Thursday, February 7, 2013

Where the conversation must start on gun regulations

On January 28th, a hearing was held at the State Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut to discuss gun laws in the wake of the horrifying tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The New York Times quoted a gentleman named David Gentry, who attended that meeting, as follows:

David Gentry, a personal trainer from Stamford, wore a holster on his waist with a copy of the Constitution tucked in it. “I just feel that’s where the conversation should start,” he said.

He is wrong. The conversation must start with the victims of gun violence and the family members and friends who are left behind to mourn them. In light of the terrible tragedies taking place all across the nation, this is a far more compassionate and humane response. The Second Amendment is ambiguously worded and open to interpretation. It does not contain an unlimited right to any kind of weaponry a citizen may wish to carry.

My full response to Mr. Gentry can be found here. My thanks to the photo editors at Minnesota Public Radio, who put together a touching and tasteful photo essay to accompany it.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

He'll Say Anything (Or: Who Wouldn't Love a Power Ballad About That Weasel Mitt Romney?)

He'll Say Anything by Adam Wernick

I have been leaving the political commentary to the professionals lately, but I needed to find a way to vent my loathing and contempt for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. So here it is, in song form - with tongue only slightly in cheek.

Ironically, I began writing the song before the first presidential debate, when yet another Romney incarnation appeared!

My original plan was to accompany the song with a video of Romney himself declaring one after another all the various positions he has taken on so many issues, but I am short on time and expertise.

So, if any enterprising person out there wants to throw something together and use the song as an underscore, please feel free to do so.

Otherwise, if you enjoy the song, please share it, send it to your Republican Aunt Lorene in Indiana, play it for your dog - whatever the spirit moves you to do.

And please remember to VOTE!

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Radical" environmentalism

Rick Santorum must secretly want to lose the GOP nomination for president. Because nearly everything he says lately seems designed to alienate one large segment of the population or another.

Yesterday, while trying to "clarify" his remarks regarding President Obama's "phony theology," he claimed the president is beholden to "radical environmentalists."

"Radical" must be one of those words that polls well in GOP focus groups. Just about anything contrary to conservative Republican dogma gets slapped with the "radical" label. "Radical feminism," "radical environmentalism," "radical socialist agenda."

In actual fact, there is nothing at all "radical" about the idea of protecting public health. The truly radical view is that corporations and businesses have a "right" to pollute air and water that belong to everyone, and that regulations limiting pollution are an infringement on that right.

That is radical. It is a view that may have been acceptable in the year 1896 - along with Santorum's views on contraception and public education - but since that time, society has progressed - much to Santorum's dismay, it seems - and the idea that the government - which, in fact, represents all of us, not just corporations and businesses - has a stake in protecting the public from dangerous pollutants is widely embraced and has broad public support.

What's radical is the view that the "right" to pollute, which so many corporations claim to have and so many politicians strive to "protect," trumps the public's right to breathe safe air and drink uncontaminated water.

What's radical is that in my home state of Minnesota ("Land of 10,000 Lakes") 40% of the lakes, rivers and streams are considered unsafe. Unsafe. Meaning too contaminated to swim in, fish in, or drink.

And by the way, how are these "radical" environmental regulations working out? You can view some of the results here and here.

It's not a pretty picture.

Mr. Santorum should see how his views on environmental regulation poll among parents of children with brain or nerve damage caused by inhaling toxic air. He should try telling those parents that environmental regulations are "radical," and that the rights of corporations are more worthy of government protection than the rights of her and her child.

If one of those parents were me, he'd be lucky to escape with his balls intact. But then, I'm just another "radical environmentalist." What do I know?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

American Express = The New Usury

There is much to write about in the political realm, as I have done in the past, but I am avoiding it because it is too depressing and it makes my blood boil.

But, here's a new thing to make my blood boil: American Express.

I was two days late on a payment in November. Somehow missed my payment entirely in December. The  result, for someone who has been a good customer for 15 years? Interest rate jumps to 27%. That is not a typo. 27%.

