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.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

WHEN Is This Nonsense About Vaccines Going To End?

Hopefully, with Carly Fiorina and her sinking Presidential campaign.

We're Running Out Of Resources, AND Time To Do Something About It ...

... when we use up a year's worth of resources in eight months.

129 Of The Most Beautiful Shots In Movie History

Take a look.

Hope For The GOP And The Rest Of Us

Young conservatives championing green energy policy.

The Worst Example Of Republican Hypocrisy

Wanting guns everywhere, except where they are.

I NEVER Thought I'd Be Saying This ...

... but good for you, Karl Rove!

The REAL Number One Problem In This Country Today

Our unbelievable inability to admit mistakes.  Especially political ones.

This isn't the first time I've written about this and, given what I've learned about this county over 59 years of living, it probably won't be the last.  Every now and then, however, some event or news story triggers my anger over this and motivates me to comment on it.  The most recent trigger came by way of the New York Times--specifically, this article in which the author attempts to identify the reasons for the rise of anti-politicians in the current Presidential race.

As the headline indicates, most of the voter frustration that leads them to support the Trumps and Carsons of the world stems from flat wages.  Fair enough; they should be frustrated by flat wages. But the author's attempts to drill deeper doesn't produce much more than than, except a generalized belief that both of the major political parties have somehow conspired to make a mess of the lives of everyday Americans.  Even worse, one individual ends up explaining everything with the tired old Reagan mantra of government-bad-and-rich-people-good.  He is quoted as saying “For me to prosper, the economy has to prosper, and it’s the rich people that produce jobs," and blames government overkill for driving jobs to Mexico, citing an E.P.A. fine of "tens of thousands of dollars" as an example.

And as for the inconvenient truth that wages in Mexico are lower than they are in the U.S.?  Well, it turns out that he hasn't looked into that.

Really?  All of that information is a few clicks away on the Internet, and a hard-working guy like you can't be bothered to take the time to look into it?  Seriously?  You wait for it to show up on Fox News?  Well, be prepared to wait a very long time.  Because Fox News is owned by the very same "rich people" you claim "create jobs."  And those rich people have a vested interest in not telling you what's going on.  Which, among other things, is that they don't believe they're making money when they "create jobs."  Their idea of making money is hoarding it overseas.

And if they do decide to employ people, it will be people who expect even less in pay than you do. And expect less from the government.  Take a look at China, where unregulated capitalism has produced air pollution so terrible that wearing surgical masks in public is routine.  Better yet, spend a week in China, and see if you still think the E.P.A. is a bad idea.  You might come home wanting to become a member of Greenpeace.

Or maybe not.  Because that would require you to look at more than three decades of voting for the people who told you to love rich people and hate the government at all costs.  And admit that you were wrong.  And that is something that the members of the whole conservative project, from Ronald Reagan on down, will never, ever do.  Because the entire conservative project depends on never admitting mistakes, and explaining them away when they happen.

And there could be no bigger mistake that saying that "rich people" create jobs.  Rich people do nothing of the sort.  Spending creates jobs.  My spending is someone else's income; someone else's spending is my income.  That's how rich people become rich in the first place:  by inducing other people to spend money.  This is Econ 101.  This is ridiculously easy to understand.  Why don't these people get it?

Because, from 1980 onward, they found it easier to believe than to think.  And, even as the evidence that their belief was wrong piles up with each passing year, they still find it easier to believe than it is to do the right thing:  admit they were wrong, and change course.

It will take an entirely new generation to do that.  This is why I have said many times that, more than being local, politics is generational.  The good news is that a new generation of voters is on its way, one that isn't carrying the Reagan baggage.

For my taste, it can't get here soon enough.  And here's hoping it will be able to admit its own mistakes, when it makes them.

Two Random Observations About One Of My Favorite Baseball Teams

I'm talking, in this case, about the 2015 New York Mets.

Being happy, as I am, about the Mets' success (thus far and maybe farther) this year is kind of a strange thing, when you think about it.  It doesn't make my life better in any material way and, as an accomplishment, it's not really my accomplishment.  But it does add something, in an oddly spiritual way.  You feel better about having rooted for the team during a lot of really bad seasons, including three (2006, 2007, and 2008) where they were thisclose to the postseason and found ways to let it slip away from them.  You share in the joy that your fellow fans of the team share.  And somehow, there's just a little extra spring in your step as you approach the less enjoyable areas of your life.

