Tuesday, April 26, 2011

One More Thing ...

Regarding socialism, I wanted to make a point that I inexplicably left out of my last post. The frequency with which President Obama has been accused of socialism -- and the alarming speed with which he has fled from that word -- disturbs me, and it makes me wonder about the true purpose behind the GOP throwing that word against him constantly.

Now, bear in mind, this is my own opinion, based largely on what I have seen and heard dating back to the 2008 presidential campaign. I don't have anything hard or substantiative to prove this feeling.

I wonder ... do those on the right call President Obama a socialist because they truly feel he is one? Let's face it, if he was a socialist, he wouldn't have taken single-payer off the table at the beginning of the health care debate. In fact, he would've likely advocated for opening Medicare to every American citizen.

Cause that's a socialist thing to do (not to mention a damn fine idea).

I don't think the establishment GOP -- and by this, I mean elected officials, talking heads and media personalities -- truly believes President Obama is a socialist. Instead, I think they use "socialist" as a code word, a replacement for a word they really want to use.

These people can't use the word they really want, because they know the public outrage would render their scheme useless. Racism still exists in this country, but we have progressed enough as a country where the use of that particular word brings with it heaps of rightful scorn. If a Republican were to call President Obama that word, his or her political career would, in effect, be over.

But by calling President Obama a socialist, these people are playing to those same emotions and fears, but they're disguising it in a code word -- a word that some people truly don't know the meaning of, which provides the GOP all the fear it needs.

It's classic Southern Strategy; play on the racial fears of white people without actually being racist. The Southern Strategy, which has existed in one form or another for decades, thrives of subtlety -- that's the only way it can be successful.

President Obama is no socialist; you know it, I know it, the Republican Party knows it. But the party is choosing to play on the fears of the conservative portion of the electorate, while simultaneously hoping to pry the ill-informed and frustrated independents from the Democrats, by using code words.

We all know what word they want to use on President Obama, just as they know using that word would be political suicide. So they mask their hate in a word they're betting a lot of people don't understand.

And sadly, it's working.

A History Lesson

This blog has offered space before for those who wish to defend the concept of socialism -- I refer specifically to Lawrence O'Donnell's defense of it back in November -- so forgive me if this post is a little redundant.

John Nichols has an article in the May 2, 2011 edition of The Nation magazine titled "How Socialists Built America." The article, adapted from The 'S' Word: a Short History of an American Tradition ... Socialism, examines the role socialism has played in the history of America, particularly in the era of McCarthyism and during Lyndon Johnson's presidency.

The parallels are staggering.

The entire article is well worth the read, but here's a snippet:

Obama really is avoiding consideration of socialist, or even mildly social democratic, responses to the problems that confront him. He took the single-payer option off the table at the start of the healthcare debate, rejecting the approach that in other countries has provided quality care to all citizens at lower cost. His supposedly “socialist” response to the collapse of the auto industry was to give tens of billions in bailout funding to GM and Chrysler, which used the money to lay off thousands of workers and then relocate several dozen plants abroad—an approach about as far as a country can get from the social democratic model of using public investment and industrial policy to promote job creation and community renewal. And when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded, threatening the entire Gulf Coast, instead of putting the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies in charge of the crisis, Obama left it to the corporation that had lied about the extent of the spill, had made decisions based on its bottom line rather than environmental and human needs, and had failed at even the most basic tasks.

So we should take the president at his word when he says he’s acting on free-market principles. The problem, of course, is that Obama’s rigidity in this regard is leading him to dismiss ideas that are often sounder than private-sector fixes. Borrowing ideas and approaches from socialists would not make Obama any more of a socialist than Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower. All these presidential predecessors sampled ideas from Marxist tracts or borrowed from Socialist Party platforms so frequently that the New York Times noted in a 1954 profile the faith of an aging Norman Thomas that he “had made a great contribution in pioneering ideas that have now won the support of both major parties”—ideas like “Social Security, public housing, public power developments, legal protection for collective bargaining and other attributes of the welfare state.” The fact is that many of the men who occupied the Oval Office before Obama knew that implementation of sound socialist or social democratic ideas did not put them at odds with the American experiment or the Constitution.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Disappointed Liberals

Okay, fellow liberals, progressives -- whatever we're calling ourselves these days -- there's something really important I need to get off my chest. I've actually felt this way for quite a while, but haven't been able to properly articulate my thoughts.

