Sunday, November 28, 2010

Restoring what the Constitution intended

Back when Jimmy Stewart starred in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when a senator wanted to filibuster a bill he actually had to commandeer the Senate chamber until the issue was resolved one way or another. Because of that a filibuster was rare.

Now all a senator has to do is say, "I want a filibuster," and the Senate has to go for a cloture (end debate) vote, then wait a prescribed amount of time before the vote on the bill itself takes place. The senator has no skin in the game. Yet, even if he knows the cloture vote will go against him he can slow down Senate business. Because it's so easy practically everything over the last couple years has been tagged with a filibuster. As a result 60% of the senators are needed to get anything done.

Senators in both parties say it is time to go back to majority rule, and the filibuster must require some effort by the senator demanding it. A chance to do that might actually be coming up soon. During the first day of a new Congress the Senate can change the rules of how it operates and that needs only 51 votes.

And it looks like the drive to change the rules isn't to allow the majority to flatten the minority, but to make the Senate more deliberative and to restore the intent of the filibuster rules. And one intent is to put the burden back on the one calling for the filibuster rather than on the majority.

It gets the Senate back to being what the Constitution says it should be. And isn't that what the Tea Party wants?

Divided at the dinner table

Lisa Miller in Newsweek takes a look at how we are divided by what we eat. Those who are not poor, who are food secure, have access to fresh and healthy food (grown by poor farmers who struggle with earning a living through organic farming). We make choices based on what is best for ourselves and for the earth as a whole. Those who are food insecure, the ones whose money might run out before the end of the month, don't have access to fresh and make choices based on what it the most filling for the lowest price instead of what is healthy. Their food is grown and processed by rich agriculture conglomerates. Because of this the food insecure tend towards the high calorie foods and have a much higher rate of obesity. This divide between what the secure and insecure eat has grown as the income gap has widened. America, with a high income gap, also has a high rate of obesity. Japan has low income equality and has much thinner people.

I liked the campaign better than the book

James Kloppenberg, a history professor at Harvard who has studied Obama and his books, wrote an essay for Newsweek. This appears to support my friend and debate partner's idea that Obama is governing from the left of center. Kloppenberg says that Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do in the two books he wrote before the run for president. Obama is neither following the dictates of party dogma (as the GOP accuses him of doing) nor is he a spineless wimp for not fulfilling the dreams of progressives (we'll see about that). Perhaps progressives took his campaign, rather than his books, at face value (what a thought!). Obama's method of operation is to understand his opponents, rather than simply demonizing them (something I appreciate), and that his decisions be based on evidence, not party platform (another trait I appreciate). Alas (from my point of view), Obama's admirable traits have hit up against the GOP rigid doctrine, united front, and insistence they be the ones in power. And Obama hasn't figured out how to overcome that yet. I get the impression he's going to be flattened by the new Congress.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gone nutty

Did you know that Mr. Peanut, the logo for Planters Peanuts, is gay? That's the conclusion after his sidekick Benson was revealed. Here's the hilarious coming out story.

The Onion claims to have found the journal of one Nathaniel Linsley, a popular gay man of Philadelphia in the 1770s. Through this document we learn that Betsy Ross didn't create a new country's flag, but a shirt for Nathaniel. The stripes are so slimming and he really liked stars. The blue provided a bright splash of color and the cotton sure beat leather and wigs during the hot Philadelphia summer. Alas, sequins were too expensive.

The latest edition of the Washington Spectator (alas, no link) mentioned an explanation by a global warming denier given in 2009 that has since gone viral. Illinois Rep. John Shimkus quoted from the Bible: Genesis, Chapter 8, the section just after Noah's Flood.

Never, Again will I curse the ground because of man, even through every inclination of his hears is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.

According to Shimkus that means God won't allow global warming to happen.

That same issue notes that in the GOP House the chairmanships of the various committees will be going to the representatives who have raised the most money from the corporations regulated by those committees. For example, Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus is to take over the Financial Services committee and has received more than $1.4 million from banks and insurance companies.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed a few more anti-gay organizations as hate groups. The groups are, of course, protesting the label, in spite of the SPLC's careful documentation. Some have noted these groups are not saying, "We didn't do those things," or, "You misunderstood us." Instead, they are saying, "You slander us. You better apologize." Put another way, "Yes, we did and said those things, but it is wrong for you to conclude that we hate gays."

The Celtic Tiger has become a tiger skin rug

Yeah, it's been over a week since I've written something for this blog. It isn't because I haven't accumulated things to write about. Now that the holiday is behind us (as well as a fabulous performance of "Of Mice and Men" by Steinbeck at the Hilberry Theater) I can get to some of them. That means there will be a few that are no longer worth writing about. Sigh.

