Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hot under the Collar


For the second time in a month, the Northeast is facing a massive snow storm. Thousands of flights have been canceled, and we're looking at well over a foot of snow in many parts of the eastern US. Not only that, but frigid temperatures and wind chill are coming in with the storm, ensuring that temperatures fall to well below zero for millions of Americans.

Whenever this kind of thing happens, I get annoyed. Not just because the weather is awful, but because I have to endure all the conservative talking heads cracking jokes about global warming. "Cold enough for you?" and "How's all that global warming working out for you?" seem to be the hot one-liners this year. 

It's true that we've seen some startlingly cold temperatures, far below the norm. And it's true that we are getting a lot of storms and so one this winter that would seem to, on the surface at least, go against the widely understood notion of global warming.

But these quips and jeers are not only stupid, they're completely bogus. We're currently experiencing a harsh, cold winter, but the southern hemisphere is going through one of the hottest summers on record. Australia in particular is sweltering. And that's not the only evidence of climate change. You know all these snow storms we keep getting? They're linked to it as well. 

It annoys the hell out of me that we have people out there who completely dismiss climate change out of hand. But what gets me more is why they do it. They don't listen to the scientific evidence, they don't have a discussion with people who are trained and experienced in the area of weather patterns. All they do is talk about the controversy

Let me set the record straight. Just like with the theory of evolution and the origin of the universe, mainstream science is VASTLY in favor of climate change theory. The only people who dissent from those positions are the scientists on the payrolls of companies that would have to spend billions to counter climate change, or who are working for conservative think tanks. These pseudo-science "controversies" that are touted by the Right don't actually exist, but they try to use them to push their own personal beliefs into the mainstream discussion as credible alternatives to what is largely established fact in the science community.

Bundle up, stay safe, and keep the climate-change deniers at bay.

The Future of the Right

With this year's elections starting to draw more media attention, more attention has started shifting to the struggles between the establishment GOP and the Tea Party. While the GOP has always been the party with the strongest mutual support of its candidates as opposed to the fractured Left, the division between more "moderate" Republicans and those on the extreme side threatens to sink the entire Right in the upcoming political campaign seasons.

An article on Salon's website sums it up well. The Tea Party, comprised of the extremists of the Right-wing, will stop at nothing, and will compromise nothing, to achieve their goals. They will cut off their proverbial nose to spite their face, even if it means losing more ground than they already have in the public discourse. They are trying desperately to alienate themselves from the establishment GOP, which they feel is not extreme enough in its ideology to be of any use to the country.

When the GOP lost the last Presidential election, the RNC produced what has become known as their "autopsy report." Basically, they analyzed the demographics of voters, the campaign slogans and appeals, and pointed to areas where the Republicans needed to fix their image. Now, the Republicans have, for the most part, ignored the autopsy report's suggestions, and continued with obstructionist tactics and old talking points, which is not that surprising. Like I said, traditionally the Republicans have been adept at supporting a single candidate for high office, and so they have a good chance of prevailing over a Democratic party that is much more divided.

But the Tea-Party supported group, American Principles in Action, published their own report that attacks the GOP autopsy and lays out its own plan for growth and change on the Right. The rebuttal report's primary argument is that the GOP failed in the Presidential election because it...get this...wasn't conservative enough. According to the APA's report, if the GOP had taken a more conservative stance on social issues, been less willing to compromise, and had presented a more conservative economic policy, they would have attracted more voters from groups like Latinos, women, and the blue-collar working community.

The irony, in my mind, is these are exactly the groups that would choose not to vote for a more conservative Republican candidate. Specifically, why would Latinos vote for a party whose policies would force them to carry papers to identify themselves at all times? Why would women vote for a party that states that they want to restrict a woman's access to medical procedures and protections that are guaranteed under the law? And why would blue-collar workers want to vote for a party that would strip away safety and health regulations, gut the rights of unionized workers, eliminate the minimum wage, and cut health benefits?

What the GOP learned long ago, and has since forgotten, is that they have to balance their rhetoric in a way that makes it appealing to voters. The mainstream Republican party does not expect to get many women to vote for them when they champion restrictions on a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, so they have learned to compromise. They have become satisfied with the limits they got that restrict federal money for abortions, and that place certain restrictions and requirements on them.

