Thursday, December 10, 2015

Are gas prices going to sabotage COP21?

Driving home tonight I needed to get gas in my wife's car. Our preferred purveyor had an excellent price:

From a pocketbook perspective this price is great - in fact it's been several years since we've seen prices this low in the National Capitol Region.

Problem is, lower gas prices severely underprice the environmental impact  of their associated carbon emissions. So while many educated and well meaning people are trying to reach an agreement in Paris to address our growing Climate Crisis, they are being undermined by the local economics of cheap gas. Unless we can change the economic incentives, all the Paris's and Kyoto's in the world won't save us from our own hubris.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Truly Compassionate and Christian Response to Kim Davis "fear" of Issuing Marriage Licenses to Gay and Lesbian Couples

Much of what drives modern American Politics is fear - fear of people who do not look like you; fear of people who do not sound like you; fear of people who do not love like you. And fear has been used to control Americans since America was "founded" - afterall, how many runaway slaves were turned over to slave hunters by poor whites out of fear they would see their own farms burned? 

Yet I would argue politely that part of the loving and compassionate response to Kentucky Clerk of Court Kim Davis’ fear that issuing marriage licenses to gay couples is a "heaven or hell" decision, is that Christ - whom she said she must follow since she is a "Christian" - was very clear that we should both render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and turn the other cheek to those who would smite us. Like it or not that means she has a choice - a choice to do her public duty as an elected official, or to leave her job. 

What she cannot do is commit the second biggest sin Christians are called to avoid, for when Christ was asked what where God's greatest Commandments, He responded that 1) you should love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. These gay couples are her neighbors, seeking to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (i.e. obtain a secular marriage license from a secular state office).  If indeed Christian Scripture is right, she will be judged more harshly by Christ for refusing to love them as she does herself by denying them the secular state license to which they are legally entitled, then she will be for following that same law as written in this matter – since Christ’s teaching are absolutely silent on whom God will consider married.

The Free Press and The Security State: no, reporters aren't generally spies

Driving to work today, NPR was running coverage of the latest arrests of reporters covering Turkey's fighting with the Kurdish PKK. Seems the Turks are using the "reporters siding with our enemy by writing about them" argument to suppress potentially unfavorable coverage.
During the discussion, the NPR host made note of a recent document released by the Pentagon which says that journalists often take actions similar to spies, and thus can be treated like belligerents in certain circumstances. 
And it's true - journalists write stuff down, take furtive pictures, and sometimes try to hide their identities. But that's where any similarity ends. Spies do this to collect information to be used secretly by one nation to do harm to another. Journalists do it to collect information that will become public so that all people can be informed about why is happening and why in a given place at a given time. One if these is a direct threat to national security - and the other is not unless you fear the truth will embarrass you and show how you have broken your own laws and/or mistreated your own people.

Which is EXACTLY what the Security State fears.

Monday, August 24, 2015

George Will misread's the source of Republican's Immigration Quagmire

Two quotes from Yogi Berra seem appropriate looking over the field of Republican Presidential candidates – and particularly their tortured responses to America’s desire for leadership on immigration. 

“You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

Today’s column on immigration (and particularly the xenophobic approach of Donald Trump to the issue) by George Will hints at the disconnect between the Tea Party “base” that allegedly captures the Republican Primary vote, and the reality of America’s history and modern economy.  In a nut shell, Mr. Will reports on, but doesn’t really analyze, the disconnect between the vast majority of Americans who favor a path to legal status for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, and Mr. Trump’s call for mass deportations and a border wall that keep the “bad” immigrants out while allowing the future return of the “good” immigrants – a deportation and return that will require (in Mr. Will’s estimation) a significant growth in the size of government, since immigration and border control are a governmental function that cannot (yet anyway) be outsourced to a private entity.  Mr. Will casts Mr. Trump’s immigration plan as a mysterious assault on the Small Government Principles the Republican Party allegedly stands for, and manages to include the supposed failures of the “government” to “run” Amtrak as but one example of why bureaucracy will fail to do what Trump suggests.

