Friday, January 21, 2011

The Farce Continues

Am I the only one who wonders why the Republicans in the House, who were so gung-ho to rein in spending, are continuing to waste their time and our money in pursuit of the meaningless and the trivial? Only a few days ago the House passed a piece of legislation called "Repealing of the Job Killing Health Care Law". Subtle, eh? Also in the House, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), newly minted Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is making threats to start endless investigations into the Obama Administration. Not for any specific abuses, as far as I can tell, but more in the realm of a touchdown dance now that the GOP has retaken control of the House of Representatives.  Both are pointless, petty and completely out of touch with the real problems facing the country and more of a demonstration of political gamesmanship than anything else.

As far as health reform repeal is concerned, let's all remember that it is functionally impossible for Republicans to repeal health reform at this time. Maybe if they win the Presidency or the Senate in 2012 it would be feasible, but not now. They can pass any idiotic notion they want in the House and no doubt this item is only the first, but it will then go to the other side of the Capital and vanish from sight. The Senate will never debate it, much less pass it. And even if it were passed, the President will veto it and an override would require the support of two-thirds of both houses, which will not happen. Not to mention the question of why you would want to in the first place. It's not perfect and parts of it will be debated and challenged, but it includes a lot of good things. It's also true that the Congressional Budget Office and other non-aligned groups have consistently said that this law will save money over the next decade. I realize the GOP had to go through the formalities for those supporters too ignorant of how the government functions to realize what an empty promise repeal actually was, but the gesture has been made, now let's move on!

Then we have the oft voiced threat to hold a long series of vague and pointless House investigations of the Obama Administration. Really? So we went through 8 years of the Bush Administration redefining torture in such a way to make it legal, had the rendition of suspects to secret locations outside the reach of our laws and the maintenance of an offshore gulag. Then Obama tries to do exactly what he was elected to do and this is a problem. It is as transparent a political game as you are likely to see. And in DC that's saying something. But it's only the opening salvo of the newly GOP controlled House as they pursue their most important agenda item for the next couple years; prevent Obama from winning reelection in 2012. I do not exaggerate. Senate Minority Leader McConnell actually told a conservative gathering last year that preventing Obama from winning a second term was their top priority. He actually said that, even as we deal with rampant unemployment, economic desolation and a rising national debt. It is comforting to know that our elected officials continue to be focused on the future. Not America's, unfortunately, but certainly that of the GOP. To say this behavior angers me would be like saying that Hurricane Katrina got a few people wet.

It's way past time for the conservatives to stop acting like Obama is some far left radical. I use the term 'act' literally, as most of these people know full well that this President is the most centrist, pragmatic Chief Executive we've seen in over 30 years. He has consistently taken conservative ideas and incorporated them into his policy proposals. Consistently he's been open to GOP suggestions. Consistently he has irritated the more progressive wing of his party for not taking up the charge on many liberal causes, such as gay marriage. Yet he has consistently been portrayed among conservative politicians and talking heads as an out of control, frothing liberal. Why? Because a centrist, popular Democrat is a GOP nightmare. They didn't know what to do with him when he was elected. The last thing they wanted was to help him and thereby hurt their chances of beating him in 2012, so they did the only thing they could . . . they made things up. They began a narrative that was a lie. It was obvious to most of us who actually looked at the policies and ignored the rhetoric, but many have bought into it and that is a tragedy. It's depressing to imagine all that could have been done, if only America were more important than politics. It's also depressing that so many Americans actually believe the drivel being spouted to by those who have no reason whatsoever to cooperate with this Administration. That's how they won back the House. Some Americans are so shortsighted and impatient that they couldn't even give Obama his full term before throwing up their hands in frustration. Guess it's true, in a Democracy you do get the government you deserve.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Civilizing Literature One Word at a Time

Some may have heard that a scholar, Alan Gribben, is working on publishing a new version of Mark Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn' & 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' in a single volume. I say version rather than edition, because it will have a few editorial changes. Specifically editing out the words "ni**er" and "injun". As you can tell by my carefully placed asterisks, the "N" word is not a word for polite conversation. The fact that these books included the term, along with the conversationally truncated word for 'indian', many times and thus have been disappearing from school reading lists is an excellent example of trying to hide reality from our kids.

I would add my voice to those who find the idea of retroactively 'cleaning up' past literary works a very bad idea. This is exceedingly stupid, no matter how eminent the scholar doing the work or how sound they think their reasoning is. Taking out words we find offensive is censorship, no matter the rationale. I don't think we want to teach students that censorship is OK as long as it's for a good cause. 

Gribben stated, from his Auburn University office that:

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind. Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

So it's alright to change the author's work to make it fit current social standards? Really? I was pretty sure that was all but the exact definition of censorship. How many living authors, do you think, would put up with having a celebrated work of theirs altered for delicate sensibilities? This strikes me as the same sort of simple minded drivel as draping clothing over semi-nude statuary. A professorship doesn't always equal level headed thinking, unfortunately.

