Thursday, June 30, 2011

It Took Folks Long Enough

Back in May, I wrote a blog post expressing my opinion that the number one goal of the GOP, as articulated by Sen. Mitch McConnell, was to deny President Obama a second term.  I also stated that the GOP has reached a point where its members "would be willing to deep-six the nation purely in the hope that the blame will go to President Obama."  I still believe that, and it's nice to know that I am not alone in that assessment.

I read with great interest Andrew Sullivan's post entitled "Boehner's Economic Terrorism," because I believe Sullivan is correct on the whole in his analysis of what we are watching, as our nation moves closer to the August 2 deadline regarding the debt ceiling.  I now agree with Sullivan that some variation on the Bowles-Simpson plan is what the country needs in order to move toward improving our long-term fiscal outlook.  Are there things within that plan that I don't like?  Of course, but I also recognize that ours is a nation that has been built on compromises.

I am also glad to hear that a Democratic leader has been willing to suggest this publicly.  Sen. Chuck Schumer is the one who has taken this plunge, and I hope that the suggestion leads to substantive questions directed at the GOP congressional leadership (not that we will get substantive answers, but at least the questions will be on the record for public consumption).  It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Objectivism in the Words of its Creator

This post is due completely to my insomnia.  I was reading a post over at Think Progress about the president of the Ayn Rand Institute, and as I scrolled down the page I saw a video clip with Rand herself.  Before I played the clip on Think Progress, I decided to see what I could find on YouTube.  Naturally, I found a three part interview that Mike Wallace conducted with Rand in 1959.  Since I hadn't read Atlas Shrugged since high school, I thought it best to listen to all three parts of the interview.  I have to admit that it was enlightening, and flashes of what I read started coming back to me.  Mind you, it wasn't enlightening in the sense that I agree with Objectivism.  I just found it really helpful in understanding, in particular, where Rep. Paul Ryan is coming from, to a degree.  Enjoy the interview.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Monday, June 27, 2011

Curbing American Car Usage? We'll Have an Openly Gay Black President First

There is an effort going on in various cities throughout Europe to discourage the use of cars, in order to help with the environment.  Now, since this is a European effort, a solid proportion of the American populace will think that it's akin to something Satan endorsed.
A couple of friends highlighted an interesting article in the New York Times about European efforts to make car usage less attractive than walking or taking mass transit within cities.  The article does make it clear that Europe has a better mass transit structure than the U.S., gasoline is around $8 per gallon, and that the cities, of course, are older than cities in the U.S., thus even less car friendly.  It's also made clear that many American cities were developed around the use of a car, and not mass transit; Los Angeles is a perfect example. 

I've not had a car since the early '90s, nor have I missed it.  What I do miss is the lack of a need for a car in Washington, DC.  During my time in Washington (14 years), I pretty much had everything that I needed within a  five to ten block square.  If I needed something outside of my immediate neighborhood, then there was a good mass transit system throughout the region (though with a somewhat limited subway system.  Meanwhile, a car is essential in Hampton Roads, and it is one of many things that I find problematic about this region.  Hampton Roads is true representation of the car-centric American city/region than a New York City, Chicago or Washington, DC.  Add to that the association of the car with individual freedom, and I just cannot see something like the European efforts ever getting a real hearing anywhere in the U.S. (have you heard the derisive commentary about high speed rail, a norm in virtually ever other industrialized nation on the planet?).

But I can always dream, or (eventually, and I hope sooner rather than later) move back to a tradition large U.S. city with density, solid mass transit, and pedestrian friendly amenities.  I liked not having to follow the fluctuations of the price of gasoline, or having to pay auto insurance, or maintenance, or parking fees.  Regardless, until we actually begin to think that things like climate change are important (or in the cases of some, that it isn't made up), we will not begin to consider genuine solutions.  If we reach that point, and I am not so sure we will, at least we will have templates to examine (just don't tell anyone their European).

UPDATE:  Over at The Daily Dish, I found an interesting post that included the aforementioned New York Times article.  The Dish post has two links (here and here) that suggest that the construction of things like bike lanes and pedestrian friendly infrastructure projects help to create more jobs per million dollars spent than simple road projects.