But the Tea Party hasn't learned this yet, and it doesn't seem like they are going to at all. They seem to believe that anything that they don't agree with is treasonous for America. They don't believe in compromise, they don't believe in difference of opinion, and they haven't realized that their brand of conservatism will gain them no supporters among certain groups. They have somehow convinced themselves that everyone is a conservative, and that if they just get more conservative, they'll start winning elections. That's not how it works.

I'm sorry to say that the days of the Moderate Republican seem to be dwindling.I hope that we don't lose common-sense conservatives, because we do need them as a counter-weight in Washington. But we need a counter-weight that is willing to compromise. We need conservatives who understand that our nation is founded on compromise and runs on all representatives working together. We need a Congress that will find solutions to our problems instead of letting the whole thing go to shit on principle.

The future of the Right is uncertain. I do not envy them at the moment, but I do feel sorry for all of us who may feel the effects all too soon.


Monday, January 20, 2014

This is what a REAL cover-up looks like

Warning: This story covers a graphic topic. Read at your own discretion.

This is sickening. This should have the world screaming for justice. This needs to be answered.

A new report on the fight in Syria has unearthed evidence of what is being called "Industrial-Scale Killing" of Syrians by the government. The report is based on a large cache of documents that were smuggled from Syria, and implicate the government in the murder of more the 11,000 people. Photos that were made part of the cache show corpses with signs of torture. Many have marks indicating electrocution, strangulation, or other forms of torture. Many of the bodies appear emaciated as well, as though the victims had not been fed.

For years now, there have been concerns about atrocities in Syria. We have seen evidence of the government using chemical weapons on its own people. We have seen them dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods, killing hundreds. We have seen the government ramp up attacks on "rebels" in the weeks leading up to planned peace talks as if trying to soften them up.

And now this. It has been an ongoing debate in Washington as to how we should respond. We have been waiting for solid evidence of crimes orchestrated by the government. Now we have solid evidence, so what will we do?

I believe that America must set an example here. I hate the idea of going into another country that has not attacked us directly. However, as a member of the world community, we have a responsibility to act when the laws of that community are broken. I firmly believe that action must be taken, whether directly or indirectly, to remove Assad from power in Syria and bring Democracy to that nation.

I hope that Congress can put aside its partisanship in the name of justice, and support the President if he should choose to respond with military action against Syria. If he does not, then we must support him in whatever decision he makes regarding this latest intelligence.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Syrian people, and I hope that a resolution to the conflict will come soon.

Benghazi Style

I didn't want to talk about this again, because I see it as a non-issue. I know that it's a big talking point on the conservative side, but I want to point out a few things that I hope will clear the air.

The first is that this whole notion that the administration is unsympathetic about Benghazi is ridiculous. The most popular bit of evidence for this argument isn't even true. That whole scandal with what Hillary Clinton said? Yeah, not really a scandal at all. What bothers me most is not that it took this long for someone to point this out, but that conservatives don't seem to have realized it themselves. This is exactly what they did with the "You didn't build that" theme from the last election. It's a quote that was taken completely out of context and used to make the exact opposite point that the speaker was initially intending to make.

The second thing I want to point out is how silly this whole thing is. I will say that it is a tragedy that four Americans lost their lives. But so is the fact that more than five times that lost their lives during attacks on American embassies during the Bush administration, and no one got up in arms then. It was a tragic event, absolutely, but for the Right to make this much political hay over the controversy is perverse.

How many times have conservative pundits ripped the gun control lobby for using school shootings to further their agenda? How many times has the conservative media criticized the Left for using national tragedies to place common sense limits on gun ownership? This is exactly what the Right is doing with Benghazi.

Now, I know that I'm going to get some comments about this post, and that's fine. I welcome a discussion on this issue, just like any other. But I want the conservatives out there to be aware of the hypocrisy that many of them are exhibiting here. Please tell me what evidence there is of a cover-up. Please tell me why you think that this administration has done something so much worse than any previous one when it comes to this type of thing? Why is it this time, this one event, that has caused so much turmoil?