For starters, Mr. Will grossly misleads readers on why Amtrak has problems.  Created in 1970 to answer the abandonment of passenger service by private railroads, AMTRAK is not a government agency like the FBI or USDA – rather is a Congressional Chartered semi-private corporation providing a public service to Americans.  Further,  Amtrak’s budget is approved every year by a Congress that insists it make a profit (competing against airlines and personal automobiles), while starving it of operating capitol, failing to invest in highspeed rail, and (until the late 1990’s) preventing Amtrak from advertising in the same way as airlines or even Greyhound.  So Mr. Will’s operational analogy is failed on its face, a fact the WaPo would do well to correct publicly.

All that, however, pales in comparison to Mr. Will’s most notable and most enduring failure as a pundit – his unwillingness to call out Republican’s for the bed which they have created for themselves.  After decades of demonizing minorities to gain electoral advantages (including Blacks, Asians, Muslim Arabs, and now Latinos); after claiming to want to reduce the reach of government while bailing out Too Big TO Fail banks for their misdeeds in the Great Recession, and after taking America into a decade long war based on purposely falsified intelligence (a war used to create and enhance fear and mistrust of “the other”) – What exactly does Mr. Will think the Republican base would accept as immigration policy?  Republicans have fought tooth and nail (added and abetted by a spineless Democratic Party since late 2001) to create a xenophobic surveillance state where needs of corporations outweigh the needs and freedoms of average citizens.  Those illegal immigrant – who FWIW pick our fruits and vegetables, clean our offices, build our homes, and care for many of our children – can no more be successfully turned away from our borders then can the lily white poor who became Tea Party supporters because they wanted the same bailout the banks and stock brokers and hedge fund managers got.

In his closing, Mr. Will notes that mis-handled immigration policy –in a nation built on and proud of its immigrant heritage – has cost the republican Party national elections before.  As Yogi also says:

It's like deja-vu, all over again.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A well regulated militia . . . Didn't do this. A violent society did.

This is a memorial to victims of gun violence in Washington DC since the start of 2014. I photographed it today on the lawn of the Northminster Presbyterian Church, which sits just into DC from Silver Spring, MD. No matter your views on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, we all need to remember that guns are used regularly in our violent society to kill innocent people. That's a social justice/ public health issue we all need to focus on.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Economics of the Black Live Matter protests why Republicans need to get the log out of their own eye

Much as it pains me to write it, I agree with Mark Thiessen on two points:

  • First, I do think Republicans should follow the lead of their only declared African American candidate and engage the #Blacklivesmatter movement before protesters disrupt more rallies. 
  • And Second, I also think it would be good if those same protestors show up at more Republican rallies.

But that’s where our agreement ends.  I don’t think the “over the top” tactics of the movement will backfire – in its day privileged, powerful whites called the Montgomery Bus Boycott an over the top uncivil approach to civil rights – and yet it crippled a major American city and led to the Civil Rights Act  whose impact is still being felt today.  Those who are threatened by protest movements, whether Black Lives Matter or Occupy – always say the tactics are uncivilized and will backfire – even though those same tactics are the least radical response a marginalized, oppressed community can deploy (see Riots – Watts for the more violent approach to the same problem).

I also disagree that President Obama’s policies are the reason African Americans (and poor whites, and Latinos and Asians) are in the straights they are.  Minority and impoverished communities are reaping 30 years of Trickle Down Economics write both large and small, and it hasn’t worked.  The 300 to 1 ratio often quoted in the news media as the return to COE’s vs. return to employees in our “recovery” is NOT related to anything the President has done – rather it reflects both corporate boardroom choices, and the Republican insistence on deficit funding wars (while reducing domestic spending to allegedly pay for them) along with the idea that tax cuts for the rich and corporations will spur growth (which they haven’t) – with a healthy side order of “free trade agreements” supported by BOTH parties that have been nothing more the shell games to move American manufacturing to cheaper countries – gutting the middle class and all but destroying private sector unions.  Supply Side economics has certainly benefitted the American rich who are overwhelmingly white; it has done absolutely nothing to benefit the poor – who are more often than not people of color.

