Setting the Record Straight

October 28, 2008

Stevens to ACLU: Help?

Ted Stevens and His Ironic Conundrum

     For some of us, there are few things more pleasurable than watching irony play out. The example here is that Sen. Ted Stevens may not be able to vote for himself in his reelection bid Nov. 4 in Alaska, said to be a tight one even before his conviction on seven felony counts.
     As a Republican, his savior may be an organization his fellow conservatives have always referred in vitriolic tones and as evil incarnate—the American Civil Liberties Union.
     It seems that Alaska is one of 20 states that bar felons from voting until they have completed their sentences. That might present Stevens with a technicality he can squeeze through and vote. He has only just been convicted and will not be sentenced until after the new year, much less have a chance to complete his sentence.
     Why would the ACLU be interested? The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 in the wake of freeing slaves and intended to block state efforts to keep them from being able to vote, states:
Section 1.
   The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.
   The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
     The 13th Amendment, ratified at the end of the Civil War, had already defined “servitude” as it applies to convicts by stating: neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The key words are: “servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” It also gives Congress the power to enforce the amendment.
     But Congress rarely has tried and the fact remains only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote without some conditions. Two, Kentucky and Virginia, flat-out deny felons the right to vote, eight allow some convicted of felony to vote and the rest allow only prisoners, probationers or parolees to vote.


     Some estimates put the number of people denied the right to vote because of felony convictions at 5 million, and half of them are blacks. That is more than enough to affect a presidential election, let alone a state outcome.

     The U.S. Supreme Court has ducked the issue. The last court to kick the issue away, in 2004 and 2005, was the same court that appointed George W. Bush as president.
     The court seems to uphold disenfranchisement of felons based on a provision of the 14th Amendment, which seems to condone the denial of a vote to people guilty of “participation in rebellion or other crime.” The trouble with that view is that the 15th Amendment ratified two years later would trump the 14th, stating clearly felons cannot be denied the vote. (There also is the argument that “other crime” has to mean something at the level of rebellion, or why even mention rebellion. A similar argument was involved in the Nixon impeachment proceedings when a committee wrestled with whether “high crimes and misdemeanors” meant misdemeanors also had to be “high [or major] misdemeanors.”)
     The last time Congress made an attempt to use its 15th Amendment powers was in 2002, when the Senate killed a Democrat-led bill to enforce it, 31-63, with all Republicans voting against it. Joe Biden joined John McCain in voting against it. Stevens was among six senators, all Republicans, who did not cast a vote.



October 16, 2008

Good News From the Meltdown-Part II

Chance to Remake America

     The worldwide financial meltdown gives the United States under a new government come January a chance to think outside the box and shake off some of the old thinking that obviously has not worked to the good of the American people. We see three good things emerging from this mess.

     Since the government already is borrowing a bit from socialism, at least partially nationalizing some companies and now has support of both political parties to restoring a regulatory atmosphere, that should help dilute some of what has become an automatic Pavlovian response of seeing those three things as evils.

     There is nothing wrong with socialism, nationalization or regulation if they are used for the common weal. If this meltdown has shown us nothing else, it has demonstrated that unbridled capitalism allows our basic greed to overpower our basic good.

     There are two other bright spots from this collapse:

2. As we also have noted in yet another item on this Web site, the American public from the middle-class on down was aware by the beginning of this past summer that inflation was rising at a time when the nation also was entering a recession.
    The government and Wall Street were saying in unison at the time there was no recession and the rate of inflation was reasonable. But oil prices already had been rising at an alarming rate for months and even the price of food was rising. No other commodities have as much of an impact on those with little or no disposable income as do gas and food.
     Why did the government and Wall Street not see this happening? First, the government has to rely on objective data, not anecdotal indications, to show an economic slide qualifies as a “recession,” which relies on a downturn taking place over several months. Inflation is measures much faster, but it still takes weeks to reach the proper government levels. Meanwhile, as the government studies and Wall Street awaits the word on high, those without disposable income are getting pinched at the pump and checkout aisle while their employer cuts back on health care and pensions, and fewer jobs are listed in the help-wanted ads.
     The government needs to find some non-anecdotal way to capture what is happening at the level of the common weal at the time it is happening, not months later.
     With that trickle-up process, it could take action that would prevent the twin evils of inflation and recession, which become stagflation if they occur together. Currently, the government can only step in to correct the evils after they already have hurt the middle-class and below. That hurt eventually trickles up the line as their reduced buying affects business upon business stacked above them in the economic chain, eventually reaching Wall Street.

3. Even before nations in the EU moved to pour government funds into its businesses and financial institutions, other nations around the world were looking to move their investments from America to Europe as the United States led the world into the crisis.

