Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taxes are cool!

I enjoy National Parks. I enjoy National Public Radio. Call me crazy, but beautiful vistas and an unbiased presentation of the news appeal to me. I think schools are important and teachers are generally underpaid. I think a good education, right up to and through college, should be affordable for everyone who can earn it. I’m think we should make sure that everyone has a real shot at earning it. I believe that we should provide assistance for those among us who need it. I kind of think that’s why we started hunting Mammoths together way back when, which might be why I even think government is important. I like having police and judges and firefighters around to protect me, my belongings, and my rights. I even like the idea of having strong and well funded regulatory agencies. Call me crazy. Call me a socialist. Call me European. Call me un-American. Call me whatever you want. I’m still going to be OK with paying taxes, and I still think you should be too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dear Congressman Allen West

Dear Congressman West,

I do not reside in your congressional district, but I am an American and as such am in a broader sense your constituent. What you do as a Congressman has an impact on me. When you fail to go about your work in a way that befits an elected representative who is trying to solve problems, it is my responsibility as an American citizen to let you know. Your response to Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz was inappropriate on any number of levels. It was nasty, inappropriate, smacking of sexism, and certainly not the stuff of cooperation and collaboration.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz criticized your position on a bill and accused you of not representing the best interests of her constituents. I can see where that might upset you, but it wasn’t out of line. She is entitled to criticize your position and say it is wrong and out of step the interests of your constituents. She is allowed to do it even if you are not in the room when she has her chance to speak. I think her comments fall within the category of acceptable disagreement. You can disagree, but what you did was more than disagree and it was inappropriate. I think it is more than enough to justify your constituents giving their votes to someone else next year.

How you carry yourself, how you deal with your colleagues, and how you approach serious problems go a long way toward determining what kind of representative you are. Calling a congresswoman a coward is inexcusable. Accusing of her of not saying something to your face in a press release isn’t exactly consistent. Responding to her criticism by telling her to focus on her own congressional district isn’t much of a response to valid criticism. What about saying why your position isn’t detrimental to seniors? What about defending your positions rather than responding with personal attacks? Saying that a congresswoman has “proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady,” is sexist and a personal attack where there should be a substantive statement.

The time has come for you and your colleagues to behave like adults who have serious business to do. The time has come for you to get down to business with thicker skins and an eye to solving problems. Your fellow citizens are going to start demanding it from you. You can respond appropriately, or find a new job.



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sarah Palin and Jefferson Davis

The founding fathers weren’t trying to preserve American values, and when they wrote the Constitution they weren’t trying to limit the power of the federal government. The Constitution wasn’t the first document written after independence was won from the British. That first document was the Article of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation set up what amounted to an alliance of 13 countries with names like Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Maryland. It was all about states’ rights. It was scrapped in favor of the Constitution because the founding fathers wanted there to be more federal power. So, one document that the Tea Party folks (Palinistas, Bachmanites, whatever) are really drawing their strength and message from is the Articles of Confederation, a document abandoned after less than a decade of official operation in favor of one that strengthened federal power.

The other document the Tea Partyists really draw inspiration from is not the document that succeeded the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution. It is the Bizzaro World version of the Constitution. It is a Constitution that champions state’s rights. It was written by folks trying to preserve their way of life, the founding fathers that people like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman really seem to be inspired by. It is called the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. It starts out with this line “"We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character..." It was supported by people like Lord Acton, who wrote the following to Robert E. Lee: “I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy…. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization, and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.” It was all about supporting a threatened way of life.

Sarah Palin might talk about Thomas Jefferson, but her message is more Jefferson Davis. The problem for her and her supporters is that Jefferson Davis lost. The Articles of Confederation didn’t last more than a decade. We aren’t governed by the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, but by the Constitution of the United States of America. Unfortunately, it’s not just her problem. It’s our problem. Unfortunately, it’s time to fight this battle again. Here’s hoping the result stays the same.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We The People ... it's time to step up to the plate

A balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is silly. It fits right in with term limits and pledges to not raise taxes. This stuff doesn’t just limit the power of elected officials (which is a bad thing), it limits the power of the folks doing the electing. I want the people I elect to be able to have access to all the tools they could possibly need to solve the problems facing our country. I also want them to be able to react to changing circumstances with the ability to change their minds. I want them to use their skills and experiences and knowledge (the reasons I elect them) to make decisions without my input. If I don’t like the job they do, I can vote them out of office. If someone who isn’t doing their job stays in office, that’s our fault as voters. We can blame the system and lobbying groups, but in the end we cast the votes and we have to take responsibility. Constitutional amendments to limit the options in front of elected officials, or to limit their terms in office, are efforts to relieve voters of their responsibilities. I think it’s high time we started shouldering our responsibilities. Putting pressure on our representatives to compromise and collaborate rather than sticking to ideologically driven positions with little historical or logical support would be a start. It is time that we the people started doing our job.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Give me back my Constitution

