Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Climate Change, Peak Energy - One Set Of Solutions For Both

Anyone who’s watched the Republican Party over the past few years realizes that there are a lot of them who deny the existence of climate change. From Senator Coburn’s report on it – which turns out to have other problems, particularly with the cherry picked analysis – to various oil and gas companies running campaigns, there’s a lot of effort being spent to debunk the scientific consensus. What the climate change deniers overlook is another very real problem. That is, that cheap, easily produced oil, natural gas, and coal are running out, or will do so within the next century Which in a cold-hearted analysis, neatly solves the problem of human-generated carbon dioxide production. It’ll be reduced because there won’t be enough cheap fossil fuels to burn or use as fuel.

While that might “solve” the carbon emissions problem, the other problems that result from that will be severe.

The problems we are seeing today in terms of recession and reduced credit availability are precisely the kinds of impacts we would expect to see from oil flow that does not meet society’s needs at an acceptably low price. While one cannot prove that our current economic problems are mostly related to the oil situation, it is hard to believe that the relationship could be happenstance. Even the crazy build-up in mortgage loans prior to the collapse may have been a way of disguising the real lack of growth in the economy, as world oil production stalled.

That’s oil, but natural gas can be substituted, right? We have plenty, if you listen to various gas companies – but they don’t tell everything:

Many people now believe that the United States has an abundant natural gas supply that will last for 100 years. While it is true that the resource base is large and that approximately one-third is from shale gas, it is not 100 years of supply at current consumption levels. The Potential Gas Committee’s (PGC) June 2009 report estimated that the U.S. has 1,836 Tcf of technically recoverable gas resources. Technically recoverable resources are different than commercially viable reserves. Nonetheless, a more careful reading of the PGC report reveals that the probable estimate is 441 Tcf and the shale gas component is about 150 Tcf (Figure 5). That resource represents a lot of gas but, at 23 Tcf of annual consumption, it is about seven years of supply, assuming that this was the only gas available. Based on production to date, it is likely that the commercial component of this resource is between 50 and 75 Tcf assuming a $7.00/Mcf gas price.

We’ve been told that there’s plenty of coal – I used to hear a figure of “400 years” thrown around – but the outlook is not much better:

The ultimately recoverable resources (URR) estimates used in the scenarios ranged from 700 Gt to 1243 Gt. The model indicates that worldwide coal production will peak between 2010 and 2048 on a mass basis and between 2011 and 2047 on an energy basis. The Best Guess scenario, assumed a URR of 1144 Gt and peaks in 2034 on a mass basis, and in 2026 on an energy basis

The three major fossil fuels that power our – and the world’s – current economy are not going to be readily available or, most importantly, cheap. They aren’t going to run out, but the cost of using them will rise drastically as the easily extracted resources run out. The remainder will cost far more to extract, and new supplies will not replace the old in terms of the need. That is the point the climate change deniers are overlooking.

In other words, the solutions being proposed for climate change turn out to be the solutions to another looming problem. “Green” technology, renewable energy, alternatives – all of the things that are talked about in the context of climate change also serve as solutions in the context of fossil fuel depletion. The climate change deniers have a complementary group that denies the idea that we’ll run out of fossil fuels, and as usual, they’re ignoring the data. But they’re still delaying progress, and it’s going to have an impact on our economy:

The people who are saying we don’t want to change are holding a view that when a new technology comes along it’s going to displace an old technology. The people whose business depends on old technology might get nervous. They can adapt and innovate or fight the change. That used to work when we weren’t so interconnected. In this new very flat world of multinational corporations, virtually all of western Europe, Japan, Korea, China are saying, “This is our future.” If we don’t go in this direction, we will be importing many of the technologies we could be exporting. I just installed an on-demand water heater and there were no American manufacturers. There were Korean, Japanese, European manufacturers. Kind of scary.

Yes, it is scary. It’s not just the “wild-eyed liberal treehuggers” who are saying things like this. Even some conservative Republicans are worried:

“We’re here with important decisions to be made. I’d also suggest to my free enterprise colleagues, especially conservatives here, whether you think it’s all a “bunch of hooey” that we’ve talked about in this committee, the Chinese don’t, and they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us and the rest of the world the technology to lead the 21′st century. So we may just press the “pause” button here for several years, but China is pressing the “fast forward” button.”

That is the challenge ahead. There is no single technology which is going to be “the answer,” it’s much more likely to be a package of technology, infrastructure, and cultural changes. The time to start examining them – and trying – is now. Some will fail, some will work, some will need improvement. That’s the reality, and it’s important for this country’s future. At the same time, we need to avoid the more extreme rhetoric. People have been inundated with “worst case” scenarios since the ’70′s, and as each failed to come true – or weren’t as bad as had been “predicted” - they became skeptical of those claims. Regardless, there is a real problem, and that needs to be made clear. Climate change is a reality. It doesn’t matter if they deny it, because there’s another issue looming, and both can be solved using the same thing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Open Thread 11-24-10

  • Sarah Palin’s new show dropped like a stone in its second week. It’s down 40% from its opening. Many came, saw, and left, apparently.

The judge granted the party’s request to throw out the suit because Greer wouldn’t answer questions from the party’s lawyers, claiming it could harm his own defense in the criminal case.

[O]f all the cars in the world, the Chevrolet Volt is the Car of the Year? Motor Trend magazine, that’s the end of them. How in the world do they have any credibility? Not one has been sold [and] the Volt is the Car of the Year.

Motor Trend’s editor decides that he’s not going to take that from him and issues an must-read slap down of him, ending with:

All the shouting from you or from electric car purists on the left can’t distort the fact that the Chevy Volt is, indeed, a technological breakthrough. And it’s more. It’s a technological breakthrough that many American families can use for gas-free daily commutes and well-planned vacation drives. It’s expensive for a Chevy, but many of those families will find the gasoline saved worth it. If you can stop shilling for your favorite political party long enough to go for a drive, you might really enjoy the Chevy Volt. I’m sure GM would be happy to lend you one for the weekend. Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix.

McDowell was referring to the ample quantity of buzz out in Capitol Hill-land over whether the FCC is actually going to issue net neutrality rules in the near future.

“Let me say at the outset that, as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, appointed by two presidents and unanimously confirmed by the Senate each time,” he added. “I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen… or when… or even if.”

Makes you feel all confident, doesn’t it?

  • The Family Research Council is branded a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Adam Savage doesn’t think much of TSA’s security measures. Particularly since they missed the 12″ razor blades he had on him. No really, you have to see it.
  • Cookie Monster wants to host SNL, and he has an audition tape:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Open Thread 11-21-10

ax cuts for the rich? Warren Buffet says that “trickle down” doesn’t work.

“If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further,” Buffett told ABC News in an interview set to air later this week. “But I think that people at the high end — people like myself — should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.”

Midterm voters “were voting to stop the Obama spendathon, and that’s what people were sent to Washington to do,” Norquist said in an interview for POLITICO’s “Taxing America” video series.

“That’s what all the freshmen are going to do. That’s what the fight’s going to be about,” he said of the party’s majority-makers, who are spoiling for a showdown with President Barack Obama. The president “will be less popular if — in the service of overspending and wasting people’s money — he closes the government down, as opposed to now, when he’s just wasting people’s money.”