     When we speak of these national investments, we’re talking about many billions of dollars per country into a smaller economy, a situation likely to make the EU the international financial center as the United States struggles to get back on its feet. Or at least the status of equality with the United States.
     America already had lost its leadership and credibility in terms of international security with the lunatic involvement in Iraq. Losing its leadership as the center of capitalism and eventually democracy would likely become a permanent situation in the lifetime of anyone alive on Earth today.
     What better time to remake the United States into a true democracy, back to a system that works with the interests of the common weal at its core. We have moved away from that over the decades that followed World War II into today’s division between the haves and have-nots that is as wide as what existed between the nobility and the serfs of the old British Empire.
     A new age is dawning in the United States. What are we going to do about it?


July 22, 2008

Sunset, End, Finis, Adios

Iraq: Time For a Vision of The Horizon

     With the Iraq War, when is a timetable for U.S. withdrawal a sched-ule? When is it a “time horizon?” When a “vision?”
     All these acrobatics with the English language come because it is an election year in the United States and possibly a watershed year in Iraq. The Bush White House does not want to show any inkling of agreement with Democrat Barack Obama’s plan for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. But Bush is under pressure to see an end to the war and put a renewed emphasis on the war in Afghanistan. So, the White House settled on “time horizon” as the only acceptable way to describe changing troop numbers in Iraq.
     Some wag pointed out that the trouble with a horizon is, as you try to get closer, it stays the same distance away, unattainable.
     Under pressure from the administration, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had his spokesman explain that, in seeming to support Obama’s idea, Maliki was not subscribing to a specific timetable a la Obama, but working on a “vision” of withdrawal by the end of the year 2010.
     That would not coincide exactly with Obama’s plan, but it is in the ballpark. And it sounds like a timetable to me.
     Republican John McCain’s vision is that the U.S. commitment in Iraq is long-term and indefinite. McCain says any talk of withdrawal should be based on conditions “on the ground,” which can mean anything from quelling the insurgency to restoring critical infrastructure to forming a stable coalition government.
     Considering that the United States is going to have its largest em-bassy in the world in Baghdad, American antiwar activists suspect the Bush administration is trying to make conditions “on the ground” support a very long-term American presence in Iraq.
     McCain is saying that the troop surge in Iraq, which McCain sup-ported, has succeeded enough to give Obama the debating room to suggest a specific pullout. McCain’s commitment to a long-term U.S. force struggles against the polls that show more Americans than not consider the Iraq War a morass that they want to pull out of.




June 17, 2008

Ignorant America Goes to the Polls

Is Our Past To Be Our Prologue Again?

          An increasingly ignorant America (well, maybe half of Americans if we’re lucky, or unlucky) will go to the polls Nov. 8 to choose its next presi-dent. As we are learning with the current gas crisis and as we appear to be learning too late from the foolish Iraq invasion, history and its mistakes are repeated because we are ignorant.
          Our ignorance keeps getting us into trouble that easily could have been avoided. As a small example, although this year’s floods in the Mid-west are unusually extreme, they have occurred every year for decades and we have heard or read the same heart-rending stories every year right on schedule. No one seems to learn that rivers do flood.
         The mantra of this site is the quote from the American philosopher of 100 years ago, George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is particularly a problem when you have an electorate that is ignorant of the past, much less unable to remember it.
          With all of the information at our fingertips these days, with access to minute-by-minute news from around the world, why do we fail to pay at-tention to what happened in the past and end up repeating its mistakes?
          The current gas crisis, which is driving up inflation and deepening a recession, twin ills afflicting millions, could easily have been avoided by paying attention to what happened in the 1970s. Up until that decade, ex-cept for interruptions by a couple of world wars, the price of fuel had re-mained constant since the stuff was first pulled from the ground.
          The crisis drove prices skyward, led to a shortage of gas and prompted our first serious consideration of alternative fuel sources. Pro-grams were put in place to conserve fuel. Congress imposed a 55-mile-per-hour national speed limit still in place today (although in a somewhat loosened form. The limit was imposed because 50 mph was determined to be the most fuel-efficient speed for a car to travel (It was set at 55 to satisfy the pleas of truckers).
          As Santayana had warned, in this instanceAmericans began to forget about the oil crisis of the 70s and began buying bigger and bigger cars, with pickup trucks becoming the first fad and then sports utility vehicles, all of them gas-guzzlers with a design and designation that freed automakers from fleet-average mileage requirements. The automakers fought against increased mileage requirements as they changed small-car production lines over to producing more-profitable pickups and SUVs. Foreign automakers also produced the gas guzzler, but never abandoned their fuel-efficient lines.
          As the American time machine groaned on through the 90s and the turn of the century, we became complacent and all the concerns about conserving fuel, finding alternative sources, etc., became lost in the minds of the public.
          Look as us now—right back where we were in the 1970. Auto- makers, American ones almost on their mismanagement death bed, are scrambling to get back to small cars and we are looking once again at the long-forgotten issue of alternative fuel sources. Luckily, we got a bit of a head start on those alternatives, not because of high fuel prices, but be-cause environmental concerns.
          In Vietnam, we learned our military’s reliance on superior weapons, particularly those that can be fired at an unseen enemy, were not be useful in a ground war against an enemy using guerrilla tactics. Ten years later we remembered that lesson and limited our brief war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait to air strikes. Taking over the country would have involved us in a ground war we learned from Vietnam we could not win.
          Then along came George W. Bush, playing the ever-faithful Mortimer Snerd to Dick Cheney’s Edgar Bergen, apparently deciding his father’s ad-ministration was wrong and he would correct it. We are now repeating the Vietnam mistake and are mired in a conflict that likely will have the same ignominious end.
          Who knows what a still-ignorant American public will allow our next president to blunder into. Fortunately, although the primaries may not have given us the best people for the job, they have given us two candidates who will return intelligence to the White House. The question remains, will either of them remember the past and avoid repeating American mistakes?



