Archive for the 'Comment' Category

Palin shmalin — it’s about McCain

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Here’s my (admittedly evidence free) take on the current media obsession with Sarah “rock star” Palin: it’s hogwash. I don’t buy for a second that Palin was primarily responsible for McCain’s post-convention surge in the polls. McCain himself was. Sure, Palin has helped McCain in important ways, especially in revving up the far right that makes up, not just the base, but the corrupt heart and soul of the Republican Party.

But I’d bet a year’s supply of moose burgers that McCain’s poll bounce isn’t primarily her doing.

More than 40 million people watched McCain’s acceptance speech. My guess is that at least 80 percent of them had never before heard the details of his captivity in Vietnam. Yeah, they knew he’d been a prisoner of war and had been tortured — but to most people the details were new. And this goes in particular for the story of how, when offered the chance to go home early, he refused, following, instead, the unwritten rule among the POW’s that no one would voluntarily go home before his turn.

Heroic stuff, no doubt about it.  And it makes a hell of an impact on you when you first hear the story.

My guess is that hundreds of thousands — perhaps even millions — of undecided voters, the sort of people who are not particularly committed to any political viewpoint, declared right then and there: “This guy deserves my vote.”

The good news for Obama supporters, of course, is that this long ago history of heroism, while certainly compelling, appears to be about the only thing McCain has to offer the voters this year — other, that is, than offering them one of the slimiest campaigns in memory.

And now McCain has played the hero card — played it for all it’s worth. And all it got him was a statistically tied race, or perhaps a lead of a point or two.

You see, the problem with running on a heroic résumé is that, at the end of the day, most undecided voters vote based upon their own self-interest (even if they can at times be tricked into misjudging where that self-interest lies). Winston Churchill is widely credited with saving England during the World War II (talk about heroic). Yet, when the war was over, the English people, wanting the social and economic reforms offered by the Labour Party, promptly sent Churchill and his party packing.

The list of American war heroes who have crashed and burned (sometimes unfairly) in elections goes on and on: John Kerry, Bob Dole, Max Cleland, and Douglas MacArthur and Wesley Clark represent just a few examples.

None of this means McCain won’t win, of course. But what it does mean is that when all is said and done, the vast majority of Americans are going to cast their ballots based, not upon who they think is most deserving, but upon who they think can most improve their lives (and this year that will primarily involve economic issues).

What this means for Democrats, of course, is that our job over the next 60 days is to show more effectively than we have to this point why that person is Barack Obama.

(By the way, right now is when the campaign needs support the most. I’ve sent him some money today: you should too.)

Absolute dynamite

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

The Washington Post’s dynamite disclosure this morning that Sarah Palin repeatedly charged the State of Alaska a travel per diem for nights she spent in her own home seems to be producing a fairly, shall we say, ho-hum response so far in the liberal blogs.

Here, for example, is Steve Benen’s take at the Washington Monthly:

When lining up the various Palin-related scandals, the questionable per-diem charges still fall well short of the ongoing abuse of power investigation, in terms of seriousness. She’ll probably face some questions about “paying herself to live at home,” but for my money, it’s still a bigger deal that she lied about the circumstances surrounding her dubious dismissal of the state’s public safety commissioner.

Some of the most popular liberal blogs haven’t even discussed the story yet.

With all due respect, this is simply nuts. The potential for this scandal is huge. It doesn’t matter that Palin’s actions may well have been legal under Alaska law: Democrats in Congress were acting within the law in bouncing all those checks on the Congressional bank back in the early 90s: but it struck the public as both corrupt and arrogant and the party paid a huge price. Palin’s action’s will strike the public in just the same way.

If liberals don’t take this story and run with it we’re as stupid and hopeless as the McCain campaign obviously thinks we are (as reflected in their continuing to push lies about the bridge to nowhere).

Face it: rocket scientists won’t be deciding this thing

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Lately, I’ve been feeling somewhat in a daze: the way Cotton Mather might have felt had he been suddenly teleported from a 17th century witch burning in Salem to modern day Las Vegas.

Things wouldn’t have made much sense. They don’t for me either.

I dutifully watched the Republican convention: not all of it, I’ll confess, but enough to entitle me, I should think, to at least a minor medal for gallantry in the face of inane banter. There I sat under withering fire from the likes of Rudi Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman and, of course, John McCain himself, with a beer in my right hand and the remote in my left: yet bravely I stayed at my post.

My God, what a brain dead bunch the Republicans have become. If anyone in the Republican Party (or for that matter the Connecticut for Lieberman Party) has had an original thought in the last 30 years, that person wasn’t invited to this convention.

