February 14, 2011

Tell Congress: Don’t pull the plug on NPR and PBS!

This happens every time Republicans find themselves in any position of power, in the White House or any halls of government: their first priority is to defund public broadcasting as a way to start getting their nails into education, and of course to make sure they happily maintain an ignorant public that’s used to only taking news and reporting from the silver spoon of corporate media. And of course, it’s happening again now that the Rpeublicans have the gavels in the House – they’re already eager to slice and dice NPR and PBS’s paltry budgets, but you notice they shan’t dare touch tax breaks for the wealthy.

Lining the pockets of the rich is something America simply can’t afford NOT to do, but educate children and adults, and provide balanced reporting and in-depth analysis of the events of the day? That’s too much money.

Thankfully the fine folks at CREDO are making their – and by proxy, our – voices heard on the matter, and making sure that this Congress hears just as loudly as the Republicans who tried to do this last time heard, that it’s unacceptable:

We’re only a few weeks into the 112th Congress, and Republicans are already attempting to pull the plug on public media.

In a budget proposal made public on Wednesday, House Republicans announced plans to zero out all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the nonprofit responsible for funding public media including NPR, PBS, Pacifica and more.

If the Republicans are successful, it would be a tremendous blow to the entire public interest media sector.

We cannot allow Republicans to destroy public media.

Tell Congress: Fully fund NPR and defend public service media!

Republicans are disingenuously claiming that they need to cut funding for public media because of budgetary constraints. But what they fail to highlight is that national public broadcasting is remarkably cost effective, providing local news and information, free of charge, for millions of viewers while only receiving about .0001% of the federal budget.1

More to the point, it’s nearly impossible to put a price tag on the actual value of public broadcasting.

Public media is one of the last bulwarks against the corporate media, where the combination of consolidation and profit motive has long since shifted the focus to infotainment rather than substantive news. In many rural and less affluent communities, broadcasters rely on federal funding to provide the only available high-quality news and public affairs programming.

Without public media, corporate media monopolies would increase their already large control of what we see on television, hear on the radio or read in the newspaper.

This outcome should deeply worry all of us. The increased accumulation and consolidation of corporate power is a threat to our democracy. And nowhere is this more evident than in our media.

At a time when media consolidation is shrinking the number of perspectives we have access to over the airwaves and when newsrooms are shrinking, we need more diversity in our media not less. And we simply cannot afford to lose what public media brings to the table.

Tell Congress: Fully fund NPR and defend public service media!

Conservatives have longed for any opportunity to defund NPR, PBS and other public media. And with Speaker Boehner wielding the gavel, it looks like they may finally get their wish.

Don’t let Congress pull the plug on NPR and PBS! Tell them reject cuts to public broadcasting.

You can sign the petition at the link below. I strongly suggest contacting your Congressional delegation and let them know how appalled you are at the very notion, as well.

[ CREDO: Tell Congress: Don't pull the plug on NPR and PBS! ]

New HRC Report Demonstrates Which Companies Support Workplace Equality

The wonderful thing about the Human Rights Council is that while one of their banner causes has been equal treatment of the LGBT community in all aspects of life, they also do great research and in-depth analysis as well as activism. One great example of this is the most recent workplace acceptance study, which went to a number of popular companies and workplaces in America to see how well they cope – if they’re friendly at all to it – with having LGBT individuals on staff.

The results are actually surprising – some companies that proudly fly their progressive colors in many cases are anything but accepting of gays and lesbians or transgendered people, and some old standard companies you would expect to be stodgy and conservative have very progressive human resource policies. Here’s a snippet of how the companies are judged, and one strong performer, Microsoft:

Businesses are rated on a scale from 0 to 100, based on whether or not they have policies that support LGBT employees. These include anti-discrimination protections, domestic partner benefits, diversity training and transgender-inclusive benefits. This year we provided an unofficial score to businesses that have not, after repeated attempts, responded to the survey. An unofficial score is reflective of the information that HRC has been able to collect without help or input from a business.

So Microsoft may have fared well in the study – and that’s likely part of the reason the company is an HRC National Partner. But how about some of the other companies that you likely shop with every day? They say vote with your wallet, and this is a great opportunity to find out how some of the companies you likely patronize treat their employees – regardless of their sexual orientation or expression.

[ HRC :: Buying for Workplace Equality 2011 ]

January 31, 2011

Without Obama, We Lose So Much More Than an Election

Bill Boyarsky has an excellent column at TruthDig that resonates with me partially because of how disaffected I think a number of progressives feel right now – and not about their own disillusionment about the Democratic party or some failing of the Obama Administration, instead it’s with other progressives that are so mired in their own idealism that they can’t see incremental progress or measured response when it’s right in front of their faces.