In light of recent political battles, and the forthcoming 2012 elections, I feel it is my duty to try.

Am I a so-called "disappointed liberal?" Yeah, I guess you could say I am. Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of things that have gone right since the 2008 elections. You'd never know it by paying attention to the mainstream media, but some good things have happened.

Comprehensive health care reform has passed after over a century of trying.

A stimulus package prevented the recession from getting worse, even making minor (and debatable) improvements.

Comprehensive Wall Street Reform passed.

Combat missions have officially ended in Iraq.

Sensible credit card reforms and a reformation of the student loan system have been enacted.

The discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy concerning homosexuals serving in the Armed Forces was repealed, paving the way for homosexual and bisexual service members to be who they are while serving their country.

But I'll be the first to admit things aren't perfect.

I was a strong advocate for the public option as part of the health care reform package; if we couldn't have a strong single-payer system (President Obama, despite saying in the past that he advocated such a system, took it off the table before the debate truly began), then a strong public option as a balance to the private insurance industry was a sensible compromise.

The Wall Street Reform bill, in part because of retiring Sen. Chris Dodds' (D-Conn.) ties to the banking industry, was not nearly as strong as it should've been. Even with the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- headed for now by economist and middle-class advocate Elizabeth Warren -- the reform package could have been much stronger.

Though combat has officially ended in Iraq, troops are still stationed in that country -- while the Obama administration has doubled down on efforts in Afghanistan, even through a change in command and serious skepticism with regards to the mission. And don't even get me started on Libya ...

Don't let the experts fool you; the recession is not over. Unemployment still hovers over nine percent. Homes are still being foreclosed upon, and while Wall Street continues to rake in billions in profits -- yes, even the firms that received bailout money -- hiring has been slow. many unemployed have exhausted their unemployment insurance and have stopped looking for work (partly because some jobs are explicitly not hiring the unemployed).

Through it all, President Obama and the Democrats have lost their majority in the House of Representatives -- thanks in part to the enthusiasm within the Tea Party movement -- and seen their majority in the Senate dwindle.

This is important in an era in which 60 is the majority needed to get anything done in the Senate, not 51.

At times, the Democrats (President Obama included) have not fought hard enough for progressive principles -- for instance, the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on the country's top two percent of earners. Some of that is mere perception, some of it is reality.

Progressives, largely, have a right to be angry. Hope and change have given way to stagnation and compromise. It was obvious from Day One that some compromise would be necessary; it's the name of the game when there are two political parties vying for control in Washington. But compromise has been a nasty affair, considering the Republican Party has chosen to obstruct and fear-monger at every opportunity -- even now that the party has a majority in one house of Congress.

It's hard to compromise with someone who is so overt in wanting you to fail. This is a large source of liberal anger -- which I understand. Why does President Obama keep compromising with people who want him to fail? In part because he has to, but in some instances, it appears that he doesn't even fight for his principles before compromising.

It might lead some to wonder if he even has any principles.

If there's one thing the Republican Party is good at, it's mobilizing its base and using anger and fear to its advantage. It helps that the party has its own 24-hour cable news station to spout talking points and code words at all hours of the day. The Tea Party movement has also helped mobilize conservative anger.

When Republican voters are angry or upset, they express it in a number of ways -- most importantly at the ballot box. When liberals are upset or angry, they tend to stay home.

Don't believe me? Look at Virginia's most recent gubernatorial election. Republican Bob McDonnell won convincingly, in part because he ran a solid, focused campaign ("Bob For Jobs"); however, he was aided by an unenthusiastic Democratic base. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee, spent the entire campaign focusing on McDonnell's Regent thesis (even after voters showed they didn't care) and trying to move further to the center.

Democrats and independents, unimpressed, stayed home. Republicans came out in droves, like they always do. As a result, McDonnell is currently governor and Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli is his Attorney General. Among Cuccinelli's "achievements" so far: telling the commonwealth's public universities they don't have the authority to protect homosexuals from discrimination; attacking University of Virginia scientists advocating for a response to climate change; and wasting taxpayer dollars on fighting the federal health care reform bill.

