates" in the Democratic Party than there are in the GOP, the latter now being focused not on running for office, but running off a right-wing cliff.  Is this just an artifact of the mainstream media's desire to not fit the "liberal press" stereotype?  I would hope not; it's never a good idea to be defined by your fears.

In any case, don't look for moderation from Larry Hogan.  He doesn't mind being seen that way, as long as it allows him to govern in a very different way.  Trust me, Mr. Bruni:  if you look a bit beyond the poll numbers, you'll start to see a lot of buyer's remorse.  Come 2018, I guarantee that you and everyone else will see a lot more.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Real Lesson Of San Bernardino

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the reaction of conservatives to the San Bernardino tragedy was as predictable as it was utterly wrong:  "thoughts and prayers" for the victims, and massive, utterly reflexive denunciations of immigrants otherwise, based solely on the fact that the female half of the husband-and-wife shooting team came to the United States on a K-1, or so-called "fiancee," visa from Saudi Arabia (although she was originally from Pakistan).

Never mind the fact that this is yet another tragedy that speaks to our willingness to make weapons so available that any jihadist can obtain them with little or no trouble.

Never mind the fact that, like the 9/11 attackers, the shooters in this case are not among the undocumented (or, if you will, "illegal") human beings currently present in the U.S., thanks to our unbelievably broken immigration system and our unbelievable unwillingness to take even the simplest, most practical steps to fix it.

And never mind the fact that the victims, as well as their families and friends, don't give a right royal damn about the thoughts and prayers of politicians with no interest in their suffering other than figuring out self-serving ways by which to exploit it.  (Incidentally, that's why calling out the aforesaid politicians in question is not "prayer-shaming," whatever the hell that is.  It is, in the words of the late, great Howard Cosell, telling it like it is.  A holy hypocrite is still a hypocrite; there's no shame in pointing that out, and there's certainly no disrespect to G-d in doing so.  In fact, I suspect that G-d would absolutely insist on our doing it.)

No, this is yet another golden electoral opportunity to focus on the one and only thing that holds the Grand Old Party together:  hatred of non-white people.

Sadly, in the process, two rather important points get buried in the process.

First, as was the case with the 9/11 attackers, the immigrant shooter in this case came into the country through the front door, fully vetted by the agencies and the process proscribed by law to welcome people into the country through the front door.  She passed though a process designed to be as thorough and careful as it is to be rigorous, and was allowed to come into the country without reservations.  She married a U.S. citizen to whom she was engaged, and therefore fulfilled the condition under which her visa was granted.

Second, despite desperate and dishonest Republican attempts to blame that process for allowing her to come to and stay in the U.S., the early analysis of the tragedy blunts any suggestion that she was any part of a terrorist organization at the time she arrived in the U.S.  If anything, that analysis suggests that any jihadist intentions that may have lain behind the shootings may have been part of a process of "self-radicalization."  In other words, she came to the U.S. without a jihadist mindset, and developed one while she was here.

Which should make a point to even the dullest of conservative minds.

In the so-called war on terror, we are not fighting one or more nations.  We are not fighting one or more peoples.  We are not even fighting an entire religion.  We are fighting a specific, twisted version of that religion believed in and spread by people for no other reason than to inspire fear--and, by extension, to gain power through that fear.  Putting it more simply, as did recently, we are fighting an idea, as well as the freedom to believe in and follow that idea.

And, as we should have learned in what we like to call the American Century, you don't fight a battle of ideas with hot power.  You fight it with cold power.  You fight it by accepting the nature of the battle, and waging a battle of ideas with better ideas.  You fight it by preaching and showing the superiority of tolerance, of understanding, of cooperation.  You fight by advancing knowledge, not by retreating behind fear.  To do the latter is to fight the enemy's battle on the enemy's turf.  Yes, there's an espionage, and even a military, component in the battle.  But their existence and purpose is to supplement the main battle:  the battle of ideas.

Even a battle of ideas has casualties; all battles do.  But, in both the short and long run, there will be fewer causalities than there would be in a hot war.  And that will be true, in no small part, because we won't be allowing the enemy to recruit in our midst.  That's the reason why San Bernardino is, if anything, an argument for comprehensive immigration reform that advances the idea of America as a place of refuge, and not a fortress for a lucky few.

And, sadly, it must be said once again, San Bernardino is also an argument to stop handing out guns and pretending that doing so produces safely.  If leftists in Scotland and conservatives in Australia can come to that conclusion, why the bloody hell (literally) can't we?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Landmarking Is Good For The Cost Of Living

For example, it helps New Yorkers live in rent-stabilized apartments.

It Isn't Worth Deporting The Undocumented

Literally.  Try half-a-trillion dollars (plus or minus) over two decades.  Where is Trump (or anyone else, for that matter) going to get that kind of money?

Anti-Immigration Sentiment Is Pro-White Sentiment

And this is shown in the history between the 1965 reform law, which tilted immigration to America away from Europe and toward the Western Hemisphere, as a consequence of the conflux of the need to fight the Cold War with idealism, and to advance domestic civil rights in the same way.

Nobody's complaining about folks coming from Canada, after all.  Are they, eh?

An Alternative For London's Underground?

Or, at least, part of it.  And this might work for other cities as well, like New York, which has already recycled the old High Line as a major tourist attraction.

Is The South Hopeless For Democrats?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

The True Meaning Of Christmas

Sometimes, it emerges from terrible personal tragedy.  Read this, and then send her a card.  I am.

It's Not A Choice Between The Environment And The Economy

It's choosing both.  And choosing both can be worth as much as 17 trillion dollars.

