Saturday, March 25, 2006

Book Review: A Call To Arms

If you're reading this during March (or in the overlap in April prior to me getting off my fat ass and changing the link), you'll notice my Recommended Reading is Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, by James Carville and Paul Begala.

I've got tremendous respect for both of them, for tackling conservatives and neo-cons head on, and challenging their statements face to face (Carville, you may recall, is the guy who forced Robert Novak's firing from CNN, and Begala is the guy who egged John Stewart on when he appeared on CNN's Crossfire, forcing Tucker Carlson to find other employment. They can claim coup to two scalps of the White Ring Media Conspiracy.)

This, I think, is their second book together. It's a doozy.

The Republicans, of course, are the main focus of their fury, and rightly so. The Bush administration along with the GOP in Congress, have reversed decades of hard-fought progress in this country. In reading this book, the shape of the country the conservative insurgency would like in place become very clear, but also clarified is the ultimate downfall of that vision: a plutocracy that would turn the social and economic clock back, not to the Fifties, but to the 19th Century.

Let's face some facts, folks: I don't want to live in that country, do you?

We have to fight the class war that the neo-cons accuse us of fomenting. When they say "class warfare," we ought to point out that we're merely picking up arms to defend those who cannot defend themselves from raping, pillage, and screwing (as my very fine history teacher, Dr. Stefannacci called it).

Too, Carville and Begala lay out, very carefully, a case for wresting God back from the Religious Right, and that a liberal Democratic platform ought to be based on values that we share with NASCAR dads, and working class folks from red states.

You read that correctly: those people are OUR people and the neo-cons have taken them from us and done nothing, zip, zilch, nada, zero, to protect their interests. We ought to be singing to them instead of to the choir. And that means.....

....the Democracts get almost as much shit flung at them, because quite frankly (and here I absolutely agree with the two,) the Democrats are fighting the wrong fight. An example:
So-called partial birth abortion is against the law. Period. The votes aren't there to repeal the ban, nor are they likely to materialize, given Americans' support for it. So why not recognize the obvious and either support the ban on partial-birth abortion or at least acknowledge that it won't be repealed? The pro-choice movement has lost the debate over late-term abortion. You may like it, you may not, but it's real. And it's settled. Pro-choice Democrats should deal with that reality and stop losing elections over an issue they've already lost.

In conservatism's long, dark winter-- 1964 to 1980-- Republicans rigorously reexamined what they stood for. The moved away from being the party of the moderate corporate elite, away from being the partyt of defending the old ways, and into being a more dynamic, even radical, party. At the same time, they made their peace with the New Deal and the Great Society. In the 1960s, Ronald Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the creation of Medicare. By 1980, he wasn't publicly opposing any of them. He'd made peace with them. They were, we're sure, still anathema to his ideology. But Reagan was shrewd enough to recognize that the American people wanted those programs and would not elect a President who proposed dismantling them. His public transformation was so complete that when he was accused, in his debate with Jimmy Carter of having opposed Medicare, Reagan said, "There you go again," before claiming that he'd supported a different version of the program.

Do Democrats need to make peace with at least some restrictions on abortion? If they want to show the overwhelming majority of Americans who support those restrictions that they understand and respect their values, yes. If not, they will continue waging a battle they've already lost, and risk losing the war they ought to win.
Pretty tough stuff, huh?

It's true: A candidate who gets an 100% rating from NARAL will not win the Presidency, unless or until NARAL adjusts their expectations. A similar argument is raised for each issue-area in national politics: the econmy, taxes, the environment, the war in Iraq, homeland security: make the issue a values issue, and get the special interests the hell out of the way.

After all, it's how the Republicans managed to include the Religious Right under their tent, by co-opting them with the understanding that they don't fall lockstep into agreement with them, but that the GOP would serve their ultimate aims better than the "other guys." We ought to strike the same deal with NARAL and the Sierra Club and any other powerful special interest: we support your aims, but we're not going to sacrifice elections to your cause.

And then we all ought to be thinking about arguments against the "other guy's" point of view.

