Sunday, June 28, 2015

What's To Be Done About The Publicity Whores?

In an Internet age crowded with literally millions of voices, all equally eager to be heard, it is harder than ever for anyone to be heard at all.  One can, of course, do so by the quality of one's content, but there has been and always will be a minority audience for quality content.  Even before the advent of the World Wide Web, it's always been easier to get attention by poking people in the eye than by appealing to their better angels.  And with the current ferocity of the competition level, the need and willingness to poke--and poke hard--has grown exponentially.

Of course, Internet or no Internet, the process has basically always been the same, and should be familiar to everyone.  Step one:  Make a provocative statement about one or more people in the public eye.  Step two:  Wait for the media to document the public backlash toward your behavior, thereby generating publicity and financial opportunity for you.  Step three:  make the most insincere, half-hearted apology possible--just enough of an apology to take your self-generated heat off of you, but not so much that your followers know (wink, wink) have any doubt about your true feelings.  Step four:  Let the apology be a source of even more publicity, leading to even more financial opportunity. And, as they say in the shampoo business, lather, rinse, repeat.

So no one should be surprised that the wife of the Israeli Interior Minister, who apparently is an Israeli media figure in her own right, has been kvelling (to borrow a word) over the publicity she has generated around the world over a racist anti-Obama tweet she has since deleted.  After she deleted it, however, she apologized on Twitter no fewer than three times--just to make sure that we remembered her.

Never mind, for now, what this says about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, which are depressingly poor.  This ugly episode raises the larger issue of what to do about such publicity whores?  And be assured:  I do not use the last word in the previous sentence lightly.  A publicity whore is just that: someone, male or female, who will sell themselves for the sake of being in the public eye, however briefly or notoriously.  Clearly, the wife of the Israeli Interior Minister, by her actions, has demonstrated that she fits the definition.

So, what should be done?  Should her apology be accepted?  No: it is transparently insincere.  Should be be shunned, or banned from social media?  No: that would give her a martyrdom she does not deserve.  Should she be publicly attacked, either through her social media accounts or otherwise?  No: see previous reason.

I propose instead the following solution.

Bombard her social media account with positive messages.  Remind her constantly of what a great President Obama is.  Tweet her Obama quotes, Michelle quotes, Sasha and Malia quotes.  Send her the entire text of the ACA, section by section--or, better yet, this past week's Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA, sentence by sentence.  Keep this up at such a pace that she has no chance to respond, much less send out any further advertisements for herself (thank you, Norman Mailer).

Eventually, she'll get the message.  And maybe, if we could summon enough energy and dedication to do this to all of the publicity whores, we could drive them out of business, one by one.  One can always hope, anyway.

Maryland's Governor Plays Racial Politics With Public Transportation

Let's get one thing out of the way at the top of this conversation.  Governor Larry Hogan announced this week that he has a form of cancer, for which he will be receiving treatment while continuing to handle as much of his official duties as possible.  As one family man to another, and as someone who believes in treating everyone decently whether they agree with you or not, I wish the governor well in his battle for his health.  Nothing I say subsequently changes or should detract from that fact.

Which is just as well.  Because I find the Governor's subsequent decisions regarding the fates of the Red Line and Purple Line transit projects to be appalling.

Hogan has decided to pull the plug entirely on the Red Line, arguing that the project does not justify its expense.  Miraculously, however, he has decided to continue with the Purple Line, provided that certain financial conditions are met--not the least of which is greater financial support from Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, the two jurisdictions where the line will be located.

Hogan could just as easily imposed similar conditions on the construction of the Red Line, allowing it to move forward and contribute to the rebuilding and revitalization of Baltimore neighborhoods. Doing so, in the aftermath of the post-Freddie Gray riots, would have been a symbol of hope to a city that could badly use all the hope it can get.  Doing so would have demonstrated the Republican Governor's ability to rise above party politics, and do the right thing when it comes to the redevelopment of a largely Democratic city.  That, after all, is the brand of politics the Governor committed himself to when he campaigned and won last year's election.

Instead, Hogan is playing the race card in an amazingly ugly way.  With an eye on re-election, he uses the prospect of the Purple Line to entice voters from the largely white Washington suburbs, while using the withdrawal of support for the Red Line as a means for punishing a predominantly black city, and its Mayor, whom he blames for the lack of police response that allowed the riots to spread and shut down the city.

