Friday, July 24, 2009

Home Invasion

Henry Louis Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after getting into an argument with a police officer. This would be a major story given professor Gates' reputation. However the fact that he was arrested in his own home and that he is a friend of the sitting President of the United States makes it a media storm.

I have no doubt that Mr. Gates was extremely upset to be accosted in his own home by a police officer. I also have no doubt that his reaction was based not only on the current situation, but a lifetime of racial bias that he has had to face. Was his reaction more emotional than rational? Probably. Was he justified in reacting the way he did? Probably. I believe that if you are in your own home and have committed no crime, then the police have no right to treat you like a criminal. The police officer in this case will now get a lot of support from the Right. People like Rush Limbaugh are already rushing to give their views in favor of the officer. This once again proves the hypocrisy that comes from that side of the aisle. The Republicans are the first to talk about the sanctity of the home and an individuals right to privacy. If this had happened to George Will, and he would have been arrested by a black police officer in his home, the outrage from the Right would be palpable.

I have written about this topic before and I frankly hate to repeat myself, but unless you are a black male in this country, you have no idea what if feels like to be afraid to step outside your front door in fear what the very people who are supposed to protect you might bring to bear. I live in New York City and there is no neighborhood or group of people or time of night that causes me more fear than the sight of New York City police officer heading my way. I have first hand experience of being wrongly arrested and abused by the people that we call "New York's Finest". The funny thing is that I actually feel fortunate that I didn't have to grow up in Boston. In his early years, the comedian Chris Rock told a joke that went something like this, "I was in South Africa the other day...Or was it Boston". Boston is the town that reacted the most violently to forced busing in the seventies. Boston is the town that still has de facto segregation to this day. Boston is the town that being black is still a cause for alarm, unless you play for the Celtics or Red Sox.

Was race a factor in the arrest of Professor Gates? Of course it was. Would both men have acted differently if they were of the same race. Of course they would have. If Professor Gate were white would a 911 call even have been placed? debatable. The point here is that once a police officer shows up at the residence of an individual, what should be the threshold for then allowing that officer to arrest any person that lives there? I am not sure what the answer is to that question, but given the accounts of the proceedings given by both Professor Gates and the Officer, I am confident that the threshold was not breached. Would the Officer have arrested an elderly, semi-disabled, white Harvard professor? You can bet your last bowl of New England Clam Chowder that he would not have. The multi-cultural support for this officer from the Cambridge police department doesn't impress me. The New York Police department has never been held accountable for firing over 80 shots at an unarmed man and hitting him with over 40 in the doorway of his own apartment. And they were only held accountable for sodomizing an innocent man and causing life threatening internal injuries after one of dozens of officers decided that he couldn't maintain his silence anymore.

Actions speak much louder than words. If you think that race plays no part in any of this, I would just ask you to look at the growing movement that is questioning whether the President was born in this country. The absolutely only reason it's a question is because of his race. The language from the opposition is couched in the terms of "taking the country back". Glen Beck promotes gun ownership as a rational response to losing an election. I remember when 5 people on the Supreme Court decided who our next President was going to be. There were a lot of disappointed people, but I don't remember anyone of any national prominence promoting armed revolution. Why is it okay to question the legitimacy of a President who won his election with a decisive majority of the American people voting for him? He's black. It's as simple as that. Having a black President is a huge step forward for this country, but being black still means that there's a bullseye on your back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Have Another Donut, You Fat Pig!

On Glen Beck's daily spewing of nonsense today he was attacking a government program that purchases food for food banks and soup kitchens. His initial argument was that the government was overspending for these products (which seems reasonable enough), but of course this poor excuse for a human being couldn't leave it at that. Responding to a comment by the by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack that the program, "provides assistance to people who otherwise do not have access to food", Beck said, " Wow! I didn't know in America that we had people that didn't have access to food". I have no idea how someone can be so insulated that they wouldn't know that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who go to bed hungry every night. Does he think the homeless are just sitting on a pile of money? Does he think those people begging for money on the street are just doing that to kill time? People like him should be forced to live on the street and he can see just how much "access" he has to food. Perhaps it might help that fat tub of lard to lose some weight.

