Where Do You Get These People?

I know it’s all too fashionable to complain about the quality of the people who run for elected office, but really, where do you Republicans get these clowns? This is it? These are your Pro Bowl players? Your All-Stars? Your Statesmen? These lamesters wouldn’t be first string politicians in a banana republic. You could go to any suburban country club in America, throw a golf ball into the locker room and it would bounce off of at least three people with better character, intellect and sense of social responsibility than anyone in the current Republican contingent that’s been trying to out-mean each other in the recent debates.

What are the Republicans’ big issues? People who want to come here and work really hard at menial jobs that Republicans don’t want at the (low) wages they want to pay—don’t want ’em. People who love each other and want to solemnize a permanent bond with each other—hate ’em, if they’re the same sex. If those same people want to put their life on the line serving in the military—hate ’em even more.

This doesn’t make sense even from the Republican standpoint! These are supposedly your core values: hard work, marriage and fighting dumb-ass Republican wars. But you drop these values like Newt abandons his wives because you’d rather indulge your prejudices against people’s color and sexual orientation.

Santorum is a prime obsesser about sexual conduct. Here’s a transcript  (link includes video clip) from the debate earlier this week. Santorum is responding to a videotaped question from Stephen Hill, a soldier in Iraq on active duty.

HILL: In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I’m a gay soldier, and I didn’t want to lose my job.

My question is, under one of your presidencies [sic], do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?

 (Booing from audience.)

SANTORUM: Yeah, I — I would say, any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military. And the fact that they’re making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to — to — and removing “don’t ask/don’t tell” I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military’s job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country.

We need to give the military, which is all-volunteer, the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient at protecting our men and women in uniform. And I believe this undermines that ability.

KELLY: So what — what — what would you do with soldiers like Stephen Hill? I mean, he’s — now he’s out. He’s — you know, you saw his face on camera. When he first submitted this video to us, it was without his face on camera. Now he’s out. So what would you do as president?

SANTORUM: I think it’s  it’s — it’s — look, what we’re doing is playing social experimentation with — with our military right now. And that’s tragic.

I would — I would just say that, going forward, we would — we would reinstitute that policy, if Rick Santorum was president, period.

That policy would be reinstituted. And as far as people who are in — in — I would not throw them out, because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration, but we would move forward in — in conformity with what was happening in the past, which was, sex is not an issue. It is — it should not be an issue. Leave it alone, keep it — keep it to yourself, whether you’re a heterosexual or a homosexual.

So forget for a minute that the audience booed a soldier on active duty in Iraq. No, wait a minute, DON”T FORGET THAT. These knuckle-dragging blowhards in the audience who never met a military misadventure they didn’t like are booing a man who’s putting his life on the line to execute one of their policies? Oh, right, he’s gay. Never mind.

So forgetting the booing, wouldn’t you expect someone who’s ostensibly one of the best and brightest of the millions of conservatives in this country to at least be able to make a coherent, fact-based argument? Or is being the brightest conservative like being the tallest midget? How does Santorum build his logical case? Forgive me, it’s hard to see a real logical thread but he opens with a combined falsehood and irrelevancy: “sexual activity has no place in the military.” So hetero soldiers aren’t going to be allowed to have sex during their term of service? That’ll go over well. Oh, Rick, you mean you’re worried gays will force their attentions on heterosexual soldiers in their unit? Well, sexual harassment (quite commonly perpetrated on women soldiers by men) is already grounds for court martial and it wont be any different for gay soldiers. And do you really think gays will force themselves on straights? Do you flirt with gay men? Santorum then goes straight to another falsehood, that repealing DADT gives gays a “special privilege.” Yeah, the special privilege to not be dishonorably discharged. He ends with another irrelevancy—repealing DADT “injects social policy into the military.” Well, duh. That’s the whole point. We inject social policy all the time, like when we integrated African-Americans and women into the military. Santorum winds up by “concluding,” in full Cheney scare-mode, that these pseudo-points prove that gays somehow undermine the ability of the military to defend our country. No evidence presented for that, and Rick, if you think the evidence for climate change is weak, what have you got here?