That worked so well in 1995, Grover. Which many Republicans still remember, but the fantasy lives on.

  • Speaking of fantasies, Sean Hannity say that “I think Gov. Palin, if they keep up with this radical agenda will clean Obama’s clock.” Of course, the problem with that is that Sarah Palin has horrible poll numbers with independents in addition to Democrats.

Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world’s top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.

I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings

This obstruction and the way it undermines our democratic process would be outrageous at any time. But it is especially shameful now, because many of these qualified nominees received bipartisan support when nominated and were then approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with broad support. Yet they have waited more than a year to be confirmed because the Senate never put their nomination to a vote.

Instead of confirming these nominees, some senators have used secret holds and filibusters to block the votes, leaving nominees in limbo for a year or more and undermining the credibility of our judiciary. Fewer nominees have been confirmed during the Obama administration than at any time since President Richard Nixon was in office.

These tactics are, as one senator noted, “delay for delay’s sake.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Open Thread 11-19-10

The SAFER Act, introduced by Reps. Caroline Maloney (D-NY) and Ted Poe (R-TX), updates the Debbie Smith Act, widely considered the most important anti-rape legislation ever passed by Congress. It establishes SAFER, the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry, to track the status of DNA evidence. Law enforcement will log up-to-date information on each rape case into SAFER, giving the public a real-time view of evidence that has not yet been tested, by state and city or county. The registry will not contain any personally identifying information about victims, but victims will be able to track the status of their own case through a unique ID number.

Wrestler Mick Foley — whose meeting with Tori Amos and subsequent work for the Rape, Abuse & Incest Action Network that she co-founded was chronicled on Slate in September — joined RAINN, assault survivor-turned-advocate Julie Weil and “Private Practice” actress KaDee Strickland on Capitol Hill this week to push for passage of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act.


I love Joe Biden!

MSNBC said Friday that it is suspending “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough for two days after he acknowledged giving eight previously unknown $500 contributions to friends and family members running for state and local offices during his tenure at the network, a violation of parent NBC’s ban on political contributions by employees without specific permission from the network president.

“I recognize that I have a responsibility to honor the guidelines and conditions of my employment, and I regret that I failed to do so in this matter,” Scarborough said in a statement. “I apologize to MSNBC and to anyone who has been negatively affected by my actions,” he said, adding that after he was made aware of some of the contributions, he called MSNBC President Phil Griffin “and agreed with Phil’s immediate demand of a two-day suspension without pay.”

  • Bryan Fischer, that jackass “Director of Issues Analysis” for the conservative Christian group the American Family Association reacted to the awarding of the Medal of Honor to SSG Sal Giunta:

“So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?” “We have feminized the Medal of Honor,”

and rather than apologize for that, he doubled down:

“The bottom line here is that the God of the Bible clearly honors those who show valor and gallantry in waging aggressive war in a just cause against the enemies of freedom, even while inflicting massive casualties in the process.” “What I’m saying is that it’s time we started imitating God’s example again,”

Another chickenhawk, who can’t be bothered to check on the history of the Medal of Honor, because a lot of them have been awarded to – people who saved their fellow soldiers under fire. Forget the strike-out above, he is a jackass, among many other uncomplimentary epithets that spring to mind.

Please do your duty for your country. We do not have verification of the Russian nuclear posture right now. We’re not going to have it until we sign the START treaty. We’re not going to be able to get rid of further missiles and warheads aimed at us. I state it candidly to my colleagues, one of those warheads…could demolish my city of Indianapolis — obliterate it! Now Americans may have forgotten that. I’ve not forgotten it and I think that most people who are concentrating on the START treaty want to move ahead to move down the ladder of the number of weapons aimed at us.

This week on CNN, host Wolf Blitzer confronted Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) with a recent poll that found Americans don’t want to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and wondered why Schock — who has made both extending all the tax cuts and listening to the American people a priority — isn’t exactly listening to what they want. But Schock simply ignored the poll, saying, “The American people reject” letting the tax cuts expire for the wealthy.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) got caught playing a similar game yesterday, also on CNN with Blitzer. Pence — who has also made listening to the American people a priority — argued that in order to reduce the deficit, the government should cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But when Blitzer told Pence that a recent poll showed that Americans don’t want cuts to those programs, the Indiana congressman pulled a Schock.

Apparently, in Republican-speak, “The American People” are those who make over $250,000 a year, and corporations. Everyone else is “not American.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ideas For Re-Creating The Democratic Party: Boots On The Ground

There’s a military truism I used to hear a lot: “You can fly over a hill, you can bomb it, you can shell it. But you don’t control that hill until you stand some 18-year-old kid with a rifle on top of it.” It’s means that it doesn’t matter what else you have, what else you can do, you still need to put “boots on the ground.” So what does this have to do with politics? It points out something that has been missing at times from various discussions: Any “base,” any “block of voters” needs to be able to deliver voters to the voting booth.

There’s a great site on the Internet called the United States Election Project. It goes through the elections, and gives figures on voter turn-out on a state-by-state basis. Here’s the sad reality: In 2008, almost 62% of the eligible voters turned out to vote. In 2010, just over 40% turned out. The state with the lowest turnout? I’m sad to say, New York. The New York Times features this, along with giving the standard excuses:

“New York Republicans nominated arguably the weakest ticket in the nation, especially with two Senate seats and the governorship at stake,” Dr. Sabato said. “None of the top three G.O.P. candidates was taken seriously. The amazing thing is that the G.O.P. captured at least five House seats — but, then, the party was at an historic low in Congress and had nowhere to go but up. “The second reason is that in a nasty political year, New York’s contests were easily among the ugliest. Sometimes exceptional negativism can turn an electorate against voting, the ‘plague on both your houses’ effect.”

While there’s an amount of truth there, the reality is that both parties did a less-than-credible job of getting voters into the voting booths. In one of my previous postings on the subject of re-creating the party I talked about supporting the local parties. It’s there that the “boots are on the ground” and voter turn-out (or lack thereof) happens. When you look at the areas where most of where Democrats lost in the state, they turn out to have been Republican strongholds in the past, and the Republicans were much better at getting their voters to the polls – this time. One of the “lessons” I talked about for the netroots was that “Without a local presence, and a real ground game, they’re not going to be effective.”

It’s helpful to look back at the past, and in particular the political “machines.” While we can all rightly decry the bad aspects of them, we should also learn from what they did right, and what we can use today. What they did right was they made sure their voters went to the polls. Door-to-door, double checking, and if someone needed a hand getting there (or needed an absentee ballot) it was done. The other thing here? Personal contact. Someone physically present to talk to the voters, and encourage them. I think that in today’s infatuation with modern technology, we’ve forgotten that. We talk a lot about the “netroots,” we use e-mail, texting, Twitter, Facebook, phonebanking, and other media to contact voters. We have a host of tools available to identify potential or real voters, and to get the message out. But despite those tools, it doesn’t always get voters to the voting booth – and it sometimes creates an information overload. That’s why the ground game – the personal canvassing, and going back on Election Day matters:

Millions of dollars in TV ads, combined with stories that make your opponent look bad, will get a candidate “into the red zone,” campaign veterans say.

