Saturday, March 30, 2013

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident


 

This was a big week for the debate regarding same sex marriage and civil rights.  While lawyers were arguing the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) at the Supreme Court, debates raged at dinner tables, on talk radio, from the desks of cable news shows, in boardrooms and bedrooms, and across social media.  While most debates were between those on opposite sides of the issue, the question of extending civil rights to the LGBT community created a different discourse even amongst those in support of repealing DOMA.

Last week I mentioned he Loving vs. Virginia, the 1965 Supreme Court case that called laws barring interracial marriage unconstitutional.  My point was that sometimes it up to the courts to establish what is right and not leave it to the populace and state legislatures.  I was challenged by the usual conservatives, but also the religious left who claimed that Loving righted centuries of wrongs and that same sex marriage was about condoning sodomy and not civil rights.  A strange argument regarding the latter as it focuses on the ‘sex’ issue but not the marriage. 

But the extended debate continued to rage amongst progressives and between races.  I detected a sense from many progressive Blacks that they were uncomfortable, even offended, by comparisons of LGBT discrimination to Jim Crow Laws.  Making comparisons can be a difficult and dangerous, and often ill-advised no matter the intent.  I identify strongly with my Jewish race;  perhaps not on as much of a  religious basis as much as a racial one.  For this reason I am extremely sensitive to false comparisons to the holocaust because it diminishes the evil, sorrow, and horror.  I can therefore appreciate an African American’s sensitivity to slavery and Jim Crow laws as they too are personal, specific, and recent.

From Biblical times though two millennia of the common era, Jews have not only suffered through discrimination, persecution, but also extermination.   And while I have never experienced anything of the sort, I do understand and sympathize with all peoples that share the same history.  I find any law, behavior, act, or otherwise that denies someone any natural right based on his or her race, gender, ager, creed, color, sexual orientation, religion, etc. abhorrent.  It is why it is incumbent for legal rights to be established and enforced where natural rights are denied.

When I made my statement regarding Loving it was not meant to diminish those that were persecuted and oppressed by Jim Crow Laws, my point was that we are endowed with these inalienable rights not to draw comparisons in terms of pain and suffering.  What our individual plights should teach us to be tolerant of one another and to fight discrimination and persecution.  After all, didn’t Atticus Finch teach us anything? "One time Atticus said you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them."  

Now that is American Exceptionalism.

 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hot off the Diggapress


News and Digganalysis

1.       Big week at the Supreme Court for same sex marriage.  On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and on Wednesday arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act will be heard.  In the meantime social conservatives like Ralph Reed will argue that the 58% of Americans, per recent polls, are wrong.  The time has come for conservatives to realize that same sex marriage and the commensurate benefits are not progressive ideals, but AMERICAN ideals.  I hope the old white men on the court also realize the same.  Civil rights for all IS American Exceptionalism.

2.       The story of the banking failure in Cyprus and the subsequent bailout from the troika of the IMF, EU, and ECB is a complex mélange of punishment, politics, and warning.   Warning #1: If your house-of-cards economy is based primarily on finance and tourism, you are in deep shit when debt is your foundation.  Warning #2: The gun to the head deal being ‘offered’ to the Cypriot government and people is a clear signal to Spain and Italy that ‘bail ins’ are the new bail outs. Make no mistake about it, the terms of this deal are driven by coercion and to punish nations who let their finances get out of hand.  It also sends a political signal to Moscow that the EU will not be bullied by Putin. Which brings me to the hypocrisy of the Putin-Medvedev government of kleptocracy that has stripped private property rights and now defends Russian depositors of >100,000Euros in Cypriot banks who will fund the bail in.

3.       I do not believe President Obama’s visit to Israel was neither as great nor as bad as some talking heads claim.  The big success was brokering the renormalization of relations between Turkey and Israel after convincing a previously obstinate Netanyahu to apologize for the 2010 flotilla raid.  That was pure diplomacy at its greatest: tough talk between allies.  As for the speeches and visits to Israel, Ramallah, and Jordan, the president may have increased his popularity with the Israeli populace, especially the young, but there will be little tangible change in the peace process.  Why?  The new Netanyahu government is not about turn its back on the settlers in the occupied territories of Judea and Samaria less the fragile coalition comes apart.  No matter how many speeches President Obama, or any other president, makes, the reality of a two state solution will not happen until Israelis decide to call for it via the ballot box.  Perhaps like all social movements, the tipping point will occur in the future and when it does….

