Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Tough Questions

As you may have noticed from previous posts, I've been very frustrated politically over the last year. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the media is letting us down. Not that it doesn't give ample air time to various viewpoints, as it surely does. But it seems to me that with only a few exceptions, much of the time pundits and political figures spend in the media spotlight is merely  to spout thinly veiled propaganda. I don't include formal speeches and news conferences, as those are clearly the showplaces of the most naked of propaganda. I'm speaking of talk shows and interviews.

I've watched a good deal of TV news and opinion shows, or snippets thereof and it infuriates me to watch a guest spout off a long string of what they claim are indisputable facts and yet the interviewer will simply nod or offer up an opportunity for the guest to elaborate without ever challenging any of their claims. I've watched Senators confidently assert 'facts' that are demonstrably false. I don't mean that I disagree with their interpretation of policy. I mean straight up, no gray area, easily refuted lies. And this happens all the time. This isn't journalism, it's Public Relations. For example, I've watched Republican Senators and Representatives smile confidently and dismiss the various health reform bills as an unacceptable 'Government takeover of healthcare" and I keep waiting for the host to lean in and politely interrupt. I want to hear them ask exactly what part of the bill constitutes a takeover of healthcare? But they never do! This is where the media can make a difference. It's where they can help cut through the misinformation and the far too numerous lies. But far too often the moderators are little more than game show hosts.  So guests are allowed to come on and make blatantly misleading statements or lies with the tacit approval of the host. What's the point of this? It's just a media provided lectern from which guests can proclaim the sky is red to millions of people without contradiction. I don't expect the hosts to fact check everything on the fly, but when these whoppers come rolling out I'd like to see something!

Also, we've entered into an era where many media outlets have turned to an echo chamber style of journalism. You'll have a host who will interview almost exclusively politicians and pundits of the same political bent as they are. While you will occasionally get some decent analysis out of these, you rarely get anything particularly insightful. The guests are generally there just to provide backing for the host's views. What would make these much more interesting would be to see more liberals on Fox and more conservatives on MSNBC, for example. Of course, I have no idea if the main reason for much of this is due to guests refusing to come on a show that might actually press them on issues. This is certainly a likely reason, as I've heard Rachel Maddow note on several occasions that they have tried to get this person or that to come on the show but they've never accepted. In other words, they refused so they wouldn't have to answer a bunch of inconvenient questions.

Now you can say that some of this comes from the guest's demands for a friendly platform, therefore what can be done? Well, if the majority of news and opinion shows stopped providing unhindered propaganda time for guests, that would be a start. If these people stopped having this plethora of outlets vying to give out free air time, they would have to deal with a more adversarial format if they wanted to get their views broadcast. I bet if this was the norm rather than the exception, there would be a bit more truth mixed in with the self serving blather. This could only be a good thing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Call It What You Want, But Kill It

Old school Senators might call it Rule 22. More recently it's been referred to as the the need for a 'Supermajority'. However it's more common name is the Filibuster. Put simply, the Filibuster is a Senate procedural rule whereby the minority can use various procedures to draw out, delay and obstruct a piece of legislation, ideally to the point of stopping it.  There is a good article on it on Wikipedia, it's a bit dry, but interesting.

Initially this rule required the opposition to basically takeover the floor of the Senate with speeches and whatnot in a constant stream of noise, thus preventing any other legislation from being discussed, functionally shutting down the Senate until either they ran out of steam or the other side caved. Then in the 1960s a Two Track system was devised that, with unanimous consent or agreement between the Majority and Minority leaders, a Filibustered bill could be set aside to deal with other pressing matters, so the Senate would not be completely stopped, though that particular bill would be in stasis. This didn't prevent the 1964 Civil Rights Act from being Filibustered for 75 hours, including a 14 hr 13 min address by Senator Robert Byrd. At least this type of process requires everyone to stay on the job and it became an endurance test to see if the minority could hold the floor 24/7. But it's been simplified recently to allow the minority leader to simply tell the majority leader that they intend to Filibuster and all discussion stops until or unless the majority can find 60 votes to override it. A questionable change, to be sure.

Now I can see how this option is a useful tool for the minority when they feel a specific piece of legislation is a really bad idea and therefore they have to take extraordinary steps in an attempt to stop it or at least delay as long as possible to try and change a few key votes. By and large this is how the Filibuster was used for much of its history. Until recently anyway. Use of the Filibuster began to rise throughout the 20th century, but it wasn't till the 1990's that it began to edge into the sphere of abuse. Yet it didn't reach the current level of pathetic stupidity till the Republicans began losing control of Congress in 2006. The current session of Congress has already more than doubled the use of this Senate rule . . . and this session is not over yet!