Rick, let me help you by spelling out coherently what your real argument is: Male gay sex creeps you (and your fellow-travelers in the military) out and you don’t want to be around gay men. Period. That’s it. This is a coherent argument. Narrow-minded bigotry, but coherent. I know you’re not used to speaking or facing the truth but we’d really like to have a leader who tries. It is not you.

Things Your Money Can’t Buy

First, a question (showing off new poll feature in blog):

We all talk of the outsized effect the dreaded lobbyists have in Washington. And they do. How else to explain why our “representatives” oppose legislation for things like keeping companies from polluting the water and air, making insurance companies provide easy-to-understand policies instead of pages of legal gibberish, and making hedge fund managers pay the same tax rates as every other investment adviser (instead of being able to treat their sales commissions as long-term capital gains). All of these top-of-mind random examples are things that many of our “representatives” (and all of our Republican reps) oppose but would be of benefit to absolutely every citizen, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, white or non-white—except for the citizens who own or run the specific companies involved.

 So how is it the lobbyists get our Congresspeople to listen to them? Why would they ever vote for things that benefit only a tiny minority of people in the country (and perhaps even no one in their district)? Simple. People serve those who pay them. Well, don’t we pay the salary of politicians? Yes we do. The annual salary of a US Congressman (House or Senate) is $174,000. However, a campaign for a House seat costs about $4 to $6 Million (and Senatorial campaigns are typically in the 10s of millions), all of which must be raised from private (and corporate) donors. See this Washington Post interactive on campaign spending by parties and interest groups in the 2010 election.

So we-the-people pay a House Rep. $348,000 during their 2 year term, and they-the-donors pay them $4 to $6 million over the same period. Any wonder who they listen to?

 So if we want our representatives to listen to us, rather than private donors, then WE SHOULD BE THE ONLY ONES PAYING THEM. Thus, the only funding for political campaigning should come from public funds.

 But isn’t that restricting our “freedom of speech?” People justify not restricting spending on political ads based the philosophical premise that we should be allowed to spend our money on whatever we want. Well, there are a number of things that you aren’t allowed to buy with your money whenever and however you want—drugs, explosives, machine guns and prostitutes come readily to mind. If we are happy to forbid purchase of sexual services, why can’t we forbid purchasing political services? Clearly, politicians should be added to the list of “controlled substances.”

 Of course we can’t buy politicians, can we? Well, you can’t order one on Amazon (yet), but the whole funding mechanism of our political process amounts to the same thing. If you want politicians to represent big companies, big unions, big wealth, etc., then you let the companies and the unions (and their supporters) and wealthy people fund them. If you want politicians beholden to the people, let the people fund them. Oh my goodness, he’s talking about public financing of political campaigns! Darn right. Anything a candidate does to run for office, including holding or traveling to any event, along with all paid broadcasts and publications (not including op-ed pieces, blogs, etc) that mention a candidate for office, should be funded solely out of the equally-distributed pool of money allocated to that candidate. Third parties of any kind as well as the candidates themselves (i.e. from their personal wealth) could not provide funds for campaigning. Yes, it’s your money, and no, you can’t buy political ads with it, just like you can’t buy heroin. Furthermore, within a certain reasonable period before an election, any paid mention of issues that are identifiably part of some candidate’s platform in that election must be funded from that candidate’s pool. The best way to look at it is that “paid” speech is not “free” speech; if you have to pay money (eg, to a broadcaster, newspaper, event site) to get your speech out, it’s covered by this restriction.

Anyone receiving a given (reasonably high) number of petition signatures would be eligible for modest funding distributed equally from a common pool. “Modest” means just that—not nationwide daily media blitz-level funding.  Where would the funds come from? The bulk of money would be supplied by the political parties, with the contribution proportional to the number of members—and the parties could be funded solely by individuals, not corporations. Primary races would be funded solely by the political parties and general elections would be funded by a combination of party money and public funds. Candidates who don’t belong to a party but who receive the requisite number of signatures would qualify for funds from the pool as well.