4.       Still on Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a great week.  I have always viewed the Islamist leader suspiciously, but the aforementioned agreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama shows that the man realizes the greater need.  It is in the same regard his brokered cease fire with the Kurdish separatist PKK (Kurdish Worker Party) movement may be a sign that the decades long insurgency may be coming to an end.  This brings stability in the region with northern Iraq and helps provide a clearer approach to dealing with an imploding Syria.

5.       Finally, there’s the 100 page rebranding plan for the GOP ordered by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus; a document that basically says the product needs a little tweaking, but the main failure is in the message and messenger.  That’s like saying the Pontiac Aztec would have been a success if the car dealers and ad campaign were better.  A bad product is a bad product and this rebranding campaign brings out the cynicism in me.  In short, the GOP leadership thinks if it rolls out Nikki Haley and Susanna Martinez suddenly women will run to join just like it thinks the same will happen with Latinos if it promotes Marco Rubio.  So here’s a little advice Reince, save the $10million you pledged for your marketing plan afterall, you cannot polish a turd.

 

Chag sameach!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Washington DC: Arrested Development

Sometimes I feel like Moe because every now and then Larry and Curly need to get smacked upside the head.  I watch the complete political dysfunction in Washington DC, and I come away with the following impressions:

1)      Our economy is growing IN SPITE of the federal government

2)      The only jobs politicians are interested are their own

3)      Courage comes not from proposing drastic social cuts (Republicans) or proposing no change to the Big Three (Democrats), but from giving up something near and dear to get something big done.

4)      Both sides are afraid being labeled a ‘loser’ by the media should a deal actually get done

5)      The political process is being held hostage by the extreme wings on both sides

My criticism of the right has long been established and communicate, but my criticism of the left is growing and my dissatisfaction for the political process is an indictment of all parties.  The demagoguery is prevalent on both sides, but the hypocrisy and obstruction from the right have set new lows in civics and governance.  There are times I wish the President would do more, but I soon realize that for every step he would take towards a deal, the other side would take one step back.   The GOP have vilified President Obama and the Democrats since the 2009 inauguration, claiming they have caused the tepid recovery because they have created uncertainty for businesses, created runaway spending, and have passed onerous regulations.  None of which are true. 

So here is some data, opinions, and analyses.  You may disagree, you may concur, your call.

·         Obamacare and Dodd-Frank contain some unnecessary bureaucratic elements but the GOP method of do nothing was NOT the solution.

·         For all the complaining about regulations and taxes, the number one reason why firms don’t hire: lack of qualified candidates

·         States with low or no income tax rates add jobs quicker than high tax states.  But that may be confounded with rate of population growth.  In truth, states with higher tax rates have higher median incomes and the same unemployment rate as low tax states.

·         Tax reform cannot happen unless ALL lawmakers are willing to say no to special interests.  Which means the mortgage industry, oil & gas companies, energy, technology, banks, and others will need to accept, amongst other things, loss of the mortgage interest tax deduction (for many), carbon tax, consumption tax, R&D tax credit, etc.  Of course these new taxes will come into being when income tax rates are lowered for all Americans who will have to realize that a consumption or VAT is neither socialist nor regressive.

·         We need to stop taxing positive outcomes like income and profit which deters growth and begin taxing negative outcomes such as energy consumption.

·         Government should promote investment in R&D and the creation of intellectual property.

·         Social Security and Medicare may not have contributed significantly to today’s deficits, but to ignore that coming mandatory spending associated with these programs is reckless.  Maintaining the status quo is untenable.

·         Increasing minimum wage will not stifle growth, it will stimulate growth as millions of Americans will have increased disposable income.

·         The White House using the sequester as an excuse to shut down White House tours, the People’s House, was petulant and counterproductive.  Threatening to do so for the Easter Egg Hunt is below the office.

·         Programs like Race to the Top may not be perfect, but creating grants for states to reform and generate educational results is a good idea.  Teachers’ unions should not resist reform, but instead join the results-based movement.  Education results are critical to filling the millions of jobs that go unfilled.

·         The key to economic recovery is via growth, not austerity.  Once the economic engine gets revved up, automatic stabilizers will phase out and the government can apply some brake to its spending.

·         The White House should approve the Keystone XL Pipeline in return for getting the $2Billion investment fund for alternative renewable energy sources.  Fracking and horizontal drilling are critical to our economic recovery, but it should be done with safety and environment 1st and profits 2nd

·         Republicans should stop promoting Trickle Down Theory, when economic data is available.  According to the University of Massachusetts – Amherst: for every $1billion invested in infrastructure, 18,000 jobs are created, a 30% increase if the same $1billion was spent on tax cuts.