What it all boils down to is that the Republican party was scared silly after the 2008 elections. They were terrified that Obama and the Democrats, who were voted into power by a comfortable margin, might actually accomplish something and continue to gain popularity. So they took a rule designed for special use and began applying it in virtually every single debate. Even going to the extreme of using it to stop legislation from simply coming to the floor for discussion! It's hard for me to imagine many instances for legitimately obstructing the mere discussion of a proposal. Yet this is where we find ourselves today. A forty one vote minority in the Senate , forty until last month, has decided that it is politically vital that no Obama supported proposals pass. Period. Call me a radical, but that is not a good enough reason to bring the Senate, and by extension Congress as a whole, to a complete halt. It is not an exaggeration to say that this has never happened in the history of the Senate. Individual bills here and there, yes. Throwing roadblocks up for just about every major bill for over a year and still counting? Never.

If you were reading carefully you will have noted the use of the word 'Rule'. That's because the Filibuster is not a Constitutional Senatorial structure, but rather a rule created by the Senate itself. Therefore it can be changed by the Senate and indeed has been modified a number of times throughout its history. Now is another one of those times. The Filibuster was never meant to allow the minority to bring Congress to a halt each time a bill was introduced. It was a special use option, not a standard procedure. The only thing that makes it even possible now is the absolute, lock-step voting block that is the GOP. The Senate Republicans have managed to lock up every single GOP vote, for almost every single piece of legislation. And they vote 'No' with that block on anything that President Obama supports. It is unheard of for a single party to hold together like this on vote after vote and issue after issue. It is stupid and it is illogical. Are we to believe that every single piece of legislation that Obama supports is bad? Really? Even under Bush, some Dems voted for Republican bills and vice versa. It is not believable that ALL Republican Senators agree on every single issue. It is obviously political gamesmanship of the most dishonorable sort. This has become more obvious as Senator after Senator is being caught vocally shouting down ideas that they, themselves supported only a short time before. One of my favorites is the so called 'PayGo' legislation. It declares that Congress cannot enact legislation without also including a way to pay for it. It's an idea that will shock many. Not because of the bill itself, but from the realization that this isn't standard procedure! Guess that would explain the ballooning deficit since this practice was stopped during G.W. Bush's tenure. In fact, this was a major part of what gave us budget surpluses during the tail end of the Clinton administration. PayGo is the kind of idea that should send a sensual thrill through anyone who calls themselves a Fiscal Conservative. In fact, many Republicans have spoken out in support the idea in the recent past. Or they did before Obama lent it his support. Shortly thereafter, GOP support vanished like a lobbyist at a press conference.

It can only be assumed that the GOP feels the success of their party in the 2010 mid-term elections is far more important than minor things like uninsured Americans or debt reduction. Oh, they talk about these things, incessantly, But they just don't do anything about them. If they did, they would have to engage the Dems and the Administration in actual . . . (gulp) dialog. Then they would be open to attack from the ignorantly conservatives out there who have convinced themselves that if Obama likes it, then it must be (gasp!) Socialism!!! The GOP made this particular bed with meticulously crafted hospital corners and now they can't get out of bed at all. If they do their jobs and work with the Administration, they anger their base, hence the perpetual Senate Fillibuster. So we are left with a significant, though still minority portion, of our legislature that has taken to misusing the tools at its disposal for transparently political reasons. Much like a child using a jackhammer to hang a picture. And like that child, it's past time to take that tool away from them before they cause any more damage. They've abused it beyond any rational point, so it's time to revoke it and move on. Someone has to govern in a time of war and economic hardship and if the GOP is unwilling to do so, then Obama and the Democrats will have to do it without them. To do that, the Filibuster MUST DIE.

Write your Senators and let them know how you feel. Tell the Republicans that it's time to do the job they were hired for and tell the Democrats to stop wasting time and remove the one tool Republicans have continually used to jam the machinery of government.

Friday, February 5, 2010

American Soldier (Gay)

I am absolutely dismayed that in 2010 we are still arguing about whether or not homosexuals deserve to have the rights of American citizens. And that's really what it comes down to. The dreaded 'Homosexual Agenda' to which the Conservatives like to refer is simply that; to be treated like everyone else. They are not asking to be given special rights or free passes to the Super Bowl. Just to be accorded the rights of every other American. Pretty radical, eh?

Earlier this week a Congressional committee met to discuss the idea of ending the Clinton era 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' (DADT) policy about homosexuals in the military. The policy states that the military won't go looking for homosexuals or ask members if they are gay, but if they find out that a member is, in fact gay, they will discharge them. This was the best the Clinton Administration could do in the early 90's climate with the military leadership solidly against allowing openly gay members to serve. But things are a bit different now. Not only do we have the President behind ending the DADT policy, but also the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come on board to end the policy.

