President Obama’s Tax Compromise Passed by Congress

President Obama and Republican Leaders

On Thursday, the unthinkable (to many progressives) happened: Congress passed the tax cuts, a compromise deal which includes an $801 billion package of tax cuts and $57 billion for extended unemployment benefits. The bill will extend the Bush tax cuts for two years (all of the tax cuts) and provide for a one-year payroll tax cut for most American workers.The extends for two years all of the Bush-era tax rates and provides a one-year payroll tax cut for most American workers.

As FOX News relates,

Workers’ Social Security taxes would be cut by nearly a third, going from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, for 2011. A worker making $50,000 in wages would save $1,000; one making $100,000 would save $2,000.

Many progressives see this as a betrayal. The Republicans, rightly or wrongly, have been accused of holding unemployment benefits and taxes for the Middle Class hostage in exchange for helping out their rich friends. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for example, leveled the accusation that Democrats were forced “to pay a king’s ransom in order to help the middle class.” Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) said it was “craziness” and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) said “This legislation creates too few jobs and too much debt.”

The final vote?  277 to 14 with nearly identical numbers of Republicans and Democrats voting “aye”: 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. The Senate had previously approved the package 81 to 19 on Wednesday.

There was an attempt to change an estate-tax provision in the bill (one that Obama had previously agreed to in his negotiations with the Republicans) but even after that failed, 139 Democrats voted for it as opposed to 112 against.

Two years, of course, will bring us right to 2012, when the future of the tax cuts will become more important than ever in the midst of a presidential election. This is not the last we will hear of the matter by any means. Some Republicans would like to see the tax cuts made permanent. Since tax cuts for the rich demonstrably do not create jobs, this position will be a tough sell for Republicans, particularly if the groundswell of opposition swings the other way at the end of the next two years, and it is the Republicans who find themselves under attack for perceived failings.

It is obvious to many people that the economic stability of our nation is at stake and that this deal is not going to fix those problems. It is no more than a finger in the dyke.

For now, the New York Times reports that administration officials say President Obama will sign the bill into law today.

This moment marks both a way forward and signals a lack of progress. Cooperation and compromise are essential facets of government in a modern liberal Democracy like ours and the willingness of Republicans to compromise at last should take center stage over what is seen as President Obama’s capitulation to Republican demands. The President has governed as a centrist and he did what a responsible president would do. Rather than stand on principle and make people suffer, he made a deal.

Rather like the framers of the Constitution back in 1787, none of whom got everything out of that deal they wanted and the New York Times tells us “The White House and Republicans hailed the deal as a rare bipartisan achievement and a prototype for future hard-bargained compromises in the new era of divided government.”

FOX News called it “a remarkable show of bipartisanship.” Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), called it “a bipartisan moment of clarity.”

And so it is.

Progressives, like their Republican opponents, seem of late to have forgotten that lesson. To stand on ideological purity and refuse compromise while the country crumbles around you is not an admirable thing, however they frame it. Government needs to continue to govern. In a sense, a politician hasn’t the luxury of principles, and that includes the president.

Ideological purity is for dictatorships.

For the first time in two years we have seen government function as it should. And if nobody got everything they wanted out of it, so be it. That’s how it works. That is how it has always worked. Sometimes one side gets more, sometimes the other. As House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill. The judgment is, is it better than doing nothing? Some of the business groups believe it will help. I hope they’re right.”

In this case, most Republican opposition centered around the creation of additional federal debt, but most of them voted for it anyway. Of course, Republicans did not get everything they wanted either.

Political reality suddenly meant something again to the arrogant GOP, as Eric Cantor (R-VA) was forced to remind his colleagues:

“We could try to hold out an pass a different tax bill, but there is no reason to believe the Senate would pass it or the president would sign it if this fight spills into next year.”

It remains to be seen if Democrats and Republicans can find other ways to work together, other areas in which compromise is a possibility, such as repeal of DADT and the DREAM Act, an amnesty program for illegal aliens who came to the United States as minors. There are things the Republicans will want and things the Democrats will want and the current balance of power does not grant to either the ability to pass that legislation without regard for the opinions of the other.

If anything at all is to get done for the next two years, this will not be the only compromise. In the end, both the achievement of bipartisanship in the face of ideological purity and the continuing problems (and its root causes) must be underscored. Fingers in dykes won’t make the flood on the other side of the wall go away. That deluge remains, waiting to sweep us all away. The question is, can our two major political parties stop their bickering long enough to fix it?

4 responses so far

Extortion: The United States Senate’s Newest Racket

Nov 18 2010 Published by under Featured News, U.S. Senate

American government has lost its designation as a representative democracy, and is turning into a racket where one man, or one party, dictates its will on the entire government, and apparently no-one is willing to stop the demise of democratic rule. Conservatives have hijacked our democracy by using lies, deceit, and extortion to control the government agenda and the American people.

Republicans obstruct Democrat’s legislation that regulates corporations and helps American people. They use filibusters and super-majorities to block bills that rein in unfair business and banking practices as well as to deny funding for social programs that benefit a majority of Americans.