·         Want to know why most American companies aren’t screaming for tax reform even though the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world?  Because effective tax rates are lower than most countries in the developed world thanks to loopholes and credits.

I expect many on the left will not be happy about my stance on Keystone, fracking, Big Three reform, education, and sequester hijinks.  Those on the right will oppose tax reforms, carbon and value added taxes, the need to fund infrastructure and education, and the call for regulation when it is necessary.
Bottom line is both sides need to give in and take a step towards the other party.  Using budgets for political platforms instead of legitimate proposals is a waste of time and just gets the dander up.

So come here knuckleheads and get your shit together and give us a long term plan.  What about Shemp, you ask?  I save him for the Supreme Court critique.

 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

O' Me of Limited Faith


After three trips to Jerusalem over a 4 week period, the recent selection of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become Francis I, and the words of former senator and failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum at CPAC, I reckoned it was time for the annual Digganalysis of religion, faith, and spirituality.  These opinions are my own and you are welcome to disagree with them, kind of like religions.

Firstly, my multiple trips to Jerusalem.  I don’t care if you are the most devoutly religious person or the biggest atheist, standing at the Mount of Olives and taking in the view of the old city is equal parts breathtaking, inspiring, humbling, and troubling.  To be able to see Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount consisting of the Golden Dome and Western Wall, as well as the other sites of the Garden of Gethsemane, Al-Aqsa mosque, The Church of Mary Magdalene, Church of the Dormition, and the Hurva Synagogue you quickly realize you in no other place like it in the world.  No other place offers such a history lesson of man’s time on earth (visit the Tower of David Museum), the power and inspiration of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as a modern history of the region.  On Fridays the hustle and bustle in the markets as Jews prepare for Shabbat and the rush of Muslims to the Temple Mount conduct their Jumu’ah prayer are something to behold as is the dozens of armed police and security forces to ensure there is no trouble.  Yes the power of religion, nationalism, and tradition is all over and unavoidable.  Nothing like it in the world.

This week the world witnessed the selection of a new pope, an event that is momentous, inspirational, and spiritual to Catholics around the globe.  And while we tend to make jokes about the conclave, the white and black smoke, and the selection process, to 1.2Billion Catholics it is a serious matter and deserves our respect.  Francis I, like his predecessor Benedict XVI , must lead a church facing ongoing scandals and a world becoming increasingly socially liberal.   The church hierarchy has serious issues to contend with, but it has 1.2Billion church members that still remain faithful.  The church isn’t the hierarchy, it’s its members and their faith.

Religion is a strange phenomenon.  A dichotomy that brings out the best in mankind and all too often the worst.  And yet we don’t understand it as well as she should, if we did we certainly wouldn’t behave as we do, and worst off we have little or no understanding of others’ beliefs.  Is the Muslim who prays five times a day, a good Muslim?  Is the Jew who fasts on Yom Kippur a good Jew?  Is the Catholic who goes to church every Sunday a good Christian?  How does one distinguish between religion, faith, and spirituality?  Are good people turned in the wrong direction by bad leaders? 

I have the greatest respect, love, and admiration for those that serve their fellow man, and so selflessly and without great fanfare.  If they do it because they are guided by a religious teaching, great; if they do it out of a sense humanity, that’s great too.  I guess what I am saying, the goodness isn’t measured by one’s attendance record at religious services, it is measured by deeds.

Conversely, I have seen religious leaders do the most unconscionable and reprehensible things.  Inciting young impressionable and ignorant youth to become suicide bombers, the Spanish inquisition,  and rabbis inciting the rabid into killing a Prime Minister for seeking peace.  It is these deeds and dozens more that make people like me criticize religious hierarchies and question the legitimacy of organizations that preach fear and hate while covering up the very sins they allegedly oppose.

Rick Santorum, the man who wants to be Minister in Chief, claimed President Obama wants a Godless America by banning religion from the public square and felt JFK’s separation of church and state speech made him want to throw up.  This is  a common complaint from Christian fundamentalists; the same people who claim religion is under siege and in the next breath want to stop a mosque from getting  built.  The fact that no national religion should be established, per the 1st Amendment, enrages many and the fact that the creation of public school was the greatest single social development to improve education is indigestible.  In fact, I wish more public school boards pushed for teaching ABOUT religion.  Not religious teaching (that’s what I got at Hebrew School).  I am talking about educating the ignorant so that we can understand one another.  Understand one another so that we do not fear a mosque, we know the difference between a Sikhism and Islam, and we seek to find out what brings us together, not apart.