Those books were written in a particular time and place and the language reflects that. How many other works are now going to be considered for this treatment? I'm sure many see it as a minor thing since it's just a couple of distasteful words, but where does it end? This is the proverbial 'slippery slope'. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are, once you start doing this, someone will find another example to be purged, then another, then another. All for the Greater Good. All with the best intentions.

We cannot and should not child-proof the world to make everything in written history palatable for today's standards. Trying to do so is disrespectful of the authors and disrespectful of your student's intelligence. Don't change the words, teach your students why these words were used and teach them about the historical context. These words are an opportunity to enlighten your students.  A teacher's job is not to keep everyone happy and comfortable, it's to teach!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Oath to CSPAN Ruled Non-Binding

In an astounding moment in the GOP's first day on the job after taking control of the House of Representatives, two Congressmen somehow managed to skip the official swearing in. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a returning member, and Mike Fitzpatrick (R- Pennsylvania) a new arrival apparently decided that it was more important to be down the hall at a Fitzpatrick fundraiser/gathering than attending to the most basic of Constitutional duties, being sworn into office. In a leap of illogic that is particularly astounding for a veteran House member like Sessions, they 'took their oath' to CSPAN. Literally standing in front of a TV running the televised swearing in ceremony! No, really! Then proceeded to go about their business casting votes that, since they were not officially sworn in, were no legal. This of course caused a problem when it all came out and both geniuses had cast a number of votes that were meaningless. Oh, and did I mention that Sessions is on the House Rules Committee? Or that if the gathering actually met the definition of a 'fundraiser' than Fitzpatrick violated House rules again for hosting it in the Capital building?

In my opinion they should both have been barred from voting for 30 days, then have to go through a formal swearing in on the floor in front of the entire House of Representatives. A little public humiliation might do them both a world of good.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lame Duck, Better than No Duck at All

A surprisingly productive 'Lame Duck' session of Congress has come to an end. It's been called the most productive Lame Duck session ever, though I can't speak to that myself. But it's without a doubt the most productive this Congress has been over the last year. That is the sad part. After a year of near absolute stone walling on even the most vanilla bills and nominations, it's astonishing how fast things can be passed under threat of being forced to work over the holidays. Democrats certainly have their issues, but I must say that the way the GOP crumbles like overcooked ginger snaps every Christmas is both pathetic and endlessly amusing. So much for integrity and sticking by your values.

"I will not compromise!" (Generic GOP Senator)

"We will stay and work through the holidays till we get this settled!" (Dem Majority Leader)

"Hey, look at the time! Let's ink this deal!" (Generic GOP Senator)

To add to the fun, there are a number of GOP Congresspersons really ticked off at how well they were played this Holiday season. This includes the ever amusing and often nonsensical Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R- Min). Seeing as they are deeply offended by pretty much anything that doesn't originate from their own spokesman, I generally ignore them both. A shame voters in their states failed to do the same. The general sentiment is that Democrats didn't play fair by actually trying to legislate after the mid-terms. How dare they continue to work till closing time! The GOP has this weird idea that Congressional work should stop the instant the elections are certified. I'm sure they wouldn't feel that way if the November results were reversed, but hypocrisy is a respected tradition for Republicans, so no surprise there. Democrats do it as well, but rarely with the same style and commitement. What is interesting is that at least one Republican House member, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas), has 'tweeted' her intention to re-introduce a motion to dismantle the Lame Duck altogether. In other words Congress would adjourn for the elections and not reconvene till January, thus giving us two months without a functioning Congress. Sorry, I meant to say sitting Congress. It hasn't really functioned consistently for several years now.

Talk about 'taking my ball and going home'! It's these stupid things that have wasted way too much political time lately. Ideas that are pointless and only matter to specific people or parties at this specific moment in time. I might, I stress might, understand if the Dems had rushed through a bunch of controversial bills in December over the unified opposition of Republicans, but they didn't. Remember the Dems only really controlled the House. The Senate, while having a Dem majority, has that wonderful filibuster rule that allows the minority to pretty much prevent anything they don't like from even being discussed. This has been invoked at least 136 times during the now ended session of Congress. More than doubling its use from any previous session. But the real kicker is that these bills that passed were only controversial politically. Polls showed Americans firmly behind them all and even most Republicans would admit that they supported them in principle. But they blocked them out of pure political calculation.

- Tax Cut Bill to extend the current tax rates for a further 2 years. Passed with 37 Republican votes. Not surprising considering it was made up heavily of pro-Republican tax provisions, many of which will grow the deficit significantly over the next few years. Typical of Republican 'fiscal responsibility'.

- 'New START' Treaty to renew the US-Russian nuclear inspection and arms reduction agreement. Passed with 13 Republican votes.

- 9/11 First Responder bill to provide healthcare assistance to those who developed serious illnesses as a direct result of their weeks and months breathing in toxic dust at the ground zero World Trade Center site. Incidentally this bill was fully paid for yet seemed to have been nearly killed by Republican obstruction till a last surge, led by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show among others, shamed Congress into action. In the end it garnered Yes votes from ALL Republican Senators.

- Bill to Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', which had been fought tooth and nail despite as much as 70% public support and the support of the President, Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Passed with 8 Republican votes.