Further, Thiessen sidesteps completely the fallout of all the domestic cuts he and his Party of Record have supported – namely the reduction in services for poor people who want to climb out of poverty.  Thiessen talks about how Republican should create equal opportunity for everyone to succeed economically.   Which would be great if Republicans would actually fund job training programs, daycare, effective public transportation, drug rehabilitation, and quality public education which are all needed services if our Nation’s poor will ever hope to compete on the economic stage. Absent that critical support – a strong recognition that Black Lives Matter if ever there was one - Mr. Thiessen and his ilk are blowing so much more smoke to hide the true intentions of their oligarchic political establishment.  Republicans need to address the log in their own eyes before they shout again about the spec in someone else's.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trading Freedom for Security - why arming serving military members on US Soil is the WRONG response to Chattanooga

Over on Facebook, I commented on a news story about National Guard Troops now being directed to carry side arms while on duty in several states.  The direction comes in the wake of the shooting last week in Chattanooga, TN where 4 Marines manning a Marine recruiting station gave their lives in service of their Nation.   I objected and one of the other commenters gave me a snarky rebuff – that my tune would changes when my sons died at the hands of a terrorist with a misguided agenda.

Sadly such dismissive snark is the hallmark (online) of too many conservative Americans who wrongly equate guns with strength.  And I understand the impulse in today’s insecure environment.  The more we become part of the world around us while losing control over our individual lives, the more everything seems like a threat.  And when you have no other power – political, economic, social – a gun seems like a logical response to all those threats. Being both a Liberal, and a Christian, however, I am always called to another response, which is encapsulated in my reply to that troll below:

My sons will follow the path they choose - and I will rejoice and mourn for and with them as every father does. And not to pick nits but the 9/11 terrorists brought the "war" to American soil. And that doesn't change anything. As {one commenter} pointed out {above}, the Marines would not have been able to engage based on their tactical situation. They also put on that uniform to fight and die for America, where we have the Rule of Law - which supposedly makes us vastly different than many other nations. That law says we DO NOT ARM serving military members on US soil. Period. I have many friends, and family serving - and to a person NONE of them wants to carry a side arm or any other arm while on duty here. NONE. If they see it as a bad idea, then why exactly do we need to embrace it? You cannot create Peace by escalating conflict, and you will never increase security by removing freedom - including the freedom to be free from armed military personnel walking our streets. Nations that do that are places the US has traditionally worked to over-throw - Iran and Iraq leap immediately to mind, as does Cuba, Russia, most Central American countries in the 1980's . . . and the list goes on. The quickest way - if history is accurate - to have "jack booted thugs" on our throats in the US is to destroy the wall separating the military from the civilian population. And arming military personnel on US soil is the first, big step in breaking that wall down.

Make no mistake – I’m as ready as the next person to take up arms to defend my Nation and the Rights and Freedoms it stands for.  But this is not a call to arms as was the Revolution – or even WWII.  This attack is a sad response to decades of US interventionist policies in the Middle East.  It is regrettable, reprehensible, and NOT in keeping with the true teachings of Muhammad (or Christ for that matter). We have to expect this sort of thing so long as we hide from our responsibilities and the collateral damage we cause all the world over.

Semper Fi.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Snapshots of The Digital Age

So it's a late Thursday night, and my wife and her mom are siting on adjacent chairs in our living room reading the same article on their own, separate smartphones. If there's a better image of our disconnected digital age, I can't think of it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tax Day Redux - The Washington Post slaps Feds too!

So on April 15, the Washington Post published the usual polemics about the 4%of federal employees with tax "deficiencies" meaning they owe some sorts of back federal taxes. The stories also highlighted legislation making its way through the House to make it easier to fire Feds who don't pay taxes properly and on time.

Sadly, both the Post and the House seem to think that the fed tax delinquency rates font merit placement in context. If they did, they would have to acknowledge that Feds at a 4% rate are doing better then the rest of the citizenry, who are running between 9% and 10% deficient (depending on what source you read).

But hey, what role do facts have in a good polemic?

