Friday, April 30, 2010

By the Time I Get to Arizona

Would police in Arizona pull over my mother?

My mom was born in raised in Puerto Rico. She came to the mainland in 1963 and settled in Michigan, where she met my dad. All of my uncles on my Mom's side tend to be dark-skinned, reflective of the African heritage that is part of what makes up modern Puerto Rico. But my Mom and my late Grandmother are lighter skinned, blessed with a rust colored skin that is common among many Puerto Ricans.

But would a cop in Arizona know that? Would they realize that she is and has always been an American citizen? Would they even know Puerto Rico is part of the United States? Or would they look at her skin and her accent and assume that she might be an illegal immigrant?

As you've probably guessed, I am not in favor of the current law in Arizona signed by their Republican governor. I think it could lead to racial profiling of Hispanics; putting them up for suspicion simply because of the color of their skin. Meghan McCain couldn't have said it any better:
Let me say upfront that I do not support the bill that was signed by Governor Jan Brewer. I believe it gives the state police a license to discriminate, and also, in many ways, violates the civil rights of Arizona residents. Simply put, I think it is a bad law that is missing the bigger picture of what is really going on with illegal immigration. The concept that a law-enforcement official can stop an individual when “reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien, who is unlawfully present in the United States” is essentially a license to pull someone over for being Hispanic.

I'm not someone who favors "open borders" believing anyone should just come into the United States. As Travis noted, we want to make sure that no bad guys are coming in along with all the good people. I also believe we are a nations of laws, and those who enter the country illegally have broken the law and have to pay for that.

But this law is the wrong way to try to solve this issue. I can't say that if it is intentional, but I believe the law is at least in application, racist. It is based on fear instead of reason.

We need an immigration policy that is based on security and enforcement. That said, we also need to do something about the 12 million who are in the country illegally. It is not feasible, nor is even ethical to try to round up all of these folks and send them back where they came from. So, that means trying to find ways to get them to come out of the shadows and create a process that allows them to become Americans.

I can already hear the cries of "amnesty!" coming from some conservatives. Nevermind that some of the more recent attempts to reform our immigration laws included having these immigrants pay a fine for coming into the country illegally. Anything short of putting these people on a bus headed South will be called "amnesty" by these folks and says speaks volumes about their hearts.

This law also will ruin chances of the GOP reaching out to Latinos. President Bush was not my favorite president, but he at least tried hard to make the party more inclusive to Hispanics. He tried to reform immigration in way that would be more inclusive, but was rebuffed by the hard right. That might please whites in the GOP who seem afraid of brown-skinned persons, but in the long run, as America becomes more diverse, it will be Republican Party that will be on the losing end.

If there are any Republicans left who believe in fairness and justice, we must speak out against this law and call for real reform. This is a slap in the face to a party founded on equality and civil rights.

John Avalon and the "Phony Centrist"

Perhaps the best known "centrist" out there these days is John Avalon, a former aide to Rudy Giuliani and author of the book Independent Nation: How the Vital Center is Changing American Politics.

You might think that he of all people would support Charlie Crist's declaration of Independence. Nope:

As an independent and a centrist, I should be a textbook supporter of Charlie Crist’s newly announced independent candidacy for U.S. Senate.

But I’m not—because Charlie Crist confirms the worst stereotypes of a centrist. Instead of being principled in his differences with his party, he is opportunistic.

Read the rest. Avalon gives a good reason why Crist is just not the real deal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charlie Crist and Moderate Republicanism

Well, it looks like Florida Governor Charlie Crist is going to run for Senate as an Independent after all.

If you would have asked me a few months ago about the prospects of Crist leaving the GOP, I would have said this is yet another sad reminder of the Republican Party's tilt to the far right. I would have cast Marco Rubio, the Crist's conservative opponent in the Florida Senate race as the evil conservative out to destroy all that is good and right with a moderate, conservative Republicanism.

But now, I'm not so sad about Crist's decision. Don't get me wrong: I am concerned about the ongoing "purging" that is taking place within the GOP. I don't like how a certain ideological rigidity has taken over. I think that there should be a moderate faction within the Republican party.

But I want a principled moderate or centrist Republicanism, not one that seems based on changing political fortunes. The problem is Crist tends to be somewhat of an opportunist, willing to shift to the prevailing winds that will assure him victory.

On April Fool's day, Ross Douthat wrote on his blog about Crist and how many liberals have mischaracterized him. At first read, it seemed like yet another post from Douthat bashing moderates. A second reading though, revealed that Crist was not the martyr I made him out to be. As Douthat states in a reply to writer E. J. Dionne:
E.J. Dionne’s latest column is a classic of a well-worn liberal genre: He heaps praise on the “nonpartisan, non-ideological” Charlie Crist, with his “sunny” attitude and his “buoyant moderation,” and bemoans the rising tide of right-wing extremism that’s going to cost Crist the chance to be the next Republican senator from Florida.

