Saturday, December 15, 2012

Obama is not the messiah

"Meaningful Action"

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, I feel compelled to say something, but I'm not really clever enough to propose any solution.

I do however feel very frustrated at the sophomoric nature of the discourse flooding facebook and twitter, or any online forum.  The trolls are out in force, and almost everyone is yelling at each other, without listening.

First, the pro-gun side: I've read endless variations on the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" meme.  Yes, it's kind of true, and pretty darn useless too. One poster lists all the other things besides guns that kill people, one of them being cars.  It apparently didn't dawn on him that it's harder to legally get a driver's license, car, and the alcohol necessary to become a menace to society than it is to buy a gun. In a strange bit of coincidental weirdness, I just read an article on Al-Jazeera about another attack on school children in China the same day, by a knife-wielding assailant.  Just as terrible a target, but the difference is nobody was killed.  It's pretty simple algebra: The Connecticut attack, minus the China attack, equals guns.

I'm not going to engage in false equivalencies here, I don't really believe the gun-control side is as clueless as the NRA-fed folk, but I'm distressed at some of the energy directed at President Obama, as if he could just do something about it if he really cared.

First, let me cop to being a full-fledged Obamapologist.  I love the guy, and am continually impressed with him whenever I get to hear him.  I don't think he's perfect, but I do think he's done a great deal of good. But I fear we are headed down the same path taken after the glorious euphoria of the 2008 election.

People were so happy Obama was elected, it was as if history would forever be changed, and utopia was right around the corner.  People went to sleep, thinking the battle was over, and were even disappointed when Obama couldn't single-handedly deliver single payer health care.  That led to the disastrous GOP 2010 takeover of Congress and many statehouses and governorships.  Because this happened in 2010, a census year, congressional districts were heavily gerrymandered to favor the GOP.  Even though a majority of people voted Democratic in the 2012 Congressional races, the House remains under GOP control.

Obama is only the President. Check your copy of the Constitution for what that really means.  Right now, it doesn't mean as much as it could.  Yes, the most important thing a President does is nominate Supreme Court justices, but the President cannot enact legislation or raise or lower taxes.  He can sign or veto bills that deal with those topics, but he doesn't get to make them. 

Getting back to gun control, there have been protestors outside the White House this weekend, directing their energies at Obama.  Yes, he can certainly use the bully pulpit of the President to drag the country into a debate, but are we ready for that?  I think many liberals are unwilling to do the heavy lifting necessary here.  The US already has 300 million guns, and even if gun sales stopped tomorrow (I'm not suggesting that!) we could go another 100 years with enough firepower to power many more massacres. I'm confident President Obama would sign any reasonable bill like a new assault weapons ban, or controls on the huge ammo clips that help make such mass carnage attainable.  The real fight is huge.  The NRA has enough legislators in both parties on their payroll.  The gun culture is huge, and will not be reversed with a stroke of a pen. The real fight is against the John Boehner's of the world. 

Perhaps this most horrific of tragedies will actually get people talking to each other instead of at each other.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Citizens United Tax

President Romney?
Pay Your Taxes!

I'm going to keep this as short as possible, but I've been thinking about it for a while, and need to see if I'm making any sense.

My last post was about the Citizens United decision, and I'm sure everyone that reads this already knows what it is, and probably doesn't like it, or think it's fair.

I'm glad to hear California has joined the fight against Citizens United, but for now, it is the law of the land.  Period.

So, here's the deal: What Citizens United functionally means is that we have to pay extra to get government to do what we want.

It's not the way it should be, it's the way it is. 

Corporations recognize this, and they are paying their voluntary 'tax' with a vengeance.  It's much easier for them than for ordinary citizens, er I mean people, or I guess I mean carbon-based homo sapiens life forms, to pay these 'taxes.'  And guess what?  Corporations are happy to pay their fair share, especially if you and I don't.

I think ordinary people need to pony up and send money in to defeat the corporate Super-PACs, which we can do, even if we can't match their level of spending.  Sometimes, I can only drop in $3, sometimes more.
I even spent $30 on an Obama t-shirt for St. Patrick's Day! I'm sure it would have been better to just give them the $30, instead of extorting a cool super-large shirt out of them, but I hope they got some money out of the deal!

I think besides Obama, we need to help the overall races to take back the House, and protect the Senate, as well as individual races.  I think it will be a major victory if we can get Elizabeth Warren elected to the Senate, ousting beefcake GOP tool Scott Brown.

If we just sit back and whine about how we've lost our democracy, then we can all sit back and whine about losing our democracy.

What say ye?

Helpful links:
What races do you think are important?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Have the machines achieved sentience already?

Watching the current situation in politics in the post-Citizen's United world, it seems indeed like the machines have taken over. The question seems to be, "when did it happen?"