The GOP has been pushing for a smaller government and a bit more (perhaps a lot more) austerity for the rest of us. If the Bush years weren't a good enough example of how well that works we now have the example of Ireland. Essayist Terrence Heath explains it all for us.

Ireland is in the news (just today) because its celebrated Celtic Tiger has gone bust, the country has sunk into a depression, its banks need bailing out which puts the country under the sway of EU bureaucrats, its Parliament is pushing an austerity budget, and its people are demonstrating in the streets.

What happened?

The Celtic Tiger came into being because the Irish Parliament set the corporate tax level at 12.5%, much lower than the rest of the EU and the USA. Multinational corporations set up shop there and hired lots of Irish workers. But those corporations didn't go to Ireland because the locals were great workers, the move was to create tax shelters. Other than the pay for the workers the country didn't benefit. All that corporate profit didn't stay in Ireland, didn't enhance the local quality of life. That is now being called tax piracy. The same thing is behind the faulty claim that we shouldn't tax the rich because they create jobs. Even in the boom times the national budget was being starved of income.

The lack of local investment wasn't the only problem. As in America and elsewhere in Europe the drive to deregulate made the Irish more vulnerable.

Then the worldwide recession hit. Those big multinationals had to save money. Since they had no stake in Irish society (or any society) they shed workers. The recession hit Ireland first and developed into a depression. The national government, already strapped for cash could only handle the unemployed by going into debt. Until it couldn't.

There were austerity budgets, intended to calm the credit markets and get the economy booming again. Neither happened. The government told the people, "We're all in this together." The Irish people could easily see the lie -- perhaps 300 people living large and 4 million paying the tab.

The Irish people also saw something else. There had been a ladder that allowed the working class to climb to the middle class and the middle class to climb, perhaps, into the world of the rich. That ladder is being burned. Helping the poor isn't just about money (for something to eat and a place to stay). It's also about access to services that improve quality of life and expand choices in life. Those services are disappearing. Irish life is being divided into the rich and everyone else and the wall between the two is being built higher.

Austerity didn't work. Yet the price of the EU bailout is more austerity. It deeply affects everyone -- except the people who engineered the mess. Another way out is to raise that corporate tax rate. But that is one thing the government won't consider.

To those of us in America does any of this sound -- even remotely -- familiar?

Too many efforts by the American government are promoted solely by the number of jobs they will create. Yes, America needs job and lots of them. But America needs a lot more than just jobs. We need a way for the working class to climb into prosperity. We need protections for the environment. We need improved quality of life. Austerity won't get us there and will likely burn the methods of getting there. What will get us there? Raising taxes.

Sara Robinson took a look at why so many working and middle class Americans appear to be voting against their own economic interests by voting for the GOP. The insight is through a new poll about how Americans view the Bush tax cuts about to expire and in particular about the taxes on those who make over $250,000 a year.

The question was what is the percentage of families that make over $250K? Average guess is 17%. People think that about 1 family in 6 makes that kind of money. If true, then a typical family has a reasonable chance, with a little work, of pulling down the big bucks, and when they do they don't want Uncle Sam taking it all.

The real value is less than 3% of Americans make more than $250,000 a year. That's somewhere between 1 in 35 and 1 in 50 families. The average working Joe has no chance, outside a winning lottery ticket, of needing to worry about that tax bracket.

That means conservatives have pulled a masterful con job. They've convinced more people that upward mobility is possible while at the same time they've closed off the avenues for making that mobility happen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some things get better, some get worse

Several gay fathers, with their kids around them, add their voices to the It Gets Better project. Once they realized they are gay they thought they could not have a family. They are all quite pleased that they found a way. The video is less than 6 minutes.

Jon Stewart takes a look at McCain's tactic of continually requiring more proof (the latest being a different kind of study) before supporting Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The segment, a little over 5 minutes ends with several actors (one of them Sean Hayes) presenting an "It Gets Worse" public service announcement. McCain's reputation can only get worse the longer he stalls the process.

The United Church of Christ has issued a call to its members to get involved in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Good to see a Christian denomination get behind ending discrimination.

Rachel Maddow reports that there exist at least 60 votes to stop a GOP filibuster of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Questioning reliability

I'm usually pleased with Newsweek's treatment of gays. They magazine took up our cause a long time before other mainstream media did so (and I've been reading it for over 3 decades now). But every so often…

The latest is a piece by Eve Conant featuring Brian Brown, the nasty man at the head of National Organization for Marriage. The entire piece refers to Brown in glowing terms and his opponents (which would be us) in scary and violent terms. Newsweek has a new owner and new chief editor. I wonder if this article marks a shift in the magazine's reliability.

I haven't gotten the answer I like yet

I reported last Friday that Cindy McCain had spoken against Don't Ask, Don't Tell while her husband John is the big reason why the repeal hasn't been passed. Less than 24 hours after the video that included her remarks went public she issued a retraction, saying she agrees with her husband.

