Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Narrating The Sarah Palin Turkey Slaughter

Do yourself a favor and give yourself six minutes to watch Keith Olbermann narrate the Sarah Palin turkey "pardoning" as he watches it for the first time live on the air. Mystery Science Theater couldn't have done much better.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Defense of a Word - A Turn Left Thesis Statement

In the '90s, it was the time of the Clintons, and a period of robust love for American centrism. Conservative talk radio blew hot, ideological gas into cars throughout the country, Gingrich and his Republican legions had freshly stomped the old Democratic machine in the House, and everything seemed new yet old. It was a time of change in which. . . nothing really changed.

And during that time, a debate was spawned by the prominent bloviators. The right took aim at the word "liberal" and framed it as a modern-day curse word. The corrosion continued through the Clinton years and worsened under Bush.

Today, very few high-profile political figures dare associate themselves with this word. It takes a rare bird among Demorats - a Wesley Clark, Ted Kennedy, Al Franken or Robert Wexler - to stand up and claim the word and all it represents.

Everyone else hides behind euphemisms. They become "progressives," or they get caught up in partisan games and call themselves "moderate Democrats." And the open liberals - the ideological roots from which progressive movements grow - are left at the fringe of the party, to breathe fire from the sidelines while the supposed moderates do all the work.

The mission of this blog is to declare this condition of our political dialogue unacceptable.

This period of phony moderation and wishy-washy centrism must end, and liberals must no longer shy away from their ideas and values. This means being unashamed of our own open-mindedness. It means being willing to understand that taxes, in the right hands, can be an investment into our own well-being. It means being unafraid to fight for rationality and science in the face of a dogmatic government. It means finding room to welcome the vocabulary of our movement, accepting the fact that we are liberals, and that is something to be proud of.

This blog is made up of individuals, all of whom can be called liberals, many of whom have a long history of arguing for the cause. Most of us are Democrats, but we count among us some who are not. Most of us are not religious, but since our values and spirituality can coexist, we count among us a man of deep personal faith. We work in this troubled economy, unionized and not, public and private, young and old, financially comfortable and feeling the strain of our recession.

So welcome to our place. Sometimes we disagree with each other, but in the end we are all lovers of peace, intelligent government, the betterment of humankind and tolerant policy. We hope that you might join in on the conversation.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All I Am Saying, Is Give Him A Chance

Reading the liberal blogosphere lately is like watching a unshaven, manic-depressive cannibal try to eat its own foot.

So first, Obama picks Rahm Emanuel, and people go: "OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD so much for bipartisanship!!! Rahm's gonna eff up EVERYTHING with his fuzzy haircut and big, fat, sharp-elbowed 'tude!!!!!1"

Then Obama steps in to spare Lieberman's chairmanship and people go: "OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD he's isn't being partisan enough!!! He's gonna be such a wuss and sell his soul to Dick Cheney!!!!!1"

Then Obama starts making a case for bailing out the auto industry, and people go: "OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD he's being a big careless spender and trying to Sovietize America and OMF'nG maybe that be-beehived genius Sarah Palin was right about the socialism business and I'm so disappointed in life I can't stand to watch the Wolf Blitzer show any more because my liver hurts from how drunkenly depressed Barack Obama is forcing me to be!!!!!1"

Then people notice that Obama's making a few hires with experience under Clinton and people go: "OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD he's not really going to create change! He's just going to be Clinton No. 2 and he's going to hire Terry McAwfullife to be the Secretary of Selling Out To The Man!!!!!!!1"

And, you know, talking about issues is fine, sure - but, PEOPLE, COME ON, none of this is an indictment on his whole bleepin' presidency! He's not even president yet! He won't be president for two months even!

We just won the election, folks! Liberals nationwide should be reveling in this! Having to decide what to do with our newfound immense power is an excellent problem to have, after all. You know, the kind of problem that's you want to have.

This is part of what drives me nuts about my fellow liberals sometimes. (And I suppose I'm not helping with this post... but ah well!) There's so much nervousness, and panic, and worry, and freaking out over who did what the wrong way before they even began, that you'd think the Republicans were not only still in control, but Bush had just dissolved the constitution and declared himself Grand Poobah/Eternal Warlord of North America, Baskin Robbins and the Moon.