I leave you with this. The lives of Americans are no different than the lives of other people on this planet. We are all human. We all have families. We are all loved by someone. We can mourn for those who have lost their lives for this country, but we should also recognize those who have lost their lives for other countries. Do our enemies not weep for their dead? Of course they do. Benghazi was a tragedy that cost the lives of four Americans. But to take that tragedy and turn it into a political movement of this magnitude, when greater tragedies have garnered much less attention, is abhorrent to me. We are not special because of where we were born, we are special because we were born at all. The deaths of those in Benghazi may have been prevented by a thousand different things, and no one person is to blame for that. It is just as easy to blame congressional Republicans, who failed to increase funding for security of foreign embassies many times in the years leading up to Benghazi. Let's remember those who died, agree to do better in the future in their honor, and move on.

And just for a light end to it all, I present this: what Republicans sound like when they go on about this stuff.

Something Smells

Freedom Industries, the company that most say is responsible for the chemical spill that has left hundreds of thousands of people in West Virginia without clean drinking water, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Now, this is not because the company has run out of money. This is because, under the guidelines of Chapter 11, the company cannot be sued. That means that the more than 30 lawsuits filed against the company as a result of the chemical spill are null and void.

But there's something else that seems to have gone on over at Freedom Industries. Apparently, the company hadn't paid taxes in years. Then, there was that whole thing about no proper inspections since the 90's. All in all, this chemical spill seems to highlight a number of glaring issues that should be addressed.

Let's start with the issue of the inspection lapses. A lot of pundits have argued that this lack of inspection was because the EPA was simply sitting around doing nothing. They argue that it was failing to uphold the laws and regulations that were already on the books. In actuality, the lapse was due to budget cuts that made it impossible for the EPA to do its job effectively. I agree with John Boehner when he said that we have enough regulations. What we need is for Congress to give the EPA enough money to actually enforce them. The only place I think we need more intervention is understanding the effects of these chemicals. As of now, they're not listed as toxic to humans, but that's only because no one has bothered to test them. We should put up the funding to find out what the impact of this spill is going to be, and the company should be held responsible for those medical issues that derive from the spill.

Then, there's the whole tax issue. While this might seem unrelated to the chemical spill, in my mind it speaks to the attitude of the company in general. If they are ambivalent about paying their federally mandated taxes, it is likely that they are ambivalent about other federally mandated things like safety regulations and so on. I would not be surprised to find that Freedom Industries knew about issues with containment of these chemicals, and that they chose to ignore them.

Finally, there's the issue of how the public found out about the spill. From what I understand, the company wasn't even aware that it had happened. There was some kind of delay between when the leak started and when authorities were notified. Not only did people consume water that was contaminated, but even after the water ban was lifted, residents reported dirty, discolored, or contaminated water coming out of their pipes.

Now, given all of this, the company has filed for bankruptcy, essentially shielding it from any personal responsibility. They will force the taxpayers to cover the cost of their spill, and will be immune from legal action for their negligence. That is NOT how America is supposed to work. in America, it appears that flesh-and-blood citizens have been replaced, or at least made secondary, to our corporate citizens. If a person caused this much damage and mayhem, and contributed to the health risk of 300,000 people, would we let them get away with it by declaring bankruptcy? Absolutely NOT!

MLK: The Principles of Equality


Today is Martin Luther King Day. To me, this holiday has always been about remembering the struggles that minorities have had in this country to attain freedom and equal representation under the law. It is a day to celebrate the triumph of our nation over bigotry, racial discrimination, and our history of slavery. 

It is also a time to look at our nation as it is now, and decide where we should go in the future. There are a lot of different views on the issue of race relations in America, and a lot of people have very different opinions. There are those who believe that our country has come a long way, but that there is still great amounts of inequality and racial tension that need to be dealt with. There are others who don't consider race to be an issue at all. And then there are those who believe that racial minorities are the problem and that we as a nation should do more to promote white culture and end "reverse racism." 

Martin Luther King Jr. made his historic speech in Washington because he wanted to share his vision of America with the world. He wanted everyone to know that his movement was not about special treatment for Black Americans, it was a movement for equal treatment. He talked about a world where children of every race and creed, every religion and social class, would live and work and play together with no notions of difference between them. He saw a world where those things did not define them. It was the "content of their character" that people would be based on.