I know that, when the Mets came from behind multiple times during the 1986 World Series to win it all, it was the first of a series of positive events in my life happening at a time when my life was not in a great place.  All I can tell you is that, even now, it made a difference in how I looked at things. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is best summed up in this post from one of my two favorite Mets-related blogs, Faith and Fear in Flushing.  It's well worth a read, even if you're not a Mets fan, because I think it applies to all baseball fans everywhere.  The other Mets blog I like, Matthew Cerrone's MetsBlog, is the premium place to go on the Web for Mets-related news.  Matt built his blog from scratch starting in 2004, and deserves to take a victory lap of his own.

All of that said, because winning the pennant isn't really my accomplishment, I'm much happier for the players than I am for myself.  The current Mets roster includes several players who played for the team when its on-the-field results were a disaster, including Jonathan Niese, Lucas Duda, and Daniel Murphy, the latter having decided for this postseason to go from being a pumpkin at second base to a golden carriage at the plate.  I'm especially happy for all of these players, but I'm happiest of all for third baseman David Wright.

Wright grew up in Virginia, where the Mets' AAA affiliate was based at the time, and adopted the Mets as his favorite team.  He was drafted by the Mets, came up through the farm system and onto the major-league roster in 2004.  He has stayed with the team through thick and thin, mostly thin, and signed a long-term contract when it could have been easier for him to become a free agent and sign with a winner.  He battled back this year from a spinal condition that may year end his career and will in any case give him a lifetime of pain.  Through all of this, he has been a tremendous ambassador of good will for the Mets and baseball everywhere he has gone.  As far as I'm concerned, if there's any justice in this world, this man walks away from his career with a World Series ring.

And, beside the players, I'm happiest of all for my fellow fans, especially the ones who were born after 1986.  You've heard about 1969 and 1986, but never really gotten to experience what it was like to be there.  Reading about it and listening to others talk about it is not the same thing; living it is truly something else.  Some of you got a little taste of it in 2000.  Let's hope we all get a bigger taste of it this time.  I'm pulling for the fans as much as I'm pulling for the team.

All of that is Random Observation No. 1.  And No. 2?

How ironic is it that greatness in New York baseball over the past twenty-five years has required the intervention of the Commissioner's office.  First, Fay Vincent suspends George Steinbrenner from day-to-day involvement with the Yankees, thereby giving the Yankee front office the chance to act like a real front office and build from within, and thereby producing the great Yankee teams of the 1990s.  Then, when Fred and Jeff Wilpon's financial dealings with Bernie Madoff landed the Mets in the financial cellar, Bud Selig loans them Sandy Alderson from MLB's office to rebuild the Mets on the cheap.  Sandy, by the way, also deserves a victory lap; he made Moneyball work in the Big Apple in a big way.

In a way, this mirrors the larger dynamic in this country.  In the battle between money and brains, the latter always has to bail out the former, but we go on pretending the former is better.  (Come on, you didn't think I'd get out of this post without some political content, did you?)

Anyway, Let's Go Mets!  And, as for my other favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, wait until ... until ... well, maybe until Peter Angelos sells the team.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

We Should Take The Lead In Building A Better World

But instead, we are trying to subvert the efforts of other nations to do exactly that.  Here, Joseph Stiglitz explains how and why we are on the wrong side of history.

Is Capitalism "Ecological Suicide"?

A new book makes that argument; take a look.

Where Does A Roller-Coaster Have More Freedom Than A Woman?

Where else?  In Rick Perry's Texas.

Do You Seriously Doubt That Anti-Immigration Sentiment Is Racial?

Then take a look at this.

And Why Citizens United May Have Been A Pyrrhic Victory For The GOP

It may have allowed individual billionaires to steamroll over the party and destroy its ability to conduct a coherent campaign.  This article discusses the phenomenon in detail.  Its insights are certainly validated by the Republican Presidential "debates."