He has a book out now called "Common Sense". It reminds of a Saturday Night Live sketch in which there was a game show called "Common Knowledge". The answers to all the questions were not the right answers, but the one's that most people believed to be true. That is exactly what he is selling. He is selling lies to people who are too lazy to actually find the truth. It's a shame that "reporting" has reached these depths.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lion in Winter

The health care debate has reached a crossroad. The Republicans and the insurance industry are staging a full frontal assault on the reform bills now working their ways through the House and the Senate. They have decided that the President is vulnerable on this issue and have gone so far as to proclaim that this issue will be his Waterloo. The President to his credit has finally jumped into the fight with both guns blazing. His statements, which used to be very conciliatory toward the opposition, have become more pointed and emphatic. His staff is no longer talking about a bipartisan bill, they are now talking about the reality of having Democrats push this through on their own.

The President has to make the point that health care reform is not a policy question, it is a moral imperative. The health and well being of the citizens of this country is not something to bartered with or toyed with because of political differences. Republicans offer no alternative to the current proposal. Michael Steele went so far as to say that he doesn't even know what's in the bill. It is very clear that Obama's opponents don't have any strategy to fix the health care crisis, they only want to block anything that comes out of this administration.

The conservative Democrats have a different agenda. They are trying to placate the constituents in their right leaning states and districts. Their single issue is cost. They have to be sure that any program does not add to the bloated deficit. I do not believe that they are actually opposed to health care reform. Of course if they do not get on board at the end of the day, their opposition, regardless of how principled it is, will sink our only chance to give Americans a proper health care system. I have to believe that if push comes to shove, they will vote with the majority. If not to approve the bill then at least to end a republican attempt at a filibuster.

We, as a people, should have a right to decent health care. I have stated before that each elected official should be willing to do the right thing even though it may be a losing issue in their next election. We vote people into office not only to do our bidding, but also to do what is best. The people don't always know what is in their best interest. Just look at California. The fact that everything is up for a vote has led them to a budget crisis of biblical proportions. They need more revenue, but refuse to vote for any tax increases. "The People" want everything for nothing. "The People" cannot always be trusted to make the right decision. Our elected officials are not supposed to be as shortsighted as "The People". If their only concern is getting re-elected, then the needs of the people take a backseat to that goal.

It is a given that there are many in both houses of Congress who do not care if the majority of citizens of this country have adequate health care. They have been bought and paid for by the health insurance industry. That however should not stop the majority from doing what they know is right. I understand that no one wants to have to go to their constituents and tell them that health care reform is going to cost them money, but as with most of the great moral crusades of the last century, cost is not the important factor. We will of course save money if we are a healthier nation, but that is too forward looking for most in this country to understand. Sometimes “We the People” have to dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing. I can only hope that we have enough representatives who comprehend how significant this issue is and how monumental a difference it will make in the lives of all our citizens.

President Kennedy spoke of civil rights as a moral crisis. He tragically didn’t live long enough to see the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Critics at the time attacked the bill as government interference in private enterprise. They argued that the government has no place in dictating the actions of the private sector. They argued that we needed less government, not more. Time has proved these arguments wrong. His brother Ted Kennedy has made universal health care his life’s work. He has pushed for universal coverage since the early seventies. He has spoken about the fact that he and his family have always received the highest level of care. However, unlike some of his more callous fellow members of Congress (Senator Grassley had the nerve to offer this bit of advice as to how to get the same level of coverage that he enjoys, “get a government job”), he has always said that he wants all Americans to have access to that same level of care. As Kennedy battles brain cancer, he is doing all he can to lend his support to this most important of issues. It is his life’s work, it is his legacy. It is the moral imperative of our time. Let us hope that we are up to the challenge and I believe that time will treat the opponents of health care as well as it has treated the opponents of the Civil Rights Bill.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Money Is Involved, Anything Is Possible

Recently Californians voted to ban Gay marriage last fall. Now, this state with a revenue base larger than that of many countries is broke, issuing IOUs to vendors and contractors and suspending vital services as it attempts to close a budget gap that is not so much a distance to be bridged, but an asteroid crater to filled: the budget is short by $26.3 billion dollars American. Gay marriage wouldn’t fly somehow in California (Utah’s meddling not-withstanding, it should’ve passed. I don’t care how many TV commercials the religious Right bought) but the legalization of Marijuana just might go over.