Here we are, in a time of extraordinary national crisis, with our troops overextended, our nation widely hated abroad and our economy in frightening decline: and what has the GOP to offer? 1980s style liberal bashing. An energy policy, if you want to dignify it with the term “policy,” based upon nothing more than a wish, a prayer and an oil rig. More wars for more profit. More tax cuts for the already overly-pampered.

And snideness, of course — oodles and gobs of snideness. I mean, how better to defeat the challenges of the 21st century than to snide them to death.

Which brings us to the new queen of snide herself, Sarah Palin: utterly unqualified for the office she now seeks and a right wing nut to boot. But, hey, she’s sort of cute and shoots moose! She has all of the womanhood of Hillary Clinton, with none of the annoying policy knowledge! Now, that’s my kind of vice president!  

And the really depressing thing is that much of the public seems to have loved it, giving McCain a solid bounce in the polls.

I can’t help but think that somewhere out there Thomas Jefferson is shaking his head sadly: apparently founding the University of Virginia wasn’t good enough to give us the informed and wise electorate he craved.          

Yes, there are wise and thoughtful voters in America — tens of millions of them, in fact. They just don’t happen to be the folks who will get to decide the election. Instead, presidential elections in today’s United States — divided, as we are, almost in half politically — are effectively decided by a handful of so-called undecided voters.

And as much as the David Broders of the world love this flip-flopping center of our electoral universe, their reality is less appealing.

Sure, there was a time, decades ago, when the parties weren’t all that far apart in terms of either ideology or competence. But to believe that’s the case today is nothing short of idiotic.

One party wants to continue Bush’s failed policy of endless war and international bullying, while the other wants to return to thoughtful diplomacy; one will further enrich the superrich, while the other will fight for greater economic equality; one wants fill an already radically conservative Supreme Court with even more right wing hacks, while the other will work to return some balance to the Court; one wants to fight global warming, perhaps the greatest threat ever to face humankind, while the other wants to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And on and on and on and on.

The truth is that there is no political middle today — just a choice between two radically divergent and irreconcilable views of what America should be.

Trying to be politically “independent” today is like trying to find the middle ground between a football and a bowl of potato salad. It just doesn’t compute.

What that means, of course, is that this election (in addition to the battle to get out the vote) will ultimately be decided by a war for the souls of the most disinterested and uninformed of American voters. A battle to excite those who really couldn’t care less.

We don’t have to like it. But we better fight like hell to get them on our side: because, at the end of the day, our children will have to live in the future they choose.

When you care enough (about what’s going on in others’ bedrooms) to (not) send the very best

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Hey, guys, it’s Meg again. Got plans for Labor Day? Gearing up to go out of town, I heard some news about the industrial holiday complex that got me thinking…

I have to admit: I didn’t see it coming. How could I have known the day would come where I would have something in common with the ultra-conservative American Family Association?

For at least a decade now, I have been boycotting Hallmark greeting cards. I was frustrated by the idea of “Hallmark Holidays,” such as Administrative Professionals’ Day, Grandparents Day, and yes, even Valentine’s Day, created by the Kansas City company to sell more cards. Even if they didn’t technically create the holidays, Hallmark is the main contributor to the commercialization of celebration in this country.

After the announcement of my boycott, I found it quite easy to maintain.  At first, I began making homemade cards, even going so far as to create my own rip-off branding (”hallmeg,” of course). Later, I found a couple of small, independent stationery stores that sold cards made by local artists that were often truer, funnier, and more beautiful than anything Hallmark would make anyway.

After Hallmark announced that it would begin a line of same-sex marriage and commitment ceremony cards, the boycott-happy American Family Association (AFA) implored its adherents to eschew products from the largest greeting card company in the world. Now, this is nothing new. Everything from Heinz ketchup to Ford vehicles to The Discovery Channel has come under attack by the AFA.

I’m a believer in the exhortation to “vote with your checkbook” (although that might be because the lobbyists and the Electoral College have robbed my governmental votes of most of their power) as much as the next guy. But there’s something insidious about extending that powerful act of putting your money where your mouth is to discriminating with your checkbook.

But whatever the motivation, I found out that I have a lot in common with your average AFA member. I haven’t eaten at a McDonald’s in several years. I often go a full month without watching television programming. I’ve also never been to a casino or bought a lottery ticket.

It just goes to show that the self-satisfying feeling of moral superiority comes in all shapes and sizes. I’m just glad mine doesn’t come with side servings of fear and hatred.