When It Comes To Abortion, I've Said This All Along

It's not a pro-life movement.  It's not even an anti-abortion movement.  It's an anti-sex movement. It always has been and, for however long it stays around, it always will be.  I'm grateful that other people are finally realizing this.

Two Crises That Are, In Fact, One

Climate change and refugees.  Take a look.

Can A City Be Made Trash-Free?

Apparently, in Sweden, it's already happening.

The Impact Of Superhero Themes

By which this author means theme music for superhero movies.  If you're interested in this general subject, it's a very good read, and listen as well.  My major reflection, upon reading this, is the reminder of how music operates like a time machine.  Every time I hear the theme from the 1979 "Superman" film with Christopher Reeve, it slices 36 years off my life in the best possible way. Forget about "Man of Steel" and mopey Henry Cavill.  If you want to see "Superman" done right, and American pop culture at its very best, go back to the original.  And see if it doesn't stick with you a lot longer than MOS.  It's just that good.

Jimmy Carter And Election Reform

Read this if you want to get even a small idea of what we lost when we replaced Jimmy Carter with Ronald Reagan.  And be all the more grateful for the cancer-free diagnosis he has recently received.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fighting Fossil Fuels Is Good Foreign Policy, And Good Politics

In the world as it was before the ISIS attacks on Paris, a great deal of attention was paid in the press to the outcome of Kentucky's gubernatorial election.  The Republican candidate, who had appeared to be doing no better than break-even in the pre-election polls, won by a decisive margin against a Democratic opponent and an independent candidate.  In a state that frequently sends Democrats to state-wide offices despite its tendency to "go red" in Federal elections (hello, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul), this was treated as a major upset, and yet another harbinger of a bleak electoral future for Democrats in the South.

I'm not so sure the Kentucky election is as much about the electoral future of the South as it is about the electoral future of the "coal belt," which includes not only Kentucky, but also West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  Those four states will have a combined 51 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election--and the latter two are considered to be "swing states," historically and more recently as well.  They also have 43 congressional districts, enough to tip the balance with regard to control the House of Representatives.  So both parties have a major stake in appealing to voters in those states.

Much has been made of the tendency of voters in these states to vote for the GOP largely because of social issues.  But I'm not so sure that social issues are what really tip the political balance.  After all, the voters of these states have always held fairly traditional views on social issues--and, despite that fact, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when they frequently sent Democrats to govern at all levels.  It's worth remembering, however, that, in that not-too-distant past, Democrats were much more courageous in engaging voters on economic issues.  That was how, starting with the New Deal, Democrats became the nation's majority party in the first place--asserting itself as the party of economic opportunity for all.

When it comes to the "coal belt," however, and other states whose local economies are heavily dependent on the production of fossil fuels, the Democratic Party has paid a steep price for its commitment to protecting the environment, and especially its commitment to climate change. Voters whose economic livelihood depend directly and indirectly on "dirty energy" are not going to be impressed with a commitment to an issue that provides them with no immediate benefits and the prospect of a long-term loss of their financial way of life.  Even someone as "green" as I am gets the power of that political reality.

But there are two ways by which Democrats can go after those voters and recapture the loyalty of voters in not only the "coal belt," but all of the dirty-energy states.  Actually, it's one way--but there are two compelling reasons for Democrats to pursue it, and for voters everywhere to accept it.

ISIS is the first reason.  Its existence and power, both politically and militarily, is completely dependent on oil.  In that regard, it is no different than al-Queda, or any of the Islamic terrorist groups that have defined national and international politics in this century.  No armies, no navies, no aerial assault will stop what are basically guerrilla organizations that coalesce and vanish at the drop of a hat--but like conventional armed forces, they need money, and they depend 100% on oil. And, as long as our economy depends as much as it currently depends on oil, ISIS will always have a lifeline from us to condemn all of us randomly to death.

And the second reason?  The simple fact that fossil fuels are not an unlimited source of energy. Even with the advent of modern drilling techniques, like "fracking," and leaving aside the real dangers of those methods (hello, earthquakes), we will run out of oil, coal, and natural gas one day.  And present rates of consumption mean that many of us may be alive when that day comes. Anti-environment politicians like to talk about the alleged economic costs of environmental measures. They rarely talk about whether it's possible to have an economy without an environment.  Probably for a very simple reason:  even they know that it isn't possible.

Which is why Democrats need to embrace their inner solar panels and windmills, go into dirty-energy states fearlessly, and talk up the foreign policy benefits and the economic benefits of alternative energy.  Never mind telling the voters about the environmental benefits; most of them simply do not care, even though they should care.  But the benefits with regard to issues they do care about--peace and prosperity--are real, and spectacular, and it's time to stop hiding them under a bushel.

Get going, Democrats.  Hillary Clinton gets it.  The rest of you need to do so, too.

Conservatives Are Unapologetic, Total Hypocrites When It Comes To Terrorism

That headline, which is redeemed for its lack of subtlety by its honesty, has been demonstrated to be tragically true by two events of the past week:  the backlash against Syrian refugees, in the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, and the tragic assault on the Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs which claimed the lives of three victims.

First, the backlash, which has been uniformly a conservative phenomenon.  It began across the pond with Poland, and spread quickly to our governors, no fewer than 18 of them were quick to announce that they would oppose any efforts to re-settle Syrian refugees in their states.  With one exception (and shame on you, Maggie Hassan), all of these governors are Republicans, with so-called "moderate" Rick Snyder of Michigan leading the way.  And never mind the fact that doing so is utterly, completely, absolutely illegal.  That doesn't matter when, with a few notable exceptions (take a bow, S.E. Cupp), there's a right-wing blogosphere (filled with hatred and lies) to appease. Even Congress is getting into the fact, using the refugees as yet another excuse to not do its job.