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a bill this past February that would make it legal for adults 21 and over to grow and sell Marijuana within the state of California. Back in February there was the usual laughter by the establishment that insists on seeing a huge difference between drugs like alcohol and so called “narcotics.” We largely have William Randolph Hearst to thank for this distinction but that’s another story. Now a bill to tax and regulate marijuana in California (like the US does with alcohol) is appearing a little more attractive. The reason for this abrupt change of heart is pretty obvious. For California, taxing Marijuana production and its sales would generate nearly $1.4 billion dollars. The California State Board of Equalization has issued a report that “estimates marijuana sales would bring $990 million from a $50-per-ounce fee and $392 million in sales taxes.

Tom Gray of The Brains was right: “Money changes everything.”

I’ll go one further and reassert that while money does not buy happiness; it sure makes life easier for those who have it. Money makes the world go ‘round and makes the impossible practical and concrete. There was an old joke in the 1980s that went something along the lines of “If handling golf clubs gave people AIDS, we would have had a cure by now.” And so it is with so many things in our country and the world. Money drives policy, law and society. Those with enough of it, tell the rest of us to go to hell in different ways and fashions. It would seem that the only way for Lesbians and Gays to get a marriage bill passed in California is for them to threaten to leave the state en masse and move to one of the states that actually recognizes them with equal status under the law in the same manner and measure as their fellow heterosexual citizens; basically take their money: earnings power, spending power, savings and run for the hills.

If money really is power, or more bluntly, money is the highest power attainable in global society, (and it clearly remains so) then the poor in particular have no hope whatsoever other than to become their oppressors. It’s a bleak but undeniable picture of our country and our world. The philosopher, sociologist, critic and historian Michel Foucault once wrote: “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex ‘strategical’ situation in a particular society.” One consequence of this line of thinking is that “power relations” are inescapable for human beings. You cannot abstain from them, not even by going to a deserted island and never so much as picking up a coin from the sands. Even as an isolated hermit, your contribution or drain on the economy can be computed by an economist or statistician in the way an engineer can compute “sag” acting on any physical object in any context or condition. I disagree somewhat with Foucault’s attribution of indistinct namelessness and formlessness to the notion of “power” because in our world society, that ‘strategical’ situation Foucault spoke of is legal tender: the dollar; the Euro; the Yen; and so on.

Marijuana legalization, Housing Reform, Immigration Reform, Gay marriage, Healthcare Reform and just about every other issue wherein people are being denied rights has to be “monetized” in order to gain traction in America, and that is just so fucking sad.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Talking Loud and Saying Nothing.

Barack Obama would not have gotten elected if he'd let us in on his secret plan prior to the election. He would not have gotten elected if he'd said: ‘My idea is to create a $1.8 trillion deficit for the next fiscal year.’”
-Jeb Bush in an interview with Tucker Carlson

A lie, within a lie, supporting a lie.
But he went on:

I'm not saying abandon our principles. To the contrary: Find creative ways of expressing the principles.”
-Jeb Bush

"The nation’s economy can’t endure anymore 'Republican creativity.'"
-Sandy Jimenez

I can only imagine the smile on Tucker Carlson’s face as this was said aloud far away from the ears of anyone with any common sense who would question or contest it. Only blind, supplicant, gullible Right Wing voters can swallow this kind of nonsense: those masses who still want to believe whatever they are told is in their best interests to believe. Clear thinking, principled Republicans can at best remain mute when they hear this tired variety of pabulum, lest they be called traitors to their party or worse. It seems there are few options for Conservatives with questions about how the candidates and policymakers they supported for twenty five years wrecked the country. Nobody can put in plain words why the loudest voices in the Right Wing establishment today only want another chance to do it all over again. Republicans are owed an explanation; instead they’re being given more orders and told to sit tight while the remaining elected Republican officials in power say “no” to just about everything happening in Washington DC and the world.