The United States of America was not built upon a fight against big government in general, just a particular big government in England. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t an attempt to free colonists from the specter of taxes. It wasn’t just taxation they were upset about, it was taxation without representation. The Constitution wasn’t written to limit the power of the Federal Government, but rather to create a strong central government that had been absent from the first organizing document, the Articles of Confederation. The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect, and didn’t expect that their work would be treated as if written by Gods and thus unable to be changed. The second amendment actually was about militias rather than a right to own arms, and we’re talking militias like the groups that predated a professional army and not people who get together in the woods with automatic weapons. The ironic thing about the tea party movement (and other likeminded organizations and movements) is that while they wrap themselves in a constitutional/historical mystique, neither their message nor the way it is delivered has any real basis in this country’s history. They don’t even have the simple historical facts straight. If you claim to be building upon the true wishes and motivations of the founding fathers, it is a big deal that you don’t know where major battles occurred, think the founding fathers were opposed to slavery, can’t differentiate easily between what was in the Declaration of Independence and what was in the Constitution, think John Quincy Adams helped to write the Constitution, and are convinced that Paul Revere was warning the British. Those of us that know the real history have sat back and chuckled and/or grinded our teeth, but done little more than that and thus have to take some responsibility for the continuing distortion of our history and endangerment of our present and future. It is high time we took back the Revolution, the Constitution, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and all the rest of it. For too long, whether out of fear or snobbery, we have conceded to these ridiculous claims of historical legitimacy for things that have little legitimacy of any kind. The time has come for us to do more than just claim that times have changed and the constitution needs to be seen as a living document that can change with it. The time has come to call into question historical justifications for narrow minded cartoonish approaches to America’s problems. I’m a citizen too. It’s my Constitution. It’s my history. It’s all mine too, and I’m going to protect it, defend it , and even use it. Sorry Tea Partyists, but it’s time to share.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stop the gays before our schools get fixed and no one goes hungry!

Something has to be done to stop homosexuals from marrying. If marriage is no longer reserved for a man and a woman, then polygamy is sure to follow. Bestiality and the fall of western civilization can’t be far behind. If you allow two men to get married, then marriage is ruined for the rest of us. I’m not sure how, but maybe we will all have to play songs by the Pet Shop Boys at our receptions. Certainly if you allow men to marry men, they’ll start trying to marry four or five women. Before you know it men will be converting to Islam and blowing things up. It’s certainly obvious that allowing two competent adults to enter into a legally recognized committed relationship will either send women flocking into polygamous relationships or roll back women’s rights in this country to the point that women will find themselves forced to enter into oppressive marriage arrangements. Sex with goats can’t be far behind. We have to stop this outrage now before people actually start thinking logically and approaching situations with open minds. If that happens, who knows what might be next? A decent education for everyone? An armed services that is representative of the entire populace? A financial system with real regulations and agencies capable of enforcing them? Basic health care for all citizens … oh shit it’s happening already! We have to stop those gays!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Obama's options

President Obama , for now, is demanding either a sweeping plan to cut spending and raise revenue or a simple raising of the debt ceiling. This is exactly what he should be asking for. Republicans want to tie things to the raising of the debt ceiling, but only the things that interest them. We’ll leave aside the issue of what interests them (goals which seem to be inspired by a thoughtless crusade for smaller government just for the sake of smaller government) to focus on this more basic problem with their approach. They reject the assertion that the debt ceiling should be simply raised without considering budget issues, an assertion many Republicans made when the President was a Republican. They also reject any consideration of anything that doesn’t shrink government and/or cut spending. They don’t just want consideration of the budget while debating the debt ceiling; they want a major piece of their own agenda to be adopted without any compromise to the visions and goals of Democrats. They don’t want to try to tackle the real problems or secure any long term goals; they just want to cut spending. That’s the real issue … Republicans aren’t acting as if they truly want to solve problems, and are instead championing a narrow ideological agenda. President Obama, at least for right now, seems to be asking for something more.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I pledge ...

Many Republicans in the Senate and the House have taken pledges not to raise taxes. This is stupid. I’m all for having our elected representatives make a promise or two, but not anything as idiotic as this. Having an elected representative pledge not to compromise on an important issue is as dumb as treating every tax increase as if it is identical. If you want a pledge, I’ve got some better suggestions. What about having our representatives pledge to focus on solving problems? I’d like to see someone pledge to represent all of their constituents and not just the loudest ones. I’d really love a pledge to avoid particular logical fallacies, like slippery slopes or the ad hominem. I might settle for a promise of civility. If we’re going to put pressure on our representatives, let’s not put pressure on them to behave stupidly. I think they can manage to do that on their own.