We come from different faiths, diverse upbringings, and various cultures.  Some have religion as critical cornerstones in their lives,  others not so much, some not at all. I don’t think attendance record at a church or synagogue or whether you pray five times a day makes you a good person.  The person who understands, appreciates, and respects the rights of Natural Law and the concept of morality is what we should aspire to become .  After all, isn’t that what being a good person is all about irrespective of religious belief?  Maybe we should add that to the curriculum too.

 

 

 

 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Voting Rights: Racial Entitlement or Constitutional Right

Is the fifteenth amendment any less important than the second amendment?  Should laws passed to reinforce it be any less robust than those passed to support any other amendment?  If a law was passed 50 years ago and survived a Supreme Court challenge should it not be considered the law of the land?

The fifteenth amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, simply states:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

Pretty straight forward coming after the end of the civil war, the right to vote would not be denied due to race, color, or whether you were a slave (sadly women would have to wait another 50 years for the nineteenth amendment) oh and the kicker: Congress shall have the power to enforce it.  Of course where there’s a will to suppress there are ways.  Southern racist bigoted states and municipalities started immediately to put in barriers including literacy tests to prevent blacks from voting.

95 years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (you remember that little section on Congress having appropriate power to enforce the act) and within months its constitutionality was challenged and the government was victorious.  While the Act is permanent, Section Five is considered temporary and requires re-approval by Congress.  The controversial Section Five sets the requirement that some states, based on a formula in Section Four, cannot make changes to election laws without the approval of the DOJ or the District Court of Washington D.C.   Since then Congress has expanded the coverage formula twice and renewed Section Five four times.  In 2006, Section Five was extended for 25 years.

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments that Section Five is no longer applicable based on the assertion that racism is no longer a threat to voters and that Congress used improper data in determining which states and counties were still obliged to meet Section Five requirements.  During oral arguments Justice Scalia called the Voting Rights Act “a perpetuation of racial entitlement” and Justice Kennedy stated “the Marshall Plan was very good too…but times change.”  First the former, it is obvious that Justice Scalia would have been right at home on the Taney Court known for its horrendous Dred Scott decision stating that the federal government had no authority to regulate slaves or freed slaves since slaves were property.  Yes that entitlement to what America is allegedly built upon.  As for the Kennedy comment, one could make the same argument that the second amendment may have been good, but times change.  Rich white guys deciding what is racist, what is right, and what is entitlement.

Above all, I am curious as to the legal merits of the challenge.  I am not a constitutional lawyer, but it seems to me that Congress acted within the powers granted to it by the fifteenth amendment.  The law and subsequent extension may be bad, they are not, but they shouldn’t be struck down on constitutional grounds.  And if you do not think voter suppression isn’t alive and well, you must have been living on the moon during the 2012 election period.  In fact voter suppression, in veiled racism or otherwise, is no longer the domain of the south, just look at Ohio and Pennsylvania.

No, if the government and the courts think it is OK to err on the side of security over liberty in matters of surveillance and defense, then isn’t it the responsibility of these bodies to err on the side of protecting individual freedoms over states’ rights?

 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

From Political Party to Social Network Affiliations


 

Unite Blue, tcot, OWS, Tea Party, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Conservatives, Progressives, Americans Elect, Independents, and so on and so on.  By the way, if you join the “No Labels” organization, isn’t that in itself a label?  The growing dissatisfaction with political parties has led to an increase in loosely affiliated grass roots organizations, AstroTurf created special interests groups, and the ubiquitous ‘unaffiliated’  Independent voter.   Between 2008 -2012, 2.5 million voters left political parties to become independents raising the number of independents to 40% of all registered voters, larger than both primary political parties.  Of course, assuming Independents are a monolithic bloc is naïve and all too convenient.

So why the political diaspora?  Have people connected with an inner Groucho Marx: “I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”  The recent debate on drones has created some interested bedfellows as progressive politicians and commentators have sided with libertarians in their concern and distrust of a government serving as judge, jury, and executioner.   Meanwhile, there have been indications that folks across the political spectrum hoped the sequester would kick in, albeit for different reasons.

Political parties are dubious, even more so with the influence of special interests and it doesn’t help when the Democrats send a memo to new freshmen Congressmen recommending they spend four hours/day on the phone with campaign donors.  Many liberals feel the Democratic Party has moved to the center, some conservatives think the GOP has lost its way; DINOs, RINOs, EMOProgs oh my.  Are we becoming more diverse society while becoming very narrow individuals?  Do we become obsessed with singular issues that cannot be sacrificed?  Should the Keystone pipeline be so divisive that it inhibits compromise? By the way the Keystone debate is a curious one in that labor supports it and environmentalists oppose it leaving the Democrats in a political base tug of war.  Do we become entangled in multiple issues; all of which are non-negotiable?  Can we not compromise on anything?