There are individuals in the legislatures who block legislation by using extortion to control the outcome of a bill, or to make sure a bill doesn’t come up for debate or a vote. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is notorious for threatening to join Republicans if Democrats don’t adopt Republican proposals. Lieberman holds up Democrat’s legislation as a matter of course, and joined Republicans in blocking a bill that stopped job outsourcing. It is a mystery why Democrats allow him to sit on important committees.

There is a new extortionist in the Senate and although he is a Democrat, his allegiance seems closer to the Tea Party and ultra-conservative Republicans. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made a campaign ad (watch here) where he loaded a rifle and promised he would protect the 2nd Amendment, get the government off people’s backs, repeal bad parts of Obamacare, and kill cap and trade if he were elected to the Senate. Manchin resigned as Governor in West Virginia to replace Democrat Robert Byrd who recently died leaving an open Senate seat.

Manchin has ties to the mining industry and does not support environmental protections meant to maintain clean water in West Virginia. It is curious though, why Manchin’s campaign ad claimed he needed to protect the 2nd Amendment, or keep the government off of peoples’ backs. He may be a Democrat in name, but his campaign ads and statements are taken right out of Tea Party and Republican playbooks.

Before Manchin was sworn in as a Senator, Republicans tried to convince him to change parties and become a Republican.  Harry Reid had to assure Manchin that the cap and trade bill would not be pursued so he wouldn’t join Republicans. It is another case of extortion, and not the way Democracy is supposed to work.

There is much talk about compromise and bipartisanship from the Democrats, and the White House, but in the 21st Century American democracy, it is a fallacy and a joke. Republicans will not compromise on anything, and like Lieberman and Manchin, they will have it their way, or not at all. It doesn’t matter if they use the filibuster, super-majority rules, or the one-man blocking tactic; Republicans will not compromise.

Extortionist tactics are not limited to personal ideology or religious belief, which is outrageous in itself. Many obstructionists are working for special interest groups or corporate sponsors like the energy industry. If enough money is involved, one legislator, like Manchin, can block regulatory agencies like the EPA from protecting water sources and the environment. Manchin filed suit in West Virginia to stop the EPA from enforcing Federal clean water rules and other environmental protection issues to appease the mining industry.

If America continues on its course of corporate control of legislators, democracy is dead, and Democrats are as much at fault as Republicans. Democrats in the legislature and the White House have to stop bending to the will of one man or the government will continue being ineffective. The days of sitting down, debating, compromising, and working for the good of the country are gone, and it signals the undoing of American democracy.

Although Democrats had a majority in both houses, they allowed Republicans and individual representatives to halt legislation with impunity to the detriment of the American people. When they did pass legislation, they had to concede conservative’s demands that effectively killed important benefits to the people. It happened with health care reform, financial reform, and environmental protections.

Republicans and teabaggers complain of Democrat’s tyranny in forcing legislation down their throats, regardless that the democratic process means the majority rules. The real tyranny is the conservative ideology that there is only one course of action, and one man can dictate policy by using extortion or obstruction.

Democracy is dead in America, and corporatist Republicans and attention seeking Democrats are responsible for its demise. The idea of majority rule is a joke when the minority controls the government and it is shameful. It is time to mourn our lost Democracy, and time to fear the tyranny of a few extortionists and corporatist dictators; maybe it is time to leave America.

14 responses so far

Vote for the Constitution on November 2

Oct 21 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

The Republican Target: The Constitution

The 2010 Midterm elections are a few days away, November 2. Everybody knows what they are about, what the major issues are: abortion (the #1 Republican issue), the federal deficit (and in a broader sense the economy), and, of course, the balance of power in both houses of Congress. This means not only are we voting for what Obama might be able to accomplish in the future, but for what he has already done. We are, in effect, being asked to vote for President again. Because the Republicans have made clear that they will repeal every bit of the Obama administration’s legislation, obstruct further legislation, and appoint committees to investigate Obama and administration officials for any and every reason.

A Republican victory in the 2010 Midterms is designed to bring the United States government to a screeching halt, or to be more accurate, destroy it outright.

We stopped them in 2008. But thanks to the Supreme Court, thanks to the ruinous state our economy as a result of Republican maladministration, they get a second chance to finish the job.

But even this is not the end result. No, the true end result of all this is laying the country low enough to accept the return of the legitimate ruling dynasty, the Republicans, ordained by God to be the rightful rulers of His United States.

Few people probably realize that we are voting on the Constitution, and in particular, the First Amendments rights of freedom of choice in matters of religion.

So don’t panic, but there is a lot at stake here, and you had better recognize exactly what it is you are going to your voting places to vote for. You had better have these issues clear in your mind before you enter your ballot, because in a very real sense, there is no going back.

The Republicans intend to take us to a place from which there is no return.

You see, their fantasy America, the mythic America that was founded as a Christian nation in their re-written text books, is about to come to fruition. They are that close.

Church State separation doesn’t exist in the Republican mindset. There is no place for it in the Constitution or even in discussion of the Constitution. They simply say it isn’t there. Why? Because the words don’t appear there. And if it nowhere says “separation of church and state” then it can’t possibly be there, can it?