At least give these people a chance to fuck up before you tell them they fucked up, kay?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Post-Election Reflections

First, a shout-out to the pollsters. They got it right. All that fuss about the Bradley (/Wilder/Dinkins) Effect was just gas. Every race went the way it was called, and the tossups really were tossups. It was the same in 2006. Those guys have it figured out. Believe them.

I've read a lot of gloom and doom stories about the Republican Party's future. Many of them are true. Demographics is destiny, and the Reps skew old, white, and religious. Those are all falling stocks. But there is a chance for them: they need the Democrats to screw up, or at least that circumstances conspire against Obama. You've gotta admit that's not entirely implausible.

But mainly, this is the hard part. Already, two weeks after the election, I'm starting to feel disappointed that Obama isn't doing exactly what I'd do. Eight months ago, I was inveighing against Hillary Clinton's candidacy on the grounds that she'd just appoint a bunch of Clinton Administration veterans. Well, that's exactly what Obama is doing so far.

But what the hell, he hasn't been inaugurated yet. All is possible. And George W. Bush is not a hard act to follow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Don't Bail Out The Car Companies

I'd have liked to see the financial industry slapped with harsher regulations and perhaps even temporarily socialized for their screw ups, although I do think some form of government assistance was necessary to keep our economy afloat during this crisis.

But GM? Chrystler? You kiddin' me? Are we going to bail out Microsoft if things get rough? How about Wal-Mart? Disney? Hess?

This recession is going to have some casualties, and I'm saying that as a liberal. Some of the greedy companies that have been using the American workforce are going to die - and it will be their own damn fault. Giving GM a couple billion won't make their cars better, or their business practices more responsible. It will be a waste.

And then, maybe, some smart Americans can put together a car manufacturer who will actually make energy-efficient vehicles that fit with the times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Actually, Anti-Immigration Is A Dying Cause

Exhibit A in the decline and increasing irrelevance of the Lou Dobbs, too-scared-to-leave-the-house sliver of the country: the Minutemen, a bunch of armed yahoos I remember very well from back home in Arizona, are basically dead. This New Republic article explains things very clearly. The phenomenon was running on fumes and a fake sense of importance from the beginning, and its demise has been written on the wall for a while now. Zvika Krieger writes:

In this environment, Gilchrist's movement is falling apart, overtaken by new members whom he describes as "troublemakers with personality disorders and criminal propensities." In contrast, he insists that the group's original members were able to give voice to the immigration concerns of ordinary Americans because they demonstrated "a passionate allegiance to the United States of America and its priceless principles." There is no doubt that the Minutemen--aided by sympathizers in the media like Lou Dobbs--drove the national conversation in 2005. But whether the enormous wellspring of American anger over illegal immigration that they claim to have tapped into actually existed is another question.


The press eagerly latched on to the Minutemen as representative of those hundreds of thousands of supposedly angry Americans as the battle over comprehensive immigration reform heated up on Capitol Hill. "The majority of Americans are fed up with illegal immigration and want something done about it, " declared Bill O'Reilly, who hosted Gilchrist numerous times. "Three cheers for the Minutemen!" Sean Hannity, toting night-vision cameras, went on border patrols multiple times with the Minutemen, trips he then used to scold McCain, one of the bill's primary backers. "It's a devastating problem down there," he told the senator.

Minutemen today fondly reminisce about this brief, golden period of influence. Luca Zanna, co-founder of the Mohave County Minutemen, breathlessly recounts the time he spent on the border with Gilchrist and his fellow activists. "That spontaneity, that independence--it was beautiful," he says. "When you control the show, you decide what will be on the show. We had that for a moment."

Anyone who's followed local politics wherever they are knows how this sounds: a one-issue obsessive with a decent bankroll grabs the headlines with an election-year crusade or referendum and thinks they're on top of the world. Back home we had dueling ballot initiatives year in and year out about how to use, apportion and clean the dwindling drinking water supply in one of the country's driest states, and one year an RV dealer with a dream became famous for backing a winning proposal that put the state in a real bind but sounded good to frightened, thirsty voters on paper. He had his own golden period of influence. But like Bob Beaudry, Jim Gilchrist and the Minutemen have already had their fifteen minutes.