As I have said on previous occasions, I hold no brief for Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  The Mayor is a reverse-racist of the first magnitude, as those who have had personal dealings with her (my wife included) can easily attest.  No one who knows her family history should be surprised by that; her late father, state Delegate Howard Rawlings, played the race card with rhetoric that was as ugly as his tactics.  No doubt Hogan, in his riot-related dealings with Madame Mayor, picked up on that fact and reacted badly to it.

But to react so badly that you would deliberately take an action to punish an entire city amounts to a dereliction of duty--and a betrayal of the Governor's oath of office and public commitment to rise above party politics.  And Baltimore has been punished enough--first by white racism, and then by black racism.  Racism is racism.  It doesn't matter who is being oppressed for their skin color; no one should be oppressed for that reason.  Rawlings-Blake will, thankfully, not be mayor one day. When that happens, Baltimore may yet get a decent mayor.  But he or she will needlessly have to start from scratch to build public support for the mass transit Baltimore desperately needs.

For the sake of a few votes in the next election, Larry Hogan is playing the most craven game of racial politics that can be imagined.  Wish the Governor well in his fight for his health.  But pray that, along the way, there is some sort of healing for his soul--something that leads him to put aside his issues with Baltimore's current mayor, and do the right thing for the city's people, black and white.

To Flag, Or Not To Flag? That Is The Confederate Question

As I stated in my previous post, the tragic shootings in Charleston have produced one sign of hope for race relations in this country--the willingness of public officials in South Carolina, including this one, to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state's official flag, and the subsequent willingness of other southern states, such as Mississippi, to follow suit.  Even more surprising was watching this willingness morph from the public to the private sector, with companies such as Amazon and Wal-Mart refusing to sell merchandise using or displaying some version of the flag.

But, of course, the Newtonian nature of our politics dictates that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As the ban-the-flag movement started to pick up serious steam, it was predictable that the die-hards on the other side would start to draw a line in the shifting sands.  And draw they have.  As a consequence, it did not take long for their allies in the Republican Party to push the overstatement of their stance to ridiculous levels.

Before I offer my take on how far this should go, let's get a few things out of the way.

The Confederate battle flag is not a emblem of regional pride, or "heritage."  It is, without a doubt, historic.  But it is a flag of treason, a treason that was committed in the defense of racism.  Any defense of the flag, for any reason, is ultimately an attempt to deny that history and, in the process, to perpetuate a vicious and destructive lie about the history of this country that led up to, and resulted in, the Civil War.  That's the truth.  Full stop.

As a consequence of that truth, no state that is a part of the United States of America should have any trace of a Confederate emblem of any sort on any flag or other public structure, uniform, building, sign, or anything else that carries with it the power and the authority of government.  We are not two nations.  We are one nation.  The Civil War answered that question for all time.  It is past time for the citizens of southern states to acknowledge and make peace with that fact.  It's a never-ending source of perverse amusement to me that many of those citizens are prominent among those who advocate having an official language.  Well, if we should all be required to speak one language, shouldn't we all pledge allegiance to one flag?

But that said, private displays of the flag should not be banned.  I say that in part as a First Amendment advocate, but I also say it as someone who does not want to feed the persecution complexes of those who do not deserve to feel persecuted.  I also say it as someone who thinks that private displays of Confederate symbols, apart from museums and other repositories of history, serve a rather useful purpose.  It's good to be able to know who the bigots are in your midst.  It dilutes and ultimately destroys their power.  Turning the Confederate battle flag into "forbidden fruit" simply drives racism underground--and gives the racists an anti-government weapon they do not deserve to have.

On the other hand, as long as the ban is limited to State-sponsored displays, it serves a very useful purpose.  It denies the Republican Party an easy push-button mechanism for votes.  That, in turn, may force us once again to have a politics of ideas, and not identities.  One can only hope.

A VERY Good Week For The Left--And, More Importantly, For America

Thanks to three major Supreme Court decisions, and the beginning of a rising Southern tide against the Confederate flag, it's hard to believe that it's been less than eight months since the despair and disappointment over the mid-term elections.  It's been famously said that the Court follows the election returns.  But not during the week just past, in which the Court upheld the terms of the Affordable Care Act, rejected an attempt to weaken the Fair Housing Act and--perhaps most poignantly--declared the constitutionality of marriage equality.