Monday, March 9, 2015

What have we become - the Bachelor Finale

What does it say about our nation that tomorrow's water cooler conversation will be dominated by discussions of whether the "right" woman got get heart broken in a pig barn in Dubuque Iowa? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Federal Employment Redux - how the House's Selective memory hurts Americans

The House of Representatives wants to continue cutting the size of the federal workforce presumably without cutting the number of this the federal government has to do:

“We’ve racked up $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” Lummis said in a statement. “Attrition is a solution that requires the federal government to do what any business, state or local government would do to cuts costs — limit new hires.”
As I have noted before:

First, looking at federal civilian employment trends since 1962 (Data courtesy, I find that the federal government is nowhere as big as it has been in my life time.  Specifically, the federal government topped out at over 3 Million employees under President Reagan, began to shrink under President Bush 41, shrank dramatically under President Clinton (to less then 2.65 Million), climbed again under President Bush 43 (During the prime years of the Great Recession), and began to shrink again under President Obama. 
 Given the lionizing that St. Ronnie receives these days, I really have to wonder how many current Republican politicians remember what he actually did.  Even if they do, the Federal Government is shrinking in employee size naturally, so I fail to see how this does anything real to the government's continued Congressionally inflicted debt crisis.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"We have come to our Nation's Capitol to cash a check:" How Dr. King's legacy is being destroyed by income inequality and Citizen's United

For someone who spends time thinking and writing about politics and policy, the juxtaposition of the holiday celebrating the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the State of the Union address by the Nation’s first African American President, and the fifth anniversary of the Citizen’s United ruling can’t be ignored.   What makes it all the worse, however, is that the President tonight should – if he wants to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive – make another round of proposals that require starting with rolling back Citizens United.

Unfortunately, This MLK Day finds us in a more divided, more racially, more economically unequal society.  Like it or not, the SCOUTS prediction that their decision in Citizen’s United would decrease campaign corruption – because unlimited funds for “speech” by corporations and other groups would “allow” more people to know who gave what to whom – the reality is that BOTH parties are now both heavily dark money funded, and funded in such significant amounts by super PACs that the political speech of ordinary people is effectively drowned out. In a day and age where it takes $1 Billion or more just to get to the White House, no one can realistically say that any person (except a billionaire or two) has as much political speech as a corporation or Super PAC.  This is critically important, because in the wake of the SCOTUS gutting of the Civil Rights Act, all an individual has left is their speech (since in many cases they have defacto lost their vote).

In turn, that court-created inequality in political speech of necessity creates economic inequality where there was none, and enlarges it where it already exists.  Wages after the Great Recession are stagnant at best, and the reality is that while unemployment keeps dropping, the two biggest forces driving it are people taking lower wage jobs (and often at less than full employment) and people simply exiting the workforce all together.  These things, not coincidentally, have driven corporate profits up to the highest levels in decades.  Sadly, the income inequality that this created is now coming back to haunt those corporations, as lower gas prices give underpaid workers some economic breathing room to clear up debts and begin saving again.  Consumers can also spend again (though it seems they aren’t – waiting further price drops), but many more of them may well lose their jobs in the formerly growing energy sector if prices continue to stay low.  In addition, the financial sector that is now the “bedrock” of our economy is taking stock hits to energy sector stocks, which means that Wall Street will likely start advocating for government interference in the market to boost oil prices. After all, you can’t invest tens of millions of dollars on a Presidential candidate, or tens of thousands on a Senator if they don’t help you stay afloat, can you?

All of this would look and sound eerily familiar to Dr. King, who died in 1968 preparing his Campaign for the Poor as the next chapter of his Civil Rights Movement work.

Then, as now, most of the poor of working age had jobs, but, as King puts it: “they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation.” In 1968, 25 million people — nearly 13 percent of the population — were living below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau. (In 2013, 45.3 million people — 14.5 percent were below the poverty level.)

Dr. King understood, as do a few folks today, that access to the voting booth, or forced desegregation, would do little to ease the plight of racial minorities if their economic condition – along with the economic condition of the poor whites who were often their most violent opposition – didn’t improve.  Then, as now, minorities and poor whites compete for fewer and fewer lower paying jobs, and that competition stokes much of the fear used by politicians to drive a wedge between groups that should be allied.  Yet because he was unable to carry on with his important work, we are left to apologize to our descendants, as we seem unwilling to do anything to support the radical change now necessary to keep the Dream Alive.