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On Asking Experts, Part Two, Or, What’s An LBGT Voter To Do? October 26, 2010

It’s been a few days now since we began a conversation that addresses the issue of how frustrated some number of LBGT voters are with the Democratic Party this cycle; this because they find themselves either frustrated at the lack of progress on the civil rights issues that matter to them, or because they see both the Democratic and Republican Parties as unreliable partners in the struggle to assure equal rights for all.

In an effort to practice some actual journalism, I assembled a version of an online “focus group” at The Bilerico Project (“daily adventures in LBGTQ”), with the goal of gathering some opinions on this subject in the actual words of those frustrated voters.

Part One of this story focused on “stating the problem”, and today we’ll take on Part Two: in this environment, with Election Day staring us in the face, what is an LBGT voter to do?

As before, there are a variety of opinions, including a very informative comment I was able to obtain from a genuine Member of Congress, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th District, and that means until the very end you won’t hear much from me, except to help “set the stage” for the comments that follow.

A monk asked Ma-tsu [Baso]:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is Buddha”

A monk asked Ma-tsu:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is not Buddha”

–From the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

We’ll begin today’s discussion with a housekeeping note: in order to keep the story moving in a linear fashion, from one topic to the next, in some instances I edited portions of multiple comments from the same person into one comment. I also edited some comments for length.

The disclaimer out of the way, let’s start the conversation with Zoe Brain, who sums up Part One rather neatly in one comment that absolutely did not have to be edited together:

We had a Dem super-majority in the Senate.
We had a Dem majority in the House.
We had a Dem president.

It wasn’t enough. We need more. So let’s use the only weapons we have for behaviour modification; our money and our votes, to make sure that the next time this can possibly happen, around 2020 (though 2028 is more likely), we won’t have a repeat performance.

Andrew W responds with a bit of legislative “nuance”…and in doing so, he makes the point that looking beyond Democrats for solutions may be the way to go:

A “Democratic Super Majority” is different than an LGBT-Majority. We have never had an LGBT super majority. In the current US Senate we have only 56 votes. After November we will have 51 or 52 votes.

Stop saying “Democrats.” It misses the point. Our challenge is to find 60 US Senators that support our equality.

SoFloMo makes a similar point:

Perhaps we have become too comfortable surrounding ourselves with other gay folks and straight allies. We’re terrified of losing the only friends we’ve had in politics, so we cling to them despite the abuse.

We need to encourage one another turn our outrage into concrete action. Just feeling bad won’t do any good.

Here’s some more from Andrew W:

We spend way to much talking about the “Religious Right,” bigotry exists in anyone that accepts the traditional Christian belief that we are wrong. That’s 70% of Black voters and they are primarily Democrats…

… We need people as our allies, not organizations. We need to educate, enlighten and enroll our neighbors, friends, co-workers and even strangers. Two-thirds will support our equality – especially if we leave religion and politics out of the conversation. Both religion and politics divide people – we just want to ask people to stand for one thing, our equality.

Try it out over the next week. You’ll be surprised.

So let’s get to the big issue: vote, or don’t?

Here’s Bill Perdue’s take on the question…

On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010…vote left or cast your protest vote by sitting it out (barring important referenda, propositions or initiatives).

The only good vote is a protest vote. In a system run by competing gangs of like minded hustlers voting is not important except as a way of validating that system….

…It’s a fool’s errand to believe that participation in a rigged electoral system is the way to change. It’s the road to perpetual lesserevilism, betrayal and defeat.

Elections can be used to organize and educate movements in struggle but elections don’t bring change except in the sense that they (rarely) ratify changes forced by mass actions in the streets, workplaces and barracks. Those are the kind of battles we can win and those are the kind of battles that produce fundamental, permanent change as opposed to hopey-changey.

…followed by Andrew W:

While “mass demonstrations” may sound appealing or possibly effective, they aren’t going to happen. The biggest crowd in D.C. is likely to be for two cable-tv comedians at the end of this month.

Polling data indicates the religious grip on “beliefs” (including the traditional Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong) is weakening. Of all those that define themselves as “religious” only about one-third are “literalists” and I would suggest their beliefs are virtually unchangeable. I’m not suggesting we try to change those minds, but rather we marginalize them by enrolling the other two-thirds. Most of them will put equality before religion.