But it can. And it is. The First Amendment is very clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Then there is the little matter of Article 6, Section 3, which prohibits religious tests for office:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This is very clear. There can be no mistaking what is meant. Yet the Republicans keep insisting it is a myth. They do not offer any actual evidence for all their claims and what quotes they throw our way are invented quotes supposedly made by Washington. Bruce Wilson, of Talk to Action, points out that the “’George Washington’s Prayer’ even served as the printed invocation prayer for the 2001 National Prayer Breakfast…[which] Historians have known it to be fraudulent for, literally, decades.” This fraudulent prayer is held out as proof of what the Founding Father’s intended. But they like to claim that the phrase “separation of church and state” appears only in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, and is therefore inadmissible.

It is interesting that Washington’s extra-constitutional prayer (which was never invoked by Washington) is evidence of the Founder’s intent to establish a Christian nation (Washington was present at the Constitutional Convention but did not contribute to the debates) while Jefferson’s words (he was not present at the Constitutional Convention but was a close confidante of Madison, who was) are not evidence of the Founder’s intent to establish a secular nation. The First Amendment is in the Bill of Rights, and if it is inaccurate to call Madison the Father of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights was his entirely.

But the Religious Right does not want to talk about Madison, who, significantly, was a Christian who believed in the separation of church and state, and who fought for it tenaciously. And of what Washington actually said? They don’t want to talk about that either.

When in 1789 some New England ministers took up the issue of the lack of mention of “the true only God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent” in the Constitution, Washington answered, “the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.” This was the answer of a politician and before the Religious Right can attempt to subvert this genuine quote as well, they will need to be reminded that Washington corresponded with 22 major religious groups and attended various services: Lutheran, Congregational, Dutch Reform, and even the despised Roman Catholic. He said he was tolerant of all religions (echoing Jefferson), including Muslims and Jews.

And Washington never became a member of any church; that is, he never took communion, saying he was “no bigot…to any mode of worship.” He did not, as far as we know, even own a Bible.

This is the man the Religious Right would make their poster boy for Christian theocracy. They would use the main upholder of the Constitution to bring it down.

When Alexander Hamilton was asked why the Constitutional Convention had not recognized God in that document, he is said to have answered glibly, “We forgot.” During the convention, he dismissed Franklin’s suggestion of a daily invocation as “foreign aid” that was unneeded.

The facts are all there and in plain view. That the Republicans continue to express unsupported and unsubstantiated claims and insist that they are right in absence of all proof should send out the requisite warning bells to all voters. Voters, it is proven, do not always carefully study the issues at stake, do not want to be troubled with trying to understand them and their complexities. But this is a very simple one, because we are voting on the Constitution and its foremost principle, that the United States is a nation of true religious liberty, alien to the idea of state-sponsored religion, and to the idea that one denomination’s holy book can be legislated into law for all.

This was one of the things which we threw off when we declared our liberty from Great Britain. It is one of the things our Nation has always stood for, and which has made us strong. A Republican vote is an anti-Constitutional vote, a vote against the very fabric of our Founding document, and I hope people will keep this in mind when they go to the polls on November 2. Because we won’t get a second chance.

11 responses so far

Apocalyptic Sarah Palin the Wrathful Prophetess of God

Oct 14 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Apocalyptic Sarah, Wrathful prophetess of God

Sarah Palin figures since God didn’t get it done for American in 2008, she’ll have to do it herself. She has the same apocalyptic vision possessed by the Jewish Zealots in 70 C.E.  That didn’t turn out so well, of course, but maybe she thinks she knows something God doesn’t. She may not plan to go down in a blaze of fiery glory like they did but one gets the idea she wouldn’t mind much either. Think of the publicity and the joys of martyrdom as God remakes the world in her image.

Oh the odes that have yet to be written!

It’s hard to say what she’s thinking of course; we can only observe that her God-interpreting track record isn’t any better than her term-of-governor-finishing track record. She’s 0-1 on both counts.

It’s amusing that the party that drove the car into the ditch thinks they should be given the keys for another round. As a public service you have got to practice tough love and keep the keys. America has to show the Republicans some tough love; for their good as well as ours.

But here is the Mama Grizzly’s take on what needs to be done:

“These two elections, 2010 and 2012, go hand-in-hand. The theme of 2010 has got to be rebuke their errors, reject, repeal; and then the theme of 2012, it’s renew, revive and restore.”

How following the same policies that got the car into the ditch in the first place are going to get the car OUT of the ditch is a mystery known only to Sarah and her Grizzly Cubs.

With true comedic ability, Sarah thinks the Republicans, who demolished the Constitution during the eight-year Bush administration, are the ones to restore it. It’s amzing how the sins of Bush have become in Republican propaganda the sins of Obama. He’s to blame in their minds for everything Bush did; heck, even 9/11 happened on his watch, and Afghanistan, which Bush invaded, is “Obama’s War.”

So what does Mama Grizzly say?

Republicans should pledge to “renew our optimistic, pioneering spirit, revive our free market system and restore constitutional limits and our standing in the world, as that abiding beacon of freedom,” and added that the message should be “not transformation but restoration with a ‘Great Awakening’ that we already feel emerging across America.”