If one only directly addressed the sheer managerial ineptitude of the last Republican administration, scores of arrest warrants and retroactive impeachments would have to be issued.

For my part, I’m going to lay off the Republicans for a while, at least until the GOP starts some new nonsense, because their silly attempts at disowning the economic collapse; their pathetic denials of the runaway Wall Street crime wave they abetted and all but legalized are making me repeat myself as well. It’s better not to be mired in bullshit at all, but especially someone else’s.

Barack Hussein Obama is the President of the United States.

Those words stab like ice picks into the ears of some, but the only thing those Americans are indicating with their unspecified disgust and thoughtless adamantine opposition is that they are part of the past. Just as Ronald Reagan ushered in an era of deregulating, pro-corporate, Right-tilted rule that all but said that the moneyed-Rich elites in our country will tell the rest of us what to expect from government; Barack Obama’s White House signifies, at least by our collective act of electing him to the presidency, a new era in which the many are demanding new purpose and action from the government they empower, while letting the wealthy few remain just that, for now. At least that was the promise of last November.
That promise is in fact the not-so-secret plan Jeb Bush is lying to Tucker Carlson about. That is what Jeb Bush is trying to scare Americans away from. -Good luck Jeb: Say hello to your brother at the Crawford ranch for me; the unemployed; the uninsured; and all those veterans coming back to the ruins of the economy that he and your rich buddies wrecked. I can’t imagine how you two punks manage to look your father in the face without crying every time.

For the Obama administration and the rest of us, the job at hand, (GOP interference not withstanding,) is as historic as it is Herculean.

There are still two wars going on. We have an economy that won’t fix itself. We are in a new, historically lowered “normal” for heavy industry, media, finance and international trade that is exposing the groundless, credit and debt-based foundation of American “prosperity” of the post-Reagan era. We have 50 million uninsured people. We are in an energy crisis that is economic, social and environmental in its threat to the human race.

What does this Administration plan to do when its bipartisan fantasy of sharing vision (and responsibility) is inarguably, undeniably over? The Republicans have made it clear that their definition of Bipartisanship means concessions on policy and legislation made by all… save themselves.

This Democratic majority in government must differentiate this era by beating back the excesses begun in the Nixon era by transnational big business. They must do it with law, with subsidized programs and regulation.

But they can’t do it by negotiating with politicians, (be they Republicans or their own Democrats cravenly beholden to corporate paymasters) who oppose the core ideals of Progressive reform and brand such imperative policies and programs such as Universal Healthcare as exclusively “Socialist.”

The more time the Obama Administration and its informal coalitions in the House and Senate spend trying to get the support of “all” Senators and Congressmen while they have a majority, is the more time the nefarious lobbying interests have to organize and reframe the issues with well-funded lies. The more time the Obama administration wastes, the more diluted its public mandate becomes.

Why have they wasted so much time and effort negotiating with politicians who have already stated that their starting posture in any conversation is “no?”

What are Democrats, the closest current custodians of the Progressive agenda, going to do other than fall into disunity in the face of the same corporate interests that made Republicans betray America in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to every major industrial lobby on K Street?

Al Franken is the United States Senator from Minnesota.

While that may feel like corkscrews winding into eardrums to the likes of Bill O’Reilly and other pro –establishment-anti-working class propagandists masquerading as TV pundits, it’s a further block in this potential foundation for “the Great Society” President Johnson struggled for but ultimately abandoned after he dug in his heels refusing to pull back from the Vietnam war. Operating in a filibuster-free Senate is a fragile and temporary condition. Democrats have to act quickly, if they are to act meaningfully. They have to forge ahead and dispense with the public shows of egalitarianism and contrived acts of inclusion. It didn’t work and it won’t. The Republicans don’t care how venal and greedy they look or how ridiculous they sound when they tell Americans they don’t think we should have Health Insurance -like the medical coverage we all pay for them to have.

Republicans don’t care how stupid they sound when they now start talking about fiscal responsibility, as if they didn’t tank the economy and send jobs overseas and let the worlds of finance and investment banking run out of control. The Democrats just have to pull their party together, straighten out the cowards and sell outs in their midst behind closed doors and get to work immediately.

