Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Soda, Jerked
March 16, 2013

NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s ban of large sodas was in the news a lot this week, and discussed on lots of TV shows, etc. after a judge struck it down.  Bloomberg promised to appeal the decision, and I think he should, because there is solid ground for this law.

I’ve heard lots of pundits criticize it as a “Nanny State” law, and the crazier Facebook posts of course proclaiming it a threat to their soda drinking liberties, yadda yadda, but let’s look past the rhetoric and hype to reexamine this issue, because I think most people are coming at it from the wrong direction.

Most people seem to be comparing it to smoking ordinances, which prohibit smoking in certain areas, mostly indoor public spaces, although some towns go much further, prohibiting smoking just about everywhere except your home.  But I think this is a bad comparison, because that law exists not to stop you from smoking, but to keep you from exposing to cigarette smoke those people who do not choose to smoke (including children).  The soda ban isn’t using the same basis.  No one is exposed to your overconsumption of sugar except you.

And, in fact, the ban doesn’t keep you from drinking sodas, anywhere.  You can still drink your 16oz cup of soda and refill it until your kidneys explode if you so desire.

This is, in fact, not a law to prevent consumers from doing anything at ALL.  It’s a law that targets the salesperson, and enforces them to sell responsibly.

Think of a bartender.  If a bartender sees that you are inebriated, the law says she cannot continue to serve you alcohol.  It’s irresponsible on her part to do so.  The law does not exist to prevent you from drinking; it exists to prevent a business from taking advantage of your condition to line their pockets, while putting you at risk.  It stops a predatory practice from taking place, and as such, it is there to protect your rights, NOT curtail them.  In the same sense, the business owner selling sodas can sell a reasonable size drink all day, but selling a giant bucket of soda even though she knows it is a dangerously large amount of sugar to drink in one sitting is irresponsible.  She would be taking advantage of your inability to control yourself by doing so.  Now, with the ban in place, your rights are protected, and in fact, the onus of responsibility for yourself is placed back in your hands.  You can go back and refill that 16oz soda all you want.  When the doctor bill comes, you will have only yourself to blame.  Freedom.

Some might argue that the alcohol law exists to protect those you might harm in your inebriated condition, driving, etc.  But I would argue that the soda law does the same, just in a longer-term viewpoint.  If you end up hospitalized your family could be endangered, if you die your family could be endangered.  And heart attacks on the road home do happen too, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.  So even this is not a solid argument to strike down the soda ban.

I am hopeful that on appeal, the court will consider that business should sell their products responsibly, and not endanger their customers by selling a portion of product that is blatantly harmful to them.  Allowing companies to do whatever they want to get rich while putting all of our health at risk is one reason why our health costs are so high and our country is in so much economic trouble.  Uphold the soda ban, and maybe NYC will be a little healthier, then maybe other areas will follow your example. That’s worth fighting for, Mr. Mayor.

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Book Review: “Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con that is Breaking America” by Matt Taibbi (Nov, 2010)
February 17, 2013

I realize I’m late getting to this book, but better late than never.

The subject matter of this book ranges from the depressing to the terrifying. Greed and corruption at the top levels of the financial and political powers of the world conspire to rob us blind and leave our country at the brink of disaster. And no one is doing anything about it. Luckily, you have guide Matt Taibbi to ferret out the wrongdoers and expose them to the light of day, all the while relentlessly illustrating how screwed you are in the deal.

Taibbi has a great gift for taking complex and mind-numbing subjects like housing markets, commodities trading, and credit default swaps and boiling them down to easy to understand, bite size chunks. And his biting humor helps you to be able to stomach the horrifying, rapacious greed and lack of ethics at the heart of the power structure.

There may be no hope, but information is power, and Taibbi brings you the information. Once armed, it’s up to you what to do with it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommendation: If you care about politics or finance at all, this is a must read.

Quote: Matt Taibbi
February 17, 2013

The powers that be don’t want people thinking about any of these things. If the people must politick, then let them do it in the proper arena, in elections between Wall Street– sponsored Democrats and Wall Street– sponsored Republicans.