Quick examples: many progressives ask why the Obama Administration isn’t taking a harder line against the current Egyptian regime, to which I point out that while Mubarak has been an ally of the United States for the 30 years he’s been in power, the United States has never had a difficult time calling him out on his human rights abuses, and for the United States to get involved in this very Egyptian revolution would be faulty at best and could potentially end horribly at worst, depending on who winds up in power when everything is said and done. Sometimes, we need to understand that not everything in the world is about the United States. Sometimes the White House doesn’t have to say anything – the American people can voice their support if they choose to – but sometimes, it’s not about us.

Another example – the health care law: sweeping reform passed in Congress and now in two states shut down by court challenges that have rules parts of it unconstitutional. Will the American people stand up and champion their own well being and prosperity, or will what President Obama has stood for on our behalf go down the drain because of in-fighting among progressives who didn’t want to support it if it didn’t have a single-payer option?

I see a lot of this kind of infighting, and Republicans are eating it up – as long as they can portray progressives and liberals in America as fighting amongst themselves and not having a clear plan or direction, they can take center stage and shape the message however they choose – on the national debt, on Social Security, on cuts to public spending, and even after the State of the Union address – when many “new media” progressives were so busy whining about what the President didn’t say that they didn’t have the time or the spare brain cells to think about what he did say and how much it meant.

Sadly, I can only rail against them so much, because when it comes time to vote, they’ll inevitably do the right thing – if they get out to the polls at all.

Not to digress any more than already done, Boyarsky tickled this nerve when he pointed out exactly how much the far right, which even after Arizona hasn’t bothered to embrace the so-called “new civility” or tone down their violent and hateful rhetoric, has to gain if we can’t get our act together and support who we have, even if it’s not who some people want. He puts it a bit more bluntly than I:

The selfish negativity expressed by Republicans in the House health care debate last week showed why we should fight hard for President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.

Although their speeches were so canned, repetitive and boring that it was almost impossible to listen to them, the message was clear: Beat Obama, dismantle the health bill and take government out of the business of helping people.

It’s no surprise that Republicans and those on the right would happily abdicate the well being of the American people to special interests and leave them without any safety net of any kind – as long as they get to line their pockets in the process, and it’s equally no surprise that libertarians believe that there’s no need for government or for the voice of the people at all and that the free market that’s poisoned Americans with tainted food, killed us with bad medicine, shipped our jobs anywhere the work is cheap and kicked our families out of our homes are somehow also best suited to take care of us. What is a surprise is that progressives, mired in their own righteous indignation at times, can’t collectively solidify to beat back these waves of repression.

One of the GOP’s major proposals is eliminating Medicare as we know it, except for those now being covered. Current Medicare recipients would get a small tax credit to purchase policies in any state, opening the door to unregulated marketing of health insurance that may not cover necessities such as maternity care and cancer screenings. Government would also provide a small cash grant and let you invest in a medical savings account. Social Security would be gutted, with recipients being encouraged to turn over a third of their government pensions to the stock market. Ryan’s Budget Committee may also try to eliminate funds to implement the health care law.

Another House Republican plan, this one from the tea party-influenced Republican Study Committee, would cut federal funds given to states for Medicaid medical care for the poor.

That program is one of the best features of the health care act that the House voted to repeal last week. By 2014, the working poor, now excluded, will be eligible if the plan is not repealed.

Boyarsky goes on to explain how the health care law as it stands has already started to benefit the American people, even months after it was enacted:

Young adults under 26 are remaining on parental policies. Policies can’t be canceled unless the insurer proves fraud. There are no longer lifetime limits on benefits (such limits permitted cancellation after a certain limit had been reached). New policies must offer free preventative services. Patients can choose their primary care, OB/GYN or pediatric physicians from their insurance network without referral from another doctor. There is a new right to appeal insurance company decisions. Medicare recipients have received a $250 rebate from the prescription drug plan. Small businesses are receiving tax credits for offering health insurance to employees. People with pre-existing conditions can buy insurance. You can use the nearest emergency room without suffering insurance company penalties.

By 2014, the landscape will change much more. Consumers will shop for the best policies at state exchanges, with competition hopefully driving the price down.

Of course, key parts of this plan are threatened by the lawsuits brought by Republican state attorneys general, who may succeed in the current Supreme Court. But even so, much of the law will remain, and be revised and strengthened over the years, just as happened with Social Security and Medicare.