Which is something else Begala and Carville address in the book: we ought not to be fighting on the defensive, with rapid response teams, and such like that. We ought to (and this is addressed to the people in office more than you and I) be taking the fight to them, harassing them on the floor of Congress and in the media for their biases and errors. Make them defend the vote on September 23, 2004 to cut the Earned Income Tax Credit to over ten million of the poorest children in this country to give a $13 billion taxcut to the largest corporations, 82 of whom had never even paid taxes during the Bush administration! (A bill, sad to say, that a majority of Democrats voted in favor of)

Parents who made $10,750 or less, who played by the rules, who instead of having an abortion to get rid of a child they couldn't afford and didn't go on welfare, who were models of what the GOP claimed they wanted in America-- hard-working moral people-- got screwed royally by the same government they were going along with.

And we (as Democrats) not only let them, we held the Vaseline jar.

Or why they feel it's OK to let Paris Hilton keep all of her inheritance, but will tax the shit out of anyone who actually does labor. Lincoln said it best:
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor,a nd could never have existed if labor had not existed first. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
If you guessed that the estate tax originated with that Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, Republican President, that he created it, and passed it through Congress, well...YOU'D BE ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY RIGHT!!!!! This was a quote that Carville and Begala lifted from the speech in which Lincoln proposed taxing estates of the wealthy. And to the Republicans' credit, it was Teddy Roosevelt who used the SAME quote to pass the Federal graduated, progressive income tax. (ed note: take that, Anti-Socialist!)

I could go on, but I think I've whetted your appetites enough. Go read the book, borrow it if you have to, steal it if you must, but get a copy and take notes.

Or better yet, click on the link to the right and buy a copy. You'll want to read it again and again and again to rebut some of the stupidity you see around you.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wudy Da Wabbit

Is Rudy on campaign trail?
Giuliani plans swing through Iowa to stump for GOP candidates as some wonder if trip is part of '08 presidential bid

Newsday Washington Bureau

March 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Rudy Giuliani is dropping into Iowa for a GOP fundraiser May 1 -- just two weeks after his pal and potential 2008 presidential rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) makes a similar pilgrimage to the crucial caucus state.

It's Giuliani's first major political appearance in months: His relative inactivity had led to speculation that he's leaning against making a presidential bid despite polls showing him atop the 2008 Republican heap.[....]

"Who knows if Rudy is really running, but it certainly behooves him to have people thinking he will, and this is the kind of trip that accomplishes that."
I'm thinking Rudy ought to go take a look at Mario Cuomo's Hamlet act of 1992, and shit or get off the pot. Yes, it's early yet, but to have this kind of dithering going on is uncharacteristic for a man who inarguably has the strongest will of any mayor this city has seen, save perhaps Fiorello LaGuardia.

Personally, I'd welcome a run by Rudy for the GOP nomination and in fact, I hope he wins it. It would finally demonstrate two things: the perverse power grip that the Christian Right has clamped about the throat of the elephant, and Rudy's unyielding and perverse denial of who he really is: a ruby-throated jerk-off who will be the first in front of a camera, but the last in front of an audience.

And I suspect Hillary would welcome another head-to-head run against Rudy, seeing as how badly he botched the last one-- you know, publicly humiliating his last wife, taking up with a bubbleheaded doe-eyed floozy publicly before the mics announcing he was seeking a divorce had been shut off (I mean, seriously, the first thing I thought when I saw Judith Nathan was "Damn, I bet that chick gives good head!"), coming out against crime victims in three separate bias attacks, firing four police chiefs and three Board of Ed Superintendents for crossing swords with him, and just generally being a fascist.

One of the things I hadn't considered in contemplating the ineffable idiocy of the New York State GOP was the fact that Rudy, the best and the *koffkoff* brightest of the NYSGOP, was trounced before he even got out of the gate by Hillary, undisputably the strongest politician in the state.

This may all be "favorite son" (ok, daughter) stuff, and it boils my bile to think of Hillary as a product of New York State, but I think a) she's going to win the nomination and b) she's going to beat anyone the Republicans put up against her. You've heard all the reasons she can win, but in truth, when you look at the election, they're all the reasons she should win.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

C'mon, Assholes, Light My Fire

Members of missing Oregon family rescued from snowbound RV

The Stivers set off from their Ashland home March fourth. He says they told deputies they had plenty of food and propane in their 35-foot RV and even saw TV reports about the search for them.