Hey, I was right for once — actually twice!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Hi, it’s Steve here. I won’t be back at the café to stay for at least another week, but I couldn’t resist dropping by long enough to remind you that when it comes to the Biden selection, “you heard it here first.”

January 6, 2008:

Question of the day: If Obama wins, who should be his VP?

For my money, the obvious candidate is Joe Biden.  True, he doesn’t balance the ticket in traditional ideological and geographical ways, but more importantly his 30 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do balance well Obama’s relative foreign policy inexperience.  He’s also proven an able debater during the campaign.

And I was right about McCain too.

Having now patted myself on the back for being right twice, the sporting thing, I suppose, would be to do another post recounting the times I’ve been wrong: but I think I’ll pass on that one since it wouldn’t be nearly as succinct as this one.

Okay, back to my undisclosed location for another week. See you soon.

Heir Show

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Hey, guys, it’s Meg again. Sorry it’s been so long. Steve’s still gone, and things have been just crazy at the office. Take today for example…

Usually, I am quite thankful for the view here at BuzzFlash HQ. Metra trains chug by regularly and we can see greenery as well as a partially obscured view of downtown Chicago from our sunny office windows. Even watching the expressway can be entertaining, especially when traffic slows to an unenviable crawl.

Today, however, I’d give it all back for a quiet bunker in an undisclosed location. Our expansive windows are playing host to a near constant parade of aircraft streaming into the city for the Chicago Air and Water Show this weekend.

Most people would love this air-conditioned preview of North Beach’s weekend festivities on a Thursday afternoon during work. But the sound of metal ripping though air sounds much too much like fighter pilots and incoming explosives to a paranoiac like me.

I know I am the minority in this, at least in the United States. If faced with the situation I was confronted with at work today, the majority of Americans would first wonder, “Hmm… is there an air show going on this weekend?” and not, “Is my fair city about to be reduced to smoldering rubble?”

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overreaction. But I remember watching the faces of Guatamaltecos turn white as sheets whenever they heard a helicopter in the distance. Sure, they lived through a 30-year civil war (one encouraged and perpetuated by our own government, incidentally), which involved armed men jumping from helicopters and kidnapping innocent citizens. That’s probably enough to make anyone a little cagey.

Unfortunately, you can see that look on the faces of millions all around the world. It made me realize what a truly privileged citizenry we are. Not for the wealth and convenience we have as citizens of the United States, but for the war wounds that we don’t have.

Air raids, invasions, and bombings are absolutely foreign to most of us. Especially my generation. I mean, we didn’t even have to crouch under our desks, armed only with the lie that the fetal position and wooden planks would protect us from a nuclear attack. We can’t imagine aircraft carriers charging into San Francisco Bay. The notion of an occupying force patrolling our street (yes, that one that we live on) is entirely alien to us. The deliberate toppling of the Washington Monument by a foreign government is inconceivable heresy.

So I can’t help but wonder what’s making me so jumpy. And am I the only one?

Are there bipartisan solutions for the oil crisis?

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Hi. It’s Chad. We’re still filling in from

We know Democrats and Republicans agree on very few things. And oil should be one of those things. But is the oil solution so partisan that we can’t find common ground.

Republicans are like, “Let’s drill anywhere we can.” Democrats say, “Why don’t you drill where you already have leases and where you aren’t drilling.”

And Republicans want to drill in places that won’t get much oil, and certainly won’t anytime soon. And this story from last week where House Republicans stopped a bill to release 70 million barrels of oil — about a three-day supply — from the national stockpile. Democrats introduced the bill hoping the action would help lower gasoline prices by forcing the Energy Department.

And Democrats also point out that this has worked in the past, with similar releases in 1991, 2000 and 2005. And in two of those cases, a Bush was in the White House.

It’s likely Republicans defeated the bill because they don’t want Congress to have success, hoping Democrats will be blamed.

But oil, gas, energy conversation is an issue that impacts all Americans, whether we drive or not. So are there bipartisan solutions for the oil crisis?

A Rat Race Less Rosy

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Hey, it’s Meg again, working the lunch rush for Steve today.  As usual, I read something in the newspaper this morning that bugged me…

On the front page of The New York Times Tuesday was a very misleading headline.  “Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy” at first said to me that perhaps the gender gap in wages had closed.

Nope.  According to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women still earn less than 80 cents for every dollar that men do in similar occupations.  The New York Times article merely shows that women are dropping out of the workforce at such a rate that the number entering the workforce is actually in decline for the first time since the Women’s Lib movement.

The big difference now, the article says, is that women are less likely to accept a pay cut, and instead drop out of the rat race entirely.  As a woman who recently dropped out of the job market to go to graduate school, I can commiserate.