Yikes, because nothing says freedom like torture, rendition and Gitmo. Is that the kind of Great Awakening you want, Sarah? Can we at least ask that there be books in this great awakening? And that you read more of them than you can fit on the palm of your hand?

Let’s look at where the “free market system got us.” Yeah, you’re living it. The recession of ’08, worst economic crisis since the Great Crash of ’29, and the world is still reeling. Sarah doesn’t read much so maybe she missed it.

And it’s not certain what freedoms she’s hawking. The Republicans don’t believe in many of them beyond gun ownership. They want to ban darn near everything else. They want to roll back the Constitution to…well, we’re not sure. They say the amendments are bad and need to go but gosh darn it, the Founding Fathers put amendments into the Constitution…

It’s a tough one. I’m sure Sarah will figure it out.

It’s a bit much to expect a Republican candidate to show any awareness of history that he didn’t invent himself but Sarah, I have to tell you, girl, the Great Awakening happened AFTER the American revolution. It wasn’t a religious revolution, but a secular revolution.

HINT: Let Hrafnkell break it down for ya: That’s why the Constitution is secular. That’s why the First Amendment exists. That’s why there is no mention of God, Jesus, the Ten Commandments or the Bible in the Constitution. Get it?

But of course, facts have never stood in the way of Republican rhetoric so there is no reason we should expect it to now. The Mama Grizzly wants to spew and she can’t be bothered to fact check first; and how many facts can you fit on the palm of your hand anyway?

No, what Sarah is selling America doesn’t want. The lower 48 don’t want it and neither, anymore, do Alaskans. She left them high and dry after all, and she’ll leave the rest of us high and dry too. The Mama Grizzly wants fur, kids, as much as you can be made to pay for. Like Bush, whom she wants to emulate, Sarah wants to plunder America and Americans to enrich herself. And that’s just what she’s gonna do if you let her.

16 responses so far

Some Thoughts on America’s Shame

Someday, future Americans will look back on the end of the 21st century’s first decade and feel shame, and perhaps a sense of wonder that such an advanced nation, one of the most free to have ever existed, could be home to such petty prejudice and superstition, that rights we once held thought defined us could be so easily and thoughtlessly trampled.

Just as we look back with shame on our treatment of the African Americans brought to these shores and kept in a state of slavery, future Americans will look back with shame on the treatment meted out to our first African American president, not because of his education or qualifications, but because of the color of his skin.

Thomas Jefferson, though he owned slaves, knew that slavery was wrong; he thought of it as a social contagion that was harmful to all, slave and free. He fully expected slavery to come to an end and took legislative steps to begin the process. He knew that extreme measures in his own day would lead to the fragile new union’s collapse if not outright war. It came to war anyway, of course, and over 600,000 dead and a president with the courage to say “enough.”

The road to true freedom for blacks in America did not come all at once, or even with the Emancipation Proclamation. The process has been long and hard and many battles for civil rights had to be fought and won before racism would yield. But racism did not die and is not dead yet, and some, myself included, were shocked when Obama was elected by the degree of racism still existing in this country, by the waving of Confederate flags under which slavery flourished and was defended.

Everyone is equal, the Founding Fathers said. We all have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But there are those today who disregard the utopian dreams of the Founding Fathers, people to whom egalitarianism extends only to those like themselves, of the same skin color, or the same religion, or the same political leanings. They live in a land of absolutes, where you are one of the chosen – or one of the damned.

We have seen the reactionary forces of this group of people displayed in all its unsavory rhetoric since Barack Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. He has been accused of being a “Kenyan anti-colonialist” and a “Muslim” and of not even being an American citizen. Conservatives have danced to “Barack the Magic Negro” and refuse even to call him by his real name while they share pictures of the White House surrounded by a watermelon patch, and then play dumb when called out.

They have even accused the Democrats, those who put Barack Obama in office as the first black president of the United States, of racism and keeping black people down. If by holding them down they mean electing them to the highest office in the land, then I suppose they are right, but that is a strange use of the English language, stranger even then Sarah Palin’s unintentional non sequiturs.

Then there is the belief that the word Muslim is in some sense an insult. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but according to the Constitution, it would make no difference if he was. The United States was founded on the idea of the separation of church and state, that there would be no state religion to sap our hard-won liberties, and the Constitution (Article 6, Section 3) ensures that there will be no religious test for office. The office-holders religious views are, according to the Constitution, completely irrelevant.

Someday, future Americans will look back and shake their heads sadly, wondering how such low arguments could not only be tolerated but bandied about on a major network and in major print newspapers, that a whole political party could operate on the assumption that the Constitution is irrelevant, for irrelevant it must be if what it says can be so easily disregarded.

Most of us may not expect something as free and open-minded as Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future to come to fruition, but we like to think we were further along than we turned out to be; we like to believe there is some hope yet that we may prove ourselves worthy of the founding documents’ lofty words, that liberty is not only for a few, but for all equally, that even if it could not become true all at once with the signing of a pen, that it would be true someday, that it was meant to be true some day.