Taibbi, Matt (2010-11-02). Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America

To Boehner or Not To Boehner, and Why It Really Doesn’t Matter At All
January 4, 2013

The 113th Congress was sworn in yesterday, and it was almost sickening to watch them all pat each other on the back and make grand speeches about their sacred duty and what an honor it was.

The 112th Congress was one of the least effective and least popular in history, and I hold out zero hope of this Congress being any different, and in fact I think it will probably be worse.  The phrase “double down” is used far too much in punditry, and I’m sorry to have to repeat it, but all this House GOP seems willing to do is double down on everything they did before the election.  Understandable, in a sense; after all, they were reelected to control of the House of Representatives.  However, they did lose the Presidential race in somewhat grand fashion, and have been in a sort of squabbling freefall ever since.  Nonetheless, the Tea Party (read, RWNJ) arm of their caucus seems determined to dig in their heels and change absolutely nothing.

The cherry on top? Reelecting hapless John Boehner to a 2nd term as Speaker of the House, after he managed to do nothing at all in negotiating a deal to avert the so called “fiscal cliff” with Democrats.  Not only did he seemingly have no involvement with the final deal (it was negotiated by Senator Mitch McConnell and VP Biden), he failed to even get his own leadership to support it, which would presumably appear to the Senate as a complete breakdown of his control, if he ever had it, of the House.

From the Insult-to-Injury Department: Mere weeks after Boehner stated that the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare” was now “the law of the land”, and rightly so, the first bill filed in the new congress was, you guessed it, the 34th attempt to repeal Obamacare, filed by batshit crazy Michelle Bachmann, no less.

So, the new Congress right off the bat proves they are going to stick with the same useless, do-nothing shell of a leader they had last term, and they are not going to stop wasting taxpayer money filing bill after bill to repeal a law which has already passed SCOTUS review and proved popular enough to re-elect the President.  Not only that, but they’ve also proved they don’t care a whit for anything said by Boehner, who they ostensibly have elected to speak for them.  Why would anyone put any trust in such a gathering?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who the Speaker is.  Boehner is little more than a figurehead.  The Tea Party wing of the GOP is a collection of rabid extremists, racists and conspiracy theorists beholden to no one, not even their own electorate.  In the end, they’re going to do whatever they can to tear down government, which is their overarching “philosophy”, if it can be called that.  We are in the sorry position of having our chief legislative branch run by those who oppose all governance.

Our only hope is to survive it, and turn out en masse to the 2014 elections.  We cannot have another 2010, where sensible folk stay at home and allow the foxes to run the hen house   That has already earned us our first credit downgrade, constant filibuster, and stalling recovery at every turn.  From now until the mid-term elections, the absolute first priority of everyone reading this should be a never ending and constant attention to the effort to get out the vote.

Too many more of these elections, and the Speaker of the House will not be the only thing that doesn’t matter anymore.

Hey, Cars Kill People Too
December 19, 2012

In the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, the debate over gun control has been awakened yet again.  And as usual, pro-gun folks have trotted out their arguments about how it’s not the guns’ fault.  There are a litany of talking points and catch phrases tied to the idea that we shouldn’t do anything about guns.

You know and have heard them all a million times, so I won’t repeat them all, but one that always interests me is this one: “Hey, cars kill people too, you know? So should we take all the cars away too?”  Leaving aside the greater issue that the use of cars and fossil fuels is slowly killing us all, and therefore maybe this is a GREAT IDEA, let’s just focus on the gun / car analogy.