The Republicans want to repeal the entire package and wipe out the other government programs created to help people in economic distress. All they have to offer is a ringing call for a return to Victorian days, as proposed in Rep. Ryan’s roadmap. And they insist on doing it as the country is barely recovering from a recession caused by Republican policies. That’s reason enough for us to start working now to make sure Obama wins another term.

To these points, I tell progressives and liberals and anyone interested in the well being of their neighbors, their families, and their countrymen to look close at the real threat that stands in front of us. While we’re complaining about not going far enough, there are forces at play to bring us farther back than where we started. There’s no doubt that John McCain would have done nothing to benefit the American people on the scale that President Obama has – I think more of us would do well to remember this.

[ Without Obama, We Lose So Much More Than an Election ]
Source: TruthDig

Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them

Uh oh. Libertarians, watch out: your hero, Ayn Rand, was completely okay with making sure she grabbed up government benefits….as long as everyone else didn’t take them, that is.

The entire “I’ve got mine so you can go to hell” philosophy that Libertarian politicians and activists hold dear hinges on the belief that somehow, without any government intervention or even indeed without a government that everyone would behave in the most ideal fashion…that the free market and capitalism are the natural effects of a free society and that it’s in the best interests of the free market to not poison people with bad medicine or tainted food, to not under-employ poor workers or force them to work long hours without leave or benefits, or to discriminate against potential employees because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. And yet – when left to its own devices, so-called “free” enterprise does all of those things.

Why? Because that level of Libertarianism, like most political and social methodologies that sound great on paper, only work on paper. And there’s proof positive that Ayn Rand, the Libertarian goddess herself who championed so many of those ideals, understood that fact so much that while she was railing against the government and their social assistance programs, she was ever so happy to shout about how awful they were…all the way to the bank with her government assistance checks.

Ayn Rand was not only a schlock novelist, she was also the progenitor of a sweeping “moral philosophy” that justifies the privilege of the wealthy and demonizes not only the slothful, undeserving poor but the lackluster middle-classes as well.

Her books provided wide-ranging parables of “parasites,” “looters” and “moochers” using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O’Connor (her husband was Frank O’Connor).

As Michael Ford of Xavier University’s Center for the Study of the American Dream wrote, “In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest.”

Wow, that actually sounds a lot like modern Libertarianism, frankly – not only hypocritical, but ostensibly only interested in the self. It’s the same childish mindset that we’ve seen throughout the ages – the difference is that most people tend to grow out of it – that in good times, the government is always so evil, so horrible, and so guilty of sucking up “my taxes” to fund things that they don’t dare try to understand….and then when times are hard or life gets rough, the same programs and policies that these people formerly dismissed are there ready and waiting to catch them when they fall.

One can only hope they learn their lesson. Ayn Rand certainly didn’t – but then, considering she went as far as to use a different name in public and then another when she cashed her checks, tells us that not only did she know better, she was doing it maliciously.

Evva Joan Pryor, who had been a social worker in New York in the 1970s, was interviewed in 1998 by Scott McConnell, who was then the director of communications for the Ayn Rand Institute. In his book, 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, McConnell basically portrays Rand as first standing on principle, but then being mugged by reality.

“Mugged by reality.” That’s a phrase I think is more than applicable to this brand of Libertarianism – even today.

[ Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them ]

January 24, 2011

Let’s Get This Straight: There Is No Progressive Equivalent to the Right’s Violent Rhetoric

I already covered this in The Responsibility of the Right for Arizona, but because it still seems to be a rallying point for idiots who are happier making death threats and then hiding from the consequences of their actions like the cowards they are instead of facing the responsibility they have for the statements they make, it bears repeating, and Melissa McEwan, writing for Alternet, outlines this fact perfectly.

She points out that – something else I’ve said several times – while there are nuts and loons on any side of a political debate, there are simply no progressive voices that can adequately mirror the hatred and violence that’s so normal on the right side of the political spectrum in the United States. There are no progressive politicians or pundits calling for anyone to “shoot anyone in the head,” (Glenn Beck) or “reload.” (Sarah Palin) It’s just not the case – and even those people who do get a bit radical are almost immediately disenfranchised by all sides. On the right, for some reason, there’s an intolerance for anything unlike them….except violence and their own radical beliefs.

Talk about home-grown terrorism.

From the piece:

Both sides are, in fact, not “just as bad,” when it comes to institutionally sanctioned violent and eliminationist rhetoric.