Welcome to Obama Derangement Syndrome in its most full-blown form.  All that matters to those on the conservative side of our ideological divide is bringing down the President, even if it takes a tragedy in a country they hate to do it (remember "Freedom Fries"?).  The blind animosity toward Obama has reached a point at which they can't even face a simple question, the answer to which would expose not only the irrelevance of their animosity to the refugee crisis, but the danger to our country posed by that animosity in the first place:

Why are the Syrian refugees fleeing in the first place?

For the seemingly obvious reason that they, like us, hate ISIS and want to get as far away from ISIS as possible

And the more we do to prevent the refugees from reaching safety, the greater the likelihood that they and other Muslims in the West already will become susceptible to pressure from ISIS to become recruits for its cause.

A three-year-old child (my oldest granddaughter, for example) could figure this out.  So what does that say about the right-wingnuts' reaction to Syrian refugees?  Either they have the brains of two-year-olds, or they are terrible liars when it comes to hiding their true motives.  I'll give you a hint about which of those possibilities is more likely than not to be true:  though there's much evidence to the contrary, I don't think they have the brains of two-year-olds.

I think that they are terrible, dreadful, horrible liars when it comes to the real reason they want to keep out Syrian refugees.  It's the same basic reason for which they hate the President:  race. Conservatism in its present form is nothing more than a desire to preserve white male Christian power, even if it has to be done at gunpoint in order to be successful.  This is why some wingnuts are calling for the admission of only Christian refugees (as if the bigotry of such a suggestion could go unnoticed).

It is also why the wingnuts don't care if gun rights laws have the effect of arming terrorists.  Don't believe me?  Take a look.  Take another look.

And it's why, to finally get around to the Colorado Springs shootings, nobody is calling for registration or internment camps for white male Christians.  Because those shootings are a terrorist act.  Period.  It's time to start telling like it is, instead of allowing the media to soften our thoughts about white male Christian violence in this country by calling the perpetrators "reclusive," "odd," or even "deranged."  As if the propensity to express one's individuality with the barrel of a gun was some cute personal idiosyncrasy.

You want to find a way to push back against all of this garbage that threatens to destroy not just the nation, but the world?

Be like Michael Moore.

At the very least, be like this Scottish newspaper, which is as nationalistic as they come but doesn't use that fact as an excuse for doing the right thing.

And fight the hypocrisy of our lunatic right-wing with three simple words to Syrian refugees:

Welcome to America.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Unfortunately, We Have To Return To The Unpleasant Reality ...

... that even conservatives know they can only win with violence, such as this attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic.  Hopefully, time and the better angels in human nature will ensure that not even violence will help them win.

And, Equally More Pleasant Than Politics ...

... some of the best opening shots in film history.

And Now, For Something More Pleasant Than Politics

Take a look at nine of New York's best interior landmarks.  And then, take a moment to weep over the mentality that can't wait to tear so many similiar landmarks down.

Who's Smarter About Immigration Than Republican Candidates?

Republican voters, as it turns out.

Let's Hope This "Never-Wrong" Predictor Is Not Wrong In 2016

Because it's predicting a Democratic landslide.

The Difference Between Crony Capitalism And REAL Capitalism...

... is the difference between what Donald Trump actually did with his money, and what he should have done with it.

You Want To "Enforce The Law"? Then PAY For It!

It takes a fairly strong stomach to watch even one Republican presidential debate.  I must have a stronger stomach that I previously realized, because I've watched all four while successfully resisting the temptation to throw up.  Nevertheless, even I will admit that I came fairly close during the most recent one, as I watch each of the clown-car refugees call on President Obama to "enforce the law," by which of course they meant the immigration laws, by which of course they meant to deport every "illegal" immigrant in existence.  Yep.  All 11 million-plus of them.  Right now.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that Obama, far from the being the radical Kenyan turn-'em-loose radical they so badly want him to be, has effectively become the Deporter-In-Chief, perhaps motivated in part by the view that such toughness, imposed even in cases that might have merited some degree of leniency, would give him the ability to woo Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.  And we all know how that turned out.

In any event, if effort was all it took, Obama couldn't have expended more effort than he has to "enforce the law."  Which begs the question; why do we still have 11 million-plus human beings living in the shadows?

For the same reason that many immigrants have to wait years or even decades just to have a decision granted on their ability to live in the U.S.:  we have an immigration system that doesn't match up to the reality of not just a global economy, but a global culture as well.  And even worse, although we insist that the undocumented are the fundamental threat to the American way of life today, our priorities in federal spending don't reflect that point of view.

Consider, for example, the fact that we spend only slightly more than 3 billion dollars on USCIS, the federal agency that oversees immigration, but over 600 billion dollars on defense spending, much of it on redundancies and Cold War-era strategic thinking.  As mentioned in my previous post, we clearly need to redirect at least some of this spending away from conventional military fighting and much more toward intelligence and special-ops, i.e., to fight guerrilla warfare with guerrilla warfare. At the same time, however, we need to re-direct a portion of it toward immigration, which all of us now agree has at least some relationship to the issue of terrorism.

We currently have an immigration system that is almost entirely paid for by the filing fees of petitioners for immigration benefits.  And, if in fact the laws are not being fully enforced, that money clearly isn't enough.  And the answer doesn't lie in jacking up the fees.  Take a look at the fee schedule, which you can find by clicking here, and you'll be amazed by how ridiculously high the current fees are.  One alternative to re-directing defense spending might be, as part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, to expand the numbers of visas currently available each fiscal year.  But that may not be a politically viable solution, although it would produce other benefits in addition to paying for the immigration system.