When the issue of DADT repeal began hitting the news last spring, John McCain said that he wouldn't vote for it unless the Sec. of Defense was for it. Soon, Robert Gates said just that. Then McCain wanted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to confirm it. And Admiral Mullen said just that. Then McCain demanded we all wait for the service members to be surveyed and the report to be issued. The report results have been leaked, saying service members have no problem with repeal. Now McCain is saying we did the wrong kind of survey. The survey that was done asked how such a repeal should be implemented and it should have surveyed whether the repeal should happen. Actually, many gay organizations were annoyed that such questions were in the survey. Put another way, McCain hasn't gotten the answers that confirmed his bigotry, so he wants more times to get the answers he wants. He's now threatening to demand Congressional hearings, which would drag the process long enough that a vote couldn't happen until the new Congress was seated. Joe Lieberman is telling McCain to shut up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The political jungle

This could cause a few domestic fireworks. Cindy McCain has been speaking out about the need to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Her husband John is a big reason why the repeal hasn't happened yet.

The Supremes decided that Don't Ask, Don't Tell can remain in effect while the case is before the 9th Circuit Court. The earliest that court can rule on the case is March.

Iowa GOP leaders have been crowing about how three state supremes were ousted because they mandated gay marriages. They're now saying let Iowa citizens vote to ban gay marriage or we'll oust the other four justices who approved it. Nothing like an ultimatum to start off a legislative session. The Dem leader in the state Senate is holding firm.

Hit them in the wallet

Sara Robinson has written several essays about fascism. She has another essay, though this one is about what we, average citizens, can do about it. The Tea Party might be the agent that might tip us into fascism, but it will be the corporations who will hold the power. The last election shows that perhaps corporations already do hold the power (though I note there were several heavily funded candidates who lost). Which means a political solution to our country's problems is no longer possible. They have Congress in their back pocket and many courts too. They control most of the news which no longer tells us the truth. Our doctors give us the medical care their corporate backers will permit, which is not the best care.

I've long wondered why the rich, with all the money they have, want even more, to want it so badly they work to dismantle the middle class. Robinson says their ultimate goal isn't money, it's to make the rest of us dance to their tune. They want to be Masters of the Universe (MotU).

The way out? Hit the big corporations where they feel it -- in the wallet. Yes, it will be hard, even for the most green and conscientious among us. Robinson bases her recommendations on two principles: (1) These monster corporations have power because of their money. That money comes from us, so stop giving them money. (2) Corporations have the most control over the federal government, so pull all power from the federal level and bring it back to the local level where we can keep an eye on it and where great solutions to national problems are already being worked out.

Her steps to combat the MotU. It's no coincidence that many of these steps also promote a healthier lifestyle and planet.

1. Live within your means. Return to the values of gauging someone's status based on thrift, prudence, and how much you helped your community rather than on glitter and extravagance. Prune your life to something manageable that allows you to save some money. It also allows you to walk away from a job that abuses you and your world.

2. Stop using credit cards. Every time you use a card the MotU collect a fee. They collect more when you pay interest and late fees. If you can't get by without plastic, use one from a local bank or credit union or use a debit card, which has lower fees. For as many things as possible use cash.

Yes, I have one of those MotU credit cards and use it for the rewards points I get. But the rewards are actually quite small, especially compared to giving control over to the MotU.

3. Move your money to a local bank or credit union. Including your mortgage, car payment, and retirement fund. The local bank invests locally and local economic health and resilience matters over time.

Yikes! This one is going to hurt. At the very least it will take a significant amount of research to make me comfortable in local investing. An alternative for me, also requiring significant research, is how I might invest in mutual funds while keeping my money out of the hands of the worst of the MotU.

4. Eat local, eat organic, cook your own. And stay away from processed food. That's the stuff in the center aisles of the grocery store and it is all made by MotU. In addition, MotU oil companies won't get money for the oil used to make fertilizer and to transport your food. Farmers markets and community supported farms keep money out of the big corporations.

5. Support local merchants instead of big box stores. It isn't just Wal-Mart. All big box stores suck money out of the local economy and underpay their employees. Many restaurant chains also want to be MotU so aim for the local guys. The locals may not be any more expensive yet their employees are better paid and their money stays in the neighborhood.

6. Make your own energy. The biggest MotU are oil and coal companies. So fire Big Fossil. Yes, it will cost money for solar panels, though the investment can pay off. Another option is community power companies, which are beginning to take hold.

7. Buy used. MotU is dependent on us buying more stuff. So stop. That's also better for our wallets and the earth. Get to know eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle.

8. Buy American, buy Union. If you must buy new, support an American family. Unions are the best bulwark against corporate power.