In the movie Terminator 2, we see that the machines became 'self-aware' (sentient) at a certain point, and then proceeded to attack humans.  In the past (our present day) the presence of a remnant of a future robot is linked to the problem, and the focus is on eliminating it to save the future.  Even though I'm a big Star Trek fan, I'm not going to discuss time travel plot lines and weaknesses. It just makes me wonder where the tipping point was, and whether or not it's already too late to tip it back.

It's not easy to point to one specific action that led to our current state.  I'm just going to ask a few questions, and hope you'll join the conversation.  Where do you agree?  What do you think we can do about it?  Is it too late?

Citizen's United Case
Argued March 24, 2009; Reargued September 9, 2009; Decided January 21, 2010
This is a good place to start.  This is the decision that gave corporations (the machines) the same free speech rights as people.  Money is considered a form of speech, and for some reason, corporations are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, and they don't even have to disclose who's supplying the money!
Bush v. Gore (2000)
Even though Al Gore won the election, the Supreme Court stopped the vote count in Florida, thereby selecting Bush as the president.  During the reign of George II, he was able to appoint Justices Roberts and Alito, two extremists, which kept the balance of the court tilted to the right.
The Nomination of Clarence Thomas (1991)
George H. W. Bush was disappointed in his nomination of David Souter, who did not turn out to be as conservative as hoped.  For Bush's 2nd appointment, he hit a conservative home run with Thomas.  Thomas has been an embarrassment as a justice, never recusing himself for many conflicts of interest.
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886)
Bancroft Davis
This is perhaps the seed of the whole 'corporate personhood' problem.  The idea that corporations were persons, and entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment was actually written by the court reporter, former president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company, J.C. Bancroft Davis, in what is called a 'headnote' to the decision. Even though the justices in the decision didn't write this, it has stood as a settled concept, and is the direct forefather of Citizens United.  I had heard about this decision from Thom Hartmann, who I believe is an incredible resource of facts and history, and I wish I could hear him more often on the radio.

How this works
So, the machines to me are these Super PACs, who spend unlimited amounts of money to brainwash the populace into accepting the rule of the machines.  We see the Tea Party already, doing the machine's bidding, even though most of the people who see themselves as Tea Party members are doing so against their own self-interest.  The Super PACs have no compunction about truth, they exist to carpet bomb the electorate with disinformation.  It is a self-perpetuating system.

Is it too late?
Will it simply run its course, only to be ignored?
If so, will that happen in time?

Please, let me know what you think about this.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Render Unto Caesar, Take 2

Coin of the Realm

Almost a decade ago, I gave a talk at church that got me into a lot of trouble. But, as time has passed, I have to say I have never found any reason to change my views on the intersection between religion and public life.

The basic idea was found in a famous phrase Jesus is said to have made:
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."
This spoke to me as a call to appropriateness, that one has to operate in the sphere that makes sense.  It is often said that the freedom to swing one's arm ends at someone else's nose.  Unfortunately, too many times, people's noses are bloodied due to religious disagreements.  Even in a country like the U. S., founded by people trying to escape the state religion of England, we cannot seem to escape our own home-grown Taliban trying to tell us what to do.

Cue up FauxNews, and let's all get outraged that an institution such as a Catholic Hospital or University would have to follow the law of the land when getting government subsidies for health care plans. In every other business, women's contraception is included in basic health insurance, but for some reason, all these people are screaming "1st Amendment!" and decrying Obama for trampling on their religious freedom.

I think everyone is aware of the 1st amendment, but most of us probably aren't aware of how short it is:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
So, all these right-wingers are screaming "freedom of religion," but as far as I can see it, it's pretty twisted. There's only two ways the 1st Amendment deals with religion. First, the government is prohibited from creating or supporting any religion. Second, the government is not to get in the way of a "free exercise" of religion. So, apparently these days, "free exercise" means you get to impose your religious beliefs and practices on others. Really, it's that simple.

There is no reason women should continue to be treated this way in this day and age.  The right to swing your arm (from a religious freedom point of view) ends where it discriminates against the health concerns of women.  I saw something funny on the Ed Show the other night.  Ed can be pretty ham-fisted at times, but this was pretty funny.  He acted as if he had just been handed a major breaking news item.  I don't have the exact quote, but it was something like:
"We have breaking news, it's 2012!"
Really, are we fighting about contraception in 2012?

Breaking News!  (Really!  I'm not kidding)

This story had moved so fast, that the speed of my blogging is no match for what has been happening.  It appears as though Obama has made another brilliant chess move.  He worked out a deal where religious institutions won't have to pay for the contraception, the insurance companies will cover it.  The Catholic hospitals are happy, the women's health groups are happy, leaving only the ayatollahs on the right unhappy, and the insurance companies mildly grumbly about how this sets a precedent.  They won't grumble too loud, as they know it's cheaper to provide for contraception than unwanted pregnancies.

This won't end here; nothing Obama does is ever going to agree with 30% - 40% of the electorate.  But I'm glad to know that our president is standing up for women.  I think many of us were just expecting him to cave on this.  Things are getting interesting.