An anonymous commenter at Daily Kos and the last Republican vice presidential nominee are not equivalent, no matter how many ridiculously irresponsible members of the media would have us believe otherwise.

There is, demonstrably, no leftist equivalent to Sarah Palin, former veep candidate and presumed future presidential candidate, who uses gun imagery (rifle sights) and language (“Don’t Retreat, RELOAD”) to exhort her followers to action.

There is no leftist equivalent to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group which was created from the mailing list of the old white supremacist White Citizens Councils and has been noted as becoming increasingly “radical and racist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which classifies the CCC as a hate group—and is nonetheless considered an acceptable association by prominent members of the Republican Party, including a a former senator and the last Republican presidential nominee.

McEwan goes on to sekwer each major polticial pundit and official on the right that’s been guilty of the kind of rhetoric leading up to the Arizona shootings, one by one – including Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and more, bringing their own words to light and pointing out that the right wing in America is so brutishly angry that they refuse to even denounce the open calls for assassination and murder in their own midst. It’s sad – probably one of the saddest chapters in American political discourse, but what’s even worse is that so many people on the right are eager to defend themselves, as opposed to change their tone and re-engage the rest of civil society.

She then wraps that section with this gem:

This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is.

This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.

This is a fact. It is not debatable.

And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

She couldn’t be more correct – as though she needs me to point it out: she actually goes on to point out how Sarah Palin and other members of the Tea Party can barely get through a single sentence in a public appearance addressing the matter before trying to turn the blame on progressives somehow for letting this happen and then trying to claim the mantle of the victim for their own. It’s disgusting.

This conclusion though, is the most brilliant thing I’ve read in a while:

Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the violent rhetoric absolutely permeating the discourse emanating from their side of the aisle, conservatives adopt the approach of a petulant child—deny, obfuscate, and lash out defensively.

And engage in the most breathtaking disingenuous hypocrisy: Conservatives, who vociferously argue against the language and legislation of social justice, on the basis that it all “normalizes” marginalized people and their lives and cultures (it does!), are suddenly nothing but blinking, wide-eyed naïveté when it comes to their own violent rhetoric.

They have a great grasp of cultural anthropology when they want to complain about progressive ideas, inclusion, diversity, and equality. But when it comes to being accountable for their own ideas, their anthropological prowess magically disappears.

Only progressives “infect” the culture, but conservative hate speech exists in a void.

That’s what we’re meant to believe, anyway. But we know it is not true. This culture, this habit, of eliminationist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum. It’s happening in a culture of widely-available guns (thanks to conservative policies), of underfunded and unavailable medical care, especially mental health care (thanks to conservative policies), of a widespread belief that government is the enemy of the people (thanks to conservative rhetoric), and of millions of increasingly desperate people (thanks to an economy totally fucked by conservative governance).

The shooting in Tucson was not an anomaly. It was an inevitability.

And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of “both sides are just as bad,” and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it’s irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.

Let’s get this straight: This shit doesn’t happen in a void. It happens in a culture rife with violent political rhetoric, and it’s time for conservatives to pull up their goddamn bootstraps and get to work doing the hard business of self-reflection.

This is one problem the invisible hand of the market can’t fix for them—unless, perhaps, it’s holding a mirror.

[ Let's Get This Straight: There Is No Progressive Equivalent to the Right's Violent Rhetoric ]

January 10, 2011

The Responsibility of the Right for Arizona

Symbology

The blood has barely dried on the pavement, and we’re already seeing how the right is planning to respond to the hate and vitrol that they’ve been spewing for the past several years – going all the way back to “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” in the Bush years and by deeming anyone who dared question their motives “unpatriotic” all the way up to burning effigies and hurling homophobic and racist slurs at Congresspeople as they walked from office to office, and all the way up to this weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona.

They’re approaching this from one main angle: the “yeah well you guys can be vitrolic too!” perspective. The goal is to generate a false sense of duality between the left and the right and somehow absolve their own hatred and anger of the responsibility they should feel towards the actions of the shooter in Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner.

Usually the arguments break down like this:
“The venomous rhetoric comes from both sides!” – A popular one, one that almost always breaks down when asked for examples. Why? Because it’s simply not true. No left-wing politician or public figure in the mainstream media have resorted to the same level of anger, hatred, and calls for open violence as the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and all of their respective cronies. There’s no doubt there’s extremism on both sides of the line, but only extremists on the right are proud to stand up in front of cheering masses and egg them on, then shake their hands.