In any case, the money to "enforce the law" has to come from somewhere.  Otherwise, by definition, the law will never be fully enforced.  And presidents like Obama will be forced to exercise some form of prosecutorial discretion--which, ultimately is all that he has offered in his various proposed forms of immigration relief (now stalled in court), and which as as legal as eating a hot dog at the ballgame (thank you, Jack Webb).  And those who complain about a lack of enforcement while failing to explain how to pay for more enforcement should be exposed for what they are: hypocrites.

It is long past time for the clowns in the car that masquerades as the Republican presidential field to put up or shut up on this point.  Either that, or get out of the way and let the grown-ups take over. We've all suffered enough with the status quo.  The 11 million-plus have suffered most of all.

This Is War--But We Need To Be Smarter About Fighting It

In the short run, there is nothing that should be said about the murders in Paris of innocent people by religious fanatics, other than to offer the survivors our support in every possible form.  And yet, there is no stopping the same people who exploited the 9/11 murders into two Bush-and-Cheney terms and a ruinous war from attempting to piggyback a political comeback on the most recently-shed blood of innocents.  You need look no further than here to see this happen.

Have these people no shame?  For that matter, have they no souls at all?  Is there nothing inside of them that will allow them to mourn the dead for so much as a single Tweet?  Does clinging onto their rapidly evaporating power mean that much to them?  And do you really want such people to be in charge of your destiny, which is exactly what will happen if we have an all-Republican government on January 20, 2017?

Those aren't rhetorical questions.  I'm hoping that everyone answers them next fall with votes against the GOP and conservatives of every stripe at every level.  But I worry that the right-wing talent for exploiting fear will take us back into another war that we can not afford, financially or otherwise.  So let's take a few moments to connect the dots by taking a walk down memory lane. We invaded Iraq without any understanding of the composition of the country.  We imposed a form of government with which the underlying cultures and peoples had no experience, and no ability to make it work. As a direct result, the country fell apart.  The military supplies we left behind fell into the hands of religious fanatics, who then collaborated with their fellow-travellers in Syria fighting the kleptocratic Assad family.  The result is the destruction of two nations, and a region in the hands of murderers who have no interest in anything except power.

And NONE of this would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq.  We were egged into doing so by fearmongers on the right.  And they are egging us on again.

But this is not to say that we are not in a war.  This is not to say that we should not fight that war. It is, however, to say that we need to understand how to fight that war.

This is not a war against standing armies, or between recognizable governments.  It is a war without front lines.  It is a war in which any spot on the earth can become a battlefield within seconds.  It is a war in which the enemy thrives on anonymity, of operating withing the shadows, on hitting-and-running so they can hit-and-run another day.  It is a war fought by cowards who know how to hide. And it can only be won with brains, not brawn.

We need to stop investing in the front lines of a Cold War yesteryear, and redirect defense spending in ways that prevent us from making the mistake we made in Vietnam:  failing to recognize a guerrilla war when it stares you in the face.  We need to stop acting like the British Army in our own Revolution, and act more like our own Continental Army. That's how we won that war.  We were outnumbered and outgunned.  And we still won.  We didn't outhammer the enemy; we outfoxed them.

Unfortunately, the GOP has failed to learn the lessons that the Iraq disaster and the ISIS catastrophe that followed it should have pounded into their heads.  They see themselves as hammers, and therefor look at all problems as nails.  We will pay a steep price for that tendency for decades to come.  We don't need to add to those decades by giving them more opportunities to pound our way to oblivion.

Fight the fearmongers.  And fight the terrorists.  But be smart enough to resist the fear on which both the fearmongers and terrorists feed.  Let's work together to fight smarter.  Yesterday's victims, and today's, deserve no less.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Haven't Fallen In Love With Costco Yet?

Perhaps this will help.

The Rebirth Of A New York Landmark

Behold, the new/old Rizzoli's Bookstore.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words ...

... when it comes to rising sea levels.

From The Folks Who Bring You Cheerios ...

... a warning about climate change and the food supply.

Walking On Air?

And sitting on it?  And working within it?  Take a look.

Well, If The Wall Street Journal Says It ...

... who am I to disagree that Republicans are an economic menace?

As A Boomer, I Plead Guilty--For All Of Us

I came across this column by Jim Tankersley in the Washington Post, while I was doing a little research for my previous post about last week's election results.  It is a complete and merciless indictment of the Boomer Generation and its me-first attitude in all things--especially economic things.  It chronicles in detail the material, social, and cultural advantages than those born between 1946 and 1964 grew up taking for granted.  From there, it proceeds to document how Boomers developed, in the process of benefiting from those advantages, a sense of entitlement to the good life that excluded any consideration of sharing those goodies with the less fortunate.  The idealism of their youth gave way to an all-consuming (pun intended) desire to "have it all," regardless of the cost to anyone.  The price tag for satisfying that desire is being borne not only by those that came after them, but generations as yet unborn and unnamed.

It is an absolutely scathing indictment that pulls no punches.  And it's 100% correct.

As a Boomer, I plead guilty to Tankersley's catalogue of sins by my generation.  From the earliest time in my life that I can remember, in school and elsewhere, a vision of unlimited future prosperity was painted for us, one that would extend far beyond this world and even reach into outer space. We were routinely told that, by the turn of the subsequent century, we would live in a world of glass-enclosed cities, flying cars, moving sidewalks, synthetic food and clothes, and computers everywhere.  Of course, some of that came true, especially the part about computers; everyone now carries one around in their purse or pocket.