If that doesn't seem remarkable all by itself, consider the fact that the Court's current composition includes a majority of five Justices appointed by Republican presidents.  They were not appointed to make progressives happy; very much the opposite was true, then and now.  And yet, this past week's miracles occurred because at least one (in the case of the ACA decision, two) of those Justices decided to vote in a manner that frustrated the hopes of those presidents--and the people who voted for them.

How did this happen?  And how, after decades of defiance and foolish defensive rhetoric about "heritage," has the Confederate flag become an embarrassment even in the South?  The answer lies in the power of three things that have come together over the past several months.

The power of sacrifice--even to the point of death.  None of the great causes in the history of our nation, including the creation of our nation itself, came without sacrifice.  People no different from you and me have, over the centuries, given of their time, their energy, their intelligence, their emotions, their capital, their labor, and, in far too many cases, their lives.  That has been true without a doubt in the struggle to advance civil rights for everyone.  Martin Luther King, Jr and the Kennedy brothers were the most prominent martyrs in an era in which many people--black and white--sacrificed everything they had simply to make everyone in American equal in opportunity, dignity, and freedom.  Yet it is the blood of those martyrs that become the bricks and mortar of the survivors' determination to ensure that their deaths are not in vain.  Barack Obama's presidency is, in and of itself, a testament to that determination.

Sadly, we have in the past few weeks been reminded of the power of tragedy to change even the seemingly unchangeable.  The heartbreaking ending of nine lives in a historic South Carolina black church by a white supremacist seems to have breached a firewall of stubbornness over government displays of a flag of treason and racism.  How far that should go is a topic I'll save for my next post. But if the senseless loss of those lives means that we will be free of government endorsement of the Confederacy, it will give some lasting meaning to that loss.  Being free of that endorsement won't bring back the dead.  But, to borrow a phrase, it may help them, and other victims of racism, sleep more easily.

The power of ideas--good ones, that is.  I'm sorry if it offends some people, but liberalism survives and thrives even under conservative governments because liberals have better ideas.  Winning an election is not the same thing as winning the truth, and, contrary to a statement by some idiot in the last Bush Administration, we can't "create" our own reality.  Reality is something all of us create together.  But, in the course of that process, good ideas prevail over bad ones no matter who's officially in charge.  Marriage equality, for example, is a good idea--and, for that matter, a constitutional one.  It's good enough that four liberal Justices can persuade at least one of their conservative colleagues that it is a good idea--and to express that goodness in an opinion that is as moving as it is persuasive.  If you have not read it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.

The only thing that conservatives have on their side is money.  They can buy elections.  They can rig the media.  They can intimidate our political parties.  But they can't and will never be able to stop the power of a good idea.  Not even on a Court front-loaded with their allies.  Just over a decade ago, Karl Rove predicted that opposition to gay marriage would give Republicans a political majority for decades to come.  Looks like that Republican majority is going to have to come from somewhere else, Karl.  If anywhere.

The power of persistence--without which sacrifice and ideas are both lost.  Health care reform, to cite but one example, didn't start with Obama, with Hillary, or even with Medicare.  It started with Harry Truman, who made health insurance for all Americans a national cause and a defining principle of the Democratic Party.  This has been a decades-long struggle, and it is far from over.  It will take more persistence to keep our gains, much less to build on them.  It means that ideas and sacrifice are not enough.  The willingness to never give up, in the face of anything, is the only thing that allows ideas and sacrifice to prevail.

As long as we have that willingness, and continue to marry it to our ideas and our sacrifices, we can be assured of many more weeks like the one we are celebrating now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

It's A Historic Success--But For How Much Longer?

Now that the fate of Obamacare is once again in the hands of the Supreme Court, the nine Justices have to answer this question:  do they really want to undo something responsible for this?  Let's hope not.

Cheer Up, Democrats!

The people are on your side.  All you have to do is motivate them--by stop being afraid of your own shadow.

Nudity As A Form Of Self-Acceptance?