But the “ground game” of volunteers knocking on doors and dialing for votes is the last four yards, and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s unlikely survival Tuesday amid a national Republican onslaught was the work of get-out-the-vote efforts both meticulous and overwhelming.

Consider the number of elections that were close – and those undecided as yet. Just a few hundred votes that are making the difference in these races. What we need to be looking at rebuilding is the ground game. We need to start building the networks, the people who are going to go out and make sure that people are voting, even – and particularly – in the areas where Democrats aren’t “the majority.” That means going “back to basics” – build the local parties, ensure that they have the tools to do that. Identify the potential volunteers, and put them in contact with the local parties. All the technology, the media saturation, is the equivalent of flying over and dropping bombs, or using artillery to shell a hill. But you don’t win the election until you get that voter into the voting booth, and that means boots on the ground.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Open Thread 11-17-10 Presidential Contenders Edition

The 2012 election is just a short two years away, and already the media is trying to highlight various candidates. Whether those candidates will actually run, or stand a chance in hell of succeeding is not relevant. What is relevant is that columnists must keep turning out columns! In that vein (hey, I have to come up with something!) I present some potential – according to various media – candidates for 2012.

Howard Fineman gets out of the gate over at HuffPo with his breathless idea – Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough.

Well-placed sources tell The Huffington Post that the mayor and the host have talked about running together, with Bloomberg in the top spot. In an interview, Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida, issued a firm yet carefully-worded denial. “We haven’t discussed it directly,” he said, adding, “Have people discussed it in his sphere and in my sphere? I think so.”

Makes you just quake in your boots if you’re a Democrat, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. Gawker has a reaction to it:

Howard Fineman has a terrific, hard-hitting report in The Huffington Post: Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough have had conversations, before. About running for office together! You see, they love each other, and Joe Scarborough says that people have discussed such a run “in his sphere.” Which is more than enough evidence for an 800-word piece!

Yes, there is nothing at all embarrassing about this smart, substantive article—not the assertion that Bloomberg and Scarborough are an “Odd Couple of Guys Outside the System”; not the idea that this ticket would ever actually happen, in the real universe;

There has been serious discussion among some liberals about mounting a primary challenge against President Barack Obama. Which is good, because the first challenger has already stepped forward: Alvin Greene.

Instead, Greene wanted to talk about something else.

“Write about me running for president,” Greene said. “I’m running for president of the United States.”

Greene said he was born to be president and that he turns 35 in August of 2012.

“I’m the next president,” Greene said, while sitting on a bench. “I’ll be 35 … just before November, so I was born to be president. I’m the man. I’m the man. I’m the man. Greene’s the man. I’m the man. I’m the greatest person ever. I was born to be president. I’m the man, I’m the greatest individual ever.”

What a great announcement! There’s even a campaign slogan there! Stirring, isn’t it? Given the remarkable lack of interest shown by most of the people whose names have been floated so far, I can foresee a rallying around Alvin (I’m the man) Greene among the netroots next year. He’s the man, after all.

From the Republican’s it’s already a tight race according to TPM:

Mike Huckabee is narrowly ahead in Alaska, while also leading by seven in Kentucky. Mitt Romney earns a 13-point lead in Nevada, and for the first time in this survey’s series, Newt Gingrich holds a lead, up four in North Carolina.

Potential candidates Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence and John Thune all fail to earn a single double-digit yield in the last six states surveyed.

An obvious flaw in this poll is that they didn’t include Ron Paul or Bobby Jindal, who are obvious candidates. Even more, they’re ignoring that real possibility that after a brutal, vicious primary battle, the real Republican candidate will emerge: John McCain.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Open Thread 11-16-10

Convicted on 11 of 13 charges of rules violations, his ordeal isn’t finished.

The eight-member ethics panel that convicted him — four Democrats and four Republicans — now will write what is likely to be a stinging report to amplify its findings. Then, the full House ethics committee will conduct a hearing on the appropriate punishment for Rangel, the silver-haired, gravelly voiced and sartorially flashy veteran of 20 terms in Congress.

Possible sanctions include a House vote deploring his conduct, a fine and denial of certain privileges.

  • President Obama’s new book, “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” is on bookshelves today. It’s an illustrated children’s book, and the royalties go to scholarship fund for children of soldiers killed or disabled.

Now, I already mentioned I like this guy, Sal. And as I found out myself when I first spoke with him on the phone and when we met in the Oval Office today, he is a low-key guy, a humble guy, and he doesn’t seek the limelight. And he’ll tell you that he didn’t do anything special; that he was just doing his job; that any of his brothers in the unit would do the same thing. In fact, he just lived up to what his team leader instructed him to do years before: “You do everything you can.”

Staff Sergeant Giunta, repeatedly and without hesitation, you charged forward through extreme enemy fire, embodying the warrior ethos that says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Your actions disrupted a devastating ambush before it could claim more lives. Your courage prevented the capture of an American soldier and brought that soldier back to his family. You may believe that you don’t deserve this honor, but it was your fellow soldiers who recommended you for it. In fact, your commander specifically said in his recommendation that you lived up to the standards of the most decorated American soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, who famously repelled an overwhelming enemy attack by himself for one simple reason: “They were killing my friends.”

  • Jon Kyl decides to block ratification of the new START treaty with Russia, until at least next year.

The administration reacted swiftly with Vice President Joe Biden warning that Senate failure to ratify the treaty would endanger the national security of the United States. Without ratification, Americans will have no way to verify Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal and cooperation would weaken between two nations that hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, he said.

Anyone who thinks Kyl is doing this because he has “deep concerns” is kidding themselves, or a Republican. Which is often the same thing.

The world will run out of oil around 100 years before replacement energy sources are available, if oil use and development of new fuels continue at the current pace, a US study warns.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis) used the current share prices of oil companies and alternative energy companies to predict when replacement fuels will be ready to fill the gap left when oil runs dry.

  • Random hypocrisy: After running against government provided healthcare, newly-elected Representative Andy Harris is upset that he has to wait a month to get his government health insurance.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Conscience and Duty: Why the Far Left and the Far Right Don't Get the Military

I spent several years of my life in the Army. One day, I was told that I was being sent to attend the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC). Now, I had a number of reasons why I shouldn’t attend it, and why I really didn’t need it. I’d taken a few management courses, completed several military leadership correspondence courses, and had spent 18 months as a TAC Sergeant (drill sergeant without the hat) for an AIT. Obviously, I already had the academics and experience, and besides, there were a lot of things going on in my unit that I was a critical part of. My company commander was deeply impressed by these arguments. No, really, he was! Despite all that, I ended up with my butt on a plane to Fort Knox to spend a month completing PLDC. You see, it didn’t matter what I thought, or whether my chain of command agreed with me. The Army had decided that all E-4 promotables and E-5′s would attend PLDC. So that I didn’t want to go, and that I had perfectly good objections weren’t a consideration. The Army said I was going – and I went. That’s the deal when you sign up.