“Democrats used a similar map in 2004!” – This one’s a smoke-and-mirrors tactic. By pointing to some similar map at some point in time when the political rhetoric was lower, there was no violent talk surrounding it, and no open calls for violence, the right feels they can somehow justify the existence of the “Take Back the 20″ map Palin had on her site, until her people guiltily started trying to scrub it from the Internet yesterday.

“The shooter was liberal/considered liberal by his friends!” and/or “He had books that implied he was more Libertarian/Anti-Government than anything!” – Another smoke tactic, avoiding the core issue – that regardless of the shooter’s personal political perspective (see the incredible piece at Chasing Evil: White Terrorism,) whether he was a registered voter of either party or what he may have said to his friends in high school, his violent behavior was very much part of an overall culture where polticial discourse in America is so far off the rails that it’s impossible for people who disagree with one another to do so civilly, and where people who feel they’re under-represented are so often told by the opposing party that there’s a coming “war.” To point – the fact that right-wingers almost immediately when President Obama took office started buying guns and ammunition, went back to the 90s-style back-woods militia training we saw under President Clinton, and started talking about how there were another “Civil War” coming. You don’t see that nonsense on the left.

“There’s no proof he was politically motivated!” – I beg to differ. The venerable Adele Stan posted a great piece at AlterNet called “How the Right’s Rhetoric Fueled the Actions of Arizona’s Mass Murderer,” and Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed in the New York Times called “Climate of Hate” point directly to the shooter’s political motivations.

“He’s just a nutjob/schizo/mentally ill person, there’s no proof this was political!” – This is another “shift the blame away from my validation of violence” attempt – another example of “I’m going to pretend everything I said yesterday doesn’t affect anyone and say he did this on his own in some kind of vacuum” reasoning that’s common on the right when confronted with the responsibility of their hatred becoming real. The right-wing blogosphere is aflame attacking all of the figures who survived the incident, claiming that the left somehow “planned to blame this on the right” from the get-go, or that the Sheriff or other public officials in Arizona are somehow to blame. Again, nothing could be further from the truth, and they all sum to being attempts at distracting us from the real issue here: the hatred and climate of violence that the right wing has fostered, many thanks to the Tea Party, over recent years.

To me, the creation of a false duality in an attempt to whitewash this hatred and violence, or worse to allow themselves to continue calling for open hatred and violence, is tantamount to being an accessory to these crimes. It is, to me, no different than placing the call for more Loughners to appear and take up arms against anyone the right is displeased with.

Here’s what Krugman had to say:

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

And yet – this is exactly what the right wing would love us to do – to quickly forget, move on, claim he’s just a nut working on his own and that no one really thinks that way. Sadly, it’s simply not the case, and there has been mounting evidence for the past several years to prove it. Here’s what really struck me in his piece, though:

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.


And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

There goes that false duality between the left and the right on this. Sure, conservatives can and will come up with isolated incidents of venomous outrage on the left that could potentially be classified in the same arena as what Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh say on the air every single day, but what they’ll never be able to do is come up with examples of progressives arming themselves in preparation for some kind of comiing war. They’ll never be able to turn up progressives burning effigies of congresspeople outside of their offices because of a bill they don’t like. They’ll never be able to turn up incendiary packages at post offices addressed to senators they dislike.

They’ll never be able to come up with the volume and type of vitrol that hits television screens, newspapers, and the airwaves every day from right wing pundits and politicians, and they’ll never be able to come up with it from mainstream figures that are generally accepted as representatives of that political faction. Why? Because it simply doesn’t exist.

Stan had this to say in her piece, which I think is incredibly well written and quoted:

So to those who would like to attribute Loughner’s actions to the Tea Party, I say, hold up; take a breath. But to those on the far right, and to the more mainstream right-wingers who fail to condemn the poisonous claims of the far right, I say, you’re hardly off the hook.

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

On April 19, 2010 — the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City — Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the attack, published an op-ed in the New York Times, both commemorating the dead and speaking to his fears of another such attack in the future. Note that the Oklahoma City attack came as right-wing leaders expressed outrage at the actions of federal law enforcement at Waco and Ruby Ridge, but also demonized federal workers as a class.

“As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters,” Clinton wrote, “we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.”

She then goes on to point out that at the same time President Clinton and others were mourning the loss of life in Oklahoma City, gun nuts and enraged Republicans and conservatives alike were massing in Washington DC to ready themselves for a “civil war” they said had already started. A fictional conflict they believed they needed to arm themselves and be ready to kill anyone who disagreed with them over.