9. Use less Big Fossil. This will (1) reduce the need for American defense to keep oil flowing, (2) stops Big Fossil, who are the biggest campaign contributors, (3) your choices will spur clean technologies, (4) make your community more resilient. And hundreds of other reasons.

10. Hire a better employer. The highest paying jobs are with MotU. But what good is a job like that if your employer destroys your community, nation, and world environment? Yeah, in this economy jobs are hard to walk away from. But once the other 9 items are well under control the high paying job won't be so necessary.

If you visit Robinson's article online she has links to various sources that explain each item in more detail. It looks like I'll have enough resources for a year's worth of stewardship talks at my local church. Also click on the comments at the end of Robinson's article where she talks about how her local community -- Bellingham, WA -- is already doing many of these things. Along the way the town found the distance between progressives and conservatives isn't all that great when the issues are local.

Rocks thrown from all sides

I wrote yesterday about how many progressives didn't work hard to elect Dems because they were so disenchanted with the way Obama has treated them. My friend and debate partner responded:

Obama steered his legislative program and governance slightly left of center, making important progress on the major agenda you have listed. The sure signal that he chose well and was an outstanding leader and politician is that the far right and far left ranges of the political spectrum were and are about equally furious with him. That's good politics.

Real benefits: Important progress for the middle class at the expense of the wealthy and powerful. But the center he catered to and benefited is apathetic and uninvolved. The result: important progress that made almost no one happy.

Political results: Won almost no one's loyalty and support. Obama got to stand in the middle and have rocks thrown at him from all sides. Every good deed punished.

As Nov 2nd showed: Fatal.

I admire what he did because it is and was very good governance, far better than we deserved after electing the Bush nation-wreckers twice. Americans need to re-educate themselves on what government is for and can be realistically expected to do.

Steering just left of center could not (as you are painfully aware) win the support of LGBTs (whose needs are way progressive) nor of young people (who are idealistic and fail to appreciate the challenges of change). Notice that I am writing here about the affect experienced by Americans -- the practical consequences of governance, NOT about justice or rights deserved but delayed.

This time my debate partner gets some debate in response. I understand his point but don't completely agree with it. Detroit is enjoying a fine Indian Summer so I had a chance for a long bicycle ride today, hopefully not the last of the season. So I thought about this a bit as I rode, though didn't come up with more than three counter-examples. Good sign that my debate partner's idea is sound? We'll see.

It is one thing to go for the center between progressive and conservative ideas generally held by the citizens. It's quite another to compromise on issues between corporations and citizens. Even conservative citizens see (some) value in reining in corporate greed (many of them were hurt in the Great Recession too) even if the corporate puppets in Congress fight such protections tooth and nail. In cases such as this I don't think it is smart to govern from the center.

The American middle class is suffering because of the Great Recession and many are desperate. Not getting them the help they need, especially not making sure unemployment benefits last through the long downturn isn't smart maneuvering, it's simply dumb -- and political suicide, as we saw.

In the case of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military ban on gays serving openly, a majority of conservatives want the ban lifted. Given that so many want it gone and the prez. still can't get rid of it, he's a wimp.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perhaps butter and jam would help

The music group OK Go has another video. Definitely innovative. This one is drawn on 2,430 pieces of toast as it's canvas for animation. I really like the innovation. I'm not so impressed with the actual images or the song.

Perhaps you could change those pesky consumer protections

Lots of GOP candidates campaigned with a promise to repeal the new health care law. Those who became lawmakers will find a member of the health insurance lobbyists waiting outside their office door in January with the message, "Don't repeal. We like it. Though perhaps you could tinker with it a bit."

This is from an article in Newsweek by Wendell Potter, who used to be a PR person with a hand in crafting the message which would shape or kill health care legislation. He's now ashamed of some of the things he did, though now he has the insider perspective. He says insurance companies like the new law because it mandates so many more people must have insurance and all those additional people mean more profits.

Of course, the insurance industry doesn't like everything in the bill. It's the little things -- like consumer protections. These are things like covering kids with preexisting conditions, canceling coverage when the policyholder gets sick, and requiring 80% of their money goes to actually taking care of patients. That sort of thing.

So if a new lawmaker wants to tinker, they'll be glad to offer suggestions on what could use some tinkering. And they'll be ready with "death-panel" style ads to help the lawmakers along. Just keep your hands off that mandate.

Cheerleaders at a Charlie Brown football game

After the election I wrote that Dem voters stayed home, handing the election to the GOP, because the Dems didn't create the change they campaigned on in 2008. Here's another look at the voter's annoyance.

Ezra Klein in Newsweek says the Dems accomplished quite a bit in two years, mostly fulfilling their campaign pledges (rare politicians!). Their problem was that much of the progress didn't register with voters. Klein lists these accomplishments:

* Health Care reform, which included a lot of little (and not so little) things -- cover 32 million more people, cut the deficit by about $14 billion a year, insurance exchanges, make it illegal to turn down customers for preexisting conditions, pay doctors for quality instead of quantity, and even require restaurants to include calorie and nutrition info on their menus.

