Archive for March, 2011

The Great GOP School Heist

The Republicans’ nationwide push for vouchers is on.

Vouchers are promoted by the GOP as so-called school choice: the panacea to fix failing public schools by abandoning them. What they really amount to is a huge transfer of public education money to private companies. Public Education is one of the last holdouts against the creeping privatization of our government (aka “how fascism grows in America”). The thought of cutting into that fat education purse has the GOP seeing dollar signs.

In the US House of Representatives and in GOP-controlled state houses like Indiana, Republicans are beginning their assault on public education in earnest. Their assault is taking place in a perfect storm of their creation. State budget crises and the debunked-but-popular culture of austerity give the perfect cover for deep cuts in public education. Shuffle what’s left of this public money — through grants, scholarships, rebates, or whatever — into private schools and it becomes the perfect heist.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with private education. I am myself a product of both private and public education. What I have a problem with is public money going to private education instead of public education. If you want to send your kids to a private school, that’s great, but that should not absolve you from your responsibility to pay into public education along with everyone else.

If our public schools are struggling, it is our duty as a society to get in there and fix them. That means being more active and supportive as parents of schoolkids. That means volunteering at schools. That means working with our school districts to push innovation in the classroom. That means reforming our soul-crushing system of standardized tests.

We should not abandon our public schools to companies which are looking to make a buck. The Great GOP School Heist is going on right now in Washington DC and in states across the nation. Write your representatives and let them know that our schools need saving, not selling off.

Obama Does the Right Thing

Obama’s remarks to the nation tonight leave me with a proud feeling for our President and our country. So far, Obama is acting correctly, keeping his word, and demonstrating REAL leadership.

Allow me to elaborate.

On the first point, we have not been getting everything right lately when it comes to military matters and shedding the torturous, warmongering legacy of the Bush years. Gitmo is still open. Bradley Manning is being tortured before his trial. Afghanistan is dragging on despite popular opposition to the war and troubling stories like the developing trophy kill story (to which a damning piece from Rolling Stone adds more detail). Our role in Libya tips the scales a bit in favor of moral American foreign policy.

Also, it’s wonderful that we are playing a very limited — but important! — role in Libya, and that NATO will take charge of the operation on Wednesday. Here the President is keeping his word about the scope of our involvement. We are not getting ourselves dragged into anything; we played our part to stabilize a very volatile region without overcommitting.

And that brings me to the point about Obama showing real leadership. He is finding the proper balance in his approach. We are not turning tail and running as Reagan did after the Lebanon bombing, nor are we recklessly charging into a war on false pretense like GW Bush did. We are acting as a responsible member of the international community, and it’s driving the neocons crazy. They are (surprise, surprise) throwing every criticism they can conceive, no matter how self-contradictory, amnesiac, or hypocritical.

Shortly after Obama took office, he greeted the Muslim world with words of peace. Now, he has demonstrated America’s willingness to let democracy flourish in the middle east without delivering it at the point of a gun. Conversely, stopping a dictator who would murder his own people to stay in power is just as important to the spread of democracy in the middle east.

It’s a tricky situation over there, but America is doing the right thing so far.

The Proper Dethroning of a Tyrant

I think the Obama administration is right on when it comes to Libya. I think this in spite of the predictable criticism from the right and the less predictable criticism from the left.

Those on the right, pining for the Dubya days of cowboy diplomacy, are upset that we did not intervene in Libya sooner. I dismiss these sorts of critics, because 1) the whole world except for a fraction of the GOP understands that the way we went into Iraq was based on lies and questionable morality, and 2) odds are good that they would criticize “world’s policeman” swift action just as much, if not more.

I have heard some of my friends on the left criticize the Libya response for two reasons. First, there is the division between the Clinton camp and the Obama camp, naturally played up by the right-wing media of this country. Apparently, both Clintons wanted to intervene in Libya sooner than we did, which is a bad idea for reasons I will get to shortly. Second, some of my anti-war friends see our entrance into Libya as yet another Presidential War, unauthorized by Congress. This is not accurate in my opinion (I will elaborate below), but I agree that we should watch American actions closely to make sure we stick to our own script.

The main reason I am a fan of President Obama’s even-keel approach toward the Libya situation is that we are finally living up to our international commitments through the organizations we helped to build. Unlike Iraq, this time the process is as it should be.