That such levels of racism and bigotry could exist in the 21st century is a mark of shame for those alive today. We are not who we were supposed to be, ladies and gentlemen, and we share a responsibility in not having created and nurtured the society that we should have created. We have made advances, but not enough. There are still those who expect the wrath of God to befall us for our sins, or who assign natural disasters to God’s wrath, or who would deprive those they don’t approve of, of their allegedly inalienable rights.

You have no rights because you are black; you have no rights because you are a woman; you have no rights because you are gay; you have no rights because you are an atheist; you have no rights because you are a Muslim; you have no rights because you support what the Founding Fathers promised us: liberty and individual human rights – for all.

The forces of exclusion bring shame on all Americans. And the rest of us will bear that shame if we let them triumph, if we let the great experiment begun in 1776 expire because we do not have the courage to stand up and give a shout for what is right, and to shout down what is wrong. Someday Americans will look back in shame on this era, but it is within our power to bring that era to an end, if only we will do what is right in three weeks, and again in two years, and again in every election that follows.

21 responses so far

Americans Are Less Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage, Poll Shows

Oct 09 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Despite all the hostile rhetoric, all the hate speech and all the claims that same-sex marriage will destroy not only “traditional” marriage but American society itself, a recent Pew Research Center poll shows that while more than half of Americans are still opposed to gay marriage, less than half are opposed to making it legal.

This is a significant moment in time and it represents a shift from last year. “The shift in opinion on same-sex marriage has been broad-based, occurring across many demographic, political and religious groups,” Pew announces.

The numbers? 42 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, while 48 percent oppose it. The numbers for 2009 were 37 percent in favor and 54 percent opposed.

Americans are also in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. According to Pew, “The public continues to be far more supportive of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military than of allowing legal same-sex marriages.” Sixty percent of Americans have no problem with allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military; only thirty percent oppose it. In 1994, those for gays serving openly in the military numbered only 52 percent.

This figure, Pew says, has remained stable for about five years, yet according to conservatives the wheels will come off if we do what the people want.

And isn’t the Tea Party all about rights and doing what people want and not having to listen to a stodgy old government? Apparently not when it’s not what the Tea Party wants to hear. But then the Tea Party doesn’t represent the American people; it never did.

Don’t do what we say, just do…oh, whatever. I won’t even try to unravel their un-reasons for opposing gays and lesbians because I don’t think they’ve ever been able to field any sort of cogent argument. They base right and wrong on religion, not on the Constitution, and that’s where the wheels really come off.

Let’s look at some particulars:

Support for gay marriage unsurprisingly varies according to age.

  • Those born after the 1980s – 53 percent for, 39 percent opposed
  • Those born from 1965 to 1980 – 48 percent for, 43 percent opposed
  • Those born from 1946 to 1964 – 38 percent for, 52 percent opposed (I’m one of the 38 percent)
  • Those born between 1928 and 1945 – 29 percent for, 59 percent opposed

And of course, Americans are divided along political lines, 53 percent of Democrats being for legalizing same-sex marriage and just 24 percent of Republicans, while Independents register in between, at 44 percent.

In light of such polling figures and their recent inability to mount an argument in court, it is difficult to see how conservatives can regain the momentum in this civil rights issue, or to keep up the pretense that they represent “real” Americans. A populist movement that is out of touch with what the populace wants doesn’t have much going for it, and it becomes exposed as the tool of a few rich, white conservatives.

But we knew that already, didn’t we?

11 responses so far

The Republicans Skipped American History 101

Oct 01 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

How is it that Americans can be so ignorant of American history? We all go to public school where we ostensibly learn something about American history – beyond George Washington and his cherry tree, that is – and there is a veritable smorgasbord laid out before us when you add libraries, bookstores, and internet together. It’s all there for the taking. All you need is a desire to know.

To judge from the result, most people lack this, and it is a lack felt severely on the Right. Let’s face it, in today’s political climate we love to beat each other over the head with the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson said this, Ben Franklin said that, but what’s behind those quotes? How many of them are accurate? What was their context? Does the quote accurate portray the lifelong viewpoint of the man in question? Not likely. Peoples’ views change over time. The Founding Fathers changed over time. Republicans love to quote an anti-federalist Jefferson but ignore the President Jefferson who became the strong Executive he feared all his life up to that point.

I’m certain that deficient education in American history is responsible for many of our problems today. The situation in Texas will only make matters worse by privileging ideology over fact. It’s true that history is more than just a collection of facts; it is the interpretation of those facts as well. It is also true that a complete lack of bias is impossible. We all have points of view, we all operate out of a context just as did the authors whose writings we are discussing. But we ought to at least try to be impartial and unbiased in our interpretations, and more important still, intellectually honest enough to admit when the facts don’t fit our thesis.

That’s the scientific process. Abandon your thesis and find a new one, because that’s all you can do when the facts don’t match up. Don’t invent a false narrative and populate it with false quotes or quotes taken out of context; don’t simply continue to insist the Founders intended this or they intended that, without offering any proof.