 Restricting “free speech?” We do it regularly; misleading and false advertising is not permitted, and drug ads are heavily restricted by the FDA. Besides, will you really miss all those fundraising calls?

Corporations Are People, My Friend!

Yes, as Mitt Romney so happily reminded us, thanks to numerous court rulings, including most recently, Citizens United, corporations really are people. At least as far as having the right to spend money on politicians. No reason a corporation isn’t entitled to the most favorable legislation money can buy, just like the rest of us. At least, those of us who have lots and lots of cash.

Now I do admit to a certain sympathy with the concept of corporate peoplehood. Like, say if we were to reinstate the draft. Then we could draft General Electric—he wouldn’t even have to change his name—and put him to work building a new electric power grid (yeah, I know they don’t have anything to do with electricity anymore). Although, maybe we don’t want to make General Electric a general (he has enough power as it is), maybe just a private—one who does lots of push-ups. Corporations would go along with this draft, of course, because they know that along with their rights as people come responsibilities. Including the responsibility to serve their country, which is what people have to do from time to time. What’s that? They wouldn’t? They don’t buy into that part of peoplehood? Oh, they’re not really people people. They’re fictional, financial-type people—people for the purposes of buying and selling things. Well, I guess that’s all right, because as financial-type people they could at least participate by helping support the country financially. You know, like by paying taxes. So how has private General Electric done there? Well, according to ABC news, General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010. And according to Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) in a March 2011 press release, over the past 5 years, GE made $26 billion in profits and got a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. I think General Electric owes us some serious KP (oh, that’s right, we don’t have soldiers on “kitchen patrol” anymore because we outsource food services to private companies).

Well, there’s always one piece of something rotting in the fridge. Maybe it’s just GE that doesn’t pay taxes and all the other big corporations pay the 35% “confiscatory” rate that conservatives love to rail about. Not according to Sen. Sanders. Some other culprits (I mean “financial wizards”) include ExxonMobil, with $19 billion in profits in 2009 and a $156 million rebate, Bank of America with $4.4 billion in profits in 2010 and a $1.9 billion refund, Carnival Corp with $11.3 billion in profit over 5 years and paying 1.1% tax, and Chevron, with $10 billion in profits and a $19 million refund (serious problems in Chevron’s accounting department. Only a $19 million refund? Somebody’s looking for a new job). So anybody can pick and choose. Oh, yeah, over the last 5 yrs, Boeing 4.5%, Southwest Airlines 6.3%, Yahoo 7%, Prudential Financial 7.6% (NY Times). What about all corporations? According to Reuters, a Govt. Accounting Office report in 2008 said 57% of US companies paid no income tax for 2 or more years in the period between 1998 and 2005. Hmmm, more than one bad apple in the fridge.

Hey, so what if corporations buy politicians? I mean, somebody’s got to, right? How else can candidates pay for all those tv ads and trips and robocalls? A little favorable legislation here, a few contracts there? That’s just fair trade. The voice of the marketplace. Wonder what it would be like if our elected “representatives” didn’t have to spend half their time begging for money and the other half passing legislation to “pay” for that money? I do. Maybe it’s time for public financing of political campaigns!

Think It’ll Work? Likely Republican Response to the President’s Plan.

President Obama gave a forceful, direct speech last night, delivering a plan targeted at improving the job situation. He had his now-to-be-expected mix of conservative and centrist plans that would be difficult for any rational member of Congress (emphasis intended) to reject. Tax cuts for small businesses, special breaks for those who hire veterans or the long-term unemployed. He threw some hot peppers into the pot as well, again spiced to burn the mouths of both sides. He broached ever so delicately the possibility that the well-to-do might maybe consider thinking about paying taxes somewhere closer to the rates they did for the previous 4 or 5 decades, and he briefly mentioned the need to extend unemployment benefits. And to singe the left, he threw on the table the need to cut Medicare and Social Security. The bloated military budget went conspicuously unmentioned—the armed elephant in the room. And he did not make a case for why the poor and elderly need to share the pain equally with the wealthy. Still, a patriotic person would be persuaded that this is a plan that requires something from all of us in order to benefit all of us.