This year, there has been more evidence that, while immigration remains a legitimate issue, the supposed nationwide furor was a product of media hype. With the congressional debate over and the press increasingly ignoring the Minutemen, most Americans are professing moderate views on the issue. As of June, the percentage of Americans who want to reduce immigration levels has fallen within a percentage point of the 20-year low, while 64 percent of those polled say that immigration is a good thing for the country (the second-highest it's been since September 11). Even on Super Tuesday, the height of the presidential primary, exit polls found almost 60 percent of Republican voters favoring immigration policies that Lou Dobbs would deride as "amnesty."

The whole article is worth a read, if only as a window into how a small group that shouts loudly enough can make itself look twenty times as big and a hundred times as popular.

The Elephant In The Room?

A week ago, we watched as the GOP, to be nice, took one on the chin. It was more like a slash to the throat if you ask me, but with losses in the House, Senate and the White House, the GOP is definitely in a rebuilding mode.

And over the last few days, I've heard on NPR and read online about what the GOP is trying to do in an attempt to restructure itself for 2010 and beyond. What I have yet to hear mentioned is that the GOP needs to abandon it's policy of "outgroups." The idea of creating an idea of an "other" that can be blamed for problems and divide people that would otherwise be united.

This notion may date back to the 1940's when Strom Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats bolted the Democratic Convention over the inclusion of a Civil Rights plank. Nixon with his Southern Strategy continued this trend of painting the South red. Reagan's "welfare queens" was a further advancement, and perhaps a way to take the idea beyond the South.

It goes well beyond African-Americans too. While the religious right may have many of its roots in the efforts to maintain racial segregation; the Equal Rights Amendment may have been what truly catapulted them into prominence in the 1980's. Gays and lesbians still struggle today for recognition of their equality, as California's Prop 8 shows.

The scapegoat of the hour for the right as of now though seems to be latinos, with folks like Lou Dobbs, Lou Barletta and the "Minutemen" acting as antagonists.

All of this exclusion seemingly serves two purposes. One, it shows how far out of step the GOP is with an America that is becoming more diverse and tolerant, though the oddity of blacks and latinos overwhelmingly supporting 'Prop 8' comes to mind. Two, it creates more potential voters for Democrats. While on a canvass of an apartment complex with a sizable Latino tendancy, I found a large number of Obama voters.

But will the GOP see that discriminatory initiatives and looking to xenophobes as their "rising stars" is a prescription for disaster, and can the GOP risk losing their "base" in the effort?

Prop Hate Will Do Itself In

Did the camel's back just break?

It stuck out like a gangrenous, blistered, sore thumb. On an election day in which progressives struck the political scene with an earth-shaking thunderclap, one vote in normally liberal California remained the sound nails on a chalkboard. And now, with our vision cleared, we the people are finally pissed.

I can't think of any time I've seen so many people so angry and so horrified about the gay marriage issue since Proposition 8 was approved in California. I can't think of any time there has been so much awareness that not allowing gays to marry is the new "separate but equal" - and, as true now as it was at the time that phrase was the norm, the two concepts are irreconcilable.

There's already talk of a rematch if the proposition survives the court system. There's serious talk of boycotting the Mormon Church for sticking its nose where it did not belong. There's talk of forming a pro-gay-marriage political machine, to put together a ground game similar to the one that elected a man to the presidency in a manner that shattered all cynical presupposition.

People are angry. And that's good. Angry people get things done.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How does 1994 compare to this year?

The congressional elections this year are likely to invite comparisons with 1994. How to do the two stack up?


The Republicans made a large one-election shift in the Senate in 1994, winning eight seats and going from 44 to 52. The final numbers, after some seat swapping: Republican 53, Democratic 47. That year there were six open seats so the Republicans defeated only two incumbents.

This year the Democrats won at least six seats, going from a majority of 51 to at least 57 (with three seats still undecided). The Democratic flip was smaller (so far) but more significant in terms of voting power within the Senate.