So while we take stock and analyze this, and while we hope and urge our politicians to behave like adults and drop the hateful and vitriolic rhetoric (and leave it to the blogosphere, we do it the best without hurting anyone,) let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that there’s some kind of equality here, some kind of “there’s enough hate to go around.” It’s simply a lie, and an attempt by the right to fool themselves into not taking responsibility for this fog of anger they’ve used to their benefit – not only to get Tea Party representatives elected, but also to infect political discourse.

We, as a nation, would be better served if we took responsibility – how much is appropriate and where’s appropriate – for the nature of political discourse in America today, and that means not shoving your head in the sane or hiding from the nature of your own language, conservatives. And it means not letting it slide when you hear it and calling it out immediately as such, progressives.

Justice Scalia’s ‘Originalist’ Hypocrisy (and that of the GOP)

This one hit the radar a couple of weeks ago and it makes me laugh every time I read it – for being what lawyers and judges call an “originalist,” as in, he believes in interpreting the constitution to the letter, Justice Antonin Scalia certainly has tons of revisionist ideas of what the Constitution says. After all, this week he says that the whole “equal protection under the law” apparently doesn’t apply to women, and that the Constitution offers them no protection against discrimination.

That’s right – it’s one thing if you want to say something about the Constitution’s implied protections for African-Americans (who were slaves at the time and there was debate even then if they should be protected, culminating in the decision that African-Americans were three-fifths human, which gave them carte blanche to ignore us entirely…what, didn’t know about that? Those are in the parts of the Constitution that the Tea Party thugs who claim to honor the document so highly decided to conveniently avoid reading when they did their theatrical reading on the House floor last week) but the founders made it clear that women were supposed to have the same legal protections, even if they didn’t believe at the time they should have the same rights to vote and own property.

Yet again, Scalia reveals himself as being an “originalist,” but only when he supports the perspective of the founders – anything else is conveniently bent to the right.

“In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation,” Scalia said in a recent interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer.

“So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both? Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that.”

However, if the “original intent” of the amendment’s drafters was so determinative – that the 14th Amendment supposedly was only meant to apply to black men at the end of slavery – it might be safe to assume that the drafters weren’t thinking about protecting a white man like George W. Bush from possibly losing an election in Florida in 2000.

Here’s the beauty of the piece all summed up and pretty:

n other words, Scalia and other right-wing justices operate with a situational ethic when it comes to “originalism” and “strict construction.” If their partisan and ideological interests require the abandoning of those precepts, the principles are dumped overboard.

That is what most of us would call hypocrisy or dishonesty. But Scalia, like many on the Right, operates with a curious sense of false righteousness, at least when his “principles” match up with his ideology and partisan interests.

In the recent interview, Scalia packaged his assessment of “originalist” intent on the 14th Amendment as a tough-minded recognition of the facts. Scalia claimed that the amendment’s provisions should only relate to the “original” intent of extending legal rights to black men.

He framed his argument as an invitation to state legislatures to grant women, gays and other groups equal rights. But that also suggests that the states would be free to deny these Americans their rights, if the legislatures saw fit.

In essence, leave it up to the states, and he’s already laid the groundwork for his own denial of equal rights on Constitutional grounds going forward. It’s not only unfortunate, but it’s horrifying, and it’s horrifying that his perspective has managed to stay on the highest court for so long. I’m far from an originalist, mostly because I think the Constitution, which is an amazing document, is a framework – a prism through which the founders intended future generations to peer and look at the world they lived in, not a stone tablet they expected future Americans to adhere to the letter at all times.

But sadly, the definition of conservatism is to maintain the status quo and avoid progress at all costs – to live in the false righteousness that the way things “are” is the way things “should be,” or the way things “were” are better than the way things “are.” It’s unfortunate, but very real – and as we see in Justice Scalia, it’s a perspective we have a great deal of work remaining to fight against.

[ Justice Scalia's 'Originalist' Hypocrisy ]
Source: Consortium News

January 3, 2011

Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies and, Along With it, Reason and Justice

Oh Arizona, you never cease to amaze me. This was mentioned back in May of 2010 when the depths of the Arizona Republican establishment’s xenophobia, nativism, and ethnocentrism (I’m purposefully stopping just short of using the term “blatantly racist”) are laid bare for the world to see, but the issue has come back up thanks to the fact that on January 1st a new law that effectively banned ethnic studies programs in the state, ensuring that the only history students in Arizona get to hear is good old fashioned edited White American History, nothing more and nothing less.

