Friday, August 27, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Special TeeVee Viewing Edition
1) The single most important television program of the year is premiering tonight on Animal Planet at 11PM (re-run September 3 at 9PM): Blood Dolphins. A follow up to the Oscar-winning dodumentary The Cove, this program is proof that once is not enough: we have to keep at it to save the dolphins of Japan and by extension, the biosphere of that nation, the Pacific and ultimately, the world. I cannot urge you strongly enough to watch this, and then take action. Write, donate, stir up the pot. If you have friends in Japan, get them on board too. Most Japanese do not know that their schoolchildren eat whale and dolphin in their schools. Most Japanese are not aware of what goes into rounding up dolphins, not just for food but for amusement parks all over the world. Rick O'Barry does and soon, you will too.
2) MSNBC/NBC. All weekend, channels of the NBC network will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, including a special episode of Meet The Press on Sunday, hosted by Brian Williams. Williams has brought the NBC Nightly News to New Orleans no less than 30 times since Katrina.
3)  Want to understand how the financial collapse happened? Why there should be criminal prosecutions? Watch Plunder: The Crime of Our Time, by award-winning journalist, Danny Schechter, The News Dissector. LinkTV, 7PM, and if you don't get LinkTV, get on your cable company's back, or go out and get DISH Network or DirecTV now!
4) For comedy, turn on C-SPAN  Saturday starting at 10AM. Even Bill O'Reilly thinks this is a joke.
5) Turning now to the news...are we headed for another recession? It looks like it, but...the second and third quarters of any year are tough ones. It's really the fourth quarter that is the measure. People are scared. They're angry and they're worried about their jobs and their families. If by Christmas things haven't gone back in the tank, people will spend. Of course, if we had just bailed them out instead of the banksters...
6) A new iPod? A new online music service? A new iTunes? Maybe, just maybe, the issues with The Beatles have been resolved.
7) There are three, count 'em three, tropical disturbances in the Atlantic right now. Danielle has already blossomed into a hurricane, Earl is on his way, and Fiona is beginning to stir her pot. Earl looks like it will be major trouble for the East Coast.
8) If you missed it, you can make free phone calls from Gmail.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This is not a surprise to people who have spent any time at all over the past eight years listening to even the mildest gossip about Republicans. During the 2006 pedophilia/men's bathroom scandals of the GOP, Mehlman was talked about fairly frequently. I suspect there were several bloggers who really wanted to out him. I also suspect that his own personal stance (no pun intended) on gay issues probably saved his bacon from embarrassment.
Ken Mehlman came out last night, and vowed to defeat Proposition 8 in California. This takes a lot more courage than we suspect, but not as much courage as he'd like us to believe.
The interesting thing to note here is how many high profile Republicans have engaged in the battle against Prop 8: Ted Olson, former Solicitor General for Dumbya and on the short list for the SCOTUS during those years is one of the lead attorneys in the fight. And now, Ken Mehlman, who probably has a fairly robust and wealthy Rolodex.
(side note: in this age of Blackberries and iPhones, does anyone even HAVE a Rolodex anymore?)
Back to courage. Undoubtedly, Mehlman could have gone into retirement quietly. His legacy, re-electing the most unpopular President in history, would have been safe. He chose not to do that. Grudgingly, I tip my hat to him. It's important to appreciate when someone does the right thing for the right reasons. Hell, from Republicans, I'd applaud doing the right thing for the wrong reasons! Half right from the right is alright by me. 
He shows courage in this fight by outting himself at a time when the monster he's helped create and nurture, the right wing wacknutcase Teabaggers, has reared its ugly head and released a full-throated yawp across the landscape. While I'm convinced the Teabaggers are a one-off phenomenon, they have altered the political landscape of the Republican party, making it dangerous for anyone of any moderate tendencies, much less a minority like blacks or gays. I anticipate Mehlman will be excoriated by many, defended by some, but forever held at arm's length.
He really has no one to blame but himself. If he's going to show true courage, it is incumbent upon him to "refudiate" the Palinistas and speak up and speak out about the hate he has engendered. 
It may be two years too late for Mehlman to demonstrate the kind of political and personal courage to alter the river of hate that flows through his party. If in 2008 he had made this revelation, if in 2008 he had come out and opposed the anti-homosexual measures that his party was taking to drive the fear vote in the hinterlands, that would have been courage. It would have been courage to stand up in 2008 against Prop 8, back when it could have been prevented in the first place. 
Perhaps he believed it couldn't happen here. Perhaps he believed that California would never in a million years pass a hate crime masquerading as legislation. That's a plausible position to take, but still...the possibility always exists. In the day and age of stridency that Mehlman himself has helped foment, true courage would have been to acknowledge your own failures.   