"No, we cannot reduce it for at least 12 payment periods."

Screw them.

Read the Terms and Conditions, folks. And then cancel your cards. Join a Credit Union and tell all the other banks and financial institutions to piss off.

My advice for the day...

Take care, everyone!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fanaticism, Hatred and Racism Rule The Day In America Now

There is no longer any doubt that the country - or at least a small and disproportionally powerful segment of the country - is in the grip of a kind of insanity that I don't recall ever witnessing.

The fight over raising the debt limit has little or nothing to do with fiscal policy or the size of government or competing beliefs about the role of government in public life.

It has to do with hatred, ignorance and fanaticism.  Hatred - of President Obama because, a) he is a Democrat; and b) because he is black. Ignorance — of the most basic history of the United States —up to and including the years between 2001 and 2008. And a fanatical obsession with one idea: that taxes are the single greatest threat to individual liberty.

The anti-tax fanaticism is pervasive, economically illiterate and insane. But even the anti-tax posture is, I believe, to some degree disingenuous. For many, the anti-tax stance is an easy mask to slip on in order to hide what they and the political class and the pundits, and perhaps even President Obama himself, are unwilling to acknowledge publicly:

Their hatred and rage are so enormous and out-of-control that they are willing to bring down the whole nation as long as it brings down Obama, too. Not just because he is a Democrat, but because he is black.

I know it's impolite to say this sort of thing publicly. Very bad form. President Obama himself would probably scold me. Fortunately for me, I am not a politician, so I don't need to be polite.

A couple of historical facts:

The total national debt was $5.7 trillion dollars when George Bush took office. During his presidency he added $4.9 trillion — more than any president in history. By March 2009, barely two months into Obama's presidency, the total national debt was $11 trillion.

So, the Republican Party, and even the Tea Party, don't give a crap about running up debt. If they really cared we would have heard their howls of protest long ago. They are worked up about it now, and they are manufacturing a crisis now, because it hurts President Obama. Period.

President Bush raised the debt limit seven times during his presidency. There were a few grumbles and speeches here and there — even one from then-Senator Obama himself — but the people so self-right-righteously drawing a line the sand now were almost universally silent then.

So, their intense opposition to raising the debt limit is basically phony. It is, however, an extraordinarily effective way to stop the Obama presidency from getting anything else done — i.e., from succeeding. Succeeding at what? Creating a strong economic recovery. Putting people back to work. No Democrat, let alone a black democrat, can be allowed to do that. No way. That is the domain of white Republicans, boy, not you. Plus, if the economy recovered, the Republicans, as we all know, would have no chance of winning the White House in 2012.

The debt limit "crisis" also has the added benefit of changing the entire political discussion. And, thanks to cable TV and the general ignorance of the American public, millions of people draw the following conclusion: If these powerful and loud people are so fiercely opposed to Obama over the question of raising the debt limit and lowering the deficits, then those things must be Obama's fault!

Racial Hatred: Facing the Inevitable

We must try to look the reality of racial hatred squarely in the face. At many points in our nation's history, when African-Americans achieve something truly meaningful, a racist counter-movement occurs. I suppose because I am a musician, examples of societal racism connected to music resonate with me in a particular way. So, here are two:

I encountered the story of James Reese Europe in Ken Burns' documentary, Jazz. I strongly recommend that you view the relevant clip here.

In 1918, when the U.S. entered World War I, James Reese Europe, a black man, was the "best-known orchestra leader in New York." That fact alone is startling. After African-Americans from Harlem were "granted permission" to form their own unit, the 15th Infantry Regiment, Reese was selected to lead the Regimental band. The unit received the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. 171 members of the unit were decorated for bravery - more than from any other American regiment.

When 15th Infantry Regiment and their band returned from the war, there was a victory parade up 5th Avenue, and "New Yorkers black and white poured into the streets to cheer them." The band went on a triumphant tour of the country, "drawing big, cheering integrated crowds wherever they went."