When the search was canceled, the younger couple hiked out, which took about 24 hours.

Well, the media glorifies stupidity again!

Watch Today Show piece here

Now, they spent 17 days in a well-stocked RV, meaning they likely had propane, certainly had food and water (or could melt snow), and how much you want to bet there was a fair amount of alcohol in that vehicle?

And this is what they call "survival"? No. Sorry. Survival is when your plane crashes in the Andes and after three weeks of starving, you are forced to resort to cannabalism.

Survival is when you're rock climbing and you get wedged in between to boulders and you have to saw off your arm with a pocket knife in order to get free to get help.

Survival is NOT sitting on a couch, no matter how many people you have to squeeze onto it, to watch TV for days on end about how people are looking for you.



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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Best Line O' The day

James Carville on the Today Show, speaking to David Gregory while Laura "Little Whore On The Prairie" Ingraham yaps like a little Pomeranian:
Laura...excuse me for speaking while you interrupt.

And Gregory gave Ingraham what-for as well.

Watch it here

Seeing The World Through Red-Coloured Glasses

U.S. Says More Time Needed on Iran Talks

Associated Press Writer

March 21, 2006, 8:49 AM EST

UNITED NATIONS -- Britain's strategy for persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions calls for sanctions that could be enforced militarily if diplomacy fails, but getting U.N. Security Council members Russia and China on board will be a struggle.

Britain, the United States, France and Germany are having trouble just getting China and Russia to agree on a Security Council statement calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. Senior diplomats from the six countries met for 4 1/2 hours Monday, apparently achieving little.

The immediate disagreement, with which the Security Council has grappled for a week, is over a proposed council statement urging Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and calling for a report in 14 days.

Moscow and Beijing want the International Atomic Energy Agency to assume the main role in cajoling Iran on uranium enrichment. They have warned that pushing Iran too hard could prompt its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the expulsion of IAEA inspectors. They also contend that 14 days is too short for a progress report on Iran's compliance.

The six senior diplomats agreed on a brief statement expressing "deep concern" that Iran was continuing enrichment and had barred surprise IAEA inspections.
Operative phrase highlighted by yours truly.

Here's the nub of the problem: Russia and China don't trust George W. Bush. We've seen the failure of the Bush administration to curb its enthusiasm for bloodshed when it wants to get its way. Russia AND China both supply Iran with critical technology and equipment for its nuclear program and simply don't want to stop.

There are two ways to look at these developments:

1) The Russians and Chinese are trying to stalemate the efforts to curb Iranian nuclear programs, as evidenced by the fact that neither Russia nor China has participated in the negotiations between key European allies ("Old Europe" France and Germany, as well as England) and Iran.

2) Russia and China DO want to assist in curbing Iran's programs to the extent that they don't want Iran to develop weapons, but they don't want America (at least, a Bush America) meddling in and slicing too deeply. They cannot, however, be on the record as opposing or approving of Iran's programs.

I think the next step, especially given the gorilla we have as amabassador to the UN, John Bolton, will be to let the clock run out on negotiations and to force a Security Council Resolution, which either China or Russia could veto unilaterally (and if they are forced to vote, the veto will come from both for cover).

The members of the Security Council (aside from the five permanent members: the US< China, Russia, England, and France) are: Argentina, Greece, Qatar, Congo, Japan, Slovakia, Denmark, Peru, Tanzania, & Ghana. Assuming we haven't pissed off too many of them, basically a fairly US-friendly bunch. Any resolution would likely be approved, and force China and Russia to veto it.

I think the hiccup, as far as China and Russia go, is putting teeth into this resolution. The Americans want the threat of military force as a last resort (we saw how well that worked with Iraq, even when they complied with resolution 1441!) Russia and China will make sure this time it really is as a last resort. A wayyyyyy last resort, as in "If they drop a nuke on Israel or America, then you can send troops in."

Good luck, George. See, this is why you don't piss the world off. Sometimes, much of the time, you need them on your side.