Every liberal in the world goes nuts at this comparison and quickly and handily shreds it by pointing out how bad an analogy it is.  And rightly so, because cars and guns are in no way similar.  But you know, personally, I love this comparison, and am more than willing to go with the pro-gun folks on this one.  Yes, pro-gun person, I say, you are 100% RIGHT ON THE MONEY.  I’m so glad you made this comparison, because I think it should the basis for EVERY single piece of gun control legislation FROM NOW ON.  Here’s why:

  • You must be licensed to drive a car.
  • You must be trained to safely operate your car.
  • Your car(s) must be registered, and regularly inspected.
  • There are restrictions on what type of car you may own and operate.
  • There are restrictions on where you may drive your car.
  • There are restrictions on the safe operation of your car.
  • When entering any building, business, or even public area, your car must be left behind.  And it can’t be left just anywhere, there are approved places for them to be parked and an approved manner for them to be parked.
  • If we suspect you are violating these rules, you can be stopped and checked.
  • If you are found to be violating them, you can lose your right to operate your car or have it suspended.

So, I thank the pro-gun folks for coming up with this most apt comparison for use in the crafting of all our gun control legislation.  I’m glad we could agree that guns are a lot like cars and therefore should be handled similarly.  You’ve done us all a great service.

We need to stop talking about this and get it done. NOW.

You Can Prevent A Disaster
October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy has renewed the debate over eliminating FEMA and privatizing disaster relief.  The argument generally goes that a private company will do a much better job reducing costs and therefore make the system more efficient.

There’s nothing hugely wrong with this argument in principal, until you start to think of ways a business in charge of disaster relief might cut costs.  But that’s a fairly obvious stumbling block, and honestly, if people haven’t figured that one out after privatizing hospitals, emergency response, and prisons, they never will. But there’s a much more insidious and horrifying problem that has only become clear in recent years.

The privatizing of America’s prison system has led to major profits for company’s running prisons.  And that profit has gained them one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. The prison lobby works to stop decrimilization, increase penalties, make harsher sentencing, etc.  In other words, they try to rewrite laws so that more Americas go to prison, and stay in prison.  It is one of the worst decisions we’ve ever made, and we seem to be in no hurry to change it.  More of us are in prison every day because of this, and there’s no end in sight.

To be honest, that could be the subject of an all-day, every day blog in and of itself, but lets stick to the subject of disaster relief.  Imagine such a lobby for a company who profits from disaster relief.  What might it work to change, so that the companies make more money?

They might lobby to weaken building codes.  Weaker construction means more damage, longer disaster recovery times, greater need for assistance, more people in jeopardy.  Big bucks for a company paid for the time they are there providing aid and assistance.

How about weather / geological science?  Such a lobby knows the better informed and prepared we are for disasters, the less we will need aid.  They’d want to gut those programs, and the Disaster Lobby would work hard to eliminate funding for anything that might reduce their profits.

Infrastructure spending is already too low, but the Disaster Lobby would want to kill it as much as they can.  Sound bridges, roads, water systems, all these mean less work when a disaster hits. In addition, the weaker and less prepared the levy system, the better the Disaster Profits.

A company that profits from disaster would work as hard as they can to make America weaker, less prepared, and put its citizens more at risk.  We can’t keep making this same mistake over and over again.  At some point we have to wake up to the real danger of privatizing services that belong in the hands of government.  Government has a role to play, a vitally important one, and one that cannot and should not be handed off to for-profit companies.  This dam must hold against the tide of conservatism before it’s too late, and so many cracks form that we can’t hold out the flood waters.

Privatizing FEMA would be the real disaster.

Julian Castro for Governor? Please?
September 5, 2012

Doing some catch up viewing on last night’s DNC2012 speeches and yeah, how bout Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, huh?

The last time I saw a Texas politician make such a splash at the convention, I was watching my beloved Ann Richards say, “Poor George!”  Mayor Castro scored an equally big hit with me with his “Mitt Romney Says No!” refrain, punctuated by the very clever close, in which the question of expanded health care coverage was met with Castro stopping in mid-sentence, allowing the crowd to say “Mitt Romney Says No!” and casually correcting them: “Actually…” to thunderous applause.  Because, as we all know, and Castro reminded the crowd, Mitt Romney used to say yes, but now says no.

Genius.

Mayor Castro is getting a huge amount of national attention this morning, and I would love it if he’d capitalize on it quickly.  I’m hoping he’ll (quickly) mount a campaign for governor.