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why "Libertarians" Are Wrong

Exhibit A: Michigan added to list of states facing salmonella-related egg recall
Say what you will about government intrusion into our lives, at least government is accountable to the people, to some degree.
Here we have a case of a corporation, accountable to no one-- not law, not public shareholders (assuming it's like most nearly every other corporation and has its voting power secured in the hands of the board of directors)-- except for the government and its regulations and inspectors, willfully and negligently introducing toxic bacteria into our food supply.
Over one half billion eggs. Admittedly, when compared to the total number of eggs in circulation annually (80 billion) it seems like small ova, but consider that right now, of that 80 billion, only 7 billion are in circulation, and suddenly a half billion seems like a staggering number. 
Here is where "libertarians" like Beck and his moronic ilk have it wrong: it's the lesser of two evils to have government in our lives a little in order to avoid having business in our lives a lot. When you look back over the history of governance in this country, we've tried to be more sensitive to the needs of corporations than to the needs of citizens, and have gradually realized that we needed a better balance. 
I'm convinced we're not there, not even close, yet. Companies who compete in the economy cut corners. That's a fact. They justify cutting corners by analyzing the risks to the general public and determining whether those risks and the concommitant injuries and damage are worth the potential price they'd pay. 
We're not just talking about manufacturers or farmers. Our entire economy has been destabilized by a bunch of thick-headed yahoos who decided it was OK to risk the entire housing base in order to make a small (as compared to the losses now) profit off the backs of the poor and middle classes. 
If the government unfairly takes away one of my basic rights, I have recourse, not only to the courts, but to my elected officials and to the media, and those government agencies and officials can either be shamed into compliance or removed by either administrative fiat or the votes of the people. 
Who impeaches GM for foisting the Hummer on us? BP for smearing out beaches with oil and killing entire fishing communities? Goldman Sachs for essentially evicting millions of Americans? The list is literally endless.
And that's with a government with oversight and regulatory capacity, as toothless and ineffective as it was for the eight years under Bush! Imagine what we would be facing in a world without even that veil of security?
Corporations cannot be thrown in jail. They can be fined, but those fines rarely amount to anything more than a quarter or two of profits. They cannot be indicted and forced to stand trial. 
Yet, they have been given the same basic civil rights as you or I (with some exclusions. No corporation is ever going to win a Fourteenth Amendment claim.) They have protected speech. They can finance political campaigns. They can be protected from unlawful searches and seizures. And so on. 
But hey, you folks keep on thinking that Obama et al are socialists hell bent on destroying the Constitution. We know who the true enemy of freedom is.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tea Time

Well, today is "put up or shut up" on the Republican political landscape. If the Teabaggers want to be taken seriously as a political force in America, they are going to have to prove they are more than an angry mob who can intimidate and cower people into paying attention to them.
Three primaries hold the key to this: Florida, Arizona, and Alaska. Based on the last two, you can understand why today is bigger than any other race so far this year.
If the Teabaggers cannot sweep Alaska and Arizona, or at the very least make them competitive, they're doomed. Period. End of discussion. They must show the strength to defeat John McCain, the de facto standard bearer of the GOP in the 2008 Presidential election. They must show that Sarah Palin's home state is behind her and vote down incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, daughter of the previous incumbent Frank. Fail to do either of these, and the Teabaggers are pretty much toast. Sarah Palin's credibility will have gone by the boards in Alaska, and a victory by John McCain will show that, when push comes to shove, the Teabaggers are nothing but little cowards talking a brave game.
McCain is running against nutbag J. D. Hayworth, former sports reporter and current unindicted criminal. Hayworth has a history of pulling off upsets...he beat a Congresswoman who held the endorsement of none other than Arizona icon Barry Goldwater, which should tell you how big a nutbag Hayworth is, if he can out nutbag Goldwater... and is benefitting from an anti-incumbent sentiment more than from his personal "charm" or his positions. Recent polls suggest that McCain will win easily.
Murkowski's Alaska opponent, Joe Miller, benefits from two things: an easier name to spell and Sarah Palin's endorsement. Not much else. Murkowski is far ahead in the polls.
Florida holds intrigue for different reasons. Altho the Teabaggers have endorsed a candidate, Rick Scott, a self-financed businessman over current Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. McCollum has made up an awful lot of ground in a nasty fight that has crippled, perhaps fatally, the Florida GOP, to hold a nine point lead in recent polls. He was down by double digits at one time. Overshadowing all this is the spectre of former Republican and current Florida governor Bill Crist, who actually looks smart for having left the party and for choosing not to run for re-election but trading up for the Senate seat.