Look at Sarah Palin, whom FOX calls a Constitutional Expert despite her inability to name even a single Founding Father (George Washington on continued prompting from Glenn Beck and maybe a hastily scribbled message off camera), or her insistence that America was founded on Biblical principles and the Constitution on the Bible…has she even read the Constitution or does she have only a vague awareness that a document called “the Constitution” is floating around somewhere?

Conservative think-tanks are as guilty as conservative candidates. Look at the “Claremont Institute” for example:

The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. These principles are expressed most eloquently in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” To recover the founding principles in our political life means recovering a limited and accountable government that respects private property, promotes stable family life, and maintains a strong national defense.

Seriously? According to the principles of the “American Founding” the “all men are created equal” enshrines the idea essential to liberal democracy that all are equal before the law. But that is not the case. It is demonstrably not the case that conservatives want this to be true. The LGBT community can attest to continuing bias. I’m going to have to point out here that the Founders were speaking of more than the right to bear arms or the states having certain rights, which seem to be the complete contents of the new Republican version of the Constitution. And where in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution (which you significantly fail to mention) is any stress laid on “stable family life”? And have you picked up a history book recently? The young republic had no standing army, let alone a “strong national defense.”

You have to wonder how all these folks can take 1+1 and get anything other than “2” – but they do, all of them, pundits, candidates, and think tanks alike. Ideology has become so central to their narrative that facts can be dismissed at a whim. The narrative need bear no resemblance to what actually took place, despite that smorgasbord of evidence all around us.

There is an old expression that not reading when you know how is worse than not being able to read and you wonder where the shame is. If you want something central to the “Founding principles” you have only to look at education. Yet the Republicans are as anti-intellectual as they come, crying for the abolition of the Department of Education; it’s almost as if they are at war with the Enlightenment, and in truth it seems they are, even if they’re unaware intellectually that such a thing existed or took place (they don’t read, after all).

So I’m with them – absolutely – let’s get back to founding principles, but let’s get back to the real founding principles, not the ones you make up and support with non-facts or invented facts, but the founding principles supported by the evidence. At least be honest enough to admit that you want something because you want it to be true, not because it was ever true, or ever intended to be true.

25 responses so far

The War on Liberty

Taking Aim at Lady Liberty

As the 2010 Midterm Elections loom, it is appropriate to examine what the Republicans have done to destroy our country. It is easy to dismiss such questions with answers of “they’re all the same” but they’re not, and the facts demonstrate this for any and all who have an interest in evidence over the diktat of ideology.

For eight years, the Bush administration plundered the American people, violated the Constitution, and tarnished our image abroad with egregious breaches of international law. America came close to becoming a rogue state, a brand of American exceptionalism so extreme that it seemed America was above the laws that bound the rest of the civilized world together. Grievous harm was done, some of it likely irreparable.

While the Obama administration has reversed some of these policies, it has embraced others; as totalitarianism creeps closer, democracy is pushed back. Those who hold power do not relinquish it once gained, and the Executive has become dangerously powerful, throwing the delicate system of checks and balances all out of kilter. As Paul Starr wrote in The American Prospect in 2006, “The real danger today is the loaded weapon that Bush and his defenders are willing to put in the hands of all future presidents.” Tyranny is the logical end-place should the powers of the Executive not be checked.

This is not the first time the Constitution has come under attack. Starr goes on to observe that,

Repeatedly through our history, the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution have been threatened in war by an overreacting government and then reaffirmed in peace by calmer leadership. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the suppression of free speech during and after World War I, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, McCarthyism, and the wiretapping of Vietnam-era dissenters — all of these came to be seen, once fears subsided, as violations of our freedoms and embarrassments to our heritage.

Bush is largely responsible for creating an “imperial presidency”; by claiming “”Unitary Executive” power, he announced to the world – and was unchallenged by a cowed Congress – that the law was what he said it was. He may have never said that the Constitution was just a “goddamn piece of paper” but his every action confirmed that this was his attitude toward the document that creates and binds this nation together.

But the Constitution, if America is to survive in any form recognizable to the Founders, must be more than a mere set of guidelines or suggestions. It is a living, flexible document, but it cannot be twisted like a pretzel. Like anything else, it will shatter if enough stress is applied.

The attack on America from within was persistent and ruthless: John Conyers (D-MI) is on record (2005) as stating that the Bush administrations violations of law were “not only serious, but widespread.” And in 2005, Bush was far from done with America. The Bush administration violated six amendments and the writ of habeas corpus and only Congress may legally suspend habeas corpus. By 2006 the Boston Globe was able to report that Bush had “claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.”

Essentially, Bush played Pompey, using a national emergency to vest within himself dictatorial powers. The Roman Republic did not survive Pompey for Pompey made Caesar possible and Caesar killed the Republic. Each blow against the Constitution weakens the structure. But the Constitution does not make the president king, though it grants him enough power that today, that even if he restrains his impulses, he is the most powerful person on earth. Congress too has a Constitutional role, as does the Supreme Court. If either of these abrogates their powers, if they do not function as intended, liberty comes under attack.