So I find myself debating folks on the left as well as the right.  I also find myself arguing both sides of an issue because complex issues merit debate.  We can have tax reform that increases receipts while not stifling investment, we can establish a tax code that is neither overly progressive nor excessively regressive,  we can promote renewable energy sources while cutting coal in favor of natural gas, and so on.  As soon as one side realizes that the environment is not in grave danger and the other side realizes we cannot drill our way to energy independence we may come up with a solution to energy problems.  Yes we can still embrace a pro-growth strategy in the short term and consider longer term austerity.  And yes social security may not have contributed to the deficit, but to ignore the burden of mandatory spending in the future is foolish.  I can be pro teacher but oppose some teachers’ union stances.  I can believe in charter schools without realizing they are the sole solution.  Oh, and there’s that drone thing too.

So are we an amalgam or are we silos?  As we splinter from political parties into neo social media political activist entities do we become less inclined to debate?  While it is it easier to unfollow, defriend, or  block someone you disagree with, it does not advance developing a solution.  We drop a political party affiliation in favor of a political social network.  For better or for worse?  You decide.  But from where I sit, the noise is obliterating the signal and we are not getting through to one another.

In the meantime I stay unaffiliated  but unencumbered.   Take a side, take both sides, and seek knowledge and debate the issue, don’t attack the person.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Clearing the Mental Inbox: 3/3/13


 

Been awhile so it’s time to clear the inbox:

·         I could take challenges to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act more seriously if Mississippi hadn’t just got around to approving the 13th Amendment banning slavery or the recent increase in voter suppression tactics by Republican politicians targeting Democratic districts.

·         The sequester only proves that Congress is willing to take itself hostage, and then shoot the hostage

·         I am limiting my Sunday Talk Show viewing to Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.  It is educational, global, and free of political talking point bullshit which already dominates news coverage.

·         Dennis Rodman meets with Kim Jong-Un.  Dennis Rodman is on Celebrity Apprentice 2013.  What’s the bad hair equivalent for being a chubby chaser?

·         The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against a lawsuit claiming the federal government’s excessive secretive eavesdropping powers were unconstitutional.  Apparently since the program is so secretive the plaintiffs couldn’t prove they had been eavesdropped.  That’s a Catch-22 if there ever was one.

·         Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t help the Muslim worlds cause by publicly stating “As is the case for Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it is inevitable that Islamophobia be considered a crime against humanity."  Condemnation came quickly as new American Secretary of State called Erdogan’s statement ‘objectionable’.  

·         Speaking of John Kerry, he made a reference to “Kyrazkhstan”, erroneously combining Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  Bad, but not as bad as Cain’s Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan.

·         Maybe someday Ann Romney will realize the election wasn’t about her and she should go back to buying her husband’s shirts at Costco.

·         More on the Russian/American adoption flap. Russian authorities rolled out Yulia Kuzmina, the alcoholic birth mother of Max Shatto to plead for the return of Max’s brother Kristopher from his adoptive home in America.  Three year old Max died in Texas and the Kremlin is calling it murder.  The Russian authorities would have been wiser to keep Ms. Kuzmina under wraps as she arrested on a train a few hours after her appearance for public drunkenness. 

·         Horsemeat showing up in prepared foods all over Europe and now we hear that 60% of tuna sold in grocery stores and restaurants is actually escolar and 87% of red snapper is mislabeled.  At least we know what’s in hot dogs.

·         I enjoy the cat and mouse nature of The Americans and Matthew Rhys is fantastic.  But Keri Russell is miscast and mediocre. Sorry Felicity.

·         Since Newtown Massacre, 2,268 Americans, including 158 children and teenagers, have been killed with guns.

·         74 Republicans claim to support same-sex marriage because it is a conservative cause in line with their smaller government beliefs.  I would take them seriously if I didn’t suspect them of being opportunists trying score potential voter points. 

·         In a recent survey of 200,000 Americans, 3.5% identified themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender or as Conservatives say, that’s a lot of people needing curing.

·         Paul Broun (R-GA), the man who said that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell", provided us with another whopper.  The potential Senate candidate actually claimed that more people die from baseball bats and hammers than guns.  Not even close.  FBI 2011 data states 8, 583 people were murdered with firearms versus 496 people via hammers, baseball bats, etc.

Always great to be back!