Here’s the scoop:

While much condemnation has rightly been expressed toward Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, a less-reported and potentially more sinister measure is set to take effect on January 1, 2011. This new law, which was passed by the conservative state legislature at the behest of then-School Superintendent (and now Attorney General-elect) Tom Horne, is designated HB 2281 and is colloquially referred to as a measure to ban ethnic studies programs in the state. As with SB 1070, the implications of this law are problematic, wide-ranging and decidedly hate filled.

Whereas SB 1070 focused primarily on the ostensible control of bodies, HB 2281 is predominantly about controlling minds. In this sense, it is the software counterpart of Arizona’s race-based politicking, paired with the hardware embodied in SB 1070’s “show us your papers” logic of “attrition through enforcement,” which has already resulted in tens of thousands of people leaving the state. With HB 2281, the intention is not so much to expel or harass as it is to inculcate a deep-seated, second-class status by denying people the right to explore their own histories and cultures. It is, in effect, about the eradication of ethnic identity among young people in the state’s already-floundering school system, which now ranks near the bottom in the nation.

I really couldn’t put it any better than that – the goal here is the same as most American nativists have: to make sure the country’s official sentiment towards any newcomer is “if you must come to our country, at least make sure you assimilate as much as possible and become as much like us as you possibly can. Your identity and individual culture is of no interest to us.” Which, of course, is a shame, considering it’s more than clear that while there’s definitely an American “identity,” it’s by no means exclusive of anyone’s cultural heritage – quite the contrary, the cultural diversity of the American people are the components that make up that so-called identity.

But still, it gets worse:

There’s a word for what Arizona is attempting to do here: ethnocide. It is similar to genocide in its scope, but it reflects the notion that it is an ethnic and/or cultural identity under assault more so than physical bodies themselves. By imposing a curriculum that forbids the exploration of divergent cultures while propping up the dominant one, there’s another process at work here, what we might call ethnonormativity. This takes the teachings of one culture – the colonizer’s – and makes it the standard version of history while literally banning other accounts, turning the master narrative into the “normal” one, and further denigrating marginalized perspectives. America’s racialized past abounds with such examples of oppressed people being denied their languages, histories and cultures, including through enforced indoctrination in school systems.

As if to add insult to injury, HB 2281 barely makes a pretense to hide any of this in its language and intended scope.

The rest of the piece is an amazing close reading of the law that explains and exposes some of its more sinister goals – ones that, if the law stands up in court (which it likely won’t,) could be a bad sign for all Americans, as other states looking to marginalize its minority populations follow suit.

[ Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies and, Along With it, Reason and Justice ]
Source: TruthOut

Elizabeth Warren: Foreclosure Scams Show Need for New Consumer Agency

Thank goodness for the Consumer Protection Agency, and the work that Elizabeth Warren is making the new group do – which I might add, is another one of President Obama’s achievements, one that was created as a byproduct of the financial regulation that he and Congressional Democrats fought long and hard to get passed last year. Among the things that the new CPA is tasked with is sniffing out and investigating the rapidly growing number of home foreclosure scams, both from private companies that are preying on homeowners who are in trouble and want to stay in their homes as well as the actual reputable banks that hold these mortgages and are trying to kick people out of their homes without following due process.

In terms of the former however, Warren has all but said that the fact these scams even exist is proof that the CPA needs to exist, since prior to the foreclosure crisis there was no government agency, at the State or Federal level, tasked with making sure that these groups don’t take advantage of homeowners the way they do. Prior to the financial regulation law, a mishmash of government agencies were responsible for looking into the matter, and effectiveness could vary greatly depending on the one you approached with your concern.

Warren pointed out the need for the CPA and how critical this work really is in an op-ed in the Miami Herald just before the New Year:

No one has missed the headlines: Haphazard and possibly illegal practices at mortgage-servicing companies have called into question home foreclosures across the nation.

The latest disclosures are deeply troubling, but they should not come as a big surprise. For years, both individual homeowners and consumer advocates sounded alarms that foreclosure processes were riddled with problems.

While federal and state investigators are still examining exactly what has gone wrong and why, two things are clear.

First, several financial services companies have already admitted that they used “robo-signers,” false declarations, and other workarounds to cut corners, creating a legal nightmare that will waste time and money that could have been better spent to help this economy recover. Mortgage lenders will spend millions of dollars retracing their steps, often with the same result that families who cannot pay will lose their homes.

Second, this mess might well have been avoided if the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had been in place just a few years ago.

The new consumer agency is one of the signature accomplishments of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law by President Obama this summer.