I really liked Bill White.  But no one in Texas seemed to know who he was, much less consider voting for him.  With all the press Mayor Castro is getting, that shouldn’t be a problem.  He’s young, charismatic, and could be a star player in the Texas Democratic Party.  The election, of course, isn’t until 2014, so he’d likely have to wait out the Presidential and Congressional elections this year (his twin brother, Joaquin, is running for Congress), but sometime next year, with everything in place, he could easily announce and hit the ground running.  In a state that’s been starved for major Democratic players for a very long time, it would be a welcome and refreshing change.

So, Mr. Mayor, can I look forward to volunteering for your campaign next year?

The Chance to Hope
August 26, 2012

Again and again I see Republicans on television saying that President Obama “had his chance” and that “his policies have failed”.

I’m sick of it.

There is no part of this statement that is true; every part of it is an outright lie, and I really wish one of the show hosts would finally call someone out on it, because it’s infuriating.  But since they never do, I thought I’d take a few minutes today to completely refute this entirely false assertion.

There are two components to the lie, and I’m going to show you what they are and how they are not just mistakes, but absolutely calculated lies.

1) PRESIDENT OBAMA HAD HIS CHANCE.

Let’s take a look at this statement, shall we?  Because it’s not as simple as it first appears.  On the surface you might think, “Yeah, he DID have his chance.  He got elected didn’t he?  He’s been President for nearly 3 years.  That’s a pretty big chance! Good call, Republicans, America did indeed give him a shot, by electing him.”

But what kind of chance are we talking about here? The chance to live in a nice house?  The chance to be in the news a lot?  The chance to make speeches?

No.

The chance they mean is the opportunity to do what the job of President of the United States of America entails.  That’s more than just a really choice seat on a nice airplane.  It means you set the agenda for Congress in terms of voting on laws.  You also make appointments to fill key positions in government agencies, and you choose the people who ensure how those agencies will be run.

Saying PBO “had his chance” amounts to saying “Hey, once he took office he had free reign to do all those things and put every policy he wanted in place.”

That’s not what happened.

Republicans have fought, tooth and nail, every single thing the President has tried to do since he took office.  In terms of legislation, they’ve not only voted against everything he’s attempted in solid blocks, they’ve spent millions of dollars in advertising to turn the public against him at every turn.  The billionaire Koch brothers orchestrated the creation of the Tea Party, the biggest “Astroturf” political movement in recent memory, to try to squelch the Affordable Care Act and win back the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.

Now, you might say, they’re supposed to fight for their position, nothing wrong with that.  And I’m with you, as far as that goes, nothing wrong with that.  But that’s not “giving him his chance”, is it?

And it doesn’t stop there.  In the Senate, the Republicans have filibustered more than any Congress in U.S. history, killing bills that had over 50 votes.  In other words, even with a MAJORITY VOTE, bills have failed because of the non-stop overuse of the filibuster.  The REQUIRED vote for a bill to pass the Senate is now 60, a so-called “Super-majority”.   And this from the same party that never stops going on about what the Founding Fathers might have wanted.

Is that “giving him his chance”?  Misuse of power to stop majority-supported bills from passing at every single opportunity?  Hardly.

But wait, there’s more.  Congress has blocked nearly every single appointee the President has tried to make, and there are STILL, four years later, agencies with no head because of it.  Republicans would rather make sure there is no qualified person running the offices that head our government than allow President Obama to get one thing done.  Because once the agencies aren’t run effectively, goverment will break down, and once it does, they can blame the Present, and say “he had his chance”.

Don’t believe it.  It’s the worse kind of lie, and anyone who says it should be called out for it and shamed.

2) PRESIDENT OBAMA’S POLICIES HAVE FAILED.

Republicans have really been hammering this one home, haven’t they?  Now that you’ve seen how clearly the President “had his chance”, surely you’ll see this too.  The economy is still sluggish;  PBO must have failed.  Debt is skyrocketing; PBO must have failed.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the first part, that the President never really had his chance to put his policies fully in place.  We’ll pretend it’s true, even though it almost makes you want to vomit.  We’ll play along.