Why Republicans Can't Be Trusted With The Presidency

Just take a look at their inept attempt to take down the Iran nuclear treaty through the committees of the Senate they now control.  They were no more successful than their House counterparts were against Hillary this week.  Unfortunately, they are just as embarrassment-proof as their House counterparts.

On The Other Hand, Conservatives Aren't Alone In Fearing Thought

So, as it turns out, are students on modern college campuses.

I'm the last person in the world to agree with critics of so-called "political correctness."  Much of what is denounced under that label has always seemed to be about promoting respect for diverse identities and diverse thought, rather than restricting the range of free expression.  One example of this, from my Oberlin days, serves to illustrate this point.

I was in a January term production of "Anything Goes" that was produced by two student theater groups.  The goals of the production were relatively simple:  to give the students involved a project through which they could receive credit, and to otherwise give the campus community a break from studying and suffering through another Oberlin winter.  Like most Broadway shows from 1930s and 1940s, the show's narrative traded in broad cultural stereotypes.  These stereotypes included two Chinese characters named, simply, Ching and Ling.  About a week before the show opened, the producers were contacted by a group that represented Asian-American students who objected to these characters, and asked them to put up signs on the doors and in the lobby of the theater denouncing the stereotyping of Asians.  The producers complied, the show went on without a hitch, and a lively campus debate ensued about cultural stereotyping.

My point in mentioning this episode in my undergraduate life is this.  Everybody won in this situation.  The show wasn't compromised in any way.  The Asian student group got the debate and the issue awareness they were seeking.  And the campus as a whole was better off, because the ultimate purpose of undergraduate life--exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking--was well served by the mutual respect and accommodation shown by all of the parties involved.

I am 100% in favor of accommodating the needs of a culturally and ethnically diverse student body. And I am 100% against any efforts to use higher education as a vehicle for "protecting" young adults from offensive ideas.  Which is why I object to the type of speaker suppression that goes on now on seemingly a regular basis, as illustrated in this recent episode at Williams College.

Yes, the speaker's ideas are offensive (and wrong, for that matter).  Yet that is precisely why she should be allowed to speak.  Because offensive points of view exist in the world Williams students will enter when they graduate.  They can no more be banned from that world than can any idea or point of view, nor should they be.  We live in a country that was founded on the principle that freedom of thought, even offensive thought, was and is the best and surest path to arriving at the truth.  Banning speakers in public forums (which colleges and universities surely are) is the first step toward compromising that principle and, ultimately, destroying freedom for everyone.

Besides, undergraduate life is meant in part to be a preparation for adulthood.  Part of that preparation should be to handle offensive points of view, not by ignoring or suppressing them but by respectfully debating them, and exposing their flaws.  Colleges and universities exist in no small part to promote that type of debate.  As my undergraduate experience shows, it works well when both sides respect the process and each other.  It doesn't work at all when one side attempts to use raw power to deny the other side's right to exist.

Shame on Williams students.  Shame, indeed, on any students anywhere, who attempt to use the power of academia to suppress free thought and free debate.  I take a back seat to no one in denouncing criticism of feminism.  But no one should give such critics the imprimatur of martyrdom. Bring these people into the light of debate, and expose there views for the sham that they are.

Give academic freedom a chance to work.  Above all, give democracy a chance to work.  It's bad enough that conservatives want to destroy it; the last thing we need to do is help them.

A Question For Conservatives

Come to think of it, that's a somewhat ironic title for this post.  If there's anything that truly distinctive about modern conservatives across the board, it's this:  they don't ask questions.  They simply believe whatever they feel they have to believe in order to hold onto power.  As a consequence, they have slowly but surely become disconnected from reality.  And subsequently forced by reality to admit that they were wrong.

Wrong about Iraq.  Wrong about the war on drugs (which drugs have won, hands down).  Wrong about mandatory sentencing.  And this week exposed two new areas in which they have been proven wrong.  First, the assumption that Benghazi would be a political liability for Hillary Clinton was utterly shredded by her performance before the House committee charged with witch-hunting this issue to death.  The committee's members through bucket after bucket of rhetorical water on the former Secretary of State and current Democratic Presidential front-runner, and she stubbornly refused to melt.  Eleven hours of grilling that was supposed to push Hillary out of the race, and she walked out smiling while even conservatives admitted that the whole hearing had been a fiasco.