* Financial regulation, including a way to monitor bubbles, the ability to take down institutions without bailouts, and a consumer advocate in the government.

* The economic stimulus, which "failed" because it was too small, not too big. This included infrastructure improvements, digitalizing our medical records, and investments in renewable energy.

* The Race to the Top program, which is changing education.

And those are just the big things.

Why wasn't that enough?

Daniel Lyons, also of Newsweek, provides a clue. Obama was able to harness the vast social media resources of the internet during the campaign. The prez. campaigned in a new way and that led to expectations that he would govern in a new way. He didn't. Social media sites are built around discussion and all these Netizens expected Obama to let them in on the discussion of the details of programs and priorities. Instead, he carefully shut the door. One big facet of the annoyance was the Netizen's priorities: Close Guantanamo, end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, legalize marijuana, support gay marriage, use the internet to create a more transparent government, and to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And how many of those did Obama and the Dems accomplish? One guess.

Obama may have done a lot. But of the specific dreams of the Netizens who put him in power, the hope he offered came up empty.

Terrence Heath fills in some details, though he isn't directly responding to Lyons. Heath features the story of Jodi Jacobson of Vieginia, who worked her tail off to get Obama and Democrats elected in 2008. She didn't just vote, she told lots of other people why voting for Obama was a good idea. Once Obama was elected, Jacobson wanted something in return.

In exchange, I wanted the change I was promised. And I was willing to keep working for it well after the election.

I certainly never thought it would happen without a fight.

I further expected the Administration to call on us, command us, to fight in support of a clear agenda for change.

Instead, this Administration not only failed to do much of any of the above, it has also vilified people like me by calling progressives the problem. It has locked out progressives in meetings and in the press. And it has catered slavishly to the religious right.

And while Obama stayed silent, equivocated and pre-emptively compromised away the rights of my children, gay children, Latino children, and black children, status-quo politicians in leadership, like Chris Van Hollen, my own Congressman, gave away the store by supporting people like Bart Stupak and undermining those like Jennifer Brunner.

I would not in the end been so distraught at the many giveaways that eventually happened if the good fight had been fought en route to getting there.

Not only did Obama not fight, he made his base feel like "cheerleaders at a Charlie Brown football game." Instead of a reason to believe we get told to sit down, shut up, and settle for whatever crumbs get tossed our way. Electing Dems, simply because they are Dems (or, worse, not GOP), won't get progressives very far.

Jacobson voted in 2010. But she did not work to tell anyone else that voting for Dems was a good idea. And 45 million voters stayed home.

The GOP policies won't help the country. Dems can take the government back in 2012. But only if they prove they won't be wimps.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I have readers!

I've noticed through blog stats that there have been days in the last couple weeks when 45-50 people read my blog. And through the wonders of the internet they are around the world. However, I notice that nobody has left any comments. I'm pleased you like what you read here and apparently come back for more. But I'd like to know a bit more about you. Who are you? Names are optional, since I don't provide my own. Where are you? How did you find this humble blog? What keeps you coming back? What things that I write about most interest you? Are there topics you would like me to address? I'm full of curiosity and wish you would share.

Free speech has consequences

Back in mid September I wrote that Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell was essentially stalking Chris Armstrong, who is the student body president at UM and is gay. Shirvell said that he was only exercising his free speech rights. Today, Shirvell was fired for conduct that would prevent him from being an effective employee. His actions crossed from speaking to stalking. Efforts are underway to disbar him as well.

This should be easy, but somehow it isn't

There are rumors, reported in the Wall Street Journal, that Senators Levin and McCain are in discussion to get the Defense Authorization Bill passed in the lame-duck session by stripping out the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This, of course, has gay bloggers incensed. One of the gay lobbying groups is saying such background noise isn't helpful. But we've had too much of such groups telling us everything is fine when it isn't.

The White House opposes such action, but we're skeptical of him too. And simply "opposing" it doesn't mean he'll expend any effort in that opposition.

Adam Serwer of the American Prospect sums it up neatly. More than two thirds of Americans want DADT gone, including a majority of conservatives. There is plenty of research to show that the policy hinders the very things it was proclaimed it helps. If Democrats can't get this passed, no wonder voters won't vote for them. Harry Truman integrated the armed services in spite of strong opposition by military leaders, soldiers, lawmakers, and the general public. it was the right thing to do. Democrats can't get a bill passed to allow gays to serve openly in spite of strong support by many military leaders, soldiers, the general public, and being the right thing to do.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon expands on what Rachel Maddow said a couple days ago. The GOP is full of shameless liars. There are no checks on those lies. Dems, including the prez., put an emphasis on being civil and to them calling out the liar isn't civil. Democracy suffers (which is the goal of the GOP).