In the House in 1994 the Republicans also had a big shift with a 54 seat win, moving the power from D 258, R 230 to D 204, R 230 and defeating 34 incumbents.

The balance of power this time will be at least D 257, with a few seats still undecided, meaning that Dems have restored the power they had before 1994. This year they have won at least 20 new seats after gaining 31 in 2006. The Democratic advantage in the House is 82 votes, compared to the 26 vote advantage the Republicans had in 1994.

They did not have a 'revolution' but steadily re-grew their majority over the last few election cycles. Approximately 20 incumbents were defeated in this election cycle with 22 defeated in 2006.

What does this mean in policy terms and the mood of the country?

The 1994 Republican 'revolution' was the result of two factors. One was the historical realignment of Southern voters who rejected the Democratic Party label. The "Democrats" elected in the South for decades were highly conservative with policy positions that fit better with the new Republican brand. With the second factor, Newt Gringrich's "Contract with America" to inspire them, Southern Democratic voters finally changed their party.

The election advantage for the Republicans was similar to that in 1946 when the country, discouraged with Truman's leadership, shifted the House by an eerily similar 54 seats. In fact, the Republicans gained the majority of votes for Congress seats for the first time since 1946.

But the Contract with America did not achieve what it had promised. For instance, a November 13, 2000 article by Edward H. Crane, president of the libertarian Cato Institute, stated, "... the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%." (Wikipedia)

The relative failure of the Contract, the downfall of Gingrich, the unpopular impeachment, and the steadily growing extremism of the Republican Party, made the party lose its edge in both the Senate and the House, declining steadily (except for a slight bump when Bush was elected) since that time.

The majorities in both the House and the Senate when the new Congress convenes will be unassailable since the Dixiecrats are almost all gone, with only a few right-leaners like Landrieu still in place. The Republicans will be able to mount almost no defense in the House and will risk using the filibuster only rarely in the Senate since it will easily earn them the 'obstructionist' label and weaken their chances for a resurgence in 2010.

It is likely that the Democrats will make compromises with the Republicans to keep the bipartisan promise Obama made (unlike Bush breaking his promise in 2001) but we are still likely to see major movement on the issues Obama promised to work on in his campaign.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pure Glee

Last night, I hunkered down for almost two hours straight and browsed YouTube for people celebrating on Election Night. It's not very hard. Just type in "Obama celebration" and any given major city or college campus and you'll find tons of videos of young Obama supporters romping about, immersed in pure glee, singing, dancing, howling, crying, chanting, honking their horns and leaning out car windows.

I can't think of any time in recent history that so many masses of people gathered in streets across the country to party. It was like we'd just won World War II all over again. It was crazier than New Year's Eve. When was the last time a presidential election sparked so much pure exuberance?

It gives me a lot of hope. I'm not talking about campaign-stamped-and-approved-of-hope, so much as hope that we are witnessing the end of one of my greatest pet-peeves. Political apathy.

I was a teenager during the '90s, and fell in love with politics in the middle of high school. I frequently went on political rants and was frustrated by the utter disinterest of many of my peers. That continued afterward, during and after college. But Bush continued stepping on things people cared about, and finally we've seen a fundamental change in how we as a people think.

Thanks largely to the ineptness of Bush, political discussion has transformed from an annoyance to the norm.

People care about and are talking about ideas again. That is the mark of a great period in history. Times of great ideas spark civil rights movements, revolutions and periods of progressive transformation. Renaissances. Those times are where the values that are worth fighting and bleeding for come from in the first place.

So, while we're riding this wave of glee, let me just say: Don't lose out on this chance to be a part of a world-wide conversation. It is here. It is here now. And it won't last forever.