The Arab League, NATO, and finally the UN all called for a no-fly zone in Libya. This clear international consensus (minus the James Bond villain countries) gives us moral authority to act, a Congressional justification for our actions (since we are fulfilling treaty obligations, which are Legislative Branch-approved), and practical military assets from other leading military countries (especially France and Britain). The World acted, which is much better than America acting unilaterally. I hope this is a sign that the days of American Exceptionalism are over.

I will say that we cut it pretty close. Qadaffi’s troops were already in Benghazi when we struck. Even one day later might have been too late. I wish the road to a UN no-fly zone were traveled quicker, but it was the right road for us to take.

Neugebauer Puts Banks Before People

Thanks to the excellent reporting of Zach Carter over at the Huffington Post (yes, they hired a bunch of journalists), I learned about our Congressman’s unfortunate stance for the banks over consumers. (Stories here and here.) Let’s cut to the chase:

Neugebauer reiterated the other principal GOP objections during the interview with HuffPost, calling the CFPB an agency with “a lot of powers but no review process.” But when pressed further, Neugebauer acknowledged that any CFPB rules that threaten bank stability could be vetoed by a council of other regulators, while maintaining his opposition.

“If they start saying, ‘Well, I think a $25 overdraft fee is exorbitant,’ there’s really not any appeal for that,” he said. “I’m just not a big fan of CFPB.”

Newsflash: a $25 overdraft fee is exorbitant, as are most fees that banks charge consumers.

The CFPB is long overdue, and Elizabeth Warren is the right person to lead it. As she said in her Congressional hearing today: “I don’t care how big you are, I don’t care who you your friends are, everybody follows the law.” This is why progressives love Elizabeth Warren and the CFPB.

The banking industry has a lot to answer for: irresponsible lending, irresponsible foreclosures, and irresponsible risk-taking to name a few. We need to return to the days of simple, one-page agreements that are written in plain language so consumers can understand the deals they are making. We need to crack down on the ever-expanding usury industry. We need good regulations with teeth that affects the bottom lines of financial institutions if they cheat people.

Unfortunately, our Congressman is standing up for banks’ rights to charge ridiculous fees and behave badly in general. Elizabeth Warren and the CFPB have their work cut out for them; today’s GOP has never seen a consumer protection law that they liked.

How to Fix Congress

Our Congress is broken. We need a return to sensible representation to fix it.

My friend Clay Johnson has a recent post about the problem of the ever-increasing ratio of constituents to Congresspersons. We are letting representative democracy slip out of our hands one census at a time because 100 years ago we fixed the number of House members at 435. Our congressional districts are now unmanageable (though staffers make a heroic effort, including Rep. Neugebauer’s staff here in TX-19), with too many constituents to reach. The flipside of this problem — and the main point of Clay’s post — is that Congresspersons have too many voices reaching them to listen to them all effectively.

I think we need to remove the cap on the number of members in the House of Representatives. We should fix the ratio of constituents to House members instead. 300,000:1 or less should be the goal. Currently, we are more than double that amount: roughly 717,000:1.

This is a bipartisan idea, by the way. I don’t see how this change would end up helping either party unfairly, and it would give third parties a realistic shot at electing more representatives.

So why don’t we make this change? Why don’t we even hear it discussed in Washington? I think the answers lie in the fact that we have a lobbyist-run legislature. More Congresspersons mean more work for lobbying firms. Why wreck the good (corrupt) thing they have going?

Additionally, I think we should require Congresspersons to remain in their districts most of the time, going to Washington only for emergencies. In this day and age, votes and speeches can happen just as easily over the internet as they can in person. Having our representatives in the districts makes them more accessible to their constituents and less accessible to lobbyists. The only way to drain the swamp of DC is to remove the concentrated corruption that has appeared as the result of all the power brokers being in one place.

Again, this is not a left-right, liberal-conservative issue. This is an American issue that we should get started on right away.

So much outrage, so little time

Tonight, I want to focus on a few areas that are seriously damaging my calm this week.

Those little GOP fascists up in Wisconsin used a (probably illegal) maneuver to remove collective bargaining rights from public workers last night. The worst aspect of this transgression, in my opinion, is the shameless contradiction put forward by Gov. Walker. He claims that removing collective bargaining will help to balance Wisconsin’s budget (which was not in crisis anyway), yet the only way the Republicans could have rammed the bill through as did is if the bill had zero financial impact. It’s a GOP lie either way.