Better Late Than Never: Stiglitz's Essay on American Income Inequality

More than a decade ago, my good friend Tiffany reminded me of why I enjoyed reading Vanity Fair.  It was (and remains) stylish, informative, and its sensibilities were akin to my own; I am a proud subscriber.  I've provided links to a few Vanity Fair articles in my various posts, the most recent being an essay from Christopher Hitchens on our relationship with Pakistan, which I think is a must-read essay).  Unfortunately, I forgot to write a post for an essay that appeared in the May 2011 issue that had me spellbound.  The economist Joseph Stiglitz's brilliant essay "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" is one of the best summations of our economic circumstance that I've read.

I thought of the Stiglitz essay, as I read Sen. Mitch McConnell's op-ed on CNN's website.  Not only was it ahistorical in its facts (the last I checked we've been waging two wars off the books until 2009, but that was when VPOTUS Cheney declared, and no Republicans objected, that deficits don't matter), but there was nothing that even pretended to be in the spirit of compromise in the face of real and imminent fiscal dangers.  McConnell's job remains twofold.  The first is to continue his primary job of getting rid of President Obama, the country be damned, and the second is to serve the interests of the 1%.  "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" will always be an apt description of all Republican elected officials and most Democratic elected officials. 

Read the Stiglitz essay.  Though no essay is ever perfect, I think that it would require blind obeisance to "conservative" ideology to dismiss many of the points Stiglitz has raised.

Violence is Just Fine, but Sex is Always Bad

I've had a long standing complaint with American culture:  We LOVE violence.  The recent SCOTUS ruling declaring California's attempt to restrict children's access to violent video games unconstitutional is yet one more example of this cultural (in my opinion) problem.

I've said it in this blog before, and I will say it again.  I would rather have to explain something sexual that my nephew has been exposed to, than something violent.  We have solidified this notion that sexuality altogether is something to be kept in the closet for as long as possible.  Yet, when it comes to violence, violent images and the like, we don't even flinch.  There is no wonder that we are among the most violent societies on the planet.  Most of our most popular television programs require crimes to have been committed in order to maintain the plots.  And before cries of hypocrisy come raining down, I am not suggesting banning violent images from children and young people.  That would be silly; I love The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter books and Looney Toons too much to suggest that. 

I just find it totally ironic that many of the complaints about some of the most popular violent video games have everything to do with sexual images, and little to do with the fact that other characters explode in pools of blood in order to advance within a game.  I just don't get it.  I suppose I never will.  But I will say that I hope my nephew becomes someone who will be sexually responsible; and I pray that he will never be forced to use the violence depicted in the video games that exist out there, just for kids.

Really Newt, Really?

I just finished reading an article over at Talking Points Memo, and Newt Gingrich is talking about how marriage equality show that we are "drifting towards a terrible muddle."  I wonder what Newt's first two wives think about his credibility on the subject of marriage.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Marriage Equality is Coming to New York

This is just incredible!  Like millions of folks across the country, I watched and waited to see how the New York Senate vote would unfold.  I think it should be noted that the New York Senate is a Republican controlled body, and this measure was able to pass in that chamber.  I am also loving the fact that the New York State Senate passed marriage equality, which Governor Cuomo (who showed incredible leadership on getting New York to the finish line) will sign, at the start of New York's Gay Pride weekend.  I can only imagine how energized that crowd is going to be this year.

Come on in President Obama; the water is just fine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taibbi on Bachmann

In the post preceding this one, I wrote about the political conservatism that I recognized from my Political Science and History studies over the years.  I thought that the type of conservatism described by Andrew Sullivan and Fareed Zakaria could be persuasive to a larger, and possibly more diverse, constituency than it currently enjoys.  Even I appreciated some of the ideas expressed in their descriptions. 

Now, one of my favorite writers, Matt Taibbi, has written about Rep. Michele Bachmann, and he explains why she needs to be taken seriously (something with which I firmly agree).  As I read Taibbi's article, I was reminded of the type of "conservatism" I find repugnant, and Bachmann (as well as Sarah Palin) is a perfect personification of this "conservatism."

Please read the article.  Taibbi's closing sentences are particularly illuminating, and sadly, I think he hits the nail right on the head.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Defense of (c)onservatism

I've often stated that I am not a conservative, but I've never stated that I couldn't ever become a conservative.  After reading two fascinating defenses of conservatism, by Andrew Sullivan and Fareed Zakaria, I have to admit that I fully understood and appreciated what they had to say about conservatism as they understood it, and what "conservatism" has become. 