Election Day Victories For Animal Rights

As a vegetarian, I don't often get to see one of my biggest pet issues hashed out in an election year. But Nov. 4 brought with it two major wins for animal rights, and may point the way to further victories in coming years. The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are wising up big time about electoral strategy, using the pocketbook rather than an infrequently successful moral appeal as their weapon of choice. The New Republic has the story:
I spoke with Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States, who said that such ballot measures, introduced in states where they are likely to pass, do much more than reform a single states' animal treatment laws. They are a message to American industry as a whole that considering animal welfare is increasingly within their economic self-interest. California agribusinesses, fearing a rise in operating costs, spent heavily to combat Proposition 2 and have nothing to show for it. Markarian is hoping that all animal-related businesses will draw the lesson that it is simply cheaper to improve animal treatment of their own accord, rather than risk a costly political fight they will probably lose.
Proposition 2, which passed with 63 percent of the vote (63 percent!), says that confined animals must now be able to "lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." If you've ever seen a vegetarian information pamphlet, you'll know how impossible this currently is given factory farming practices.

Animal rights aren't by any means a political issue per se, and in posting this here I don't want to court the perception that I consider the question part of a new Democratic political agenda. There are a few notable Republican animal rights activists (even a Bushie or two). It's a good day for everyone when we outlaw veal crates and battery cages, no matter who you voted for.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cheers And Floating

Many of the posts here have been long, thoughtful looks at issues and what kind of policies and dialogues we're going to need in the next four years. For my inaugural post, I thought I'd change it up a little. I'm not sure how widely the news videos spread around the country or how many people saw the images, but I was at the all-night White House street party that broke out on election night, and for the curious, here's how it went.

I've seen crowd estimates settle around 1,000, and although I have no talent for estimating these things I'd say it was more like double that, especially considering the stragglers and people at the margins of the glut. I'd also say, from the time I spent there, that it was about 90 percent college students, something I'm not sure has been mentioned in the press reports. So, enough with the dry statistics. . .

It was fun as hell. Knots formed in the generally milling crowd and started chanting or singing at the drop of a hat. A lot of girls were riding around on guys' shoulders, and pot use was pretty open, but there was none of the stupidity and tawdriness of spring break shitkickers. Everyone was there to celebrate, not just to get wasted, and people were for the most part sober except for being really happy. I found the best way to enjoy the whole thing was to make my way back and forth through the crowd from one end to the other, stopping whenever I saw a group I wanted to join or it looked like one would form. We sang "Ole, ole ole ole" and the national anthem (a lot) and God Bless America. On too many occasions to count, people would start up cries of "Yes we can!" or "No more Bush!" or "O-ba-ma" or the occasional "Si se puede!" and the next twenty people in each direction would join in. One game that emerged was spotting the bright white glare of a television camera and trying to get through the crowd to make it into the shot. No one pushed. There were no fights. It was all in good fun. I never got interviewed, but I'm positive I ended up cheering and chanting on one Canadian broadcast. After the correspondent signed off, everyone in the crowd went nuts around him with cheers and he smiled and, frankly, joined the party for a moment before having to leave.

As the night wore on I started to see a few middle-aged and older people in the crowd, including one guy who was shouting "You fascist motherfucker!" and balling his fists with victorious glee, facing down the White House like the Scots taunting the British in the middle of "Braveheart." I ended up on a home video being made by Frank from Winona, Illinois, who asked me as I passed him why I'm so happy to be rid of Bush. My answer, as best I can recall (with a big grin on my face): "Oh, man, there are a million and one reasons, I could never get to it all. I thought I wouldn't have a job when I graduated college. I thought there would be a hole in the sun by the time he left. But now, not only are we getting rid of Bush, we're replacing him with someone who actually knows what he's doing. Save this tape. You'll remember this." Then we introduced ourselves, shook hands, he said he totally agreed with me and we kept going our separate ways.

Most of the fun came from just being there. It felt good. Everyone was partying for the best of reasons. A few people carried Obama cutouts above their heads, making for good photo ops when they lined up nicely with the White House. Two or three people crowd-surfed, prompting someone next to me to say to his friend, "Come on, this isn't a Hootie concert." At one point a big group had formed and started singing, of all things, the Georgetown Hoyas fight song. I was standing right there but didn't know the words. One college guy was smoking a cigar and sprayed his Heineken beer foam over his head, splashing everyone around him, but no one seemed to mind very much.