I used this to highlight a fundamental difference between the military and the civilian world: When you are in the military, you give up certain rights and privileges that the rest of the country takes for granted. Among them are the right to decide whether or not you’re going to do something you don’t want to. I’ve found that quite a few people really don’t understand that, and I read a perfect example of this misunderstanding over on Alternet:

So what is a troop to do when, through careful, rigorous study, he or she determines that a particular war–say, the war in Afghanistan–fails to meet several of these criteria? There’s a very strong case to be made that the Afghanistan War does not have a chance to succeed in its intentions, is not a last resort, fails to protect civilians, and results in more harm than good. If a troop came to any of these conclusions, and they had been trained in just war theory, it’s probable that it would lead to a severe crisis of conscience. Current policy would just toss these objections aside.

There’s a very simple reason for why the objections are “tossed aside.” What’s being suggested here is that we give service members the ability to choose whether or not a given war is “right” and decide if they should fight in it or not. It’s not just the Left, it’s the Right that has a similar problem:

Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a “family intervention,” with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars.

In one swoop, they’re advocating overturning a key concept of the military in this country – that the military (or individuals in the military) has no right to override the decisions made by the civilian government. It’s codified in the Constitution, and is at the heart of how we have structured our military. The concept? The military does not make the decision to go to war. That decision, whether it’s “right” or “wrong,” lies with the political branches of the government. Once the decision has been made, the military’s job is to act on that decision. It’s called civilian control of the military. If you are in the military, you don’t get the right to choose which orders to obey.

Here’s a few cases to think about. One soldier decides that wearing United Nations accessories on his uniform, and being deployed on a UN mission by the Army is illegal and refuses to wear the uniform accessories. An officer refuses to deploy after deciding that a military action is “illegal” and she has moral objections to it. Want to know what happened? They were court-martialed, and yes, they were found guilty. The first is United States v New, and the second United States v Huet-Vaughn. The key thing in both was that they tried to substitute their belief in the legality or morality of a decision that had been made by the political side of government. There’s another case right now – an officer has decided that the President may not be legitimate, and he refused to obey orders to report to his commanding officer and to report to another post, in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan. Yes, he’s being court-martialed as well.

I understand the ideology behind the proposal on AlterNet. “War is bad” – or more particularly, “We don’t agree with this war” – and therefore, military personnel who believe that should be allowed to refuse to participate. But that is not the way the military works. Allowing it to work that way is a very dangerous thing. It undermines the concept of civilian control of the military, although I’m sure they’re not thinking of it that way. Neither did the people who egged on Specialist New, Captain Huet-Vaughn, or Lieutenant Colonel Lakin think of it that way.

Those who say that military personnel should be “allowed to” or “should do” something that fits with their ideology are advocating that the military should have the right to substitute their judgment over that of the political leadership of this country. That it’s not how we want the military to work in this country, and it is not how it does work. There are places where that happens – and they have a lot of military coups. We don’t, because our military accepts that they have to follow the orders of the civilian leadership, even when they don’t like it. No, I don’t support the AlterNet proposal at all, just as I don’t support the ones on the Right who advocate that military personnel should decide to enforce the Right’s idea on the government. If someone in the military comes to the conclusion that a given war is “immoral” or that they can’t accept the decisions of the elected representatives of our country, then they need to get out – or they shouldn’t have joined in the first place. The job of keeping the civilian leadership in line – ensuring they make the right choices for the military – is ours. If we failed in that, then we failed the military. We shouldn’t expect or allow the military to overturn our decision – ever

Saturday, November 13, 2010

For Texas: So You Want To Secede?

Anyone who has been watching over the past several months has heard a number of southern states – particularly Texas – making noises about secession. There are also noises from a lot of people elsewhere along the lines of “don’t let the door hit you on the way out. ” Of course, the reality is they won’t secede. In a simplistic system – which many conservatives seem to embrace – it’d be a “we’re gone!” and sit back and enjoy the benefits of local government and low taxes. The reality is that it’s not a simple system.

I’ve grown accustomed to finding out that simple things often aren’t, that they’re much more interrelated and complex than it appears on the surface. That’s why I don’t take people like Governor Perry seriously. If they were allowed to secede, as in, they demand to do it and the rest of the country says “fine by us!” the reality setting in would mean that Governor Perry and the rest of the government officials who pushed for it would be running out of Texas and demanding political asylum within a short time. The problem is that every state has a diverse set of links and dependencies on the federal government – even more than is realized by most of its citizens. Let’s start with Texas leaving.

The first, and most obvious thing is that all the military bases there would be shut down, and their personnel moved to other bases. It turns out that Texas has a lot of military bases – and personnel assigned there. Almost 109,000 active duty personnel, in fact. There’s an additional 85,000 in the National Guard and Reserves, and at least the National Guard ones will be switched to the Republic of Texas. That’s not including all the dependents and retirees who go along with military bases. All those paychecks, walking out the door. But that’s not the whole story! Each of those bases has a pretty large impact on the local employment. Not only to the large number of people who work on those bases, but to a lot of local businesses that rely on them. But I’m sure that all those rugged and proud Texans will suck it up and deal with the sudden loss of business, jobs, the increase in empty housing, and mass migration of people out of the area. Oh, let’s not forget the new Republic of Texas military – formerly the National Guard units. They’d like to be paid, and the federal government isn’t going to help you out on the cost anymore.

Then there’s NASA. As in “Houston, we have a problem?” They have a big facility in Houston, the Johnson Space Center. We’d have to close that, too, and the several thousand employees would have to move or face the loss of their jobs. I’m sure Huntsville, Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, or Beltsville would be deliriously happy to welcome them. NASA might even be able to trim its budget while at the same time increasing its mission capability.

We’ve all heard how much you hate the federal Department of Education, so I’m sure Texas will be happy that it no longer has to deal with it. They won’t get the money from it, but that’s a small price to pay. Except that they also won’t be getting a few other things. Pell Grants – that money that the federal government gives to poor college students . Federal student loans. NIH and NSF grants to universities. All of that? Gone. I’m sure that your much smaller universities will be able to cope with the lack of research funding and absence of a good part of their student bodies.

So, think they’ve had enough? Oh, that’s just a beginning. Customs and Immigration – and the Border Patrol will be gone too. That becomes Texas’ responsibility. Thankfully, they’ll have their own military. Food inspection -the USDA isn’t going to be there, along with the FDA. Texas is going to have to come up with a way to insure that its food supply meets some safety standard. Oh, and the loss of crop subsidies as well. Clean water and air? Well, they haven’t been all that much in favor of regulation, so I’m sure they won’t miss all the federal money which pays for those programs. They might want to worry about finding air traffic controllers – after all, if the federal government isn’t supplying them anymore, it’s hard to maintain air service in your major airports without them. Airlines have come to insist on them. Since Texas wouldn’t be a part of this country, we don’t have to pay Medicare or Medicaid for their citizens. We might be nice, and keep paying Social Security payments to those who are already collecting, but the rest of it? They’re your citizens, not ours. Texas would have to set up a postal system while they’re at it, because the US Postal Service wouldn’t be operating there. Those nasty taxes on gasoline will be gone, but along with them will be the federal money for roads.