The Republicans have come dangerously close to asserting the divine right of kings. Bush claimed to be appointed not by the American people but by God. Other Republican politicians and pundits claim that only Christians are fit (or should be legally allowed) to hold public office, and Article VI section 3 is repeatedly violated in word if not in deed when these Republicans pretend that there is a religious test for public office. America has become the New Rome and the president chosen by God. If this is true, then the Republican Party is indeed God’s Own Party and only they have a legitimate claim to power, resulting today in the idea that the Democrats – and Obama – are usurpers and the Republican leadership is a government in exile.

This is as preposterous as it is dangerous, and Americans must wake up and recognize this – and resist. The Republicans continue to utilize the weapon of fear embraced by the Bush administration. Do as we say, or America will be destroyed, is their message. Turn your back on God and he will turn his back on you. In truth, if we do what they say, America will be destroyed – utterly – because the Republican path is the road to ruin, a headlong rush toward the Rubicon and a mortal blow to the Constitution.

The Republican leadership of 2010 offers America nothing Bush did not already offer in 2001. President Obama has repeatedly warned that their message is the same message that got us into trouble in the first place and he is not wrong. The championing of States Rights invokes the specter of the Confederacy, and racism the dark shadow of slavery, and the appeal to “Second Amendment remedies” is nothing short of a promise of treason. Do it our way, or we will overthrow the government; if we can’t have America, there will be no America. That is their message. That is their promise.

They say they want to take America back, but folks, the America they claim to represent never existed, not in the minds of the Founding Fathers and not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Neither the President nor Congress, nor the Supreme Court has defended the Constitution. This leaves liberty just one defender: the American people.

Liberty stands for human rights and freedoms. It was appreciation of America’s embrace of liberty that brought Lady Liberty to these shores. If we won’t defend her now, we might as well send her back, because we will have proven ourselves unworthy of her.

10 responses so far

Banning Sharia Law in Oklahoma

Sep 29 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

Rex Duncan, Constitutionally Unaware Islamophobe

Well, you knew it had to be coming given all the Islamphobia flying around the right-end of the political spectrum: a state considering a constitutional amendment banning Sharia Law.

Yes, Sharia Law. Bush and his cronies spent eight years violating the Constitution, running the country into the ground, violating the First Amendment, systematically plundering this country and its tax-payers to line their pockets, and these people are worried about Sharia Law.

Because, as we all know, the imminent threat of Sharia Law transcends every other threat to the United States. No doubt the same people who oppose Sharia Law so vehemently would be more than happy to welcome Mosaic Law, which is, ironically and hypocritically enough, nearly identical to Sharia Law. Both, folks, are essentially Bronze Age law codes. Don’t let anyone kid you, and neither have any place in a modern liberal democracy.

Oklahoma – not Texas this time – is the place. Yes, they’re hosting a referendum on Islam – State Question 755 the “Save Our State” amendment. If it is passed, state courts will be prohibited from considering Islamic Sharia law in making rulings. That’s fine with me; they shouldn’t be considering Mosaic Law either since our government is secular.

The bill’s sponsor is Representative Rex Duncan (R-Sand Springs) who claims the legislation is intended to “protect” the courts from being “hijacked” by people we are “at war” with. Because, Rex, we are at war with Islam, right? Wrong. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with a sect within Islam that is itself at war with Islam. Islam is not the enemy, Rex. You are.

Here’s what Rex says:

Oklahoman’s recognize that America was founded on Judeo Christian principles and we’re unapologetically grateful that God has blessed America and blessed our state. State amendment 755, the Save Our State Amendment is a simple effort to insure our courts are not used to undermine those founding principles and turn Oklahoma into something our founding fathers and our great grandparents wouldn’t recognize.

No, Rex, America was not founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and the whole “Judeo-Christian” concept is a mirage, an artificial construct. There is no such thing. American law is based on English common-law, which while it is impacted by Pagan Roman Law is in no way based on the Ten Commandments. Nor, Rex, if you will take the time to look, will you find mention of YHWH, Jesus, the Bible, or the Ten Commandments in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Epic fail, Rex. Truly epic fail.

And of course this is all despite the complete absence of evidence that any court weighs Sharia Law in its rulings, and even Rex admits as much but excuses himself by saying,

This is a pre-emptive strike to make sure that liberal judges don’t take the bench in an effort to use their position to undermine those founding principles that are international or Sharia law. the other part of the question is to prohibit all state courts from considering international or Sharia law when considering cases, even cases of first impression.

Rex thinks Islam is too harsh on women, compared to say, modern Republicans like Sharron Angle who think women should stay at home while the man works – excluding Sharron herself, of course. Rex says Islam’s treatment of women is incompatible with American principles. To be perfectly honest, so is the American conservative’s treatment of women. The record speaks for itself; Rex is not likely to jump up in support of women’s rights. No other conservative has.