While the latter is definitely a “what if” kind of statement, there’s a lot of merit to the point. After all, if there were a government agency responsible for, you know, protecting consumers of products and services – including and especially financial services, the whole foreclosure mess could have been avoided.

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that the CPA could have stopped banks from coming up with new and inventive ways to charm the pants off of home buyers with the smooth talk that homes are somehow great investments and simultaneously endless ATMs from which homeowners can draw cash – all available to them for a low low price of a sub-prime home loan. I do, however, think that the CPA could have been there earlier in the game when progressives were pushing against Congressional Republicans to allow judges to modify loan terms to let people stay in their homes.

Instead – and this is commonly forgotten – Republicans sided with their friends in the financial services industry and claimed that allowing judges to re-write mortgages would circumvent the negotiation process between homeowner and their lender, and in turn put undue pressure on lenders to lose money on home investments. Their usual rallying cry, that it would make home loans “more expensive and harder for average Americans to get,” which is tantamount to the whole “if you force us to be responsible we’ll make you suffer for it” line businesses usually lay down whenever someone tells them to clean up their act, was effective enough that a few flimsy federal programs to encourage negotiation and reward banks that helped homeowners stay in their homes were put in place and we all tried to move on.

An organization like the CPA could have been that group making the hard case for loan renegotiation, and if congressional Republicans didn’t want judges to do it, they could have gone for mediation or re-negotiation with the help of the CPA. Still, the whole thing is a case of “what if,” but it’s a “what if” I wish weren’t necessary to ask – as do the millions of homeowners who may be out of their homes sooner rather than later because there was no one to help them.

[ Elizabeth Warren: Foreclosure Scams Show Need for New Consumer Agency ]
Source: AlterNet

December 27, 2010

John Boehner’s Tea Party Nightmare

This is a showdown I simply can’t wait for. For all of the fanfare that the Tea Party thugs and their peanut gallery shared after the 2010 midterm elections, as soon as they get into office I’m eager to see how many of them settle into the political realities of office and how quickly they do it. How many of them turn on their campaign promises – the same way they’ve accused the people they’ve ousted – and how many of them take money from special interests, how many of them make sad excuses for their own misconduct, and how many of them are caught up in scandals because of their inexperience and ignorance. It’s just a matter of time.

One of those showdowns that I’m waiting to see is this one – a vote coming up on raising the Federal Debt Limit, a process that’s all but required for the government to continue functioning at this level. One that doesn’t imply that the government is borrowing more money or needs to borrow more money, but one that authorizes Congress to exercise their own borrowing power if necessary – something that won’t go over well at all with the Joe Six-Packs whose idea of news is the Drudge Report and what their friends forward to them via email without fact checking it.

From The Daily Beast, which has a great rundown on the scenario:

Rep. John Boehner owes no small part of his imminent promotion to the speaker’s office to the Tea Party, whose support he courted early and often en route to a landslide takeover of the House. But he may lose that support before he’s even begun to wield his new power.

The movement scored one of its first major substantive victories this week, rallying Republican lawmakers against a $1.3 trillion stimulus over its inclusion of $8 billion worth of earmarks—many of which they had proposed themselves.

The coming vote on the debt limit promises to be even more contentious. The federal government will run out of money early next year unless more borrowing is authorized, and even the most extreme budget slashing proposals out there will still means deficits for at least the medium term. A failure to pass the bill could spark a financial crisis, shut down the government, and turn big business against the GOP, making it a must-pass measure. But it’s also a bill that’s easy to demagogue, as the many Republicans who attacked incumbent Democrats for their votes on increasing the debt limit on the campaign trail discovered this year. The Republican caucus voted unanimously against the last increase in the debt ceiling, and a number have already signaled they won’t authorize another once they’re in the majority. After two years of heated rhetoric on the issue, Boehner is already warning conservatives to cool it.

We’ll just have to wait and see whether Speaker Oompah-Loompah will be able to control the dogs in his own yard, but I’m less worried about that – I think it’s inevitable – than I’m curious to hear whether the far-right conservatives who burned effigies, threw racial slurs at black Congressmen and homophobic slurs at others, will be able to hold back their rage when they realize that Washington isn’t at all like their own back-woods, and when they realize that the realities of the political process requires a thought process that’s nothing like the kind of across-the-fence “this is what I would do if I were in Congress” nonsense that most Americans love to ignorantly gab disparagingly about the federal government.

The real test will come again in 2012, when this influx of Tea Partiers will be put under the microscope for their achievements – or rather more likely – their lack thereof.

[ John Boehner's Tea Party Nightmare ]
Source: The Daily Beast