All this because Democrats stayed home.

Why do you think Republicans took over the House last year? That "enthusiasm gap" the media kept talking about was a real, tangible thing. Republican voters came out in droves; independent voters were swayed to vote Republican; liberal voters, by and large, stayed home -- including many who voted for the first time in 2008.

If you're angry or disappointed in the Obama administration, I understand and sympathize. But consider this: would you rather face a country led by President Mitt Romney? President Newt Gingrich? President Tim Pawlenty?

President Sarah Palin?

Gods forbid, President Donald Trump?

Whatever President Obama hasn't accomplished in the first three years of this term, I can guarantee America would be worse off under the "leadership" of the above people. And don't sit there and think, "Oh, we'd never vote that person into office." Sharron Angle, with her "Second Amendment remedies," nearly became a U.S. Senator. Rand Paul -- you know, the guy who hates the Civil Rights Act -- is a U.S. Senator.

Don't just sit home because the Democrat in the race isn't a picture-perfect liberal. Don't sit home because you think the country's smart enough not to put Palin in the White House. If you sit home on Election Day -- if you don't get off your butt and make sure you do everything you can to get progressives into office in all levels of government, then fight to have legislation you want passed -- then the Republicans and the Tea Party deserve to win.

Do you want to fight Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), whose budget calls for the gutting of Social Security and the privatization of Medicare? Or do you want to sit back, fold your arms and pout because the entire liberal agenda hasn't yet been achieved?

I'm pissed off, too, guys. There are a lot of things I've fought for in the last three years that never happened -- or happened a lot later in the game than necessary. But the point is to keep fighting.

The GOP isn't going to rest; why should we?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Putting Trump in His Place

Look, I've tried my best to ignore Donald Trump as a prominent political figure (hell, I've been trying to ignore Donald Trump period). In a lot of ways, I take Sarah Palin more seriously, and we all know how I feel about her.

But Joan Walsh of Slate wrote an expert takedown of the Trump-for-President phenomenon on Tuesday, and I just had to share. Ladies and gentlemen, marvel in the sheer hypocrisy that is Donald Trump, political wannabe.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bonds Trial a Sham, Waste of Government

If you sat through Wednesday's news that disgraced slugger Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice in the federal government's case against BALCO (which was also a symbolic trial of the entire Steroids Era in baseball) and wondered what the point of the whole thing was, you're not alone.

Prosecutors couldn't get Bonds on perjury -- the jury deadlocked on all three charges against him. They only managed to get the obstruction of justice charge because jurors felt Bonds evaded questions during his grand jury testimony.

By that logic ... shouldn't Dick Cheney be behind bars?

So, with a potentially bogus obstruction of justice conviction -- which carries a maximum of sentence of 10 years in prison, even though Bonds is unlikely to face jail time -- and what's likely to be a length appeals process (oh, and the government can file the perjury charges again, if it so chooses), the question begs asking: what's the point?

Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, takes the whole thing to task in his recent column, The Great American Witch-Hunt: How Barry Bonds Became a Convicted Felon. A snippet:

As BALCO founder Victor Conte—who is no friend of Bondssaid to USA Today, "This verdict absolutely makes no sense to me. Of all of these counts, the one that makes the least sense to me is the obstruction charge. Tell me how there was obstruction of justice. This is all about the selected persecution of Barry Bonds. This is not fair. I was the heavy in this. I accepted full responsibility and the consequences and went to prison. How is that obstruction? Doesn't make sense.”

It doesn’t. After all the public money, drama, and hysterics, this is what we’re left with. He was “evasive." Keep in mind that we live in a country where the US Department of Justice has not pursued one person for the investment banking fraud that cratered the US economy in 2008. Not one indictment has been issued to a single Bush official on charges of ordering torture or lying to provoke an invasion of Iraq. Instead, we get farcical reality television like the US vs. Barry Bonds.