The article blames the poor economy, which certainly has something to do with it.  But I’d also posit that wages play a role.  If a family has to choose one member to drop out of the workforce (usually to avoid work-related expenses such as daycare or commuting costs) logic dictates that the main breadwinner remain employed.  So though the stigma against stay-at-home dads may have dropped away, moms still earn less, and therefore their jobs are more expendable.

In fact, there are indications that women have been taking a harder hit in this economy when it comes to decreasing wages.   Back in 2004, a study released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicated women’s wages were already falling while men’s were merely stagnant.

The only mention of the pay gap in the Times article is parenthetical:

“Pay is no longer rising smartly for women in the key 25-to-54 age group. Just the opposite, the median pay — the point where half make more and half less — has fallen in recent years, to $14.84 an hour in 2007 from $15.04 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to the Economic Policy Institute. (The similar wage for men today is two dollars more.)-Emphasis mine.

Has the gender gap become par for the course, so cliché as to be hardly worth mentioning?  Is it so common that it has become acceptable?

As a new member of the (admittedly vast) age group the article cites, I’ve had my fair share of paycheck pain.  Part of it is my distaste for working for large corporations.  Small businesses are less able to weather difficult economic times and have fewer opportunities for advancement.  But that doesn’t account for the entirety of the wage disparity I’ve experienced.

When I finally decided to go to graduate school rather than stay at my job managing two office clinics, I helped choose my replacement.  The doctor who signed my paycheck confided in me that hiring a male to replace me would be difficult, in part because they expect to be paid more.  And guess who replaced me?  A highly talented single mother of two who had been laid off from her last job.

It seems “dropping out” is okay for the married woman on which the article focuses:

“[Tootie] Samson, the former Maytag worker, says she can afford not to work because she qualified under the terms of the plant closing for two years of unemployment benefits as long as she is a full-time student. She lost health insurance but shifted to her husband’s policy.

His $40,000 income as a truck driver and her $360 a week in jobless benefits gets them by while she takes an accelerated program at a William Penn University campus near her home. Graduation is scheduled for January 2010.

‘If I were a single parent or did not have benefits,” Ms. Samson said, “I would have had to find a job. I could not have gone back to school to get my degree and the promise it holds of a better job.’”

So, single mothers and women without access to affordable healthcare may not have the luxury Samson does.  They may not be able to wait for the recession to end.  Maybe they’ll just have to shut up and take what they can get.

While it’s true I don’t have children to take care of, it’s also true that I’ve never been in the financial position to even think about having any.  I haven’t had affordable, comprehensive healthcare coverage since I finished my undergraduate degree and was forced off of my father’s healthcare plan.  Luckily, I don’t have any major health issues besides extremely poor eyesight, and vision is so rarely covered by insurance that I’m in good company when I pay cash at someplace like America’s Best for a sorely-needed pair of new glasses.

So if I were pregnant or chronically ill, I never would have had the luxury of going back to school.  I’d be one of millions of women stuck in low paying jobs all over the country, without The New York Times having the journalistic fortitude to even mention my plight.  And it looks like these women can’t depend upon Congress to stand up for them either.

One day after Equal Pay Day, the Senate failed to garner the votes needed to stop debate and vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Act.  The act would have strengthened existing anti-discrimination legislation to make it harder for employers to knowingly underpay their workers.  The House passed the bill last year.  President George W. Bush threatened to veto it, but it looks like he won’t have to.

While it was largely ignored by the mainstream media, I think it’s important to know how presidential candidates voted.  Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) voted for the bill’s passage, while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was one of only two who missed this important vote.  Click here to see how others in House and Senate voted.

I’m not suggesting that legislation or a front-page article in The New York Times will solve the pay equity issue.  But I simply can’t feign shock that women are dropping out of a system that doesn’t work for them.  And I do think that 45 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed is as good a time as any to ask why we’ve given up on the idea of equal pay for equal work.

Republican economic policy includes taxpayer-funded corporate daycare

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Hi, it’s Meg again. I was ruminating on boarded-up buildings this weekend, and that was before hearing about Paulson’s bailout of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The whole thing seemed so familiar…

One of the favorite assurances of Republicans for longer than I’ve been around is low taxes. Even the least of the politically-aware citizens of this nation know the supposed main difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Democrats tax and spend, while Republicans cut both taxes and government programs.

While the current occupant of the White House isn’t exactly known for his frugality in government spending, he is highly associated with tax cuts. Sure, the deficit is ever-growing, but how can you say a man who hands you $300 doesn’t care about gas prices and ballooning mortgages?