Their explanations of conservatism, invoking political theory and political history, were compelling.  I still have some reservations, because believe that we should strive to improve on what we have, and push continually toward that "shining city on a hill" ideal.  Conservatism's role seemed, to me, to be about curbing overreach; liberalism's role seemed, to me, to be about pushing boundaries.  Both of those perspectives seek the greater good for the nation.

I think that Sullivan's and Zakaria's critiques of "conservatism" are spot on.  What I see as "conservatism" in 2011 is nothing like the conservatism they described, and I think that's why I've felt comfortable saying that I am not a "conservative."  However, I think I can now say that I am not, and never hope to be a "conservative," but I could see the possibility of embracing aspects of conservatism, as defined by Sullivan and Zakaria.  As an historian, I think that it is particularly important to know the past, in order to help inform current decisions.  I've argued that President Obama should have spent some time reading the histories of the administrations of both Roosevelts, so that he could see how they approached the pressing issues of their times.  Yet, I don't advocate for remaining stuck in the past and never moving on; that's useless.

It's been a long time since I studies political theory and philosophy, but I am glad to get reminders like the two I've linked to in this post.  It's good to have one's perspectives and positions challenged and/or refreshed. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Regarding Our Relationship with Pakistan, a Hitchens Must Read

I have two requests in this post regarding Pakistan, a country of which I know little about historically (hopefully I will be able to see a family friend this summer who is a former Reuters reporter, and who is originally from Pakistan, to answer some of my questions).  First, I highly recommend reading the latest column on our troubled relationship with Pakistan by Christopher Hitchens in the latest Vanity Fair, a column I consider a "must-read" in every issue I receive.  Finally, I would love to read other columns with supporting or differing points of view on Pakistan. 

In light of the latest news of the arrests of Pakistani informants who helped the CIA with intelligence (and many of us are quite glad they did), I think that it's an ideal time for our country to re-examine thoroughly our relationship with Pakistan (and it isn't like some Pakistanis aren't questioning our relationship as well).  Clearly, this has begun to happen in Congress, and I think that Defense Secretary Gates' comments to the Senate today were instructive.  It will be interesting to see how this will play out.

Regarding Tracy Morgan

I wasn't sure if I wanted to delve into the mess that comedian Tracy Morgan created, but then I read John McWhorter's thoughts on the subject.  Here is the link.  I have to say that there is little to improve upon here.  McWhorter does an excellent job of encapsulating pretty much all of my feelings on both the Morgan incident, and the issue of homophobia in the Black community.  I agree that both the history of Black American subjugation and the history of the Black American church are particularly salient in explaining both the nature and the depth of homophobia here.  Misogyny also plays a role.  

I've been lucky, in that I lost no friends or family members following my coming out.  I also took the step of being out professionally, and I think that because I embraced honesty I've experienced little homophobia, particularly among Black men (though I think my overall size helps a little there too).  Now, I have no idea what people say about me after I've left the room, but nothing has ever been said to my face; that's fine with me.  I really think that much of this discussion would change if more Black folks simply came out of the closet.  It's easy to castigate those you don't know, but when someone is actually in your family or among your friends, it becomes significantly more difficult. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Impartiality Questioned

A little later today, a judge will rule whether the ruling declaring California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional should be overturned, because the presiding judge is a gay man, and those arguing for the overturning suggest that, as a gay man, he stands to benefit directly from his ruling.  In all honesty, I don't know where to begin.  There are people I know who see nothing wrong with this line of reasoning.  Though, wouldn't that line of reasoning be applicable to heterosexual judges who, presumably, are on the opposite side of that issue?  Or are these folks really suggesting that minorities of any stripe are incapable of being impartial judges when confronted with civil rights cases?

UPDATE:  Towleroad has reported that the motion to vacate the Prop 8 ruling, because the presiding judge is gay, was denied.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Speaking of Weiner

I think it was Salon's Glenn Greenwald who talked about all of the pearl clutching that is going on in political media related to the Rep. Anthony Weiner story, and I have to agree that there is a great deal of silly pearl clutching going on indeed.  Have you heard Chris Matthews talk about the sitch?  You would think that Weiner had been caught in a bestiality scandal, instead of engaging, essentially, in sex chat and picture sharing.  It's good to remember that this what Weiner did (unless the ethics probe suggests otherwise) was neither illegal or done on company time.  And do we need to open up Pandora's box regarding suggestive conversations that almost anyone in a relationship has over the phone, during work hours or online?  I also think Andrew Sullivan's point about "American puritanism" is well taken.  Actually, it's tiresome.