So will the Republicans behave as rational servants of the people? Will monkeys fly out of my butt and form a string quartet playing God Bless America? For a Republican perspective on the likelihood of this (rational Republican behavior, not butt monkeys), read this piece by a Republican Congressional staffer who just retired in digust. SERIOUSLY, YOU SHOULD READ THIS (“read this piece” is the hard to see link). This chap, Mike Lofgren, is more eloquent than your truly (gasp!) and gives a great perspective on the devolution of the Republican party. He includes this quote by a prominent Republican:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)

Ants in the Sugar

Reading the latest ins and outs of the debate over fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline got me thinking about larger issues related to energy. And this reminded me of a story…

Once upon a time, a small nest of ants lived outside a big, grand house that had been abandoned by its owners. Like all the other animals, the ants struggled to find food and raise their babies. Then one day, a worker ant was exploring and found a crack in the wall of the grand house and went inside. There, she found a few flecks of a marvelous, sweet, energy-bearing substance that she brought back to the nest. The sugar was a big hit. So rich and wonderful! The queen laid many eggs and sent workers to find more of the miracle stuff. Lo and behold, the workers came upon a large deposit of the high-energy food deep within the walls of the house, high up on a shelf. A huge bag of sugar! They laboriously chewed a small hole in the side of the bag and began carrying sugar granules one by one back to the nest.

Over succeeding weeks, the nest thrived. Using this concentrated food was so much easier than foraging far and wide through the yard. The nest soon expanded and sent out new colonies. And each colony chewed its own hole in the sugar bag. Every one of them depended on sugar from the bag because that was the best way to keep growing. And, it was so, so easy.

A few of the ants mentioned to the queen that surely the sugar would run out one day. The queen just laughed and scorned them because they were only drone ants, who simply thought about things and did not do real work. She pointed out that the drones could not even agree among themselves exactly when the sugar would run out. Still, it seemed to her that it might be wise to ensure a steady supply of sugar, and so she sent soldier ants to capture the openings that other colonies had made in the sugar bag. But her daughters, the queens of the other colonies, had the same idea. There were many skirmishes and not a few large battles. The demand for sugar actually grew as each queen realized she needed to lay even more eggs to raise even more soldier ants to fight for more sugar.

As the cost of battles increased, the drones still droned on about running out of sugar. A few even went so far as to suggest that the ants look for a different source of food entirely, one that would never run out. After all, they pointed out, at one time not that long ago, all ants had lived without any sugar at all. The queen sneered and replied that there were far fewer ants then. And what, exactly, would they do, anyway? Live on sunlight like plants? Hah! The drones went back to their holes and fretted. The queen made plans to intensify the search for sugar. Surely there must be more in there somewhere…

I don’t know how the story of the ants ends. Do they:
a. Amazingly find ever more and more sugar in the abandoned house?
b. Share the ever-dwindling sugar supply evenly and fairly and let their population decrease to a sustainable level?
c. Use the remaining sugar not to raise more soldier ants but to raise worker ants who figure out an alternative to sugar?
d. Fight more and more battles to control the sugar bag until they exhaust both themselves and the sugar supply at about the same time—leading to a catastrophic collapse of all the ant colonies?

You tell me what the ants do. What should they do? What should we do?

Back Online

Well, the hurricane certainly was interesting. Sunday afternoon following the storm, just as my wife and I were basking in the delight of a storm with no power outage, a tree took out the lines at the juncture of Webb and Atwater. That was it for us on Atwater until late Wednesday. Back to the 19th Century.

Took a walk down to Creek Rd and Rte 1 to see how bad the flooding was. For those who didn’t go by, here’s a view of the high-water line of swamp scum. I’m standing even with Brandywine Prime. George Thorpe and Joe Barakat were there monitoring the state of affairs.

Regular blog comments to follow shortly. Note the new blog by Kathleen Do and Gregg Lindner, candidates for UCF School Directors, added to out blogroll.