But what good is a tax cut when the taxes we still do pay go to rescuing failing businesses? And don’t even get me started on the proposed gas tax holiday that would pilfer federal funds dedicated to highway infrastructure!

In light of the pending bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (on the heels of the Bear Stearns rescue operation and multiple interest rate cuts), it’s time to re-examine the idea of a tax cut, free markets, and capitalism.

First, the idea that a failing business should be bailed out as a matter of course is dangerous to the idea of free market capitalism. However, the “moral hazard” game is one Republicans would rather play with individual homeowners than corporations. “If we bail you out now,” they say to us as if we were teenagers spending our college fund on a jalopy, “you’ll never learn.”

However, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich so artfully points out in his blog, individuals learn from their mistakes, while corporations do not. He also notes that corporations should be held to a higher standard:

“Many of the mostly poor home buyers who got into trouble did NOT in fact know they couldn’t afford the mortgage payments they were signing on to. The banks and mortgage lenders that pulled out all the stops to persuade them to the contrary were in a far better position to know; after all, they had lots of experience at this game. So did the credit-rating agencies that gave these loans solid credit ratings, as did the financiers who bundled them with less-risky loans and sold them to other financial institutions, and the hedge fund managers who quietly tucked them into their portfolios.”

Clearly, it’s a bad precedent to set in a free market system. Furthermore, when the government bails out companies that made bad bets, it’s taxpayers who foot the bill.

After saying the government wouldn’t bail the two out last week, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced the bailout of mortgage holders and backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this weekend. The plan still needs Congressional approval, which Paulson hopes will come in the form of an add-on to the housing bill currently being finalized by lawmakers.

The brother and sister in mortgages guarantee nearly half of mortgages in the U.S. Paulson’s plan seems reasonable, until you look at the fact that Freddie and Fannie are not benevolent government-owned loan providers. Fannie’s been in private hands since 1968 and Freddie has been since his invention.

Even the timing of the announcement belied the true beneficiaries of the deal. With the news coming out Sunday night, Wall Street could open on a sunnier note this morning.

The debate on the housing issue has not been about whether or not the government should step in. The housing crisis is so advanced and far-reaching that there is virtually no one who would debate the merits of financial isolationism at this point. Instead, the debate rages over who should get the help.

Democrats are more likely to favor homeowner assistance plans and the restructuring of unfair and impossible-to-repay subprime mortgages.

The Bush Administration has introduced paltry homeowner rescue schemes like FHA Secure with great fanfare, while still insisting the real answer to our economy’s woes are tax cuts. Whatever happened to spending our taxes wisely?

Personally, I’d rather use my tax money to help my neighbor get a restructured loan and keep my street lined with occupied homes. Instead, the city I live in is being depopulated of stable residents and my rent is going up because of the increased demand for non-permanent housing arrangements.

The same Republican philosophy was at work with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s many interest rate cuts since the true nature of the housing crisis made itself apparent last year. Sure, it made loans easier to get. For financial institutions, that is. This was most apparent in the cut Bernanke made in the discount rate, allowing banks to get cheaper federal loans.

Now come reports that students can’t go off to college this fall, not because they can’t afford it (no, that’s been the case for decades), but because they can’t secure a loan.

What it all comes down to is a repeat of financial disasters of the past. Republican-led deregulation in the banking industry led to scandal, financial chaos and finally the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1989. This was a similar bailout notion ostensibly in order to help out an economy beaten down by the trickle-up economic policies of the Reagan Administration. But instead of helping out the economy, taxpayer money again went corporations.

Joseph Stiglitz wrote that the Resolution Trust Corporation was a sufficiently confusing and opaque way for Republicans to get support for subsidizing the banking industry.

History keeps repeating itself. A Republican administration trashes the economy until businesses begin to suffer (well after people like you and me lose our houses and jobs). Then, the government bails out businesses with a fancy word or two about bootstraps on the side.

Should George W. Bush be tried for war crimes?

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Hi. It’s Chad once again. Sorry for the delays. I’m back from my own long vacation, and the brain takes a while to warm up. So the comments will be more updated. Thanks.

It’s no longer just a thought on a blog or two, or a conversation at the dinner table.

Dan Kennedy in the Guardian explores these issues this week. And the useless Congress certainly going to dish out any punishment for Bush or Cheney for their war crimes.

A process of some kind needs to be on the record. And a mug shot of Bush (and Cheney) would make great symbolism to the rest of the world that we really do care about how this travesty of an administration has made its impact on the world.

So do you think Bush should be charged and tried for war crimes? Cheney, too? How do we go about this? As always, let us know what you think.