That's what this author argues and, as someone who found a greater degree of self-acceptance and self-understanding through figure modeling, I would have to agree.

We Need More CEOs Like THIS One

One who was willing to take on a progressive cause--and won.  If we could find more like him, perhaps we could break the back of our current 1% politics.

A Trip To Mars In 39 Days?

This offers the hope that it may be possible.  If so, perhaps it could be the first step to colonizing our solar system--and giving the human race a real chance to survive.

One Small Step For Paid Sick Leave

Let's hope that this can make a giant leap toward reality.

Two Lessons From The Demise Of "Fast Track"

Things have changed a little bit since I started writing this post (i.e., the "demise" assessment may or may not be a bit premature). But, since the outcome is still uncertain, let's consider the two lessons anyway.  One is poignant, and the other is hopeful.  Let's start with the former.
 
The seemingly (for now) end of the joint quest by President Obama and congressional Republicans to give the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate a trade treaty among twelve nations bordering the Pacific Ocean is being framed as a defeat for both the President and the leadership of the current Congress.  Viewed in the context of the who's-up-who's down analysis that pervades what passes for media coverage in our county, that's fair enough.  If we had real media coverage of this debacle, we would have commentators point out that the Republican support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (or TPP, for short) illustrates what is truly important to Republicans.

Paired with their reflexive opposition to giving the President similar authority to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran, we see that the GOP is not motivated by anything that could be considered a matter of principle.  After all, both the TPP and the Iran agreement offer Congress chances to surrender their constitutional authority over presidential treaties and other executive agreements with other nations. So why are they opposed to one, but in favor of another?  In a word, power; their campaign contributors hate the Iran deal but love TPP, for transparently self-serving reasons.

Obama, had he pushed for CIR, might not have had this problem.  He would have shown that he was willing and able to take the political capital he had earned by being re-elected, and spent it to achieve precisely the sort of legacy legislation second-term Presidents hunger to get in order to cement their place in history, AND satisfy the needs and concerns of a significant portion of his personal coalition and his party.  And please, Mr. President, don't tell me you couldn't have done it.  All it would have taken was a willingness to push the Republicans out of their comfort zone.  And, perhaps, out of yours, which perhaps was the problem.  Tell the GOP that either they work with you to address all of the nation's immigration needs, or you'll start releasing all but the most dangerous detainees from immigration detention centers.  You'll encourage U.S. attorneys across the country practicing before immigration courts to offer potential deportees waivers allowing them to stay, if the evidence supports doing so.  You're the President of the United States. All you had to do was act like it.

But you didn't.  And we lost CIR, and perhaps our last best chance to get it for a very long time. And, as a consequence, thousands of detainees are suffering in substandard facilities--many of them women and children, who pose no threat to the community and could be monitored without confinement.  This is infuriating to your supporters, Mr. President, and should be.  This is not change we can believe in. In fact, it's change for the worse.  It's why people who should support you and other Democrats sat on their hands, and their right to vote, last November.  And it's why they're fighting you now on fast-track.  Your claims that you'll use the authority given to you to negotiate a tough deal ring hollow with progressives across the county.  They saw how "tough" you were on immigration, Mr. President.  I'm sorry, but you've earned our lack of respect.  (And this doesn't even being to get into the fact that your supporters aren't even being allowed to read the text of the "fast-track" legislation in the first place.)

Obama's place in history is no doubt secure anyway, for a number of reasons.  But he could have both cemented and expanded upon it by spending his political capital on CIR.  He would have earned the respect of progressives who might then have been willing to take seriously his pledge to fight hard for a fair version of TPP.  Now, both may be lost.

So much for poignance.  Where's the hope?

It lies in the union of Tea Partiers and progressives in the House of Representatives in stopping "fast track" in its tracks.  For perhaps the first time, these two groups voted the same way on a major economic issue, having made a similar assessment of what was being proposed, and what was at stake for Americans in the outcome.  I'm not naive enough to think that this was a deliberate collaboration. But is it completely unreasonable to think that, in this accidental collaboration, the seeds for something more deliberate and lasting could be sown?  Something that might lead, for example, to a revival of the Glass-Steagall Act?  Or greater rights for workers?  Or breaking up "too-big-to-fail" banks?  Or taxing risky derivatives transactions that might in turn lead to tax breaks for working families?