Notably absent is any defense of Crist’s actual record as governor, which has been “moderate” in the worst sense of the word: Fiscally irresponsible on taxes and spending alike, and eager to use bailout dollars to delay the hard choices that Crist’s own profligacy created. Absent, as well, is more thorough accounting of why so many Florida Republicans have turned on the once-popular governor.

Douthat links to a piece by Reihan Salam that shows that Crist doesn't come close to what one would hope a moderate Republican would act when it comes to fiscal matters: in a fiscally conservative manner. In the article, Salam points to an interview Crist gave to the Miami Herald where he lauded the stimulus package passed last year. In Crist's eyes, the state didn't have to worry about raising taxes and could even more money than what was previously planned. As Salam notes, Crist used the stimulus to fund 12 percent of the state budget. He also vetoed a plan by state Republicans to make some painful spending cuts and instead cut taxes, paving the road for a fiscal nightmare down the road.

If you want another example of how Crist has created a potential fiscal trainwreck in the Sunshine State, read Eli Lehrer's piece in Frum Forum.

An article in Salon gives an even clearer picture of a political opportunist. It shows a guy that changes his position to fit the moment:

In 2008, during the period when he was under consideration for the McCain ticket, he abruptly withdrew his previous opposition to offshore drilling, a change that brought him into line with McCain's views.

As a state senator in the mid-'90s, Crist's record on criminal justice issues was hard-line enough to earn him the nickname "Chain Gang Charlie." He also backed a bill that required convicted criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. While running for attorney general in 2002, he sought to gain a political dividend from these positions by running what the St. Petersburg Times described as a "dark, harsh ad that features violent criminals."

Yet by 2007, Crist was arguing for the restoration of voting rights to felons and stating, "I believe in my heart that everyone deserves a second chance. They deserve an opportunity to get on with productive lives."

After reading all this, I've come to the conclusion that Crist isn't some poor centrist getting bullied by mean conservatives, but a political chameleon that was done in by his own smarts.

There's a lesson here for moderate Republicans. We can't simply support someone because they follow a certain checklist of our issues (gay rights, abortion rights, environment). If they can't govern worth two cents, then they don't deserve our vote. We have to support people who can govern competently and have values that they try to adhere to, and not just latch themselves to whatever or whoever is popular.

I don't know if Rubio is worthy of my support, but I know that I won't be supporting Crist in his Independent bid. A moderate has to have some values.

Postal Savings Accounts: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

In the rush to reform the financial system, there has been a lot of talk about making sure that all sorts of financial firms like credit card companies and banks offer plain "vanilla" products that are easy for the common consumer to understand. Reihan Salam thinks that maybe there should be a "public option" that could sell these simple products. The state would sell these products by using an existing goverment agency that has some history doing just these things: the United States Postal Service. Salam explains:
In many countries, including the United States in decades past, the demand for consumer-friendly financial products has been met directly by the state, e.g., through postal savings accounts invested in ultra-safe state assets. We've moved away from this model and towards explicit guarantees for for-profit firms. It's hardly surprising that these guarantees come with strings attached — more and more strings all the time.
Indeed, the Postal Service did just that during the early and mid decades of the 20th century. Here's a snippet of an article from the National Postal Museum:
In 1871 Postmaster General John A. J. Creswell first recommended a postal savings bank (such as Great Britain started in 1861) to generate funds for a postal telegraph network. Nearly four decades of debating the proposed federal savings institution peaked when the 1907 Panic shook the public's trust of private banks. President Theodore Roosevelt advocated using post offices to fulfill the needs of moderate depositors and communities without banks. Under his successor, William H. Taft, legislation for the postal savings system passed on June 25, 1910. It authorized the Post Office Department "to establish postal savings depositories for depositing savings at interest with the security of the Government for repayment thereof, and for other purposes." Politicians instilled the postal savings system with their intents to: provide a safe financial institution in communities across the country; entice hoarders to get their money out of hiding; offer immigrants the familiarity of postal savings common in many of their home countries; encourage thrift among the working, poor, and children; and pose no competition for banks.
While it wasn't very popular in the early years, during the heights of the Depression it became a shelter in the financial storm. Because of better interest rates and banking reforms (such as the FDIC), the system lost favor and was abolished in 1966.