When President Obama took office, this country was hemorrhaging jobs at an astounding rate.  We were on the verge of a great depression.   What did the President do to stop this?

Let’s talk about the stimulus package.  The stimulus package was intended to be over $700billion in spending which would stimulate the economy and stop the shrinking, encouraging it to grow again.  Almost IMMEDIATELY, we stopped losing jobs at the same rate.  And over the next year, the job loss rate declined until we started gaining jobs again, and we have been EVER SINCE.  The economy stabilized.  Panic was assuaged.  People began to feel better about things.  Spending came back somewhat, not where it had been, but some.

Never mind that this was a spending package watered down by the Republicans to be half tax cuts, towns got big checks to spur work on their infrastructures.  Lots of Republicans got their pictures taken handing them out to city mayors, smiling through their teeth and hoping no one noticed they voted against them (sorry, guys, Rachel Maddow noticed).  Even with all their attempts at screwing it up, it still worked.

That’s not a failure.  It’s not as much a success as it might have been if Republicans hadn’t managed to screw it up so much, but failure? Hardly.

How about the auto bailout?  PBO engineered that, saving a million jobs in the process.  How did prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney want to handle it?  Let the auto companies enter managed bankruptcy, so they could be sold off.  Of course, the banking system had nearly failed months before, so no capital existed anywhere in the system to support such a bankruptcy, so that was pretty much a pipe dream.  Of course, even if such a bankruptcy had happened, thousands would have still lost their jobs in layoffs, probably kicking off a real live Second Great Depression.  That wouldn’t have affected the Romneys of the world in their ivory towers.  The Koch brothers don’t care if blue-collar people are out of work, that doesn’t affect them; so basically, the GOP solution was to put their fingers in their ears and hum real loud.

As winning a solution as that seems to be, personally, I’m glad PBO didn’t go that way.  The auto bailout kept a bad situation from driving (pun intended) right off the fiscal cliff.

Failed?  …Really?

Yes, deficit hawks, debt is skyrocketing, thanks in part to the Bush tax cuts, which gave huge savings to rich people.  They also gave us the worst job creation rate in history, the biggest recession since the Great Depression, and put the final nail in the “trickle down” theory’s coffin.

Yes, the bailouts and stimulus added to the deficit, and therefore the debt, but the purpose of those measures was to halt the absolute freefall of our economy.  The Affordable Care Act is also, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, a cost-saving measure, which will cut the deficit over time, no matter what Mike Huckabee says on television or how many times GOP Super-PAC money allows them to run him saying it.  The ACA also enabled thousands of people to have coverage who otherwise couldn’t.  These policies did not fail.  They worked.  Despite all attempts by Republicans to quash or sabotage him at every single step, they worked.

THEY WORKED.

So don’t let anyone tell you President Barack Obama had his chance, and his policies failed.  Stop them in their tracks.  Tell them they never even considered giving him a chance, and despite all that, his policies worked.

And in November, let’s truly give him the chance to do good things for this country, by giving him four more years, and a better Congress to work with.

Just you watch him then.  Just you watch.

The Wrong Hands
March 13, 2012

I was listening to NPR the other day and they were discussing military drone strikes. The host brought up the possibility of drones either falling into enemy hands through accident or being sold to terrorists and then being used against Americans. The guest (I’m sorry, I missed the beginning of the show and don’t know his name) made a comment to the effect that yes, the threat of drones falling into the wrong hands is a growing concern.

The words that latched on to my mind in his reply were “the wrong hands”. It gnawed at me, and as I reflected I realized why. It implies that our hands, i.e. the United States’ hands, are the “right” hands for such a weapon. Of course, this is because we are Americans and thus presumably consider anyone else’s hands the wrong hands for any kind of weapon. But I reject the premise that there exist “right” hands for a flying killer robot.

The person who would conceive such a thing has the wrong hands. These machines were designed, built, and are used daily by people with the wrong hands. Anyone who thinks drones are a good idea and an excellent tool has, in my mind, the wrong hands.