By the middle of the 1970s, however, it was becoming painfully clear that the resources to fulfill these visions were far more limited than we wanted to admit.  And, as a consequence, a generation that had known nothing but prosperity suddenly had to deal with the idea of limits.  No aspect of American life in this period made that clearer than the oil shocks created by OPEC. Suddenly, we were no longer masters of a destiny with no boundaries.  Suddenly, we had to face a world in which everything we wanted might not be possible.  A world that was rapidly moving from dominance by two major superpowers to one in which newly liberated colonial nations were suddenly flexing their newly-found economic muscles in ways designed to benefit them, and not us.  In short, we needed to adjust our thinking by facing our problems.

And instead, we ran away from them.  It is not an accident that the ascendency of Republican politics and policies started right about the time that Boomers reached voting age and entered the electorate en masse.  And the GOP spinmeisters very cleverly took advantage of that fact.  Supply-side economics was the perfect political pitch to Boomers.  What self-respecting Boomer (is there any other kind?) could resist the not-too-subtle allure of self-financing tax cuts that paid for a great, big, beautiful tomorrow (to borrow Ronald Reagan's erstwhile employer, General Electric)? Suddenly, it seemed possible to "have it all" again.

Only, of course, it wasn't.  And Boomers pursued the Reagan illusion at the expense of Gen Xers and Millenials, as Tankersley rightly points out.  Money that could have gone into a better world for all of us, Boomers included, instead went into servicing the debt that grew as the price that needed to be paid for unsustainable tax policies.  Without the damage wrought by those policies, no one would need to talk about making sacrifices to pay for Social Security and Medicare.  Hell, maybe there actually would be a Howard Johnson's in space.

As it turns out, except for hotels, there isn't even a Howard Johnson's on Earth.  It, along with many business built from scratch were suddenly merged and acquired out of business, as wealth that was supposed to trickle down instead relentlessly shot up and investment bankers foolishly financed vulture capitalism.  Instead of patiently building wealth one dollar at a time, businesses went out and bought it at inflated prices with borrowed money that could never be paid off.  And Boomers not only tolerated this, they even participated eagerly in it.

And there is no way out of this mess except the old fashioned way:  sharing.  Sharing involves recognizing that complete self-sufficiency is impossible.  None of us is an island; all of us need each other in a multitude of different ways.  And sharing also involves recognizing limits.  We live in a world--in a universe, for that matter--of finite resources.  Each one of us has a finite life; no one can be indispensible, because everyone has an expiration date.  Like it or not, that's reality.  And, like it or not, our politics have to change, or we won't be able to face it.

On behalf of all of us, I apologize to all of the post-Boomer generations.  And I call on all of us to do the thing we Boomers said we wanted to do when we were young:  make a difference.  Even if there's a price we have to pay to do it.  It is not fair to ask others to pay that price by themselves. Their dreams deserve to take flight as well.

Once Again, Elections Have Consequences

There's a lot of focus in the media and elsewhere on off-year elections for national office.  Less focus is given to off-off year elections that involve state and local offices, as well as ballot initiatives.  Yet those elections can serve as the most basic of building blocks in building a political majority in a federal system of government.

And, as it turns out, Democrats didn't pick up many blocks on this past Tuesday night.

They lost the governorship of Kentucky, thereby threatening Obamacare in one of the few red states where it has been fully or even partially implemented.  They lost in Houston, where a anti-discrimination ordinance against gays was repealed over ridiculous fears of men dressing like women so they can commit assaults in public restrooms.  They lost in Ohio, where the voters rejected a proposal to legalize marijuana.  And they lost in Virginia, where a well-financed effort by Democrats to take over the State Senate failed.  They also lost, in Mississippi, the governorship and a ballot initiative that would have required the constitutionality of funding for public schools, but ... well, this is Rush Limbaugh's birthplace, after all.

In one sense, it's easy to make too much of last Tuesday's good news for Republicans.  Democrats did make gains on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the New Jersey legislature.  There are new Democratic mayors in Philadelphia, Nashville and possibly Salt Lake City, depending on whether the unofficial vote-count holds up.  There may be one as well in Houston, depending on the outcome of a run-off on December 12.

There are also, in the cases of Ohio and Virginia, mitigating factors that go some distance toward explaining the outcomes.  In the case of the former, the marijuana initiative was poorly drafted and would, if approved, have allowed for monopoly control of the market.  In the case of the latter, the presence of out-of-state funding from Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of gun restrictions, may have prompted a backlash against the Democrats from more conservative regions in the state.

That then leaves us with the Kentucky and Houston outcomes.  In the case of the former, the big news is the replacement of a pro-Obamacare Democrat with an anti-Obamacare Republican, and the potential for health care reform to be set back in a state where it has thus far worked well.  But it's easy to make to much of that potential.  Left out of the breathless, pro-GOP slant of the election's media coverage is the fact that Kentucky's General Assembly is divided between Democrats and Republicans.  That arrangement will make any attempts to setback Obamacare difficult, if not impossible.  And that will prove to be even more obvious once the words "repeal Obamacare" are replaced by the words "cancel health insurance for half-a-million Kentuckians."

In any event, I don't think the Kentucky results are truly about Obamacare.  Rather, I think they're more of a piece with the Houston defeat of the anti-discrimination ordinance.  It's worth remembering that Kentucky is the home of Kim Davis, the self-proclaimed "martyr" for anti-gay bigotry who has refused to sign marriage licenses for gay couples.  Kentucky, like Texas, is filled with evangelical Christians who are reliable GOP voters--all the more so since this year's Supreme Court decision declaring same-sex marriage to be constitutional.