For the record, there were a lot of sexy coeds. I spotted a few guys I thought might have been there to pick up chicks, but I didn't see anything happen. Everyone there seemed to be with a group of friends, and people would often link hands and go through the crowd in fours and fives. I never saw anyone I knew, so I was free to kind of roam the scene and stop to sing or whatever or, once, join a temporary drumming dance circle. The snipers were visible on the White House roof despite it being the middle of the night and completely overcast, but they didn't ruin the picture for us -- everyone seemed to take it all in good fun, as if to say, "Ha ha, we get that roof now." At one point, I think probably around 1:15, the White House floodlights went off for the night and everyone took it as a chance to start chanting "No more Bush!" at the top of their lungs. I shouted "Address the nation, George!" and a few people laughed.

Anyway, I could go on, but you get the picture. When I left at 1:30 it showed no signs of slowing down, and several hours later, watching the local news hoping to get some late Senate election returns, I saw that by 4:00 it had finally petered out. Every account I've read of it includes quotes from security guards or police or whoever saying they'd "never seen anything like it." I hope we keep seeing that kind of jubilation on election day from now on, because that's how people should feel.

First, last and only plug: this is cross-posted at my (currently slow-moving) personal blog, Lapplander.

It's time to go, Joe

Dear Joe,

You first came to our attention as the protege of William F. Buckley. This was not a good sign, but it's a big tent party. Ten years ago, you were the first Democrat to give aid and comfort to a partisan witch hunt against a president of your own party, and hardly an extremist member at that, for his personal failings and his regrettable attempts to hide them. But it's a big tent party and the GOP never had the votes to convict and remove. It is thus exceptionally displeasing, but can be forgiven. Indeed, you may remember that you ran for vice president in 2000 despite all the events of 1998 and 1999.

But then, Joe, you left the party because it chose someone else instead of you in the primary. That's not polite. It's a big tent party, but if you're prepared to leave the party and run anyway because it rejects you (which your primary opponent pledged not to do) then you really have no loyalty to the party at all.

Still, many things can be forgiven. Joe, you've been voting with the Republicans like crazy. You're a big Bush supporter. You campaigned for the other guy, and repeated the worst lies and smears leveled against the guy who was supposed to be your guy. Then you went to the other guy's convention and foamed for them on command.

Joe, the party can count to 51 without your help now. It doesn't need you and you haven't given it good reasons to keep you around. Frankly, a lot of the Democrats pretty much hate your guts and it's not because they're assholes. It's you. Now it's time for you to accept some consequences of your actions. This is personal responsibility.
Unfortunately for the Connecticut Senator, it is highly unlikely that Democrats would act against the wishes of Majority Leader Reid, who wants Lieberman to give up his chairmanship. Moreover, progressive activists have been anticipating this move for months, and have organized efforts to pressure steering committee members to strip Lieberman of his perks.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Two Days Left

I am beyond any hint of a desire to be bipartisan.

After these last 8 years? The truth is more evident than ever. Roughly 85% of Republicans work to get in the way of progress, and roughly 98% of their politicians serve the same purpose. The result of 6 years of giving them unbridled power and the two following years of lame-duck impotency have given us the biggest steaming pile since the 1930s.

We don't need to strike deals with them. What we need is the frickin' opposite of them. So fuck 'em. Let's bust some proverbial heads and chase them out with town with torches and pitchforks. Liberals have been right all along. Conservatives are more obviously wrong than any time in living memory. Debating them is time better spent making cupcakes. You may as well try to spit into your own eyeball.

Enough. They must go down.

Reaganomics and neo-conservatism must drown like a pair of starved rats that abandoned a sinking ship in the middle of the arctic ocean, with no land for miles. They must cling to each other, gasping for air, while their limbs go numb with the chill of the water. A great wave must pull them under the surface, as the icy touch of Mother Nature grips their tiny, panicking lungs with inevitable mercilessness. They must blink helplessly as they continue to sink, in their last fleeting seconds of mindless fear, before finally being swallowed live by a giant fish (that looks suspiciously like Barack Obama). They must hear nothing but their own final heartbeats in their final moments in the dark, burning yet also freezing belly of the Obamafish. Then, in an effort to let out their last, hapless squeak, they must leave their mortal coil to be dissolved into naught but nutrients and waste.

Go Obamafish go.