It seems to me that re-establishing a postal banking system might be a way to provide some financial products that aren't confusing and out to fleece consumers and also provide a way for people to save. In 2008, Michael Lind wrote about why have a postal banking system again. He states:
A new postal savings system should be part of America’s post-meltdown financial architecture. When Congress created the postal savings system nearly a century ago, one of its goals was to encourage savings among the large number of low-income immigrants. A new system would help today’s immigrants as well as the native poor. Banks are not interested in people with so little money, many of whom are preyed upon by payday lenders and credit card companies.

A postal bank could also supply middle-class and affluent Americans with an extra layer of financial security. The accounts would be limited to a small amount per person. They would provide a government-guaranteed, low-risk, low-return investment, even for those who put most of their financial assets in conventional bank accounts and the stock market.
In essence, this would provide a safety net in the financial system, which sounds a lot easier than trying to force banks to provide simple banking services or forcing them to move into neighborhoods they aren't interested to move into.

Not only that, but it could also help buy down our public debt and bring the Postal Service out of its own debt.

I dunno, it looks like a good idea that can solve a lot of issues. Could it happen? I don't know about the Democrats, but since it seems that the current thinking among conservatives is that any form of government involvement is socialism, it may not get very far.

But why not give it a shot?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meet Harold and Clay

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has more about Harold and Clay, a California same-sex couple that was manhandled by the government of Sonoma County, California. Here is a sample:
The response to the horrific story of Clay Greene and Harold Scull has been very gratifying and inspiring. Clearly, their story struck a chord in all of us. To some degree we can’t help imagining ourselves in exactly this situation. Forty-eight hours ago, few people knew their names, and now a Facebook page in their honor has more than 5,000 fans. Quite simply, this case demonstrates how our relationships as LGBT people are so fragile, especially when we reach our later years. Just one small incident, in this case a fall down some steps, sends the world crashing down.

Harold and Clay were in a committed relationship for twenty-five years, and they lived together for twenty years. Both Harold and Clay had worked in Hollywood and were passionate collectors of film memorabilia. Harold had worked for MGM studios in the 1950s and was a favorite of Louis B. Mayer in the studio’s heyday. At the same time, Clay worked in television with many popular stars of that period. In addition to his film industry career, Harold was an accomplished artist and avid collector, especially of Mexican and Central American Santos religious art and artifacts. Art, heirlooms, and memorabilia graced the walls of their leased home, in which they planned to live together until their deaths.
From a conservative viewpoint, I find this nothing short of astounding. It's a horrible example of the state placing itself over and above the rights of the individual. Conservative believe (or should) believe that a man's home is his castle and that what goes on in said home should be respected and left the hell alone by the government.

Those of us who are Republican and believe in the rights of same-sex couples to live their lives must speak out and say how unconservative this whole action is. I sometimes wonder, what could happen when my partner Daniel and I get older? Will we be treated with respect, or could something like this happen to us?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feeding Sarah Palin

I have not written much about Sarah Palin over the last few months. Part of the reason, is that I didn't want to give her attention. I tend to believe that part of the reason she has become such a "rockstar" is because of the attention the media has given her. Bloggers on both the left and right watch her every move. If Palin writes something on her Facebook page, it's immediately news.

The thing is, Palin should have been a footnote after the 2008 elections. In another reality, she would have gone back to being a governor and basically faded into obscurity.

But we don't live in that alternate reality. I wish we did, but we don't. Instead, we see conservatives deify her, making her into some kind of "Reagan in high heels" (when she isn't) and the left loves to place her as the face of the GOP to show just how silly and dumb conservatives are. Both sides have their uses of Palin. They keep feeding Palin in order to prove that their side is correct.

In a post today, David Brooks wishes people would just stop talking about her:
First, let’s all stop paying attention to Sarah Palin for a little while. I understand why liberals want to talk about her. She allows them to feel intellectually superior to their opponents. And members of the conservative counterculture want to talk about her simply because she drives liberals insane. But she is a half-term former governor with a TV show. She is not going to be the leader of any party and doesn’t seem to be inclined in that direction.

The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a media psychodrama and nothing more. It gives people on each side an excuse to vent about personality traits they despise, but it has nothing to do with government.
I really couldn't agree more with Brooks. Palin is not as much the face of the GOP than a symbol of what is wrong with politics in America: it reduces it to mere enterainment. Palin is not popular because she is charismatic or has some great policies. She is popular because she is walking, talking reality show. And like those reality shows, we just can't turn away.