If there are any lessons for progressives out of this election, they are twofold.  First of all, as the fallout from Roe v. Wade has shown over more than four decades, a favorable decision in the Supreme Court does not "settle" a contentious issue once and for all.  The question of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights is anything but settled, and the decision by the Court this year has animated evangelical voters to a much greater degree than any of us have previously realized.  The realization that we underestimate the extent and the intensity of that anger makes the need for laws at the national level to protect LGBT rights more obvious than ever.

And those laws will never see the light of day unless progressives heed the second lesson of last Tuesday:  off-year elections count for as much as presidential elections due.  They are the building blocks of consensus on national issues.  They are the source of the next generation of progressive leaders.  And they will continue to give Republicans an edge in national politics that defies the actual number of national supporters that they have, unless progressive voters finally wake up and do something that they think they have to do only once every four years.


If you care about the future, it's not an option.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Future Of Musical Instruments?

It could be reflected in this 3D-printed skeletal violin.

Europe To Australia In 90 Minutes?

That could be possible, depending on German success with developing hypersonic travel.

Warning To The 1%

Be careful of how much you steal from the rest of us; otherwise, you might suffer the fate of this Dutch prime minister!

Thank G-d This Thug Is Out Of The Race!

Scott Walker, enemy of the people.  And, like the other clowns in the car, a coward.

Busting Five Myths About A Green Future

Take a look.

How Easy Is It To Make A Fool Out Of Conservatives?

As it turns out, all you have to do is pretend you're a Target customer representative.

Cowardice Is Also What Defines The GOP Candidates

I suppose you can't completely blame the Republican presidential candidates for expecting nothing but whiffle ball questions at last week's Presidential debate.  After all, its media partner was CNBC, which works overtime to support GOP fantasies about economic policy.  My least-favorite CNBC anchor, Lawrence Kudlow, a supply-side devotee, was on just before the debate began, touting Donald Trump's proposed cut in the Federal corporate tax rate to 15%.  "It'll pay for itself!  It'll pay for itself!" screamed Kudrow to his colleagues.  Sure, Larry.  Just like the war in Iraq did.

But back to the debate:  As it turns out, there were not as many whiffle balls as some of the candidates would have liked.  Surprisingly, several of the CNBC correspondents acting as moderators seemed determine to answer questions that were designed to elicit concrete answers on issues and perhaps, in the process, give the audience some feel for how the candidates could think under pressure.  And, as it turns out, several of the candidates were slightly ticked off by that expectation, turning around and attacking not just the moderators, but the media as a whole for stressing them out too much on camera.

None of the candidates was more vociferous in spearing the messenger than Ted Cruz, who remained on the warpath even after the end of the debate.  He proposed that a future debate be moderated by "real conservatives," such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, as opposed to "attack journalists." Along with several of the other candidates, Cruz plans to discuss ways by which future debates can be improved, i.e., made less antagonistic to conservative views.

It's impossible to imagine a moment in which it could be clearer that Republicans have no ability to cope with reality other than to wish that it would go away.  What would one of these candidates do if they were actually in the White House and faced with a real crisis?  Ask their favorite talk-show host to make it go away?  Blame the media for telling the American people about it?  Claim that it wasn't a fair test of "true" conservatism, and ask God to send us another crisis?  You've got to wonder what Vladimir Putin, the GOP's favorite international "leader," is thinking as he watches the clowns getting out of the debate car one floppy foot at a time.  He's got to be looking forward to the day he gets to humiliate one of them.

We have been told, time and again, that the current Republican presidential field is the candidate equivalent of the '27 Yankees.  From the looks of things, they don't even seem to be up to the task of equalling the '62 Mets.  Or the '15 Mets, for that matter, judging from the way they've been playing in the World Series so far.  Come to think of it, any comparisons involving these candidates and any baseball teams is probably an insult to the teams.

The cowardice of these would-be pretenders for the world's most powerful and essential job is an insult to every American who has worked to make the greatest country in the world even better--and, worse yet, an insult to every American who has either given or risked his or her life in the same cause.  None of those people asked for easier challenges.  None of them blamed others for their personal losses.  And, above all, none of them ever refused to look reality in the face, regardless of how terrible that reality may have been.

All of them need to take Harry Truman's advice--the one involving the heat and the kitchen.  Better yet, all of them need to get the hell out of the way and let a real leader step forward, one who doesn't complain about how tough life can be for a President.

And, if that person is not a Republican, I'm just fine with that.  The rest of us should be as well, too.

Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

I have to confess, I had absolutely no hope whatsoever that Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House would make our national politics any better than they were when John Boehner was Speaker of the House. On the other hand, even I'm surprised by the speed with which he's shattered whatever illusions the mainstream media might have tried to encourage a gullible electorate to have.

To begin with, there's the commitment to repeal Obamacare, which is certainly going to go nowhere for at least the next two years.  And it doesn't even come with a commitment to "replace" it, which is not surprising, given that Ryan and his colleagues have no intention of doing so.  After all, this is coming from a man who demanded that "family time" come with his new job, but has absolutely no intention of guaranteeing such time for the rest of us.  Which, once again, makes it clear what the modern Republican Party is all about:  not limited government, not personal responsibility, not fiscal sanity, not even family values, but power.  Their power over the rest of us.

Unfortunately for the 11 million or more undocumented residents among us (more popularly known as "illegals"), "us" includes "them."  And our new Speaker apparently has no intention of helping them either.  His rationale:  the President can't be trusted to enforce the law.