Did you learn how to detect BS when in school?

Sharon Begley of Newsweek says we need to reform science education to add one important item to the curricula. We need to teach the ability to detect Bad Science (BS). Perhaps this shouldn't be restricted to science classes. Classes in BS detection would include such topics as:

* What counts as evidence? Many studies are observational, rather than randomized, and such studies only show correlation, not cause and effect.

* How do statistics work? One important concept is regression to the mean. When you take medication at the depth of a cold, did the medication bring about health or did it just take time for your body's own defenses to kick in?

* How do you know? If it is by intuition or anecdote, it is likely wrong. The human brain is good at finding patterns in randomness and at overestimating causality.

The burden of money

Ezra Klein in Newsweek reports that Congresscritters are getting tired of the money in politics. The 2010 election cost over $4 billion and lawmakers have to spend time and effort to raise that kind of serious dough. It's time and effort not spent on the job they were elected to do and they recognize how corrupting it is. So they're ready to do something about it, right?

But they know how the game works and know how to turn it to their advantage (they used it to get elected, didn't they?) and they know the current system does not help challengers. And at least the Senate expects its members to raise money not only for themselves, but for the party as well -- it's now a dues paying organization. Though the current system is onerous, it is worth doing to stay in power. Only a giant scandal will change the system (well, yeah, the system is a scandal, but not a very visible one).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A body at rest

Christoph Niemann has illustrated basic physics concepts in a way that everyone can understand.

The Ann Arbor online newspaper has a fine article on Rev. Douglas Paterson, who helped guide First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor to be a welcoming congregation for sexual minorities.

A struggle ruinous for the victor

Terrence Heath wrote a three part essay on why the GOP win is Pyrrhic. First, the definition: A Pyrrhic Victory is one that is so costly that another such victory will cause defeat. Put another way, the struggle is ruinous for the victor. That sure caught my interest.

We'll start with what happened to the Democrats. Heath believes the GOP didn't win, but the Dems lost. Why? The Dems promised change and didn't deliver.

Obama kept striving for bipartisanship, even though the GOP repeatedly and firmly rebuffed his efforts, starting before Obama took office (yeah, the GOP claims that the Dems didn't reach out, perhaps because they knew it was a futile exercise). So the Dems continued to barter away the change they ran on, the change the country needs. And they got very little for it. The list of bills that died through filibuster is long. The Blue Dog Democrats, who obstructed a lot of Dem plans, lost half their caucus last week. Even conservatives apparently didn't want them acting like the GOP. Because the Dems did such a rotten job of fulfilling the change they were elected to accomplish their base stayed home. The GOP won by forfeit.

Boehner and McConnell have been claiming all week that America wants the GOP agenda. Commentators have said about the Dems, "You can't sell what people don't want."

But the GOP agenda is identical to what they've been pushing since at least 2004. It didn't work and America knows it didn't work. Which is why they voted strongly for Dems in 2006 & 2008. We don't want what the GOP is selling. We don't want cut taxes and hope. We don't want a country that works for the top 1%. We do want what Dems campaigned on in those same years. But the Dems didn't deliver.

The GOP is not popular with Americans, their approval is below the Dems. Their policies are considered toxic to American life. Heath lists many GOP agenda items and the poll numbers to show how little support they have. So back to that forfeit.

There were 45 million fewer votes cast in 2010 compared to 2008. That's down by a third. So it is silly to say "The people have spoken!" in favor of GOP policies. Why is the voice considered louder than it was two years ago? The people have spoken, and continue to speak. But neither party is listening. The Dems listen too closely to (and are cowed by) what the GOP is saying and the GOP listens only to corporations.

The GOP cannot deliver on what America wants. The Tea Party can't either. And over the next two years they are likely to deliver nothing at all.

The Dems can, and we might even give them another chance to try to do the work we elected them to do in 2008. But only if they prove to us they mean it.

More commentary about why the Dems lost:
Sara Robinson points to an ongoing perception that has worked against Dems and is on bright display by Tea Party members. A complaint by the Tea Party is, "I've gotten where I am all on my own. No government help at all. Why should I pay taxes so the government can coddle those slackers?"

It's an amazing self-delusion. The list of government programs that help the middle class starts with public schools, goes through home mortgage interest deduction, and ends with Social Security and Medicare, with a slew of other programs in between. The problem is that many people don't see these as government programs. "Keep government out of my Social Security!"

The reason for that misperception is the programs for the poor (food stamps and minimum wage) are frequently debated in Congress. Programs for the middle class aren't -- Congress knows not to touch them. In addition, most of these programs don't have an obvious connection to government because a private company handles the transaction (like student loans) or it is something so small as a single line on a tax form.