As if on cue, Andrew Sullivan responds to Brooks seeing Palin as the face of a dysfunctional party:
None of this makes any sense, but Palin, unlike some of her rivals who feel some kind of lingering need to relate their policies to fiscal and global reality, is a thoroughly post-modern creature. She creates her own reality, and that is an incredibly important talent for a party base that desperately wants to live in another reality (a kind of souped-up version of 1950s culture and late nineteenth century economy). Her book - a fictional account of an imagined life - sold well with the GOP base because they too want a fictional account of America's current standing in the world and an imagined set of viable policy positions. She so lives and breathes this magical-realist culture she doesn't need to channel it. She knows we can keep social security and Medicare and global power for ever and balance the budget without any taxes - because that is what she wants to know. And she has never let reality get in her way. Reality is one of those doors she keeps crashing through.

Yes, many tea-partiers do not think Palin is "qualified" to be president. But primaries are won by enthusiasm and star power. Palin has both. And she has money. And, most important, she has a media machine dedicated to promoting her outside of any real scrutiny or questions. She has never faced a real press conference and speaks to "pre-screened" questioners at debates and speeches. She is a test-case of how willfully divorced from reality a segment of America can remain, and how irrelevant reality is for today's niche-targeted media. All of this makes Palin the most potent force in American politics since Obama.
But there's a problem here: part of the problem is Andrew himself, who keeps writing about her every move pumping her up into this media goddess. It's not just Fox News who is doing this.

Of course, he has a reason to do this: to prove as he says at the end his post that the GOP is no longer a credible governing force. But in doing so, he basically helps suck the air out of the room- leaving other candidates with little air to share their visions and viewpoints. That allows Palin to only grow in stature and relevance.

The media, and that includes bloggers, need to stop focusing on Palin. There are a lot of real issues that need to be talked about concering the GOP. There are a lot of problems wrong with the GOP. But focusing on Palin allows us to ignore the more substantive issues.

I think Palin is more the face of American political culture instead of just the GOP. It's a culture that is more interested in enterianment than it is in trying to solve problems facing the nation.

It's Sarah Palin's show. We just allow ourselves to watch it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In Search of a Moderate Republican

Are there really any moderate Republicans in office anymore?

Clive Crook is beginning to doubt it , and to be honest, so am I. John McCain is trying to pretend he never was a "maverick" and as Crook notes, thoughtful leaders like Mitt Romney are running away from their more moderate stances. It seems that there is a spirit running within the GOP that crushes any differences and imposes a soul-killing conformity that screams meaningless phrases like "secular socialist machine."

Crook notes that the passage of Obamacare should have prompted a more reasonable response that would have captured fustrated centrists. He writes:
Republicans are right to say that the Obama administration has over-reached. Democrats failed to convince the country that their healthcare reform was the right solution to an obvious and pressing problem, yet passed their law anyway. Many voters are angry about this, and entitled to be. Also, despite the administration’s denials, the reform will most likely add to public borrowing, which was on a dangerously high trajectory to begin with. Again, they are right to be concerned.

Disenchantment with Mr Obama and the Democrats is especially pronounced in the political centre. (Conservatives, of course, were dismayed before the evidence was even in.) You might have thought this would commend a centrist platform to the Republican party approaching November’s mid-term elections. Swing voters decide who wins, and they were up for grabs. Why are Republicans steering to the right?
Crook then says the culprit is the Tea Party. The GOP sees this still forming movement as its salvation and has focused all its energy on that movement. Populism is always more sexy than the usually dowdy centrism. Right now, GOP leaders either feel forced or want to try to go for the sexy sizzle of the Tea Party partriots, than the steady and boring centrists.

Crook also notes that the current incarnation of the GOP is many things, but one thing it is NOT is fiscally conservative, which might spell doom for us all:
There is a good chance that control of the House will switch. In narrow electoral terms, the Republicans’ militant posture is working. This dynamic has disturbing implications. A populist-right Republican party is not a party of fiscal conservatives. It is a party of tax-cutters and middle-class entitlement protectors – budget deficits be damned. A populist-right Republican party has no trouble calling for lower taxes, opposing cuts in Medicare (the programme that poses the greatest fiscal danger), and deploring public borrowing, all at the same time. This, in fact, has been its line on healthcare reform.

That reform, with its $1,000bn of extra costs over 10 years, is now law. Democrats may flinch, like Republicans, at cutting Medicare to pay for it, but they have no strong objection to raising taxes once that becomes inescapable. A Republican-controlled House would have strong objections. It might very well refuse to do it, preferring possible fiscal catastrophe to higher taxes.
It's funny that this party that seems to talk about the spectre of socialism and about "a government takeover of healthcare" are also the ones that want to protect entitlement programs. Because raising taxes is a no-no and we are too chicken to make meaningful cuts, if the GOP gets back into power, we will just go back to "borrow and spend," which of course is so much better than the Democrats "tax and spend."