Those are the “obvious” federal government services and benefits. But that’s not the whole story. There’s the things that most people take “for granted” by being a part of a nation. The businesses based in Texas would suddenly find themselves in the situation of being “foreign businesses.” As in, “not American.” Ever stop to think about how many government agencies – not just federal, but state – do business with them? How much they rely on being able to move their products around the country? Let’s take a company like Dell Computer for an example. How would they react to having to go through a customs procedure to ship their products, as well as losing some of their support contracts because … well… sometimes there’s “national security” or “buy American” clauses those contracts. I’m sure Hewlett-Packard and IBM will be willing to pick up the slack. Want to take a trip to one of the Disney parks? Hope you have your passport, and a visa! You can’t just drive or fly here anymore because you felt like it. Think you have “rights?” Well, you’d better check your new nation’s constitution and legal system to make sure. Ours doesn’t apply to you anymore.

That’s the reality of “seceding.” All those things that people take for granted: the services provided, the commercial and economic benefits, and freedom of movement between states disappear. It’d be an expensive and complex undertaking by all concerned to disentangle, but they don’t see that. The other thing they’re not considering? If they change their mind, we might not want them back.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Open Thread 11-12-10

n the “wow…” category, Cindy McCain did a video for the anti-bullying initiative, and jaws hit the ground:

Today, Cindy McCain joined a number of celebrities in a video about gay youth suicide and bullying. Mrs. McCain’s part of the video condemned DADT and then accused our government of sending bullies a message that what they do is okay.

“Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future. They can’t serve our country openly.What’s worse, these laws that legislate discrimination teach bullies that what they’re doing is acceptable. Our government treats the LGBT community like second class citizens, why shouldn’t they?”

  • Glenn Beck, obviously jealous about Rush’s ability to outrage, steps up with his own attempt.

Mr. Beck said that during the Holocaust, the 14-year-old Mr. Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off.”

  • The G-20 is over, and after much discussion and disgreement, they came to a decision: Punt.

Leaders of the world’s biggest economies agreed on Friday to curb “persistently large imbalances” in saving and spending but deferred until next year tough decisions on how to identify and fix them.

  • The Carnival Cruise ship that was adrift in the Pacific after an engine fire is finally docked. Nobody was hurt, everyone’s back safe, and yes, they’re griping about it.
  • Texas is getting ready to start its budget battle, and about the only thing they’ve agreed on is that there’s going to be a shortfall. Of course, the jockeying for “I didn’t raise taxes” line is intense:

The state pays part of the cost of public education, with taxpayers in various locales picking up the balance, but cutting the state’s share and letting the locals pay more is under discussion this year. Like the college tuition dodge of eight years ago, it allows a lawmaker to say with a straight face that no taxes were raised — even as it forces school boards around the state to decide whether to raise local property taxes or cut their own spending.

Yes, they didn’t raise taxes, they just forced someone else to! Obviously Texas lawmakers have mastered the fine art of “passing the buck.”

  • Yes, you too can be buried with Oprah! Personally, the timing needed is something that turns me off, but I’m sure it’s going to be popular.
  • If’ you’ve never heard of C. Dale Petersen, you wouldn’t be alone. Now that I have, I would never want to mess with him!
  • Anne Coulter gets stupid. I know this is like saying “The Sun rises in the East,” but she’s decided that there’s yet another constitutional amendment that has to go: The 26′th. The one that gave 18-year-old’s the right to vote. Yes, her reasoning is as specious as ever.
  • There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics. The media overhypes dangers that aren’t statistically a major issue. In other news, water is wet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Open Thread 11-11-10

A week after newly emboldened Republicans in the Texas Legislature floated a radical cost-saving proposal — opting out of the federal Medicaid program — health care experts, economists and think tanks are trying to determine just how serious they are, and if it would even be possible.

The answer? It is complicated. But that is not stopping some conservative lawmakers in nearly a dozen other states, frantic over budget shortfalls and anticipating new costs from the federal health care overhaul, from exploring it.

Generally, the thinking is that since it seems to be an “all or nothing” proposition, they’re going to stay in.

The reaction was harsh in some quarters, particularly among liberals who have vowed to protect retirees from any reduction in benefits. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the plan ‘simply unacceptable.’ Speaker-in-waiting John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment, saying he would discuss the plan with his three representatives on the panel. But Republican anti-tax activist Grover Norquist was not happy and warned that Republicans who support the proposal would be breaking their pledge not to raise taxes.

See? Liberals and conservatives can find common ground! Sort of.

  • Rush Limbaugh opens mouth, and outrage follows. “”Clyburn’s new position: driving Ms. Nancy,” Limbaugh said. “He’s not in the back of the bus, he’s in the driver’s seat. And she’s in the back of the car being chauffeured.”"
  • Tea Party people are finding out that what they say once elected matters. In this case, Tea Party favorite Allen West had promised a radio host a job as his chief of staff. Then came a lockdown in Broward County, which was linked to guess who? The radio host.

MIAMI — A conservative radio talk show host tapped to be chief of staff for an incoming Florida congressman stepped down Thursday from her congressional job, a day after 300 schools were locked down when a threat was linked to her show.

Joyce Kaufman announced on her live show that she would not be Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Allen West’s aide because she wanted to avoid any repercussions against him for her statements. Kaufman is known for making controversial pronouncements on her show and told a recent tea party rally that if “ballots don’t work, bullets will.”

Well, I notice that she doesn’t think she should answer for the repercussions of having to lock down 300 schools. Apparently the idea that someone might take her off-the-deep-end rhetoric seriously still hasn’t occurred to her yet.

  • Carnegie Mellon University has a contract from DARPA to develop flight systems for a flying car. I want one.
  • Jim Davis is apologizing for today’s Garfield cartoon. Apparently he didn’t realize that it would run on Veterans Day, and intended no slight. It appears that most of the people commenting about it are more concerned that someone else might be offended by it.

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Originally known as Armistice Day, as it still is in other countries, and Remembrance Day in Canada, it celebrated the end of World War I at the 11′th hour of the 11′th day of the 11′th month in 1918. In 1954, because of World War II and the Korean War, President Eisenhower signed the legislation changing the name to Veterans Day, to honor all veterans, past and present.

Since the beginning of this country, young people – mostly men, but women as well recently – have left their homes and family to put on this country’s uniform. Their reasons for doing so are as varied as they are: Patriotism, escape from a bad situation, a job, a chance for training, education, a desire to see the world, they got their draft notice, or any combination of reasons you can think of. Whatever their reasons, they leave the life they known and enter a different world. The freedoms that most of us take for granted are given up. The freedom of speech to a large extent, the ability to move to where you want, when you want, and even the ability to quit. Every now and then, they are asked to go to war. Some do not return alive, others return wounded in body or in mind.

The majority don’t go to combat, or they return unscathed. They don’t think they did anything special, but they are not unchanged. They know they can do all manner of things they didn’t think were possible before they joined. They know that the terms “duty,” “honor,” and “discipline” are not just words in a dictionary, but things to live by. That no matter where you came from, what your color, socioeconomic status, or creed, that you can work with others who are different – and become close friends. But there comes a time when they put away the uniform. They did their time, and return to the “real world” to get on with their lives. They are veterans, like those before them and those who are now serving. Today is their day.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2010, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.