When James Reese Europe was killed by a crazed member of his own band, the city of New York gave Reese an official funeral, "the first ever granted to a black citizen."

Thousands of mourners, black and white, turned out to see the procession pass from Harlem, down the West Side, to St. Mark's Episcopal Church. "He took the colored of this city from their porters' places," said the priest, "and raised them to positions of importance as real musicians."

What happened after World War 1? The rise of what became known as the Second Ku Klux Klan. Lynchings, cross-burnings, intimidation, terror. Many black soldiers were lynched even while still in uniform. By the mid-1920's, membership was estimated to be between 4 - 5 million. No black man was to be "raised to a position of importance." Not if they could help it. Fortunately, the Klan almost completely disappeared from view during the Great Depression.

Another anecdote from Jazz: During World War II, the center of jazz moved downtown from a struggling Harlem to West 52 Street, where every great jazz artist of the time - black and white - played in a number of well-known, fashionable jazz clubs.

Soldiers on furlough from the war, particularly those boys from the South, horrified and appalled at the sight of well-dressed black men and women walking the streets, violently attacked them, pedestrians and musicians alike.

This story is just a tiny snapshot, of course. Many, many other things happened during the war. African-American units made valuable contributions to the war effort, and earned high praises and commendations from military leaders. In 1948, the armed forces were finally integrated.

What happened after World War II? The rise of the Third Ku Klux Klan. This one gained strength, as the fight for civil rights accelerated after the war. And we all know what happened after most of the landmark civil rights legislation was passed, particularly the Voting Rights Act of 1964. The Democrats "lost the South."

Raising Negroes to positions of importance, i.e. a citizen of the U.S. with the right to vote and therefore a right to affect the status quo, was still not to be tolerated by an entire swath of the country.

The U.S. has been in a "conservative" period politically ever since, with a couple of small deviations.

So, what has been the reaction to the election of the first African-American president?

Rush Limbaugh and his millions of followers "want him to fail." Senator Mitch McConnell states that the "highest priority" of the Republican Party is ensuring that Obama does not win a second term.

The rise of the Tea Party, which is really nothing more than the Fourth Ku Klux Klan dressed up as political rhetoric and "anti-government" fervor. In fact, ex-Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke, has claimed that thousands of Tea Party activists have urged him to run for president in 2012. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center says there are more suspected hate groups in the United States now that ever in recorded history.

The House Republicans now holding the knife-edge of their "no-new-taxes" pledge to the nation's throat are nothing more than a polite, well-dressed version of the kind of hatred, ignorance and fanaticism that has animated American public life for years.

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor (et tu, Jewish guy?), and the rest of that deplorable gang of all-white Republican hate-mongers who call themselves the "Leadership," are just as guilty, though perhaps they are not quite as "in touch with their feelings" as some of the cruder, more raucous elements they share a bed with.

Nevertheless, they all share the same idea: No black man shall be raised to a position of importance and succeed. Not if they can help it.

On August 2nd, if the U.S. defaults and another economic crisis ensues, the Tea Party and the GOP will shed no tears. Not for the economy, not for the millions of innocent people whose lives will be turned upside down, not for the lost jobs, lost incomes, lost pensions, lost businesses, lost health insurance, ruined credit ratings - no, not for any of that.

Why? Because they will be able to say that the first ever U.S credit default happened on President Obama's watch. They believe this will guarantee that he, and his presidency, are viewed as a failure. The first black presidency in U.S. history will have failed.

The all-white GOP will have a good chance of retaking the White House in 2012.

That is all they ever wanted to begin with.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Putting Wisconsin's Budget Battle In Perspective

In 2010, bonuses to individual employees on Wall Street totaled $135 billion dollars. That is more than the total combined state deficits in the nation ($124 billion).