This was a trial where you longed for the somber dignity of a Judge Judy. Since Anderson wouldn’t talk, the government was left with two real witnesses: Kimberly Bell, Bond's mistress, brought in to discuss his sexual dysfunctions resulting from steroids, and Steve Hoskins, the business manager whom Bonds fired for alleged theft and fraud. But their real star was a once-anonymous IRS official named Jeff Novitsky, who has proudly seen Bonds as an all-consuming obsession, US Constitution be damned.

Look, I'm no Bonds apologist. But doesn't anyone else find a bit strange that the majority of the government's focus in prosecuting steroid use in professional sports has largely focused in on him? Is it because he's the sport's all-time leading home run hitter? Someone who allegedly manufactured his numbers in a sport where numbers mean more than anything?

Is it because Bonds was never friendly with the media? Is it because, heaven forbid, Bonds is black? Where's this level of outrage and condemnation for someone like Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire? The former is accused of taking steroids and lying about it; the latter has finally admitted he juiced.

I know Clemens will have his day in court, but the outrage surrounding his case doesn't even come close to Bonds. But think about this ... if the federal government wants to get in the business of prosecuting steroids in baseball (which, as Zirin pointed out, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder said they wouldn't do), why not focus more on the dealers who supplied the drugs?

Why not focus on the owners and Major League Baseball officials who looked the other way as players bulked up, balls went flying out of ballparks and more money flowed in than anyone knew what to do with? They're just as culpable as the players in this, if not more so.

Frankly, the government has gibber fish to dry than a player who was a surefire Hall of Famer before greed and jealousy led him to take performance-enhancing drugs. While the federal government has been pouring in millions of dollars to prosecute Bonds, not one grand jury has convened to investigate the financial firms who led us into economic collapse.

Tank the economy, get a pass and a bailout. Take steroids to hit a baseball farther, and face potential jail time.

Doesn't that seem screwed up to anyone?

This post also appears on my sports blog, Last Four on the Clock.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Message For My Readers

You may have noticed a decided lack of posts on this blog in recent weeks (okay, months); there's a good reason for that, and I want to ensure everyone that I haven't abandoned this blog -- or the idea of fighting for progressive values that are important to me.

Ultimately, life has been beyond hectic recently.

I work in sports information (i.e., athletic media relations) at Hampton University, and this year, both the men's and women's basketball teams won their conference and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. As great as it was seeing these programs and these student-athletes succeeding and bringing notoriety to the school, it also meant a buttload of work.

Between press releases, press conferences and a trip to Albuquerque, N.M. that lasted nearly a week, I've admittedly let some things fall by the wayside. I've posted to my sports blog occasionally, and I'm still trying to keep my NASCAR blog up-to-date since we're a couple months into the season there, but this page has been a casualty of a busy life.

I've also done a poor job of late keeping up with what's going on; I know the basics of the fight for collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, just as I know Ohio and Michigan have attempted to pass similar union-busting measures. I'm aware of the pending government shutdown, which -- depending on who you talk to, is the fault of President Obama or the Tea Party.

But, due in part of my lack of time, I haven't delved deep enough into the issues to truly get a grasp of them -- and if I don't truly grasp something, I'm not going to write a blog post about it. I don't wanna give an opinion that might be off-base or try to talk about something I don't really understand.

I'm weird like that.

Since Keith Olbermann left MSNBC, I've effectively stopped watching. I tried to hang on enough to watch The Rachel Maddow Show, refusing to punish her for something she ultimately had no control over ... yet I've stopped watching her show. This wasn't a conscious decision, but with Olbermann off doing his own thing, it just hasn't been there for me.

Which is a shame, because Maddow has the distinct ability to make me understand complex situations that I might not otherwise be able to grasp. I still frequent my usual media hangouts -- I still receive my issue of The Nation every week, and I still visit The Huffington Post whenever possible -- but this has suffered as well.

I think, now that things are starting to calm down at work, I'll be returning to this page soon. I just need to re-charge the proverbial batteries, decompress a little. I am not abandoning this page or the struggle it represents; I'm merely taking a step back to make sure I have the energy and resolve for what will undoubtedly be a tough battle ahead.

Take heart, fellow progressives. I'm not going anywhere ... I just need to re-fill the tank.

I will be back.