A memory: In 1942, a young woman left college to join the Navy. There was a war on, you see. She served as a medic in Navy hospitals, rising to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Eventually she left the service to marry and raise a family. In 1983, she passed away, and she was laid to rest with a flag on her coffin. Fellow veterans provided an honor guard, firing a 21 gun salute, and bugler to play Taps. Among the mourners stood a young Army sergeant, rendering a salute as the mournful sound of the bugle played. I was that sergeant and the woman was my mother. Today, I remember her, and thank her for her service – before and after.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Republicans Lose-Lose Scenario, or "What do you mean there's no bacon?"

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Anne Applebaum looks at the “struggle” going on inside the Republican Party, or more correctly, whether they hand the Tea Party activists what they said they wanted, or whether they do what they’ve always done.

For whatever the reason, the hypocrisy at the heart of the party – and at the heart of American politics – is at its starkest in Alaska. For decades, Alaskans have lived off federal welfare. Taxpayers’ money subsidizes everything from Alaska’s roads and bridges to its myriad programs for Native Americans. Federal funding accounts for one-third of Alaskan jobs. Nevertheless, Alaskans love to think of themselves as the last frontiersmen, the inhabitants of a land “beyond the horizon of urban clutter,” a state with no use for Washington and its wicked ways.

While it has taken more than a little while for the mainstream media to catch on, this is not a surprise to many. For years, as much as Republican candidates and various conservative pundits have thundered against earmarks, “wasteful government spending,” and “pork,” they haven’t actually done much about it – or wanted to. As the voters in Alaska realized, any candidate who was serious about cutting things that affected them was “dangerous.” Most politicians know this instinctively – what is “pork” for anyone else is bacon when it’s for you, and everyone loves bacon.

Which is why we see successful candidates like Rand Paul doing a quick reversal on the subject.

WASHINGTON, DC – Would you say no to earmarks? “No—no more earmarks,” replied Rand Paul to Christine Amanpour last Sunday on This Week. This stance was supposed to be one thing that distinguished the “lone pure Tea Party stalwart” from the GOP establishment in the Senate chamber. Yet, Paul has already begun to tip-toe away from his “no earmark” pledge, clarifying that he will, in fact, “fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork” according to an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski.

The only thing really surprising about it was the speed and bluntness with which he reversed course. The normal procedure is to wait until a month or two after you’ve been sworn in, to quietly slip a few earmarks in, or sorrowfully be “forced” to vote on (tears optional) an “necessary bill with some unfortunate amendments” and then dash home to take credit for the new projects the money is funding.

The problem now for the Republicans is not just the hypocrisy. It’s that they have an old (new) group of voters and elected officials who actually do want to cut all those government programs, who want to roll back or repeal Medicare, Social Security, and a lot of other government spending. Which is what they think their electorate wants. Which, if the Congressional Republicans give them, will turn out to be exactly what the public didn’t want. I’m not guessing on that, there are too many polls that show that. Which the Congressional Republican leadership knows just as well as anyone, and they know it’s a ticket to an electoral disaster in the next election. But if they don’t do it, they’re going to face primary challenges by the same groups that were responsible for their getting through the primaries and elections this time. As Applebaum said:

Poor Boehner must feel pulled in two directions, particularly because so many Republicans – and so many Americans – don’t practice what they preach. They want lower taxes, higher defense spending, more Social Security and, yes, balanced budgets. They want the government to leave them alone, but at the same time they aren’t averse to the odd federal subsidy.

Either way, the Republicans now in control of the House are in a lose-lose situation. Do what their base wants, they’ll lose the general election. Don’t do it, and they’ll face a primary, and probably lose. I don’t feel sorry for them either way, it couldn’t happen to a better group.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ideas For Re-Creating the Democratic Party - Move to the Country

In Leanne’s post on Sunday, she discussed “recreating” the Party after the results of the 2010 elections. In the comments, I broke the idea that the Party needed to get out of the cities, and start looking towards the suburban and rural areas. It’s something that I’ve felt for quite some time, with reasons. If you look at this map at the New York Times, you’ll see something. The areas that Republicans are strong in, the areas where they defeated Democrats in this election, are almost all rural or suburban areas. Democratic “strongholds” tend to be urban areas, and with that, the place where most progressives seem to be. Which is fine, except that it has unwittingly led to a set of blinders when it comes politics. Many progressives base their policy and program ideas from their experience – which is mostly urban.

For over a decade I lived in a major urban center. If you drew a 25 mile circle around my apartment, there were a huge number of things to do. I could go to see a major league game in any one of several sports. Culturally, there were major libraries, museums, zoos, theaters, and concert halls. Thousands of restaurants with a wide range of cuisines, and a dizzying variety of shops and stores. Further my education? There were several major universities and a number of colleges to choose from. If I needed medical care, there were thousands of doctors and dentists to choose from, and a number of major medical centers and hospitals. If I wanted to go to any of these, it was a short walk, a quick ride on the subway, or a bus ride. Most of my friends were people I’d met who shared most of my interests. I didn’t really know most of the people who lived near me. At most, we’d pass each other on the way to work or on our way out the door to some social event.

Contrast that with where I live now. The same 25 mile circle would find no major league sports teams, 2 small libraries, 1 museum, no zoos, 1 theater (community owned), 2 small primary care clinics with limited hours and mostly staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, no dentist, no colleges, and 10 or so restaurants – depending on the season. There is no mass transit, virtually no cell phone coverage, and “walking distance” depends on how far you want to walk or if you happen to live near any of those. I do know the people who live near me, and I have friends here who don’t share most of my interests.

Which, as it turns out, was why I was sure that most of the people I was reading on various progressive blogs were from an urban environment. Having lived in an urban environment myself, I could see that their core assumptions – their perspectives – were based around what they “knew” to be “true” from their own experience. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But where I differed – often vehemently – from them was when the policies and programs they were advocating for rural areas didn’t consider what the rural areas may have wanted, or made sense for them. It may sound great, but noticeably absent was any consideration for what the people directly impacted thought about it. They may well have been for it, but the blithe assumption that they didn’t really have a say in it was irritating.

One of the frequent complaints I’ve heard from progressives is wondering why various areas “vote against their own interests.” There are two reasons why this happens. First, they may be voting for their own interests, and second, they may be voting against you – the urban areas. I live in New York State, and in many ways, it’s a microcosm of what’s happening. New York may be considered as “a lot of people crammed into a very small area” (New York City) attached to a big, sparsely populated rural area – the rest of the state. It’s referred to as Upstate and Downstate, and it’s been a source of tension since the beginning of the state. New York City has half the population of the State, and because of that wields an enormous influence on state politics. It’s also overwhelmingly Democratic. The result is that the Democratic Party is often seen as consisting of “NYC liberals,” and in a reflexive countering, Upstate has tended to go Republican. They’ve also had experiences with “bright ideas” that either don’t fit or go awry. In other words, just because urban progressives think it’s a good idea, it may not be from the rural standpoint. That’s the problem, so how can it be changed? There are several things that can be done.