Calling this patent nonsense is a little bit like calling his position on family leave hypocrisy, i.e., too obvious for comment.  Nevertheless, it's worth repeating a few basic points, as they would otherwise tend to get lost in the noise that masquerades nowadays as news coverage.

Ryan's assessment of the President's untrustworthiness is ridiculous.  Everything Obama has done or proposed in the area of administrative relief is based on his lawfully-defined authority to extend prosecutorial discretion to the application of immigration law, based on current circumstances.  As it turns out, one of those circumstances is the seeming unwillingness of Congress to consider any legislation that would address not only the plight of the 11 million, but more generally bring our immigration system in line with the demands of a world that is becoming more and more integrated all the time.

And immigration is not, contrary to the way in which Republicans treat it, a stand-alone issue. Immigration affects every aspect of American life, and is inextricably link to every aspect of it.  It is an economic issue, a national security issue, a research and development issue, a cultural issue, an educational issue, and yes, a family issue as well.  Ryan's home state is no exception; immigration has a tremendous impact on Wisconsin, as it does on all 50 states.

Worst of all, Ryan was part of a House majority under Boehner that stubbornly refused to consider a comprehensive immigration bill that was passed by the Senate in 2013 with 68 Republican and Democratic votes.  The House Republicans could have voted it down, debated it, amended it, and more generally used it to stake out a position on the issue.  They pretended the issue didn't exist; that, as Republicans, they have the power to make reality disappear, and thereby gain more power as a result.

And, with the President's more recent administrative proposals on immigration, the fantasizing continues in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is delaying a final decision on a suit against those proposals until an appeal to the Supreme Court can no longer be made it a timely way. The Court knows that the President is right, and further knows that the Supreme Court would have no choice but to come to the same conclusion.  That's why they are sitting on the case rather than deciding it.

Whether in the courts or the Congress they control, Republicans have no alternative vision of what America should be, or how America should get there.  They have no agenda, no vision, no principles at all except the maintenance of a corrupt status quo that favors their contributors over the rest of the nation.  They are outnumbered, and in opposition to objective reality.  And the way in which they have chosen to respond to this can only be described with one word:  cowardice.

But that word doesn't just apply to Speaker Ryan, or the members of his Congressional majority ...

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Farm In Maryland Preseves Childhood Memories ...

... as it saves the Enchanted Forest.

Technology Created Climate Change ...

... and technology may yet help us to combat it.  Here's what the Canadians are doing.

The Perils Of Punditry

Or, why it is dangerous to assume that Obama will never, ever be elected president.

Is Our Imagination Finally Catching Up To Our Technology?

It appears that may be the case, as 3D filmmaking is now being used to tell more sophisticated stories.  Take a look.

Another Republican Turns Against His Party

Take it away, Bruce Bartlett.

Could The Democrats Retake The House?

If this is true, perhaps they should ignore media "certainty" about the impregnable nature of the Republican majority, and mount an all-out effort to make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker again.

The Real Existential Threat To Israel

And its not the Palestinians, or the Israeli Arabs.  However, that's not what you might conclude from reading this recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Daily News.  Its author blames the recent stabbing attacks against Jews by Israeli Arabs on a mindset in which Israel's Jewish population is just another colonial occupier of what is truly Arab land, as the Ottoman Turks and British were before them.

As the husband of a Jewish wife and stepfather to two Jewish children (to say nothing of my two Jewish grandchildren), and as a supporter of democracy, I take a back seat to no one in defending Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and homeland.  But, if democracy is to mean anything at all, that should mean that we are free to question what way or ways are best to ensure Israel's existence. And here, the author falls short.  He doesn't have good ideas or bad ones.  He simply has none at all other that a vague assurance that "we'll stay, and tough it out — whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take — for as long as it takes."  (Emphasis added.)

It's that phrase "whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take" that I find chilling.  All the more so since he cites polls showing that Israelis "overwhelmingly would like to get out of the West Bank and live peacefully alongside a Palestinian State that would recognize Israel."  This is a large part of the problem.  Instead of getting out of the West Bank, Israel under its current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has come close to obliterating the Palestinian presence in the West Bank.  Take a look (courtesy of

Under Netanyahu, Israel has implemented a systematic plan of development in the West Bank that has as its goal the systematic absorption of the region into the rest of Israel in everything but name, even at the expense of uprooting Palestinian families from homes they have occupied for decades. And this has been done without any extension of rights to those who have been uprooted.  This, combine with the wall the Israelis subsequently erected between the West Bank and the rest of the country, has effectively turned the West Bank Palestinians into refugees--and Israel, hitherto a beacon of democracy in a region of autocrats, into what can only be considered an apartheid state.

It might be somewhat easier to believe both the Daily News Op-Ed author and the polls he cites if none of the foregoing facts were true.  Sadly, they are very much true.  And it only further dehumanizes the Palestinians to pretend that none of this has anything to do with the wave of stabbings.  Let me be clear:  nothing justifies the stabbings.  But the "whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take" mentality only serves to illustrate the ancient maxim that two wrongs never make a right.  Sadly, since the 1948 Israeli declaration of independence, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows how, time and again, two "rights" can continually combine to make things wrong.  

So, if getting tough is not the answer, what is?  Is it as simple as getting rid of Netanyahu?  Sadly, no. Does the answer lie in somehow convincing the Palestinians that their leadership is less interested in protecting them than they are in maintaining ties to the petrostates that are funding them?  Even if we thought we had that much magic in our persuasive abilities, it wouldn't be enough to stop the leaders and the petrostates from bullying the Palestinians into becoming living weapons for a demented vision of what Islam is supposed to be.