I hope not.  I pray not.  Obama's not going to be President in a little less than two years, and I'm worried about the political landscape once he's gone.  Let's hope the current "fast-track" debate ultimately puts America on a "fast-track" toward a better, more progressive future.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In Praise Of The Bidens

The sad and entierly premature death of Beau Biden was, unsurprisingly, a time to reflect on a life well lived, as well as a time for all of us to offer our sympathy and spiritual support to the Biden family--and, especially, to Beau's father, the Vice President of the United States.  (Except, of course, if you're Ted Cruz.)  Equally unsurprisingly, for people my age and older, it was a moment when we all flashed back to the moment that Beau's father first stepped on to the national stage, not only as the new Senator from Delaward, but also as the widowed father of two young sons who had lost both their mother and sister in a tragic accident.

I remember that moment well.  It happened in 1972, the year in which I had my first involvement with a political campaign--and discovered that, at least at the presidential level, you can't win them all.  It was a tough time for me, a teenage Democrat in a high school surrounded by knee-jerk Republicans (in some cases, I wouldn't even include the word "knee").  Biden's story gave me a reason to stay involved in politics.  It served as a reminder that, even when hampered by personal tragedy and the national shellacking of your party, a good person can move forward--and, in the process, give hope to others.

I was, however, somewhat surprised that Beau Biden's death, brought about by brain cancer, was not an opportunity in the press to reflect on the savage irony that Beau's father almost succumbed to the same illness almost thirty years ago.  It came at a bad time in Joe Biden's life; his flagging Presidential campaign had been brought down by a bizarre act of rhetorical plagerism in which he "borrowed" from the life of British Labour politician Neil Kinnock.  But, ironically, it saved his life. The termination of his presidential campaign gave doctors an opportunity to diagnose and treat the cancer, and thus save his life.  Or, as Biden himself bluntly put it in Time magazine:  "There is no doubt--the doctors have no doubt--that, had I stayed in the race, I'd be dead,"

What a loss that would have been, as it turned out.  The fortitude and candor with which Joe Biden faced his own mortality gave his political career a new lease on life—one that eventually led to his becoming Barack Obama’s Vice President.  And, in that capacity, I submit that he has been more consequential than he could ever had been as president.  As the first African-American President, Obama needed someone who could help him navigate the corridors of Washington power and otherwise overcome the hatred and suspicion he was bound to face.  Biden did it effortlessly, and there’s no greater example of that than his debate with Sarah Palin.  Without patronizing her (and she almost begged to be patronized, so that we could feel sorry for her), he used his own life story to connect the proverbial dots between national issues and their impact on individual lives.  (I mean, let’s face it:  how can you resist a guy whose father called him “Champ”?)

It’s not surprising that such a man would turn himself into an “Amtrak” senator so that he could give as much as he could to his motherless sons in Delaware.  And it’s even less surprising that they both turned out as well as they did—as individuals and especially as brothers.  If you want to read or hear a eulogy as poignant as it is heartbreaking, take time to listen to or read Hunter Biden’s eulogy for his brother.  I’ll say “You’re welcome” for now; you’ll understand after you read it.

We as a nation are lucky to have had the fortitude and character of the Biden family in the service of this country.  Say a prayer, send positive energy, think good thoughts, put all of this in writing (to them, and otherwise).  But mostly, be grateful that, in what sometimes seems like the twilight of our greatness, there are yet a few profiles in courage left.

Thanks, Joe.  And safe travels, Beau.  And comfort and love to your family.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Social Conservatism: A Bigger Threat To The GOP Than Age

The Indiana ruckus is the most recent example.  On the other hand, age and social conservatism go hand in hand.  Which is why the generational view of politics clearly favors the Democrats.

Bring Back The Tax On Aristocracy

That's a better name for the estate tax than the "death" tax, since it's never caused any pain to anyone who died middle-class, or even upper middle class.  And here's some advice on how to bring it back.

Why Religious Freedom Really IS "Freedom From Religion"

Answer:  To protect us from nuts like this one, who think the power of the State should be used to promote private and personal beliefs.  Apparently, in their minds, those beliefs aren't good enough to survive on their own.  So much for the "small government" version of conservatism.