First and foremost, listen to the locals. No matter how “Red” an area appears, there are progressives there, and there is a Democratic Party. I’ve had the experience, and have seen it with others, of trying to get “what will work here” through, and it’s often like talking to a wall. Policies that may be terrific ideas for urban areas can be irrelevant to the rural areas. Policies developed for rural areas in urban areas may not be practical – or have the opposite effect from what was intended. What policies will work should either lead to additions or changes. A “one size fits all” prescription may not fit at all. The people who are telling you this are not necessarily “obstructionist” or “insufficiently progressive.” They’re trying to help.

Second, support the local parties. You may live in an area with a large, powerful Democratic Party, where there are lots of progressive interest groups, and you can get together on a regular basis. Fund-raising is generally not too much of a problem. Rural parties tend to be small, widely dispersed, and lacking in resources. They’re the ones who are on the ground, recruiting candidates, running campaigns, and trying to get the message out. Giving them access to resources to help them do that is often not that expensive, but does build the Party in those areas.

Third, watch the rhetoric. Many of the catch-phrases used by urban progressives grate on the nerves of the rural population. It’s not seen by them as someone trying to help them, it’s seen as someone attacking them. When progressives rant about “corporate agriculture,” “agribusiness,” and “factory farms,” the progressives may think they mean large corporations like Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill, while being for “family farms.” The grain farmers in the Plains states or the dairy farmers in the Northeast read the rants, descriptions, know they’re the “family farm” and feel you’re describing them. Blanket descriptions of people in various areas in derogatory terms isn’t calculated to make them want to listen to you.

Finally, be in it for the long haul. The political “complexion” of an area doesn’t change overnight. It’s great to have a message that fits the area, support the local party, and addresses concerns. But there’s an inertia – a tradition – that takes time to overcome. Many of the young people starting out today are voting Democratic, but their parents grew up voting Republican – or were driven to the Republican Party. That took time to happen and it’s not going to change in one or two elections. I said this to various progressives during a special election: “You weren’t here before, and you won’t be here after this. What makes you think we’re going to listen to you?” While you need to listen to us, you have to be there for them to listen to you.

Look at the map again. There’s huge swaths of this country which could benefit from progressive programs, that are now Red. We want to take back Congress, to build the Democratic Party? You need to get out of the city and move to the country.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Open Thread 11-6-10

  • If anyone missed it, and I don’t see how you could have, Keith Olbermann was suspended by MSNBC for making political donations. Predictably, the uproar went viral, but Rachel Maddow throws some light (and cold water) on it:

The reason for Keith’s suspension is that here at MSNBC, there is an explicit employee rule against hosts making contributions like that.

You can do it if you ask in advance and management tells you it’s OK. That’s what I understand happened with our morning-show host’s political donations in 2006, under previous management.

But if you don’t ask in advance for an exemption from the rule, you’re bound by the rule. (For the record: the rule applies to us here at MSNBC and to NBC News staff. CNBC isn’t under NBC News, so they’re not bound by the rule.)

While we may disagree with MSNBC’s suspension, it’s much clearer as to why. This leads me to the conclusion that MSNBC should pay Rachel a lot more money, and let her be the one to explain things, instead of their executives. Rachel also highlights the difference between MSNBC and Fox, and if anyone didn’t know that Fox is an arm of the Republican Party, this interview with Rupert Murdoch should remove any doubt.

  • The Senate race in Alaska is in for a long stay in the news. 41% of the vote went to the write-in, 34.3% went to Republican Joe Miller, and 23.6 to Scott McAdams. There’s going to be a long count of the write-ins, as well as absentee ballots. Lawyers are standing by.
  • Now that the election is (mostly) over, the predictable turmoil over leadership positions has begun. It’s looking like Steny Hoyer is the odd man out.
  • Rick Perry, having realized that saying stupid stuff works in Texas politics, ups the ante: He wants states to be able to secede from Social Security. Seriously.
  • But it’s not just Texas. Missouri has joined the game, with their new state House of Representatives majority leader being an “unapologetic birther.” Anyone who has associated themselves with Orly Taitz has some real issues.
  • Oklahoma passed a law banning its courts from considering International or Shari’ah law. A Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) member has filed suit.

In the suit, he alleges the law both violates the First Amendment and harms his family’s ability to carry out his will after he dies.

  • On Wednesday, EPOXI (formerly Deep Impact) made a close encounter with comet Hartley-2, and sent back some incredible pictures.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A few take-away lessons from this election

Now that the initial shock about the election has faded, to some extent, I thought I’d take a look at some of things that this election should be teaching us. By no means is this a complete list, and I’m sure that others will be talking about them as well.

First Lesson: Messaging counts. One failure point was the inability to push the positive message through the cacophony of negative messages, from both the Right and the Left. By objective standards, Democrats and this Administration have accomplished a lot, including passing some landmark bills. They managed to keep the country from going into a depression. There were serious issues to be dealt with now, and in the future, and they had plans. Anyone hear that? People were scared, angry, and looking for help. The message they were getting was unfortunately that “the guys in charge now” were to blame – or failing – and not the message that it was being worked on, and what solutions were being proposed. While we may never get rid of negative messaging, we need to get much better at positive messaging.

Second Lesson: The “Progressive Netroots” was weak Tea. I spent almost 18 months reading various chest-thumping posts telling us that the new paradigm in politics was Internet-based political movements. That the self-styled “progressive netroots” were a major new force inside the Democratic Party, with the ability to push the Party towards the left using the “more and better Democrats” motto – focusing on the “better.” As it turned out, this was at best premature. Except for a very few high-profile races, they were unable to primary most of their targets, losing the ones they did, and in terms of being a key voter demographic, they were notably absent. While the rhetoric may have reminded many of being the “Tea Party of the Left,” the actual reality was … weak Tea. The potential is there, but they need to remember “roots” in addition to “net.” Without a local presence, and a real ground game, they’re not going to be effective.

Third Lesson: Don’t write off an election before the primary. There were two major Senate races which many had “written off” prior to the primaries in those states: Nevada and Delaware. Everyone “knew” who was going to win, that they were lost causes for the Democrats. Until, of course, the Republican primaries gifted the Democratic Party (and liberal bloggers everywhere) with Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Overnight, the races with “dead Senator walking” and “Who? The sacrificial lamb” turned into real races, with various people scrambling to get back into the game and catch up. While everyone understands the need to conserve and focus resources, until you know exactly who you’re facing – or who your candidate is – you shouldn’t give up anything.

Fourth Lesson: If you’re saying you’re for Democrats, you need to do it. There was a third Senate race which had been written off like the Third Lesson: Florida. Everyone “knew” Charlie Crist was going to win. All he had to do was get through the Republican primary - just as a formality, really – and he was going to be Senator Crist. Except he didn’t win the Republican Primary. The problem here? Many of the “progressive” websites had been throwing bouquets at him, ignoring his actual record and their own statements about being for “better Democrats” and “real progressives.” When he lost, instead of getting behind the Democratic nominee, who was actually a progressive, they stayed with Charlie Crist right up until the end. The end result? Senator Rubio, a far-right wing Republican. If you’ve been saying you want to move the Democratic Party to the left, if you’re espousing progressive values in the party, then you need to support the progressive Democrat!