Crook thinks the GOP is basically a narrow sect instead of a "broad church." I would agree. The GOP is dazzled by the Tea Party, but what happens when reality sets in? The Tea Party is not America, after all. What if the GOP doesn't do as well in November? What if they lose big time in 2012? What if the Tea Party goes and creates a new party? What if the economy goes south again and the public demands some kind of government action?

Most moderate groups like the Republican Leadership Council or Republican Mainstreet Partnership, which were calling for a bigger tent in the GOP after the 2008 elections have either grown silent or have gone along to get along in wake of the new environment, lest they be targeted. The same goes for moderate politicians. After Dede Scozzafava, very few moderates dare tout their centrist credentials.

My own guess is that there will be some breaking point where the current strategy will fail. It might be that the economy gets better and the Dems pick up more seats than expected. It might be a landslide election in 2012. Whatever it is, there will come a point where the moderates in hiding will be tired of hiding.

I'm looking forward to that day, but it will be hellish in the meantime.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Will Erick Erickson Grow Up?

Erick Erickson, the prolific blogger from RedState, is a new political commentator for CNN. Below is an interview Erickson took part in on CNN. It's quite eye-opening.

I guess what bothers me here is not his extreme views as much as his childish behavior on a blog that has such massive hits. I mean, you write a blog where you call a retiring Supreme Court justice a "goat f*****g child molester" and think that only a few people are watching this?

He says that he knows he needs to grow up and carry on a more dignified discussion, but I have my doubts. The reason he is so popular and why CNN is taking him on is because of his behavior.

I agree with E.D. Kain on this one: when there could have been a number of thoughtful and smart conservatives to choose from, CNN went with Erickson.

And you wonder why CNN's ratings are in the toilet.

The Republican Political Trolls

Mark Thompson has an interesting views of the GOP during and after the debate on health care reform. He bypasses all the talk about how their historonics have created a climate of fear or even talking about civility and instead liken the tactics of Republicans to that of an internet troll. He explains:
...what the GOP and conservative leadership did was to refuse to respond to any of the Democrats’ actual arguments or counterargument for their health care reform bill. When the reforms were proposed, they cried “socialism!” and “fascism!” and, eventually, “death panels!” So far, so good, though – by themselves these claims aren’t too much different from implying that Barry Goldwater was a card-carrying member of the KKK with a devious plot to initiate a nuclear holocaust. Where they went off the rails, though, was when they failed to address the Democrats’ calls of “Bullshit!” – calls that usually came with at least some evidence. As soon as the Dems called “Bullshit!” the cowards turned tail and ran from the argument rather than defend themselves. Rather than waving aloft provisions of the bills that at least provided a grain of truth to their hyperbole or refuted the Dems’ own defenses, they just shouted “death panels” as if that were an argument; instead of putting Ruth Ann Johnson, that poor widow from Wichita who’s going to see her Medicare benefits cut, on center stage, they just whined about how those mean liberals are being so uncivil to them; and so on.

In essence, from my perspective the course of the debate seemed to go thusly (and remember, I think the health care reform bill that the Democrats passed will cause far more problems than it solves):

Democrat: We have 55 million uninsured in this country who need our health; health care reform will go a long way to solving that problem.

Republican: Bullshit! It’s socialism! And fascism! And there’s going to be death panels!

Democrat: This bill ensures health insurance remains a private sector business. And what death panels? There’s none in this bill. And as things are, we already have death panels – they’re called insurance companies.

Republican: It’s socialism! And fascism! And there’s going to be death panels!

Democrat: Hey asshole, are you deaf? Did you not hear anything I just said?

Republican: How dare you call me a deaf asshole? This is just proof that you are not at all interested in anything that I or anyone of the decent, hardworking real Americans that I represent have to say, you liberal, latte-sipping East Coast elitist douchebag!

Democrat: Aw, screw it. I think we’ll just take our chances with our 60 votes in the Senate.
It's a worthy argument to make and I think Thompson makes a lot of sense. Now, I don't think the Dems were as serious about bringing the GOP on in the health care debate, but then the Republicans were never that serious either.

I dealt with my share of internet trolls both on this blog and elsewhere. You try to talk with them and bring some logic into the debate, but all that the people are interested in is fighting. So after a while, you tired of trying to reason with them and you leave them alone.

The GOP was interested in trying being the troll and leave it to moderate and pro-life Democrats to scuttle the bill. Of course, the moderates and pro-lifers decided to make deals and support the bill and left the Republicans looking like fools.

The fault of the GOP is not in their rhetoric as Mark states. The problem is that this was all they had and in the end it was not enough.