February 14, 2011

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

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

October 25, 2010

Eight False Things The Public “Knows” Prior To Election Day

If you read Not So Humble at all, you know what’s at stake in the upcoming elections and how important it is for progressives and liberals everywhere who care about the future and continued progress of our country – incremental as it is – to get to the polls on November 2nd. The far-right wingnuts and Tea Partyists are definitely headed to the polls, and you bet they’re hoping you don’t go because they know full well they’re in the minority.

Do you need more convincing that a lot of the nonsense we’re hearing in the media amount to little more than right-wing talking points? Check out this fabulous list from Dave Johnson over at the Campaign for America’s Future that I have to lift in its entirety because they are, point for point, critical to be read together:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush’s last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama’s first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.

Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the “stimulus” was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the “stimulus” with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be “non-reviewable by any court or any agency.”) The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn’t work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.

Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.

Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is “going broke,” people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.

Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8 ) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on “welfare” and “foreign aid” when that is only a small part of the government’s budget.

If people want to make this a referendum on President Obama, they’d do well to head over to one of our previous articles where we highlight the Obama Achievements Center – where, even if you don’t particularly think President Obama is progressive enough or effective enough, you have to acknowledge the things he’s done so far and ask the question of whether or not you’d get the same from John McCain if he had won the election.

Great example – President Obama participated in the It Gets Better Project. Would John McCain have done that? Would any of these Tea Party nuts who claim to defend the constitution but have never read it (Christine O’Donnel’s “where in the constitution is freedom of religion” and Sharron Angle’s “There’s a second amendment?” comment prove it) have participated? Never – they’re too busy blaming everyone else for the problems they and their financial backers caused while draping themselves in American flags and claiming to be “of the people.”

Be wary my friends, that Trojan Horse is right outside the door, and there are a lot of clueless people willing to let them in.

[ Eight False Things The Public “Knows” Prior To Election Day ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future

October 11, 2010

The Conservative Assault on the Constitution

A brilliant op-ed article in the LA Times outlines how the conservative voices on the Supreme Court – all of whom are likely to stay as long as they can in order to make sure they’re never replaced with anyone less vitrolic than they are – are, when acting in the interest of conservatives in the United States are actually shredding the Constitution that they supposedly worship so deeply.

It’s amazing how quick conservatives are to bemoan President Obama and progressive politicians and activists for “trampling” on the constitution, holding up the banner of being its so-called defenders, but nothing could be further from the truth. They may be interested in defending some ideological perception of what America looked like and who benefitted from whom’s strife during the time of the framing of those ideals, but they — as we’ve seen a number of times — contradict themselves freely in order to maintain their own interests, and in the end are willing to eliminate the rights and freedoms that the Constitution mandates in order to ensure their own privilege and grip on political, economic, and social power.

Nowhere is this more evident than on today’s Supreme Court, where a term as ugly as “judicial activism,” a phrase I hate to no end, can actually be appropriately applied to some of the Court’s more recent widely Conservative and completely unconstitutional judgements.

During the first years of the Roberts court, it has consistently ruled in favor of corporate power, such as in holding that corporations have the 1st Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts in independent political campaigns. For the first time in American history, the high court has struck down laws regulating firearms as violations of the 2nd Amendment and held that the Constitution protects a right of individuals to possess guns. It has dramatically cut back on the rights of criminal defendants, especially as to the exclusion of evidence gained through illegal searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment and the protections of the 5th Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. It has greatly limited the ability of the government to formulate remedies for the segregation of public schools. It has significantly expanded the power of the government to regulate abortions.

As always, the composition of the court is a product of historical accident and presidential elections. From 1968 to 2009, there were only two Democratic appointees to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, in part because President Carter is one of the few presidents who did not get to fill a vacancy. Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes had a total of 12 vacancies to fill, and their picks included four staunch conservatives who are now on the court: Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

On the issues that today define the ideological continuum, these four justices are as conservative as any in American history. Their views are best understood far more by reading the 2008 Republican Party platform than by studying the views of the Constitution’s framers.

How apalling is that? You can go back to the documents and writings and papers of the founding fathers of the American state, and find less in common with these justices – who claim to be strict and staunch interpreters of the Constitution as a document that is not up for interpretation and must be judged exactly as written – and find less in common with them as you’ll find in common with hooligans like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin. Why? Because it serves their interested – both the Justices who seek to steer the course of American social and political discourse, and their favored interests and friends off the bench as well. It’s terrifying, and unfortunately it’s likely to continue as long as the American people lack the patience and courage to elect and maintain progressives in the Legislative branch who can sponsor, author, and push legislation that will withstand challenge by that court.

[ Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority is Making its Mark ]
Source: The LA Times

Ayn Rand Conservatism at Work — Firefighters Let Family’s House Burn Down Because Owner Didn’t Pay $75 Fee

The beauty (and subsequently the horror) of this story is exactly how real it is and how much this is exactly the kind of world the Web-ertarians and their ilk would see us all living in: one where only the privileged or those willing to pay for social services get to benefit from them: a world where every person is somehow an island, where the well-being of their communities is irrelevant when compared to the desire for individual determination.

A world that ignores that the property values of an entire neighborhood goes down when a few homes in the neighborhood are foreclosed on, where an entire city is less desirable to business, development, and people looking for a new place to live when the citizens would rather recoup money in their pockets to spend on their own sundries than collectively share the burden of better schools, roads, and hospitals.

Here’s the story:

hanks to 30 years of right-wing demagoguery about the evils of “collectivism” and the perfidy of “big government” — and a bruising recession that’s devastated state and local budgets — we’re getting a peek at a dystopian nightmare that may be in our not-too-distant future. It’s a picture of a society in which “rugged individualism” run amok means every man for himself.