I've likely said it on this blog before, so I will say it again:  It bothers me that our society is perfectly comfortable with violence and violent depictions in our entertainment, but goes ape shit over sex or sexual images.  It's fucking crazy. 

With all of that said, it doesn't excuse the stupidity of Weiner.  I mean really, dude?  And especially after the whole Chris Lee thing, one would think that everyone on the Hill who is getting his/her online groove on would think twice about continuing.  Weiner's narcissism and sense of self importance got the best of him, and he is paying the price.  And because this is a story that could continue through the summer, I would think that the Democrats would move to have Weiner resign, if only to save themselves from having the narrative move from the attack on Medicare/Medicaid by the GOP to an obsession on Weiner's dick.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What's Next for Weiner?

It will be interesting if Anthony Weiner will be able to pull a David Vitter or John Ensign, especially following what appears to be more suggestive pictures and texts now out.  Like many, I am waiting to hear what he has to say to the media this afternoon (actually within a few minutes from this post).  Simple answers tend to help.

UPDATE:  Weiner is going to try the Vitter and Ensign route.  We'll see how far he goes.  Maybe if he is lucky, he can follow in Sen. Vitter's path.  And Vitter even got re-elected by the people of Louisiana.  At least what he did wasn't illegal, though it is a shame that he decided to lie from the off.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Maybe Kristof Is On To Something

I just finished reading Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times, and I think that he correctly describes the GOP's dream country, though there might be some squabbling over some of the Christianists ideas.  Naturally, many in the GOP would disagree, but Kristof's breakdown of how Pakistan is run does seem to align nicely with the policy rhetoric the GOP uses.  And I doubt comparing Pakistani systems with GOP dreams will sit well with that lot, so I was glad to see Kristoff include that there are other Asian, Latin American and African models to strive for.  Obviously anything is better than looking to Europe for any policy ideas; they're usually just too European, and for the GOP that usually means bad for people, and most importantly bad for business. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hmm, I Guess the Information Isn't Quite Sinking In

Okay, I wrote a post praising the fact that Sarah Palin was going to visit historic sites in the Northeast, because I hoped that her visit would generate visitors for those sites.  In that post, I also expressed a hope that some of the history that Palin would receive from the well trained Park Rangers of the National Park Service would sink in.  Well, I suppose one can continue to hope.

Why Not Start with Medicaid?

In writing about Sarah Palin's perspective on the issue of the debt ceiling, Andrew Sullivan raises several good points that are worth reading.  Particularly, I found his comment regarding what he says the core of the "'conservative' movement" seeks:  "a desire to smash existing institutions and to 'fundamentally restore' the American status quo before the Great Society, and even, the New Deal."

I've long understood that the goal of many "conservatives" was to return the country to a time before the implementation of the New Deal (particularly Social Security).  The programs of the Great Society (Medicare and Medicaid specifically), I think, completely offends the sensibilities of this lot.  Yet, there is a problem:  many supporters of "conservative" elected officials really love Medicare and Social Security.  Why else would Paul Ryan try his level best to run from the notion that his proposal kills the program?  Why else would he try desperately to assure current seniors that their benefits will not be touched  at all? 

I think that if the GOP wants to begin getting rid of the social safety net, then they need to concentrate their efforts on Medicaid.  Because Medicaid focuses exclusively on the needs of the poor, I think that its demise would be met with less resistance overall.  And if you think about the news coverage on the Republican budget, the focus has really been on the popular Medicare program, not Medicaid.  Medicare has a constituency that politicians will listen to, while Medicaid has a constituency that is seen as suspect. 

I think that there is no question about the end game for the current crop of "conservative" elected officials.  The social safety net is something that they believe, philosophically, the nation not only can't afford, but that it also shouldn't be in the business of having.  I think that by attacking Medicaid before the bigger prizes of Medicare and Social Security, the GOP will find that they will be in a better position to claim that prize.  New Jersey just might be able to show the way.

Flag Over Richmond

I was very surprised to hear that the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond opted to fly the rainbow flag in honor of GLBT pride month.  Of course, this move by the bank has outraged some of the usual suspects.