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Thank you

I'd like to thank you all for your kind support and encouraging words.

Of course, neither April nor Kevin were my children, and yet I can't help but feel as a parent would.

I can only imagine what the two fathers are going through. Both families are hard working, and I'm sure both fathers would wish anything to have been there to prevent the accident.

Too, I feel badly for the trucker, and grieve with him for the feelings he must be having, which amount to "if only".

But above all that, moments like this remind us of our mortality. In NY, we have constant reminders of this. All we have to do is go to Ground Zero. We become endowed with a callous over us, to protect us from the memories.

An event like this slices those away. High school kids die every year. Stuyvesant has more than its share of tragedy. The pressure to achieve is enormous, and so suicides are not uncommon.

And then there are deaths like those immortalized in "Death Be Not Proud," by John Gunther. The pain of those tragedies is mitigated somewhat by the examples of courage and resolve that the student shows, just by getting out of bed each morning and going to work.

But this, a snuffing out of a life...

One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever got was to envision my tombstone. I'll pass it along here:
"Based on what you have done in your life, can you be happy with your epitaph when you die?

Will you be happy calling yourself an accountant, a doctor, a fry cook? If that's what you love to do, then great. But, if you'd be embarassed or ashamed or disappointed by this, then do what you want to do."
I've made it to my age by the grace of God and some good luck. Many is the time I was thought dead or should have been dead, but for quick reflexes, a strong will, and coolness under fire (sometimes literally). There were times even I thought my luck had run out.

I would gladly give some of that luck to April and to Kevin, to his mother and brother, to bring them back.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Godspeed, Kevin and April

In this blog, I've given voice to my rage, my snarkiness, my joy, and my mind. Today, my heart is broken, and so I must give voice to that part of me that cries still:
Thruway tragedy kills 4
3 kids & woman die in crash on way to YMCA swim meet

It was written by CORKY SIEMASZKO

A trip to a swimming competition (in Buffalo) ended in tragedy yesterday when three members of a Queens YMCA youth team and the parent who was driving them were killed by a truck that crashed into their van on the New York Thruway.

The deadly wreck tore the heart out of the Flushing Flyers Aquatic Club and plunged family and friends in the Queens enclave into mourning.

"I have lost my beautiful daughter," Kam Lao said as he grieved for 14-year-old April Lao. "No one can believe this is true."

The girl's teammate, 16-year-old Kevin Kwan, was also killed. So was Kwan's mother, who was driving the van, and his 10-year-old brother, officials said.
I was in Buffalo for this meet, the New York state YMCA championships. My daughter swims, swam, with April and Kevin.

As a team parent, I volunteered to time home races, so I knew April and Kevin. More tragic still, they attended the high school I graduated from 30 years ago. Both April and Kevin were bright, charming kids, outgoing, and well loved by their teammates. I remember the passion and joy they exhibited on and off the pool deck. That passion fed into their swimming and they excelled there too.

Passion and commitment: it's what fueled April and Kevin and it's what fueled their teammates to dedicate their performances in the meet to the memories of April and Kevin. Had I been on the team as a swimmer, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to swim, but most of them did. April's boyfriend, One June Chang, swam and swam harder than I'd ever seen him swim, and he is an amazing swimmer.

There was a ceremony before the finals on Saturday night, a moment of silence, and the team members swimming that night huddled around the starting blocks where April and Kevin likely would have competed in their events, to say goodbye.

I remember swimmer after swimmer, finishing their events, tears streaming down their faces, faces that just two weeks before had been laughing and shouting, painting signs and eating bagels at the early morning "psych" party for the state championships. Excited and eager faces, despite the 6AM call for the team photo, and muttering, grumbling parents (I was among the loudest, I confess.)

The ironies of this weekend were not lost on me. I flew back to New York City with a fire chief who had been at the middle of the Trade Center collapse on September 11. Neither of us could muster the strength to grieve with the other, and yet in our eyes was said all that needed to be said. It doesn't take a world crisis to create a tragedy.

It merely takes a flat tire.

Swim fast, swim strong, April, Kevin. Eternity needs an anchor leg.

Videoblog here

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