Rex seems eager to join the lemming-race of conservatives – a race that includes Newt Gingrich who came out with a similar position at the Value Voters Summit this month, Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey (R) of Tennessee, and Lynne Torgerson (I) who is running for the Minnesota House – trying to outdo each other in craziness:

It’s a growing threat frankly. This again is a pre-emptive strike. They understand that this is a war for the survival of America, it’s a cultural war it’s a social war. It’s a war for the survival of our country. And other states have looked away and kow towed to political correctness, have lost the chance perhaps to save their state. I believe Oklahoma voters at a margin greater than 90% will approve this state amendment and when we do, other red states and maybe even some lesser blue states will decide their states are worth saving too.

Frankly, Rex, I’m more worried about the Christian fundamentalism here at home than Islamic fundamentalism over there, thousands of miles away. There is no sign, no evidence, not the remotest indication that there is any threat of Sharia Law overturning the Constitution. Without a shred of evidence, you go off the deep end. You’re not a “true patriot” Rex, but a fear monger. Nothing but a lowly fear mongering demagogue, indistinguishable from all the other fear mongering demagogues on the right.

Given a choice between Mosaic and Sharia Law…well, there isn’t one, to be frank. They’re equally unhealthy choices for a modern liberal democracy that enshrines ideas of tolerance and pluralism – things our Nation was founded upon, by the way, Rex, if you’ll only bother to look.

8 responses so far

Some Hard Truths About Prayer and Crime

Sep 22 2010 Published by under Featured News, Republican Party

Are there prayers in these cells?

I recently wrote about the Republican school prayer myth. I thought we’d revisit the question of prayer and violence  given the Republican mania over the question. They’re pushing a narrative of prayer = nonviolence. They want us to believe that the absence of prayer in our public schools is breeding criminals. They want us to believe barring religion from politics at the government level is corrupting America. Religion, they say (as do many Muslims) is the maker and enforcer of morality. Without God, morality, so the narrative goes, is impossible.

That’s what dogma tells us. Let’s look at the facts and see what they tell us.

If the morality police are right, most of our criminals are nasty old atheists and secularists and Pagans.

But they’re not! Atheists and agnostics commit fewer crimes than Christians.  A Pew Research Values Study shows that “crime correlates inversely with levels of religious conviction.”

Ouch.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Religious people are supposed to be the most violence free. After all, they have prayer. The rest of us schmucks wallow in the muddy waters of moral relativism.

We already noted that secularism is on the rise, from 8% of Americans in 1990 to 15% in 2008. If this is the case, and if the morality police are right, then crime should be on the increase as well, because these are the immoral slobs committing all the crimes.

Instead, violent crime remained at a steady level from 1990 to 1993 and since 1993 it has declined. As America has become more secular, it has become less violent.

If the narrative is true, this is another logical impossibility.

The morality police will continue to argue that the reverse is true but in a fact-based world this cannot be the case. Prayer does not reduce crime. Those who pray are more likely to be criminals than those who do not.

Who fills up our prisons? Why, secularists of course! Atheists! Pagans!

Wrong again. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says that nonbelievers are only two-tenths of 1% of inmates. Since Christians are approximately 80% of the population and 75% of it’s prisoners, we should be drawing some vastly different conclusions, shouldn’t we?

While I’m sure the apologists will explain the 91% of executed murderers on persecution of the faithful, the numbers suggest that Christians are simply more likely to murder somebody. How many atheists were executed for murder in the same ten-year period? Less than a third of 1%.

And all this is true not just nationally but internationally as well. Europe, far more secular than America, has a much lower crime rate. Denmark and Sweden are recognized as the “most atheist nations in the world” as Timothy Ferris points out, but they “enjoy admirably low levels of corruption and violent crime while scoring near the top of the international happiness indices.”

How can this possibly be, we must ask ourselves. It’s the reverse of the truth! It’s all a lie.

But the numbers don’t lie. The believers lie.

As an aside, the “family that prays together stays together” is just as false. According to a study by the Barna Research Group born again Christians have a higher divorce rate than the rest of us – and much higher than atheists and agnostics (27% vs. 21%). Of the various Christian denominations, Evangelicals lead the pack but another group that prays from much the same scripture, the Jews, lead the way with 30%.

Another interesting if disturbing tidbit is a Pew poll which shows that Christians are more likely to support torture – an illegal activity. Fifty-four percent of those who attend services at least once a week say torture of suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed.  Again, Evangelicals lead the way with 60%.

And all the prayers in the world haven’t stopped Catholic priests from molesting children, or Evangelical megachurch pastors from engaging in activities they have preached loudly and vehemently against, from drugs, sex, prostitution and homosexuality.

The narrative is flawed. If there is one thing proven ineffective in enforcing societal norms, it is prayer.

In fact, those most fervent in prayer advocacy as a cure for society’s ills seem to be part of the problem, not its solution.

Taken as a whole, the numbers demonstrate that prayer does not make for morality. Morality in fact seems fairly common across the spectrum of humanity and most groups have the same taboos. And laws were around long before Abrahamic religion – the suggestion that without the Ten Commandments society would fall into wicked anarchy is not only demonstrably baseless, it’s ridiculous.

Conservatives can and will continue with their narrative; it is up to voters to educate themselves on the facts as opposed to the dogma, and to understand that society’s underpinnings are not religious, but liberal.

Source:  This article was inspired by Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty:  Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature (Harper 2010).

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