I hope recall elections are the order of the day in Wisconsin. We might even see a general strike.

Additionally, tonight I saw the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job. I highly recommend this film. It does not pull any punches: Republicans and Democrats both take their lumps for serving the sociopathic interests of the coke-and-whore-fueled world of Wall Street. Warning: it will leave you frustrated. More than two years after the financial meltdown, not a single Wall Street CEO has faced charges. There are no new regulations on derivatives trading, executive compensation, or corporate oversight. Glass-Steagall is still repealed and Gramm-Leach-Bliley is still the law of the land. The movie also brings one more important area into consideration: financial conflicts of interest of academics in the economics and business departments of American universities. We need ethical standards to return to those academic disciplines.

I’m also outraged by the treatment of Bradley Manning, who is accused of being the source of the Wikileaks Cablegate and helicopter video leaks. Manning, who has yet to go to trial, is being kept in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep, and now faces forced nudity every day. What is happening to Manning is torture according to the Geneva Convention, which does not technically apply here but does set a minimum standard for ethical treatment of prisoners around the world. Add to Manning’s treatment the recent news that Gitmo is remaining open and this is a very frustrating week indeed for legal justice.

And there’s so much going on in Austin to be angry about… “emergency” sonogram and voter ID bills, campus carry, and a budget to be balanced by cutting deep into education and passing the burden and blame on to the local school districts.

The old adage “if you’re not outraged you haven’t been paying attention” sure applies this week.

Radical Islam is a GOP Distraction

Peter King, a GOP Congressman from New York and Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, will hold hearings this week about The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community’s Response.

I would be in favor of hearings about radicalization in all religions, but to single out one particular religion sounds to me like scapegoating and fearmongering.

King doesn’t have a lot of high ground to stand on in this debate, either. He has previously been vocal in his support of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

Furthermore, I think the majority view among American Christians is that these hearings about radical Islam are a bad idea. Here’s one example from the Baptist part of the spectrum that sums it up nicely:

Walker said the hearing’s narrow focus “will send a further message that Muslims present a greater threat of terrorism than other religions.”

“It would imply that the potential for terrorism from outside of Islam is not significant enough to merit a hearing,” he said. “Highlighting only one potential so-called breeding ground for terrorism ignores the reality that other sources of terrorism exist.”

“We recognize that religion is sometimes the impetus for acts of terrorism,” Walker said. “History is replete with examples of the atrocities that human beings have perpetrated in the name of their particular faith, be it Islam, Christianity or a host of others.”

But Walker said a general equating of terrorism with Islam is “both dangerous and disingenuous.”

“It is a ploy that plays on widespread misunderstanding of Islam, and it encourages the American people to view extremist outliers in Islam as representative of the entire faith,” he said.

He said the hearing would “set a troubling precedent that could lead to a diminution of everyone’s religious liberty.”

I recommend the whole piece above; it’s excellent. Baptists don’t want to be lumped with the nuts from Westboro Baptist Church any more than Muslims want to be lumped with the nuts from al Qaeda. (And somewhat related: the history of Baptists in America includes the essential point by Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists about the wall of separation between church and state.)

With the deficit and jobs supposedly being the top priorities of the GOP, why are we witnessing a bombastic bigot like Congressman King calling for hearings into radical Islam? It’s because the GOP is out of economic ideas and is up to its old divide-and-conquer, culture war tricks to distract the American public. Some things never change.

You Can Lie on the News

Especially if you’re Fox.

RFK Jr. has an excellent column this week about Canada’s rejection of Fox-style misinformation. In Canada, it’s a crime to lie on broadcast news. Harper, Canada’s conservative PM, wants to repeal this law for some reason. I wish we had that law here in America. I think if someone lies on an FCC-licensed broadcast medium, they should be fined a million dollars. That would put a dent in the FUD-pushers real quick.

And what counts as a lie? How about playing stock footage of a protest other than the Wisconsin protest to misleadingly smear the WI teachers, firefighters, and government workers as violent? Yeah, that should count as a lie. So too should the many other recent Fox falsehoods uncovered by the dauntless Media Matters.

I’m not talking “equal time,” “fairness doctrine,” or even “fair and balanced.” My solution is simple. If you lie on the news, you get fined one million dollars or lose your license. How can anyone be against that?

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