And then, today, there was this.  President Obama effectively and finally conceded what teachers have been saying for years:  that the current over-emphasis on standardized teaching is systematically destroying eduction in this county.  Of course, that over-emphasis was the by-product of conservative "reform" of education, designed to produce more objective feedback to answer George W. Bush's question, "Is our children learning?"  (Sorry, just couldn't resist.)  But it also reflected a demented view of what education is supposed to accomplish.  Standardized testing only measures what children know.  It doesn't measure, or even suggest, how children have learned to think.

And it is telling that modern conservatives would not care about how children think.  Because modern conservatism isn't about thinking, and hasn't been for some time.  Thinking requires much more work than does believing.  Even more, thinking requires listening.  It requires a willingness to accept and process information from more than one source, even from sources that one might not like, or always agree with.  And it requires one other important element:  a willingness to reach conclusions that change the thinker's current thoughts.

That is why modern conservatism has led this country into fiasco after fiasco.  Indeed, that is why modern conservatism lost the White House in 2008--because its assumptions about the desirability of deregulated markets were all wrong, as deregulated markets nearly led the global economy off a financial cliff.  This led to the spectacle of a Republican President and Republicans in Congress demanding Federal aid for the deregulated players responsible for this near-disaster.  It should have been obvious to everyone that, at this point, the war between capitalism and socialism was over, and socialism won.  And, yet, to this day, Republicans and the conservative movement that supports them still define themselves as the party of small government.

Conservatism didn't used to be this way.  Before the advent of the modern conservatism movement in the 1950s, it used to be a philosophy that emphasized the need to study history and learn its lessons. That was the principle that gave it intellectual weight.  But modern conservatism, beginning with William F. Buckley, has been a radical attempt to somehow repeal history for the benefit of specific vested interests.  That's the problem with modern conservatism's ability to fit in with the rest of the modern world:  history refuses to be repealed.  It doesn't give a damn about vested interests.  It doesn't care about what conservatives want to believe.  It has its own agenda, which it pursues without regard to what anyone wants to believe.

So my question to conservatives is simply this:

When are you going to learn to think again, without feeling threatened about your political identity? This is what you have to do, if you are going to gain any real political relevance, without having to resort to dark money or gerrymandering or restricting the right to vote.  Those latter actions are the actions of conservatives.  They're the actions of Fascists, of people who have no faith in democratic processes or outcomes.  They're the actions of people who are utterly unworthy of the sacrifices of generations of Americans who gave everything they had--often their lives--for the sake of maintaining and building a free society.  Your actions, in contrast, are the actions of bullies and cowards.

And those actions will not save you.  They will not keep you in power forever.  And when the rest of America catches on and catches up to you, you're going to be spending a long time finding out what it's like to be without power.  So do yourselves and the rest of us a favor:  think.  Think now.  Think long.  And think hard, before America does catch up to you.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Plea For Help For Millenials

From a member of the 1%, no less.  Good for you, Mr. Rattner.

An Indictment Of Our Commitment To Our Infrastructure.

The New York subway system.  I'm a big fan of anything vintage, but this is ridiculous.

And, more importantly, dangerous.

Tax Cuts For The Rich: A Foreign Aid Program

For off-shore tax havens, that is.

We Need More Of This Kind Of Socialist

One who isn't afraid to stand up and speak up.  And who gets results.  Let's spread this beyond Seattle.

One Nun Who "Gets It"

The fact, that is, that there's life outside of the womb.

Progressives Need To Learn How To Be "Renegades"

It seems to work against violators of international environmental law.  Maybe we need to organize more such "renegade" organizations.  It isn't enough to occupy.  You have to make your presence count.

Can The Rest Of Us Find Our Voice On Guns, Too?

About the only aspect of the latest senseless mass shooting, this time in Oregon, is that President Obama, as a result, finally found the voice he should have found far too many shootings ago.  In fairness, though, he finally did say what needed to be said about the issue, in the face of the predictably nonsensical response that Second Amendment rights trump all others--including the right to live (something conservatives now reserve for fetuses).  You have doubtlessly by now either heard the President's speech, or read his words somewhere else on the Internet.  If that is not the case, and because they are worth reinforcing in any event, I offer this link to them.