So what do we do to counter that misleading narrative?

First, make the hand of government more visible. Obama started it by cutting out banks in the student loan process.

Then start saying that in America opportunity is a group effort. This affirms the social contract (which the GOP works hard to shred). It puts a stop to the politics of rage that says I pay taxes and get nothing in return. It demands they give credit to the sacrifice of others that made their personal and societal wealth possible. A true patriot would thank Uncle Sam.

Rachel Maddow has a 15 minutes segment on conservative lies. The conservative media machine is big, well funded, and self-contained. Something gets to be true because they use each other for reference and verification. These crazy stories can no longer be debunked because they no longer listen to anything outside their sphere. When challenged, they don't back down, they say, "I heard it somewhere." This is dangerous because some of these people are now in positions of power and basing important decisions on things that aren't true.

I (and others) doubt that media outside the conservative sphere don't spend a lot of time trying to debunk this junk. It could be because there is so much of it, but I wish for more important and dangerous lies they would at least try. This likely contributed to last week's Dem defeats.

We've heard "This time it's different" before

In the Calif. gay marriage case before the 9th Circuit Court the friends of the gay side had their turn to file briefs of support. There were lots of them. Some of who filed and what they wrote:

Professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association wrote about how to evaluate research on gays who form families and also about the current state of knowledge of sexual orientation and families. Another related brief discussed the ramifications of discrimination.

Justice Donald B. King and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers wrote the choice isn't between a gay couple raising a child v. a straight couple raising that same child. No one is going to swoop in and take the child away. The choice is between whether the gay couple raises that child under a mark of inferiority.

Howard University School of Law -- this is one of the oldest and most revered of the traditionally black universities. Through the history of discrimination, starting with slaves not allowed to marry because it will destroy social order, we are told, "This time it's different." This time we really do face the downfall of civilization. We've heard it all before.

Legislators from Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts wrote they have not seen any of the predicted dire consequences in their states. The Mass. group also said the marriage rate in the state has remained stable and there has been greater acceptance of gays.

People of faith -- United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, Episcopal Church, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Reform Rabbis, Unitarian Universalist Church -- all say they are being discriminated against and their religious liberty is violated because they cannot perform marriage ceremonies.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund wrote that the case that overturned interracial marriage was controversial at the time but now seems obvious. The principles of that case are not confined to race.

Ethnic organizations, such as the Asian American Justice Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense wrote that if the rights of a minority are taken away through a popular vote of the majority, then the rights of any minority may also disappear.

A thank you to all who filed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's not easy being green

A contribution to the It Gets Better project from Kermit the Frog. Since he is green, he knows about growing up different.

The creator of this video includes the disclaimer that he is not officially associated with Muppets or Disney.

What took so long to get angry?

The author of this gem is unknown. I've condensed it here. The whole thing is worth reading.

To the members of the Tea Party:

You didn't get mad when the Supremes stopped a legal recount and appointed a president.

… when a covert CIA agent was outed.

… when we illegally invaded a country that was no threat to us and spent over 800 billion on that war.

… when Bush ran up 10 trillion in combined budget and current account deficits.

… when we let New Orleans drown.

… when the rich got a trillion dollars in tax breaks and cuts.

… over the worst decade of job creation.

… when 200,000 citizens lost their lives because they had no health insurance.

… when lax Bush policies caused US citizens to lose 12 trillion in investment, retirement, and home values.

No, you got mad when…

a black man was elected president and decided Americans deserved the right to see a doctor.

Bring out the Master Plan!

Five reasons to be glad the GOP won big this year (not that any of them actually convince me).

* The job of Speaker of the House is a polarizing job for whoever holds it and they tend to not last long.

* There are signs of fracture in the GOP -- the establishment v. Palin and DeMint v. McConnell in the Senate.

* Karl Rove, GOP mastermind backed with tons of cash that doesn't need to be disclosed, said a few things ("O'Donnell in Delaware is unelectable") and was called out by the Tea Party. He's been proven right and may retaliate.

* Now in control of the House the GOP can reveal its master plan to restore jobs, reduce taxes, and reduce the deficit. It's so wonderful and awesome they weren't able to reveal it during the election.

* Maybe the Tea Party can stop wailing about needing to take their country back, now that the prez. has been stopped in his tracks.

So make a big batch of popcorn and enjoy the two year long show.

Or not.

Gay related election news

David Cicilline, former mayor of Providence, became the fourth gay member of Congress. The other three, Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank, and Jared Polis were re-elected.