“You will give me what I want. I won’t give you what you are looking for. When do we start negotiations?” Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it? Guess what, it is and it is still silly when you substitute “spending cuts for “what I want,” and “tax increases for “what you are looking for.” The Republicans are involving themselves in budget negotiations without bringing the willingness to negotiate. It’s silly and we shouldn’t stand for it. There are serious problems to solve, and we don’t have time for silliness.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zero to Two in Sixty Seconds Flat: Parenthood, Poetry, and First Two Years of Your Child's Life

I'm not writing anything even vaguely political today, because today I officially self-published my first book of poetry. That seems like enough for one day. This book of mine began it's life as a gift for my daughter on her second birthday; more than fifty poems recording her first two years as I experienced them. It was a very personal gift. I think that now, three years later, it is something more. It is still personal, but I think it captures a small piece of the experience of parenting when both parent and child are still pretty new, and maybe even something more universal than that. I think that what we have to say only resonates with others when we feel it deeply, when it is truly personal. I know that what I have written in this book of poetry is, with few exceptions, very personal and felt very deeply. I hope that means it will resonate with others ... maybe with you. I hope you take a look, and I hope you like what you see.

The book (Zero to Two in Sixty Seconds Flat: Parenthood, Poetry, and First Two Years of Your Child's Life)can be purchased here.

It should also be available on soon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jim Crow is back

Former President Bill Clinton compared Republican sponsored legislation to Jim Crow laws, reprising the accusations made earlier by Democratic Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Republicans responded angrily both times. Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, epitomized the response with his comments. He said that Clinton “owes an apology to Republican legislators that are seeking sensible steps to protect the integrity of elections in our country. Maybe it was an attempt to distract from the Democrats’ abysmal record of tax hikes and shutdowns over spending cuts, or perhaps he was simply trying to be provocative while speaking to a super-liberal audience. Either way, such rhetoric is out of bounds.” The bottom line … Clinton is right. Republicans may call it protecting the “integrity of elections,” but they know that their supporters are traditionally not as easily dissuaded from voting by additional hurdles, like the new identification requirements in Pennsylvania. They know that the voters impacted by a proposed New Hampshire law preventing college students from registering to vote where they attend school are more likely to be Democrats than Republican. The same is true of the felons who have completed probation that now can’t vote in Florida. They know that restrictions on access to the ballot box generally favor them. They aren’t concerned with the integrity of elections; they are concerned with effecting change in the system that will make it easier for Republicans to win elections in the future. It is the same motivation that was behind the Jim Crow laws. The Republicans don’t change that fact with labels, name calling (“super-liberal”), or a ballsy claim of inappropriate rhetoric (this is the party of death panels and birthers). It isn’t outrageous to compare this new Republican sponsored legislation to Jim Crow laws, it is outrageous that more folks aren’t making the comparison.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Republicans are Wrong

I'd like to reach another conclusion, one seemingly more in line with the image of a critical thinker. But it's hard to conclude anything other than that the Republicans are wrong. Whether it is show or not, refusing to even consider raising taxes is not the right approach. It is clear that the answer should be a combination of spending cuts and increases in revenue. What the combination is should be the subject of debate, not whether there should be a combination. It is also wrong to blindly demand spending cuts either without much concern for what is being cut or in order to justify cutting programs they have long been opposed to. I'm not sure which motivation is primary, but both are wrong. The Republican's message to the public is also wrong. It is based on fear and anger and short on specifics. Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't really calling them on it. We should have less rhetoric aimed our way, and more focus on what specifically would be cut. We've heard specifics on proposed taxes, but not nearly enough on what programs are on the chopping block and what that is going to mean in the daily lives of Americans. The bottom line is that the Republicans are wrong on this one ... we just need to make sure that we call them on it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a great time to think about America, and what is good about it. It is a time of celebration, so the focus should be on what is good about America. There is a lot to celebrate. There really is a lot to celebrate, which is why I think it is important to get beyond the narrow parade mentality. There is more to celebrate than veterans, firemen, and Boy Scouts. Democracy isn’t just built in times of war or protected from fire. It is built in the classroom, on the farm, in the courtroom, and in the artist’s studio. It is protected in those places and in the offices of newspaper reporters and social workers. Why can’t we have teachers or lawyers in our parades? They may not get as many cheers as WWII vets, but maybe that’s because they don’t have a float. It isn’t because they don’t traffic in heroism. The bottom line is that there is a time for flag waving … but we just need to make sure that when we indulge in flag waving, we are waving it in all the right directions.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Laughter and Politics

I think it might just be a matter of attitude. We approach our problems, America’s problems, with the wrong attitude. It’s not just that we’re nasty with each other for no reason, though it’s part of the problem. It’s also only partly because we aren’t looking to cooperate or collaborate with anyone that doesn’t have exactly the same views we have. Our avoidance of logic and reason is noteworthy, as is our discomfort with admitting when we’re wrong. It’s all part of the problem, but the biggest attitudinal issue might just be the absence of a sense of humor. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and with one another. There needs to be more of a sense of joy, even when addressing serious pressing problems. There’s plenty of rage, enmity, nastiness, hatred, … but not enough joy, laughter, humor, jokes (even with John Stewart) … and it seems like a void we ought to be able to fill.