And I offer this additional link from the Baltimore Sun, for a specific pair of reasons.  First, the Sun's editorial offers a useful comparison to the differences between our public responses to gun violence and terrorism, and the casualty numbers from gun violence and terrorism.  Those differences are telling:  Unlimited public resources to protect against harm to thousands, and absolutely nothing to protect against harm to literally hundreds of thousands.  In the President's own words, "How can this be?"

I'm going to treat the President's question, as we all should, as other than rhetorical in nature.  This sorry state of affairs has to do with the identity of the perpertrators, and the extent to which we subsequently identify with them.  Terrorists, for the most part, come from Islamic nations, or are otherwise sponsored by Islamic followers.  They are almost overwhelming Arabic or African in their ethnicity--in other words, they are dark skinned (as was Jesus of Nazereth, in spite of the efforts of churches everywhere to make him look like a Southern California surfer dude).  In American history, and putting it as mildly as possible, dark-skinned people are not favored as anything but second-class citizens at best, and property at worst.

In contrast, take a look at the assailants in the recent epidemic of mass shootings.  Notice any consistent patterns?  Specifically, a white one?  That's right.  Shooters, and the folks who love them in the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party, have their own demographic profile. Their supporters aren't fond of calling anyone's attention to this, understandably, because it would blow the cover for the entire operation.  Specifically, the expansion of Second Amendment rights for the same of the gun manufacturers' profits, and the racism of the people who buy guns in quantities that exceed any potential ability to use them.

Even Antonin Scalia, who used a judicial eraser in District of Columbia v. Heller to eliminate the Amendment's relationship to a "well-regulated Militia," stated in the same opinion that the right to private ownership of guns was not a blank check to own a gun for any reason or potential use. Nevertheless, that "blank check" philosophy is now the de facto law of the land.  And hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to "life, liberty and property" as a result.

Which leads to my other reason for sharing the Sun's editorial:  its insistence that we do indeed politicize the issue, because to fail to do so does something worse than politicizing the issue:  it trivializes the lives we've lost.  Even worse, it does so despite the fact that, time and again, gun restrictions, whether the far right likes it or not, have proven to work.

Take a look at this link, showing the relationship between tough state gun laws and fewer violent deaths.  Take a look at this one, showing how Australia, a country with a conservative government, has eliminate mass gun violence with very tough restrictions that nevertheless enjoy broad support among the Australian people.  Those restrictions reduced mass shootings to the proper number: zero. And Australia, like the United States, was at one point a frontier country, where private gun ownership was considered a necessity for survival.  Australia has grown up as a nation; we haven't.

And the nonsense the gun restrictions somehow only arms the criminals is just that, and dangerous nonsense at that.  That's not an argument against gun laws; its an argument against any laws.  We understand that laws don't create perfect societies all by themselves.  That's why we have the police and courts in the first place.  Laws are more than an effort to govern our behavior, in any case. They are a statement about our character, as a people and as a nation.  Do we really want that statement to be "everyone for themselves, and G-d against us all"?

We don't have to ban guns, and we should not even bother to try.  That way lies Prohibition, which from the moment of its enactment was a failure waiting to happen.  But even the repeal of Prohibition contained the authority to regulate its sale and distribution.  There is a difference between a ban and a system of regulation designed to protect the public.  It rightly applies to alcohol, but also to weapons other than guns, including explosives and nuclear weapons.  No one questions the need to regulate the latter, although they are "arms" just as much as handguns.

There is, in short, no rational or factual basis for opposing restrictions on guns.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of reason why those restrictions should be enacted.  And the Republicans, who want to somehow shift the discussion to mental health, have no standing to do so.  If you want to increase funding for mental health needs, fine.  But that's at best a piece of the puzzle.  The rest of the puzzle lies in our unwillingness to do what the Constitution does not ban, and what common sense requires us to do.

It's not enough for Obama to get it.  We all need to get it.  Before the next victim is someone we know.  Or love.

Or you.