The question remains: of all the things the Democrats said they were going to do, -What are they willing to do?

I “see” a lot of talk, but I’m not hearing anything.


Monday, July 06, 2009

The Most Dangerous Person in America

Sarah Palin announced her resignation as Governor of Alaska in a rambling and unfocused press conference last Friday. In fact, she made Mark Sanford seem like the epitome of coherence. Those on the left were quick to proclaim that this was the death knell for Mrs. Palin as a serious candidate for President in 2012. Those on the Right were quick to point out that she is now free from the burden of running a state and can now make even more appearances where she can spread her message.

If we were living in "normal" times, those hopeful thinkers on the left may indeed be right, but we are not living in normal times. The Republican party has been reduced to its core elements. Social conservatives now dominate the base of the party and those are the very people who find Sarah Palin irresistible. We must also remember that over 58 million people voted for her in the last election. I understand that she was not at the top of the ticket, but she was only a heartbeat away from the top job which would have been held by a 73 year old, 2 time cancer survivor.

Sarah Palin is the most ill-prepared person proposed for national office that I have ever seen. She has no understanding of the Constitution (illustrated by her constant misstatement of what the 1st Amendment means), she couldn't explain what Conservatism is if you spotted her Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and she is dead set against learning what she doesn't know. That last point is what makes her so dangerous. Anybody with the lack of understanding of national and international issues that she has demonstrated and with the family issues that were forced to be played out on a national stage, would have declined the offer to join the McCain ticket. However her personal ambition outweighs any family obligation or reasonable action.

Despite all her shortcomings, the base of Republican party has anointed her as the savior of the party. Republican pundits have even compared her to Richard Nixon. Nixon uttered the famous, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore", after losing to Pat Brown in the California Governor's race. Nixon, of course, returned 6 years later to become a two term President. However comparing Richard Nixon to Sarah Palin is like comparing an Indy race car to a scooter. At the time that Richard Nixon made his famous concession, he had been a 2 term Congressman, a Senator, a two term Vice President and had lost a closely contested and controversial election for President. For all his shortcomings, I don't think that there is anyone who would question his intelligence or his skill as a politician and statesman. Sarah Palin, a first term Governor of Alaska, was as recently as 4 years ago, voted mayor of a town with approximately 600 votes. The comparison is ridiculous on its face and becomes even more ridiculous when you compare the two. She has also been compared to the great communicator himself, Ronald Reagan. Of course Reagan had become politically aware as part of the Conservative movement. He was schooled by the likes of Barry Goldwater himself and cut his teeth as Governor of California. Ronald Reagan's intellect will never be confused with Richard Nixon's, however he knew what he stood for.

Sarah Palin doesn't know what she stands for. Her speeches contain no details, no policies, no directions for how she intends to "make America a better place for all Americans". She simply spews talking points and applause lines. Her ego is so large that she would probably never allow someone around her who doesn't agree with everything she says, or at least they wouldn't be around her for long. I have nightmares about this woman being in charge of our international policy. Can you imagine this woman as our representative around the world? Can you imagine her having a serious discussion with the leaders of the rest of the world? George Bush at least had the awareness to understand that he needed smart people around him. They were evil for the most part, but they were undoubtedly very intelligent. I don't think Bush ever had a problem with not being the smartest guy in the room.

Sarah Palin, almost unbelievably, thinks that she is the smartest person in any room that she's in. She would surround herself with people who would be unwilling or unable to disagree with her on any topic. It would be an absolute disaster. I honestly don't understand how anyone could hope for this to come to pass. There are smart people on the right, who for unknown reasons support Sarah Palin. It could be desperation, it could be... actually there is no other reason. It has to be desperation. I hope that in the years before the next Presidential election, the Republicans come up with an alternative. I fear, however, that wishful thinking will not be enough to get rid of the spectre that is Sarah Palin. She will be with us for the foreseeable future. Unless there's a scandal out there that we don't know about. That might be more wishful thinking I'm afraid.