Iowa's Supremes are appointed but are subject to a regular referendum to keep their seats. Three of them were up for renewal this year, the first time since all seven approved gay marriage there. Out-of-state anti-gay forces dumped huge buckets of money in the state and were successful in ousting all three. These justices were not running against another person, only against their record in this one case. Yes, that means Supremes in other states who face voters will be looking over their shoulders when deciding gay marriage cases. So much for independent judiciary. Also, Iowa's pro-equality governor lost. The battle for equal marriage may heat up in Iowa, though the Dem leader in the legislature said no marriage protection amendment will come up for a vote.

Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat in favor of gay marriage, became governor in Hawaii. When the marriage bill (or was it civil unions?) comes up again, he'll approve it.

Lexington, KY now has a gay mayor, Jim Gray. Alas, the state also elected Rand Paul.

The New Hampshire legislature likely (as of Wednesday) turned over to the GOP, so the marriage issue will likely reignite there too. But the governor who signed their marriage bill was re-elected in spite of buckets of anti-gay money against him.

Both North Carolina House and Senate fell to GOP hands. NC will likely enact its own marriage protection amendment. Dems have kept it as the only Southern state to not do so.

The race for governor in Minnesota will likely go to a recount. The GOP candidate, Tom Emmer, is very anti-gay. At the moment, Dem Mark Dayton has the edge. Even if Dayton eventually wins, there is a big concern. The legislature, soon to have a GOP majority, may enact a marriage ban that would be signed by the current GOP governor, Tim Pawlenty (who is a prez. hopeful), while waiting for the recount to be sorted out.

The head of the National Organization for Marriage is crowing about how they contributed to a more anti-gay climate in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Hampshire where gay marriage can be stopped. At least for a while. But all other races they had their fingers in went against them.

Gays were elected to the Ohio House, North Carolina House, Washington House. Also Victoria Kolakowski, a transgender, was elected to the Superior Court of Alameda County.

Just before the election the Family Research Council (rabidly anti-gay and anti-choice) announced it was not supporting a GOP candidate from New Orleans, even though the guy is pro-life. It's because FRC is more interested in maintaining gays as a partisan issue and as soon as there are Republicans who support gays, then its game over.

And for the geeks and heavy internet users out there, all 95 House and Senate candidates who supported net neutrality lost their races.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

That agenda thing

My comments over the last month (and since I started this blog nearly 3 years ago (!)) should make my view of today's election results obvious. I'll let you find the national results on your own. I'll only ask how could so many millions of people be so completely hoodwinked?

When I get time to read other sources I'll report on the gay specific results. I'm posting now to comment on John Boehner's speech from last night (and if you don't know who he is, lots of press articles will remind you). One phrase caught my attention. "The president sets the agenda."

Well, actually, Congress is quite capable of setting its own agenda and up to perhaps 40-50 years ago, frequently did. I've read studies (alas, no links) saying that when Congress does so the country is frequently better off. Which means…

The GOP has no agenda other than obstructing the president.

Boehner is already laying the groundwork so that when Americans are fed up with inaction (or worse) in Washington the president gets the blame.

Monday, November 1, 2010

About that "take back America" business

The Tea Party says they want to "take back America." Essayist Terrence Heath asks three important questions related to that demand.

Who do they want to take it from?

Who are they taking it for?

How will they take it?

The answer to that last question is becoming clear. There have been reports of such things as a reporter handcuffed to a chair in Alaska. Most recent is a protester whose head was stomped on at a Rand Paul rally (the video went viral). The answer, then, is through violence. Maya Angelou: "When people show you who they are, believe them."

This is not new in American history. Violence is how the black man was kept in his place during Jim Crow (which isn't all that long ago). It intimidates and discourages dissent. It is a method of getting your way when your arguments are not rational and don't convince your opponent. And when your opponent shows you that your arguments aren't rational, violence is a ready response. Stephen Colbert: "Reality has a well known liberal bias."

Back to that first question. The list of who is likely to get the boot (either to the pants or the head) is familiar: teachers unions, Muslim-looking people, living in a house you can't afford, dependent on government health insurance, stem cell research, public transportation, global warming, loving someone of the same sex, the poor, Hispanics, blacks, atheists, and on and on. And the biggest boot for that usurper in the White House.

And to the second question. The Tea Party folks don't seem to be asking one important question of their own: All that money that is funding their movement and the candidates they were able to nominate -- where is it coming from?

Hint: It isn't coming from the rabble.

The Tea Party is attacking the government. But who, other than the government, can protect their food, water, air, environment, and climate? Who other than the government can regulate business and banking? So turn it around. Who doesn't want business and banking regulation? Who doesn't care if food, water, air, environment, and climate are clean, safe, and livable? Yup, corporations are funding the Tea Party movement.

And when legislation comes up to gut clean water regulation who is that freshman politician going to listen to, the rabble or the guy writing the checks?

Then the Tea Party will find out they've been played. They'll find out the new Golden Rule is He who has the gold, rules. The rest of us just live here. Unless we get the boot.