As we move forward into this new year, I believe we have fallen short of Mr. King's vision once again. I believe that we still still suffer prejudices in our thinking, and that we still see the world in terms of the color of skin or in the nature of one's lifestyle. We hear people all the time condemning those they do not agree with, those who do not believe as they do, and we hear people being personally attacked for their beliefs. This happens on all sides of all issues, and it is wrong.

I firmly believe in having discussion and debates with those I disagree with. I believe in respecting other people's point of view, and discussing those views without criticizing the person themselves. But this is not an attitude nor an action that is shared by many in our government or media. They continually assault people's character rather than their positions, turning discussions into character assassinations, and stalling any hope of healthy, productive discourse.

This is tied to King's vision. It is a symptom of a sick society that perceives a person's worth based on their convictions, and not on the fact that they are a person, a citizen of the same nation, with just as much right to their beliefs as anyone. We are constantly hearing people denounce political opponents, lay waste to their competition, in an effort to win elections based, not on their achievements, but on their adversary's failures. That is NOT how a person should win a campaign.

I hope that this is a year of change, and that we will see a growth in understanding and respect in our government and media. I am not confident in this, but I hope. That is all any of us can do. Hope, and speak, and try to move the pin of society in a direction of greater equality, greater respect, and greater cooperation.

The Long View

Politics is all about cycles. Campaign cycles, fundraising cycles, congressional cycles. Things are constantly turning, changing, and moving. As soon as one campaign season is over, people start speculating about the next one. It's a common pastime of many talking heads to lengthen the campaign season by talking about possible candidates, exploratory committees, and fundraising strategies well in advance of the elections themselves.

It seems as though election seasons get longer and longer every time around. Like winter here in the Northeast, each campaign season seems to be longer than the last, not to mention colder, darker, and more dismal. And just like the political pundits and parties that are taking a longer view of political trends, it seems the American People are starting to as well.

This may actually be a good thing, since it will mean people looking at the impacts of their immediate decisions. But it may also have the effect of creating a more polarizing constituency for many candidates. What often seems to happen is that, as we get closer to elections, the candidates become more and more marginalized as they seek the approval of the broadest number of voters in their districts. With longer campaign cycles, that process may mean greater movement to the extremes.

And whether you feel that the Republicans are poised to take back the government this year, or whether the Democrats will dominate over a struggling GOP, you have a long wait before finding out if you're correct.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Budget Politics

It's probably the biggest debate that we have annually in Washington. How much money should we spend? Which programs are worthy of funding, and which aren't? There have been decades worth of fighting over earmarks/pork-barrel spending/pet projects/campaign promises and we by and large have gotten through these debates over and over again.

In recent years, however, the debate over money in Washington has changed. It's no longer a question of what to fund, but whether we should be funding anything. Last year, this debate reached the point of government shut down on principle. That's a bit insane, as many people pointed out at the time.

But the insanity hasn't ended there. Despite Republicans pushing for a rider last year that required there to be a budget in order for Congress to get paid, those same Republicans are now mulling the idea of not passing a budget this year at all. That's because the no-pay rider had only a one-year limit, meaning it no longer applies.

The reason, as far as anyone can tell, is that Republicans don't want to force a vote on a federal budget during an election year, since they know they're going to have to pander to their rabid base of limited government, anti-tax, anti-spending Tea Partiers. In other words, Republicans are playing politics in Washington all over again, and may well leave the government unfunded to help secure their re-election.

Of course, Republicans aren't doing anything completely different. After all, they've spent years doing things that make no sense, all in the name of cozying up to their base.

Instead of choosing to forget about passing a budget or going after agencies that protect American workers from abuses, why don't they do something that appeals to the broad spectrum of American society? Why not get the word out about the President's proposed trade bill? It would be a disaster for America, and yet Republicans have been largely silent about. Not only that, but even the CEOs that would benefit from it are feigning ignorance about its contents. Some of the language in the TPP, like giving companies the ability to ignore the laws in foreign countries, could be disastrous for the world, let alone for America. Why not take a stand against that?