But, as you would expect, politics quickly reared its hypocritical head. One of the more prominent Senators at the meeting was John McCain (R). At least twice previously McCain commented that he would defer to the views of the military leadership on ending DADT. So you would naturally assume that when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the highest ranking military officer in uniform, and his boss the Secretary of Defense testify that the time has come to end the policy . . . well it must have been a done deal, right? Though you can't actually hear the squealing of McCain's tires as he makes his political U-turn, his words make things clear enough.

"Look, the policy is working. I talk to military all the time. I have a lot of contact with them. The policy is working and the president made a commitment in his campaign that he would reverse it and the president then made the announcement that wants it reversed. And it is a law. It has to be changed. So Admiral Mullen said, speaking for himself only, he thought it ought to be reversed and of course Secretary Gates said that. I do not. I do not know what the other military leadership wants. I know that I have a letter signed by over a thousand retired admirals and generals that said they don’t want it reversed. And so, I will be glad to listen to the views of military leaders. I always have. But I’m not changing my position in support of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell unless there is the significant support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And I would remind you that we’re in two wars. You know that and our listeners know that. And do we need, don’t we need a serious assessment of the effect on morale or battle and combat effectiveness before we go forward with a reversal in a campaigning, carrying out an Obama campaign."

So McCain thinks the policy is working, eh? How exactly is it "working"? We've kicked out thousands of military members, many with vital skills such as translators and interrogators. Thousands more cannot even tell their comrades who they went out with last weekend. If they have any relationship at all it must be illicit, as if they harbored some horrible secret rather than the simple fact that they fell in love with someone. How does this show the "policy is working?" These are our fellow Americans. They are just like you and me. The only thing that distinguishes them from the rest of us is who they love. These men and women volunteered to join the military and put their lives on the line every day for a nation that then demands they hide an important part of themselves away. To hide it so WE will feel comfortable. So WE won't be inconvenienced. Imagine yourself among a group of single coworkers, all talking about their recent dates. Then imagine you can't tell anyone about yours. If you do, you will be fired. Fired, even though you are a model employee. The only people for whom this policy is "working" are those who are made uncomfortable by proximity to a known homosexual. And to McCain and others who fall into this category I say, "Grow up"!

Now there are those who will make the case that a straight soldier, we'll call him George, doesn't need the distraction of knowing the guy next to him in the foxhole, we'll call him John, is gay. This is talking cross-eyed-badger-spit. If the two of them are in a foxhole they probably have more pressing issues than who's gay and who isn't. This line of reasoning is also highly insulting to both of our hypothetical soldiers. First you are implying that, just because John is gay that he's naturally a sexual predator and will jump George as soon as his back is turned. Homosexuals are no more predatory than anyone else. Just look at the thousands of sexual assaults carried out by straight soldiers every year. Predators are predators and the person's sexual orientation is hardly a factor. Secondly, you insult George by saying that he's such a bad soldier that he's more worried about his buddy's sexual habits than doing his job. Third, the increasing ratio of women in all branches of the military invalidates sexual tension as a uniquely homosexual issue.

Let me come clean on myself. I am NOT gay. I served over 8 years in the US Air Force as a 'Boom Operator' on KC-135 tankers performing inflight refueling. I was assigned to two squadrons during my tenure and deployed for the first Gulf War and numerous operations around the world during the first half of the 1990's. At no time did I worry that someone on my aircrew was gay. When bunking down in the compound outside King Khalid International airport during the first Gulf War, the thought that there might be gay service members among the thousand or so other soldiers and airmen stationed there never crossed the transom of my mind. Why? Because it wasn't important.

Here's one more thing to think about if you're still not convinced. There have been homosexuals in America's military since before there was a US of A and they have served honorably alongside their straight comrades in every battle America has ever fought. They undoubtedly crossed the Delaware with Washington to attack Trenton. They died in the snow of Valley Forge and on the fields of Yorktown. They fought and died on both sides at Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Atlanta and Cold Harbor. They followed Teddy up San Juan Hill with his 'Rough Riders'. They fought through the slaughter of Belleau Wood on the Western Front. They were entombed forever when the Arizona rolled over. They were shot down over the Solomons. They died on the beaches of Normandy and in the air over the oil fields of Ploesti. They shivered through the Korean winter with their comrades at the Chosin Reservoir and sweated with them through the siege of Ka San. I for one think these men and women have more than earned the right to be treated like any other American citizen!