Which is tragically ironic.  Because, ultimately, it's not the petrostates that are funding this madness. It's we, the people of the United States, and the rest of the world that has built an entire civilization around the petroleum underneath the petrostates.

Almost forty years ago, Jimmy Carter warned us that "the struggle for energy independence is the moral equivalent of war."  For the Israelis and the Palestinians, that is especially true.  Both nations--and I do not use the word nations lightly here--are the victims of a system of energy production that is as vicious as it is unsustainable.  Without American, and for that matter international, dependence on Arab oil, the entire international community would be able to bring its full weight onto the side of the Israelis and the Palestinians against the petrostates that are using their Arab "brothers and sisters" as human proxy weapons, to appease the fundamentalists within their own borders.

We think we need oil.  We don't need oil.  And G-d knows that neither Israel or Palestine need oil. They need peace.  They deserve peace.  It's never been more within our power to give it to them, especially given the current state of sustainable energy.  The time was really yesterday, but I'll settle for now.  Get off of oil, America, and give peace in the Middle East a chance.

Amen.  And Shalom.

Note To Republicans: Find A Way To Like Governement ... At Least A Little Bit

This week's passage in both houses of Congress of a two-year(!) bipartisan budget agreement with the White House failed to ignite the usual cheering for bipartisanship that usually erupts from the mainstream media at similar moments.  Perhaps that's because of an obvious problem:  there have been relatively few similar moments in the past seven years.  In fact, the only reason this particular moment came to fruition is largely the fact that it was negotiated in part by a lame-duck Speaker of the House who had no reason to appease the Tea Party lunatics in his asylum.

Of course, he was aided in one sense by these lunatics:  their weeks-long inability to agree on his successor, culminating in the briefly-floated possibility of a return by Nancy Pelosi to the Speaker's chair, destroyed what little credibility they had as a governing force for the nation.  Which raises once again for discussion the central dilemma of the modern Republican Party:  their appetite for power and their ability to satisfy it is not truly paired to a philosophy, or even a series of policies, that would allow it to govern.

You needed to look no further for evidence of that absence than this past week's Republican Presidential debate.  Not surprisingly, the subsequent media coverage of that event shown an uncanny grasp of superficialities.  Much was said, for example, of the "brilliant" exchange of ad hominem insults between the Florida Twins, Jeb! and Marco (Agua! Agua!) Rubio.  (And no points to yours truly for just now joining in the ad hominem fun.)  A great deal was also made of Ted Cruz's moment when he remembered the Spiro Agnew rule:  when all else fails, go after the media.

But relatively few, if any, commentators dwelt upon the near-appalling lack of anything from the ten warm bodies onstage that even resembled a coherent plan for, in Donald Trump's words, making America great again.  We got invocations of Saint Ronald, bumper-sticker nods to his agenda (balance the budget by cutting taxes, proven time and again not to work).  And that's it.  Not a single idea, old or new, to illustrate what they would actually do if given the job for which they're auditioning.

It ought therefore to surprise absolutely no one that an overwhelming majority of Republican voters still have no idea of whom to vote for.  In all honesty, why should they?  What idea have they been given of what would happen if they voted for any of these people?  But some of this uncertainty comes from the mindset of Republican voters, who have been systematically programmed for decades by the leaders of their party to hate, hate, HATE government in all forms (with the arguable exception of the military, which they use to access overseas resources for their contributors).  And, even though many of them benefit from various forms of government (as have Republican leaders), the voters lap it up and reflexively shape their entire thought processes around it.

In the current race, this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that three candidates with absolutely no experience in political office--Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina--have spent months with a consistent hold in polls of between 50% and 55% of Republican voters.  And the only selling point that any one of the three of them have is that fact:  a complete lack of relevant experience for the most powerful job in the world.  Somehow, being a real estate developer, a surgeon, or a failed CEO has some relevance to the kinds of political trade-offs and hard choices that have to be made on behalf not of a development site, a patient, or a group of stockholders, but an entire country of diverse interests at the center of an increasingly interdependent world.

Except that it doesn't.  Trump, Carson and Fiorina have held jobs that allow them to focus on limited, specific sets of circumstances, one at a time.  A political leader can't do that; he or she is in a constant juggling act of reconciling the different needs of diverse constituencies.  This is true even at the level of local government.  And, within the framework of a federal system with divided powers, "taking charge" in a private-sector way simply can't happen.  Talking about it, as Trump loves to do, won't make it so; talk is about the only aspect of The Donald that's cheap.

That's why there's only one way for the Republican Party and its voters to become a truly potential governing force again:  learn to love the act of governing.  It's not that difficult.  Government, after all, can be small or restrained without being evil.  Personally, I think our history proves that it can be large and ambitious and be a tremendous force for good, which is why I'm proud to be a Democrat. But, if there's anything that Democrats and Republicans can and should agree upon, it is that some level of government is necessary.  Go back to the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, if you're so in love with that document.  Those words embody what the Framers hoped that government can and would accomplish.  Sorry, Grover Norquist, but there's nothing in there about bathtubs.

This means thinking about how to govern, and communicating the results of that process in a compelling, even memorable way.  But, above all, it requires a commitment to governing, to reconcile the interests of a diverse nation.  Including, and perhaps especially, those who disagree with you.  Personally, even though I think the current state of the Republican Party is good political news for Democrats, it's not good news for the nation as a whole.  Which is why I'm routing for the Republicans to take my advice.

Try governing.  It actually works.  And, when you do, you won't have to resign from office in order to get something done.