Message To House Democrats: Put A Price Tag On Putting The House In Order

To those of you who, up until now, contented yourselves in believing that farce for Republicans is limited to the presidential wing of the party, guess again.

First, John Boehner steps aside from both the Speaker's chair of the House of Representatives, to avoid being taken out forcibly through a motion to vacate that chair.  Next, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader and presumptive heir-apparent as Speaker, unexpectedly drops out of the race to succeed Boehner, amid rumors of an extra-marital affair clouding his chances for election to the post.  Finally, the chattering classes have mentioned this Tea Party Person or that Tea Party Person as possibilities, while also reflecting on the obvious fact that none of them can get 218 votes (a bare majority of the House).

And, for the piece de resistance (or the coup de grace, depending on your perspective), most members of the House GOP caucus are reduced to begging yet another Tea Partier, Paul Ryan, to step up and unify the House by seeking the job Boehner can't vacate fast enough.  Proving himself to be no fool, and rather than sacrifice both his powerful Ways and Means Committee chair and his family time, Ryan has thus far resisted the siren call to jump off a cliff for the sake of his party's control of the House.  And, further proof that Ryan's no fool:  despite being the man who made his policy bones on balancing the budget by repealing Medicare, he has been formally deemed to be insufficiently conservative by none other than the High Priestess of the VRWC.  (Sorry, Peggy Noonan, but Phyllis has been around a lot longer.)

About a year ago, when it look like progressivism had fallen off the cliff, I consoled myself with the thought that, in modern politics, a year is an eternity and that, by late 2015, things would look a lot different.  I was all the more certain of that given the fact that, due to a combination of gerrymandering and low turnout, the Republican's apparent overwhelming triumph created little more than a Potemkin majority, one whose actual legislative efforts would melt under the sun of the real progressive majority that has given the Democrats the popular vote in three out of the last four presidential elections.  I'm not going to gloat; I can't, given the magnitude of the disaster that the GOP has brought on this country.  But I allow myself the luxury of saying that I'm not surprised.

I admit, however, to being slightly surprised by the fact that the House Republican dilemma is so great that there is now open discussion about the possibility of non-Tea-Party Republicans in the House joining together in a grand coalition with their Democratic counterparts to select a compromise candidate that can govern the House until next year's election and perhaps, at a bare minimum, accomplish the rudimentary basics of governing.  You know, pass a budget for the whole fiscal year, raise the debt ceiling, fund highway projects and re-authorize the Export-Import Bank. In other words, do the bare minimum to keep the government and the country running.

It's not clear, of course, that things are quite that bad yet in the House.  But it's pretty easy to imagine them getting there, and soon.  Which leads me to yet another modest proposal about how House Democrats should respond to this sorry state of affairs.

It should begin with three simple words, forcefully stated:  "NOT SO FAST!"

And then the dialogue should continue thusly:

If you want our help in electing a Speaker to govern the WHOLE House, which is the Speaker's Constitutional job in the first place, we want assurances that the interests of ALL the people will be reflected in the legislation considered, debated, amended and voted upon by the WHOLE House.  That has not been the case for nearly five years.  Instead of being a legislature, you have been little more than a barricade against a future to which you cannot adapt and which you otherwise cannot stop.

That ends now.

We want the right to introduce legislation, on the following issues, that will be fully debated, amended and voted upon by the WHOLE House, to be sent to the Senate for further consideration and, with their approval, ultimately sent to the President's desk:

  • Carbon taxation;
  • Student debt forgiveness;
  • Sensible, proven regulation of gun ownership and use;
  • A reinstatement of the Voting Rights Act; AND
  • Comprehensive immigration reform.  Specifically, we want a floor vote on the bipartisan legislation stonewalled by the last Speaker so that the bourbon spigot would not be turned off for him.  Now that he has turned it off, it's time to take up this essential aspect of the people's business.  That's because it's ABOUT people--11 million stateless souls, whose fates you have allowed to languish for the sake of clawing more power toward you.

Give us this right, and we will help you elect a Speaker.  Otherwise, you have earned your fate, and we can do what you did when confronted with the opportunity to save the souls of the 11 million:  wait for the next election.

In the words of a former cultural hero of mine, Stan Lee, 'nuff said.