Wars have always happened, and will likely always happen. But they’re never a good thing. Luckily, they are limited due to the terrible human cost they produce. Lives lost, or destroyed, due to the horrors of war inevitably produce a pressure, especially in democratic societies, for wars to end. They become less and less popular until rulers are forced to bring troops home and stop the fighting. But drones exist for one reason: to remove the human cost of war.

The war in Iraq lasted ten years. The war in Afghanistan is ongoing for eleven years. And we appear on the brink of starting another war with Iran. And this is with only the reduced human cost (to us) stemming from a giant technological advantage over those countries. Imagine how life will be once we have removed that cost entirely. We will live in a state of perpetual and popular war. Someone does something we don’t like, send in the drones. Until, of course, others (those with “wrong” hands) have drones too.

There’s an episode of the series Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “The Arsenal of Freedom”. In it, the crew of the Enterprise-D discover a planet where they developed and sold programmable drones for use in war. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you where a science fiction show was going with this: all the people were gone, and only the killer robots remained. There are lots of sci-fi shows that have this premise of course, but “Freedom” hits closest to home in my view, because it’s so close to what is happening right now. Sure, fiction exaggerates. I don’t think our drones are going to come alive and kill us all. But what they are doing and will continue to do is foster a world environment in which you can kill without risk to yourself. And that is a dangerous and evil world in which to live.

The genie’s out of the bottle now, as it is with respect to nuclear weapons. We can’t un-invent military drones. All we can do is use our voices to deplore and discourage their use. It’s up to us to be the responsible ones, those of us who are against perpetual and senseless violence. We, who would never use drones, are the only ones with the “right” hands.

Like a Strategerious
March 8, 2012

On “Super Tuesday”, Mitt Romney emerged the winner. Yet I heard some pundits commenting on his inability to win southern states. It’s true, Tuesday Romney lost Oklahoma and Tennessee to Rick Santorum, and Georgia to Newt Gingrich. But if you think this lack of a “Southern Strategy” is a problem for Romney, you’d be dead wrong.

The fact is, Romney’s lack of a “Southern Strategy” is a huge plus to his campaign, and the best strategy he could possibly have in the south is to ignore it completely, and have no strategy at all. After all, he can get to the necessary number of delegates to win the Republican nomination without ANY states in the south, and why bother with them anyway?

In the general election, the Republican party is going to carry the south. Most of those states (including my own state of Texas) are solid red states already. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it started when the Democratic Party backed the Civil Rights Act. The racist South, long a Democratic block, turned Republican instantly and never looked back. Add to that the large constituency of evangelicals and the NRA gun rights folks, and you have a solid block of people who will NEVER vote for President Obama, no matter who is running against him.

Thus, Romney need not waste energy on the south. In the general election, he wins those states without ever setting foot in them or spending one dime. What he must do is prove he can win the contested states: in the midwest, and on the east and west coasts. Once he has the nomination, and he will have it, he will need to focus all his energy on flipping some of those states that voted for President Obama in 2008 back to the Republican advantage.

There are a lot of tools the Republicans can do to achieve this, largely to do with voter suppression, and they are gaining ground. Killing ACORN, which helped organize and get out the African-American vote, was a big victory. Changing the rules in states to stop early and absentee voting is also helping. Discouraging young people from voting, as Ann Coulter did this week, is another tactic. But none of these have anything to do with southern states. Those states are already won, and smart Republicans know it.

Romney is doing exactly what he needs to do in the South, leaving it alone to focus on more important electoral battlegrounds. And his opponents are doing exactly what they need to do: crowing about their pyrrhic victories and losing the overall war, while whipping up the base so Romney can count on them in November. Some of them, like Gingrich, probably hope to parlay their delegates into some kind of breadcrumbs Romney might toss to them at the convention.

Meanwhile, southern Americans dance to the Republican tune and are seemingly loving every minute of it. Their own strategy, I guess, is to go on getting played.