So...a little sugar in your tea?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Freedom Ain't Free

We take a lot for granted in this nation. We live in one of the freest countries on the planet and we have expectations for that freedom. We rarely talk about the price for that freedom.
"Freedom ain't free" is an old truism that gets trotted out usually when we go to war, as if the only price Americans should ever pay for freedom is their blood (or more correctly, the blood of the poorest among us). I suppose some of that is because of the mythology of the American Revolution: we fought a war for independence, true enough, but over the centuries plenty of people paid plenty of dearer prices for freedoms.
I believe the Founders thought that the prices of freedom were so obvious that they didn't need delineation, that there was no need for a Bill of Responsibility to go along with the Bill of Rights, and so subsequent generations have lost touch with the price that must daily be paid to secure our freedom, and have long assumed freedom was a gift the Divinity bestowed upon us as some Chosen People, that our Founders in their gifted wisdom secured for us and gave to us in perpetuity.
If only Jefferson et al had the truly infinite wisdom that people are inherently lazy bastards.
I really think we in this country take our freedom for granted, and the only time we appreciate that freedom is in the breaching of it. And boy, don't we total everything, every little incursion and inconvenience into our lives as an abrogation of freedom. What happens then is we lose sight of what freedom really means.
I think that if we were truly called to account for our freedom on a daily basis, we might choose more carefully those "freedoms" we fight for. If each morning we woke up and were handed a task that would allow us that day's measure of freedom, we'd quickly start to realize that the need to wear a helmet on a motorcycle careening down a freeway or to smoke a cigarette inside a bar are "freedoms" not worth fighting for.
The more thought I put into this idea, the more I think there's a book to be written about this topic, and perhaps I'll sit down and write it one day. Not today. I want to focus on one price of freedom that is uppermost in my mind as the controversy over the Cordoba Center unfolds
One huge price, one big sacrifice that Americans will have to learn to make over the course of the next century, is the sacrifice of personal principle for another person's freedom.
The freedom to worship as one pleases is undeniable in the Constitution. It was so important, so central to the very founding of the colonies that created this nation, that the Founders made sure it was in the very first delineation of the rights of the individual, along with the right to speak freely. This is a freedom that is somewhat under attack in this controversy.
I say "somewhat" because the structure to be built a half mile away from Ground Zero is not a house of worship. It will contain a place to worship, to answer the task demanded by Allah to pray facing Mecca. Most of the building will be for secular activities, much like any other building in New York City, including the Freedom Tower.
Too, the freedom to own property and to use that property as one sees fit, barring any criminal activity, is also written into the Constitution, and is so complex that the Founders could not completely delineate this freedom in ten amendments. It's in the Third Amendment, which bans the force quartering of soldiers on one's land. It's in the Fourth Amendment, the "search and seizure" of personal property. It's in the Fifth Amendment, which establishes the concept of eminent domain and when it may be applied. It's in the Thirteen Amendment, which banned slavery (which was, sadly, about property). And it's in the Sixteenth Amendment, which established the income tax.
Imam Rauf is clearly allowed to build this center on this site and even if he wanted to turn the entire thing into a mosque, no one can stop him. 
it is his right. It is his freedom. It is a freedom that the rest of us must pay a price for. That price is acknowledging its right to exist, and to leave it in peace. 
That we find something odious and objectionable is not sufficient reason for it not to be done or built. The whole point of a Constitution is to deny the majority a tyranny over the minority. The "will of the people" is a fickle thing, usually woefully mis- or underinformed, and an unsafe basis to build the foundation for a democracy on.
Forty years ago, women were denied equal opportunities to work. 
Fifty years ago, most Americans would have said that black people should be kept "separate but equal". 
Sixty years ago, they wouldn't even have said "equal".
Seventy years ago, most people would have said the Japs needed to be interred for the security of the nation. Oh. And that Jews were among the problems of the world.
Eighty years ago, Italians were the subversives trying to undermine freedom.
Ninety years ago, most people would have said women were too stupid to vote.  
All these were the will of the people, about to be brought up short.
Forty years from now, we'll look back on this controversy, just as we look back on the short list I posted, with some measure of embarrassment and wonder. How could we fuck people with our own laws and Constitution?
It wasn't that long ago, less than a hundred years, that a similar claim was made about a Semitic people by an upstart political movement in a civilized and advanced nation. Led by a charismatic leader who rode the horse of hate to rise to the top of a democratically-elected government, Adolph Hitler then institutionalized hatemongering into the political and legal systems of Germany. 
We in America looked on, our Constitution clutched firmly in our hands, and commented "that can't happen here."
Oh, but it can. It can because we Americans will not pay the price of freedom.