In Wisconsin, where the totally fruadulent debate over balancing that state's budget has sparked unusually lively protests from our typically moribund populace, the projected budget deficit is less than 1% of the bonuses collected by Wall Street executives.

In practical terms, this means that a few thousand individuals will fare better than ever while states across the nation, and the U.S. Congress, are preparing to inflict great harm on hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people in the name of "fiscal austerity."

"So be it," says John Boehner, our new Speaker of the House.

I wonder if Boehner's revolting disregard for the well-being of thousands of families, so perfectly encapsulated in his dismissive "So be it", will be the thing that finally wakes people up to what is happening all across the country.

Is it possible that people are beginning to grasp the extent of the hypocrisy, fraud and deceit they fell for in the November elections?

Are people beginning to understand that the battle in Wisconsin and in other states across the nation has nothing to do with "deficit reduction"? That it is nothing but a cover for a truly dangerous, undemocratic ideological agenda?

Frankly, I doubt it.

Not only have we as a nation come to accept this tremendous inequality as "normal", we are not even willing to tax our very richest households and individuals at a rate commensurate with their extravagant wealth.

"We all have to sacrifice," Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker intones. "We all" in this instance refers solely to the working middle-class and the already poverty-stricken. Apparently, above a certain income threshold, you are no longer required to sacrifice anything.

"We're broke," say Gov. Walker - as he attempts to pass new tax cuts. His solution to being "broke", among other harmful measures, is to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

"We're broke," says John Boehner, Speaker of the House - after exulting over the extension of $700 billion dollars worth of tax cuts for the very wealthy, every penny of which is adding to the national budget deficit.

His solution to being "broke" is to pass a bill in the House of Representatives that drastically cuts government funding to education, health care, the environment and - naturally - programs that help the very poorest among us.

The budget would also eliminate funding for public broadcasting, currently at $445 million, and cut the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts to $124 million.

That's "million." Many individuals made twice that last year working on Wall Street. These are the same individuals whom we refuse to tax, as we simultaneously make budget cuts that will make the lives of millions of families worse than they already are.

Many of these individuals are also the very same ones who helped to create the financial crisis we are currently living with.

Many of these individuals, according to documentary filmmaker Charles Ferguson and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, ought to be in jail.

Suppose, in some idealized fairy-tale world in which basic fairness rather than greed was our dominant societal value, the $700 billion in potential tax revenue were actually collected and allocated to the states facing the worst budget shortfalls.

Their deficits would disappear. And we would have $586 billion dollars left over.

That would mean no layoffs for police, firefighters, teachers, construction workers and other essential public sector employees; more money in people's pockets to help support local economies everywhere; more work on urgent infrastructure projects; fewer foreclosures, fewer people applying for unemployment benefits.

It would also buy time for the economy to rebound, thereby creating more tax revenue, and it would give state legislatures some breathing room in order to work together (ha, ha) to address some of the issues causing long-term structural state deficits.

This is not the Republican agenda, however. The Republican agenda is "So be it."

Are we really willing to settle for that?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How GOP Ideology and Insurance Company Propaganda Are Trying to Destroy Health Reform

There is little that I or anyone else can add to what Wendell Potter reveals in this interview:

The inside story on health care reform

For more than 15 years, Wendell Potter was a prominent spokesman for the health insurance industry and a leading voice in the industry's battle against healthcare reform. In his new book, he explains why he decided to become an advocate for reform.

None of this should be news, yet I spent most of the hour trying to get my jaw up off the floor.

I think it was unnecessary and inappropriate for Rep. Steven Cohen to invoke the name of Goebbels on the floor of the House. The Republican Party and other opponents of health insurance reform are not bent on mass extermination.

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that our current health care system, which the GOP has never tried to change, accepts the idea that certain deaths, though unpleasant, are "inevitable" if our objective is to maintain a free-market approach to health care and protect health insurance company profits.

Playing with people's lives through the art of lies and deception. How nice.