Call it Ayn Rand’s stark, anti-governmental dream come true, a vision that last week turned into a nightmare for Gene Cranick, a rurual homeowner in Obion County, Tennessee. Cranick hadn’t forked over $75 for the subscription fire protection service offered to the county’s rural residents, so when firefighters came out to the scene, they just stood there, with their equipment on the trucks, while Cranick’s house burned to the ground. According to the local NBC TV affiliate, Cranick “said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn’t do anything to stop his house from burning.”

The fire chief could have made an exception on the spot, but refused to do so. Pressed by the local NBC news team for an explanation, Mayor David Crocker said, “if homeowners don’t pay, they’re out of luck.”

How horrifying is that? The worst part is that the firefighters rushed to the scene to help, and then stood there doing nothing because those are “the rules.” What’s that about evil winning when good men do nothing?

Granted, the homeowner in this story hadn’t paid the fee, and I’m sure most libertarians will be quick to blame him for that – but frankly, aren’t taxes and fees essentially the same thing? Money that leaves your pockets to go to government coffers to provide for the common good? Yeah – you can call it whatever you want, but taxes and fees are the same (we’re seeing this debate in the Maryland gubenatorial debate, where the previous Republican governor is trying to claim he never raised taxes when in reality raising taxes would have been more fair: he just raised fees on goods and services that specifically targeted the middle class, and wound up being nothing more than pocket change to his upper-crust friends.) and if the community in Obion county had simply remembered this, Mr. Cranick wouldn’t have had to stand there and beg the firemen to do something about his burning home – something they decided not to do.

Welcome to Libertarian America, ladies and gentlemen: where the privileged have it all and the disenfranchised have nothing.

[ Ayn Rand Conservatism at Work — Firefighters Let Family’s House Burn Down Because Owner Didn’t Pay $75 Fee ]
Source: AlterNet

September 27, 2010

The GOP’s Worthless “Pledge” to America

Ever since the media descended on that little hardware store that shall now live in infamy to listen to some of the Teapublican Party’s most worthless representatives unveil their so-called “pledge” to America, I’ve been itching to take it apart piece by piece. Thankfully, a number of other great writers have done so for me, and called out the pledge for what it is – at best a shell of empty promises the Republicans simply can’t keep, and at worst a malicious plan to cripple the American middle class, shovel tons of money into the hands of the Republicans’ best friends, and pull money back from the areas that the American government should be investing in most heavily right now, like education and job training.

But the Republicans, as always, see things differently – mostly through a lens of “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell,” which results in a legislative agenda that does nothing in the good times and actually reverses public progress and common good in the worst times; and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Over at The Washington Monthly (and reposted at AlterNet) was a fantastic piece calling the pledge out as the sham that it was – snake-oil designed to make Tea Partiers and people who are disenchanted with the fact that this hole the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress during the Clinton Administration dug is deeper than they have patience for turn out to the polls:

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn’t even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the “Pledge,” presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren’t just the “party of no”; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of “party of ideas.”

But that’s precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we’re confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

That sounds about right, but there’s definitely more:

Ezra Klein’s take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they’re wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they’ve succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the “Pledge to America.”

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn’t even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

In fact, the Republicans’ “pledge” would rob the coffers of K-12 education by millions upon millions of dollars thanks to drastic cuts in public education, but it wouldn’t strike a dime from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Defense Department’s budget, or their own salaries. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

[ GOP’s New ‘Pledge to America’: A Pathetic, Destructive Sham ]
Source: The Washington Monthly (courtesy of AlterNet)

But the beat goes on: over at the Campaign for America’s Future, RJ Eskow calls out the “pledge” for pretending it’s fiscally sound and that it’s aiming at bloated government spending when it’s really a ruse for deep cuts to public programs that are unpopular with Republicans and their Tea Party ilk: programs like health care, education, and social services. He writes:

Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich – at everybody else’s expense. Their “pledge” would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public’s health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We’d face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That’s the future they’re offering. It’s Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on … you. If you like today’s economy, you’ll love the one these guys are cooking up.

If this document wasn’t written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there’s a lot for them to love.

He doesn’t waste time diving right into some of the same laughable notions that came up in the Washington Monthly piece – things so laughable that they couldn’t possibly ever become public policy in America unless the American people like shooting themselves in the foot (although the rise of the Tea Party and the “ignorance is bliss” political movement gives me pause to wonder if they’re not the case):

Where would they cut, exactly? They don’t say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: “Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?”

Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won’t: They’re going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won’t just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” also means ending the repair work that’s currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren’t listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice … you see where this is going, don’t you? (Yes, the Justice Department’s on the list. Law enforcement isn’t always a convenient thing in their America.)

Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states—states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they’ll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.

Why not rename this pledge the “fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan”?

The Pledge also promises to give “small businesses” a tax deduction equal to “20 percent of their business income” – but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of “small business” includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.

This “deficit-conscious” plan wants to expand the “military/industrial welfare state,” too. “We are a nation at war,” it says, calling to “fully fund” a missile defense system that’s already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don’t think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We’ve already spent more than $60 billion on the “Star Wars” missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that’s nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!

They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that’s “crowding out the private economy.” That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies—from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.

And while their rhetoric’s pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.” (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: “Agenda” is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn’t fit. It’s like writing “When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement …”)

Here’s the bottom line: They’ll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This “pledge” is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.

Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.

Seriously people, remember this when you head to the polls. There may be no way to heal this wound in time for the elections, but there’s definitely time to stop the bleeding so we can continue the work of repairing the damage that these same people – and then the people who inspired the worst of them that are rising to influence – have caused and are eagerly planning to cause.

[ GOP’s “Pledge” To Rob The Middle Class: No Jobs, No Health Care, No Security ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]