May 25, 2008

Blow Up Your TV


     OK, the time has come. For the sake of the future of American politics, the people of this country need to blow up their TVs and get some source of legitimate and relevant news.

     Tabloid-cable has taken over so much of the public discourse with its in-your-face shouting back and forth that even the legitimate print media seems to believe it has to respond and report the same things.

     This foolishness about Hillary Clinton mentioning a couple of politics-shaking events in June as an explanation for not quitting a presidential race this soon is just the latest in a string of gotcha moments that have cluttered tabloid-cable (is there any other kind of cable news anymore?).

     A few days later the tabloid-cable character assassination squad turned its guns on Barack Obama because he said his great-uncle had helped liberate the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, when it actually was at Buchenwald. That was an error that needed to be corrected, but it was not intentional nor devious and did not deserve to be blown out of proportion since the error did not change the point of his story.

     This character assassination by lifting statements out of context and misinterpreting intentions is not new. Look at Mitt Romney’s father who, as one wire service reported, misspoke by saying he was “brainwashed” by military leaders on a fact-finding trip to Vietnam when he meant he had received a “whitewash” presentation. That wire service led its George Romney story something more newsworthy. The competing wire service led with the “brainwash” statement without explanation and Romney was done for.

     But that incident was memorable because it was unique for the time. Now we are getting this type of trash reporting shoved in our faces every day. Is it harmful? You bet.

     Bubbas and sycophants have dominated this exceedingly long political season since day one. In addition to Bubbaism on tabloid cable, we had Barack Obama first gaining legitimacy because a bunch of Iowa sycophants saw him linked with TV star Oprah Winfrey.

     Candidates superior to the two eventual contestants for the Democratic nomination had to drop out before a single vote was cast in any state that came even close to reflecting the nation.

     Is any of this any way to elect a president? No wonder we got the Gingrich-Bush era and its trashing of America.

     If you want to see just how idiotic tabloid-cable is in its handling of the political contests, tune into the Jon Stewart show on Comedy Central. It’s daily montage of the screaming meemies of tabloid-cable exposes these fools for the fools they be.

     But they are allowed to keep their spot on the boob tube because fellow boobs are tuning in. Tune out and the advertisers will want someone else. Better yet, after you watch Jon Stewart, blow up your TV (with apologies to John Prine and his “Spanish Pipedream”).



May 23, 2008

Introducing Bobby Jindal–A McCain Coup?



          The speculation about who will be John McCain’s vice presidential candidate has begun. The New York Times reports that three possible candidates have been invited to McCain’s Phoenix place Memorial Day weekend.
On the Times’ list were Mitt Romney, presumably there to assuage the right wing of the Republican Party, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a political nobody on the national scene who presumably would be a generic sidekick unlikely to ruffle GOP feathers. It was the third name that interested us. As a reporter we spent many hours covering Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal over the course of just over a year when he was director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.

          Jindal’s highest political achievement before that had been head his native Louisiana’s health department at the age of 24. That is less surprising considering he finished high school at 16 and became a Rhodes scholar.
His genius and abilities became clear over the course of the commission’s work, which was to assess the status of the Medicare system and recommend solutions to its financial problems lurking in the future. It took a genius to handle the super-egos of the commission members, a third of them members of Congress. He did so with aplomb and was able to massage a final report in 1999 that managed to balance all of the partisan tugs and pulls he faced.
Through it all, he was a personable, helpful and available leader who astounded with his grasp of the issues and encyclopedic mind, a reminder of the high intelligence of fellow Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton. It is not Jindal’s fault the report, still considered the bible of Medicare, did not move to any great action by Congress and the administrations that followed. Nothing will be done long-term about either Medicare or Social Security because our system of government does not encourage long-term solutions.

          The selection of Jindal would be a political coup McCain badly needs. Jindal is a conservative Republican, but the stereotype ends there. He is a dark-skinned individual who surmounted politics in Louisiana, probably because he was born in 1971 in Baton Rouge of immigrants from India, which makes him less black but dark enough to make McCain’s candidacy less white against a Barack Obama challenger and one likely to help carry a state that helped give Obama the Democratic nomination. Jindal was not even old enough to serve as vice president two years ago, giving McCain some balance on the age issue that already dogs him and a counter to Obama’s youth.
Jindal also brings an expertise to a GOP presidential candidate weak in the area of health care, which undoubtedly will emerge as one of the major issues of the fall campaign. Regardless of whether he makes McCain’s cut, keep an eye on this fellow.



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