Fifth Lesson: Never relax. After the 2008 election, I saw a lot of people proclaiming the demise of the Republican Party. It was “finished” for the most part, a group of out-of-touch old people which was headed for minor party status. Which turned out to have shades of Karl Rove’s infamous “permanent Republican majority” statement. The Republican Party didn’t think they were finished. While most Democrats relaxed, basking in the glow of their supermajority status, the Republicans actually went to work. The end result was that a lot of Democrats were surprised. Winning an election means you won an election. It’s at that point you keep working. 2012 starts now, people.

Sixth Lesson: It’s not forever. 2012 is in two years. The Republicans have had a victory, but it’s just one. Their challenge is to see if they can actually accomplish something, and keep it. That may be a problem for them. Here’s what I mean:

Despite what the cable coverage may suggest, the most consequential data point to emerge from Election Night 2010 wasn’t Christine O’Donnell’s defeat in Delaware. Or Linda McMahon’s loss in Connecticut. Or even Rand Paul’s victory in Kentucky. Instead, it was a single number buried deep in the exit polls: 23.

That’s the percentage of voters Tuesday who were over 65 years of age, which explains a lot about how the Republican Party got here, and a lot about where it’s going. The question now is whether this senior moment is a positive development for the GOP—or a sign of trouble ahead.

and this:

A survey released Oct. 21 by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics showed that only 11 percent of those 18 to 29 consider themselves supporters of the tea party, and analysts say the leaderless movement’s ties to social conservatism and rhetoric in favor of an earlier America are hampering its appeal.

In other words, the keys to this year’s victory was the extremely high turn-out of elderly voters. Given the Republican’s often stated goals of repealing Social Security and other programs, they voted against their own interest. That may be made very clear to them over the next two years. Even more worrisome for the Republicans is that they aren’t attracting the younger voters. Presidential years in particular generally draw a higher percentage of the young, and given the embrace of the Tea Party by the Republicans, they are not as attractive to them. So while this election is a crushing disappointment, it’s not going to be forever.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Important Message For The "Professional Left"

Last night, you lost. You lost in so many ways it’s not amusing. While there’s much finger-pointing going around, at the Democratic Party, the President, and of course, “corporatists,” you’re pointing at everyone except yourselves. Yes, you bear a share of the blame. You won’t admit it, but you secretly wanted this. You did everything in your power to make sure it would happen.

You decided that you knew what the election was – a massive shift to the left – when the reality was that it was a shift from “center right” to “center left.” Key word: Center. You “knew” what the agenda was, despite the existence of a Party platform and the Presidential candidates’ actual published positions. When it turned out that President Obama meant what he said in his positions, you didn’t like it. Never mind that, by all accounts he was doing what he said he’d do, and quite successfully. It wasn’t enough for you. You have been locked into attack mode for so long, that you couldn’t stop attacking.

When you were called out on that, you complained that the people doing it were “hippie punching.” You complained that you were being told you shouldn’t criticize. Which just shows that you missed the point. You weren’t criticizing, you were attacking. Criticism is when you talk about how something needs to improve, how it could be made better, and suggesting actions to be taken while praising the progress made. Attacking is when you constantly scream “sell-out,” and beat the drums to announce how everything is a “failure.” It’s appearing on every media outlet in addition to your own to make that point. You added to the right-wing attacks with your own, selling the message that this President, this Congress was a failure and “bad for the country.”

The problem is that you won’t really suffer for your loss. You get to go back to your comfortable place, where you can issue scathing attacks. Your web sites will have lots of hits, you’ll still be on television pontificating, and you’ll be able to sell more books telling us why you weren’t wrong. We’re the ones who will suffer. We’re the ones who have to clean up the mess you made. We’re the ones who are working at the local party level trying to get candidates to run. We’re the ones who are going to be in the trenches trying to prevent the painfully won gains from being lost, realizing that the gains we could have made over the next two years are not going to happen. The really bad part? You won’t be shutting up about how you had nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Get Out And Vote!

I’ve been seeing a lot of people stating that they are going to “stay home” in protest during the upcoming elections. They’ll “show them” that they are “not to be taken for granted!” What they’ll really be showing the Party – and their elected officials – is something quite different. If you’ve shown yourself to be someone who doesn’t show up on a regular basis, then they weren’t really counting on your vote in the first place. You’re not reliable. You’re one of those votes which are “nice to have,” but not a base voter. Which means that when it comes time to try to make an elected official or political party pay attention to you after the election, you’ve moved yourself down the food chain quite a ways.

Why would I say that? I used to live in D.C., and knew a few congressional staffers. They told me “how things work.” It’s not a big secret, it’s something that anyone who wants to call themselves a “political nerd” can find out in short order. Members of Congress pay attention to people based on the following criteria:

  1. Are you a constituent?
  2. Are you a registered voter?
  3. Do you vote?
  4. Do you vote regularly?
  5. Do you donate to and/or work on campaigns?
  6. Are you active in your local party?

The higher the number, the more attention is paid to you. Now, you’re going to stay home because your pet issue(s) weren’t done to your satisfaction. You can’t claim you’re part of the base, you can’t claim you’re a reliable voter, you probably didn’t donate or work on this campaign, and weren’t active in your local party. Your opinion on the matter means something to the elected official, but not as much as it could.

That impacts you alright, but it would be worth it if it moved the Party to the left, right? Think again. For example, let’s say that LGBT voters stay home in droves, to register their disapproval of how the Democratic Party has failed to repeal DADT and pass marriage rights. Which causes the Democratic Party to lose seats, and control of Congress and various state legislatures. You showed them, right? They’ll know to do it next time! Except you just sent the wrong message, besides the problem that your agenda is going to be dropped for at least the next two years, and if you’re lucky, you might not have your gains rolled back. What the message you actually sent was that LGBT voters can’t be relied on, and that for the general electorate, it’s a losing issue. Which means that in 2012, LGBT issues are going to be a minor – and mostly ignored – concern of the Party. That’s just one of several areas where staying home to “teach the Party a lesson” will backfire. If there’s a lesson that history should be teaching you, it’s that.

It’s not just the national issues. There are many state elections up for grabs, and control of state legislatures. Redistricting will be taking place before the 2012 elections, and how those lines will be drawn will determine your representation. If you’ve been paying attention, and you should have, that impacts the laws you’ll be living under. States that have already made great strides in various important progressive agendas are under threat to roll them back. LGBT rights. Green energy. Tax breaks. The environment. Education reform. All of them under threat because the Republicans are planning on reversing those changes.

I have heard every excuse for not voting. The weather. You’re busy. You don’t like any of the candidates. You’re angry. It doesn’t matter, they’re all the same. You’re sending a message. They’re excuses, not reasons. Staying home doesn’t shift the Party or get a politician’s attention. Voting does. If you want to matter, to get politicians’ attention, and to not only keep what you’ve gained, but to move forward, then you vote. If you don’t then don’t expect anyone – Congress, the Democratic Party, or your state government to listen to you. You don’t vote – you don’t count. That’s the straightforward political calculus.

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