The other dynamic is age – we are much more likely to get support from those under the age of 40 because they are less religious.

We need the young people that put Obama in office to turn out on November 2nd. Unfortunately, many in this audience have heard the GetEQUAL [a pro-civil rights group] narrative that “Obama didn’t keep his promises.” Young people are likely to believe that “we’re angry” and not vote…

GrrrlRomeo has some thoughts as well:

The second thing I’d tell them is don’t think of it as voting for Democrats, think of it as voting against conservatives. Look, anti-gay Christian conservatives have no problem holding their noses and voting for a Republican just to vote against gays or abortion.

I’m sorry that people were under the impression that we could really get this stuff done in 2 years. There are 420 bills backed up in the Senate. It’s obvious to me that the Republicans were doing everything they could just to make the Democrats fail so that the progressive base would throw one of our predictable tantrums and not turn out.

I do understand. I was with the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 as I was unable to forgive Clinton. But whatever Obama hasn’t done…he has not done anything so unforgivable as Clinton signing DOMA [the Federal Defense of Marriage Act].

More on the subject, from symbiote

I would tell a frustrated gay voter this: Own it! You vote. You make your choices. You allow yourself to be lied to, over and over, in a repetition of craving. It is time to look for candidates who support equality for all, and vote for them–even if they don’t win. It is a natural consequence of change that the first people for whom we vote will lose.

But if continue to vote for people solely on the idea that they are “electable,” then we will never build support for candidates that share our views, and thus, we ourselves destroy their “electability.”

Andrew W opines further on what a voter should expect from a politician—and what they shouldn’t:

… After reflection, I would add this: tell this “democratic voter” that there is no “promise” in politics, only “hope.” As in life there are no “guarantees.” All we can do or expect is our best efforts. The idea that politicians have “let us down” is not the exception, it is the rule. We should learn from that. We should understand we cannot “hire” politicians to save us – we need to do it ourselves.

Politicians are motivated by their constituents beliefs – it is what gets them elected. That is OUR job – changing minds. Instead of expecting politicians to handle the job, we should simply do it ourselves. We’ve spent 40 years betting on politics and we have little to show for it. That should make all of us think twice about continuing to believe “somebody else” will save us. Our equality is our responsibility…

… Our only political hope is targeting a few States where public opinion could change enough to turn the tide. Senators will either reflect the views of their constituents or they will be replaced. We need to change those views.

An additional question I had for the “focus group” was what you say to voters who do not differentiate between “the Democrats” or “Congress” and supportive and unsupportive legislators?

Here’s what Tim W’s thinking:

I would tell them the same thing I have said many other times. If the Democrat is a true ally in actions and not in words then they deserve our vote. If not I will be voting for someone who is. We are where we are because the Democrats feel we have no where else to turn to. The politics of fear that we aren’t as bad as the Republicans doesn’t cut it anymore…So the old scare tactics don’t work. Democrats need to be held responsible for their actions.
We definitely should not be giving money to the DNC [Democratic National Committee], DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], OFA [Organizing for America, the Barack Obama campaign’s “legacy” organization], or the newest branch of the Democratic Party the HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights group]. That money is being wasted to elect the Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincolns of the world. Give money to candidates that are pro-gay be it Dem, Rep, or Green.

Bolton Winpenny offers another perspective:

I recently started publicizing the idea to stop supporting democrats that don’t support us…While I understand the risk of giving republican’s power, I don’t think we have much gain that warrants a large risk. This conversation, along with the Get Equal campaign, “We’ll Give when we Get” and other similar sentiments makes a big statement that the Democrats will hopefully listen to…Things are changing in the Republicans where they seem more interested in anti-abortion and anti-Christian than they are anti-gay…

What does work is spreading awareness and education… Shortly after LGBT Freedom Week 2010 a PA [Pennsylvania] senate subcommittee voted down 8 to 6 (tabled) a move to add “one man and one woman” into our constitution. Two years prior, the same committee, with only one member change, passed a similar bill 4 to 10…. Four votes changed after a state-wide campaign to spread awareness and education over the LGBT plight for equality.

Bill Perdue would tell you that, in some instances, you just won’t find any supportive legislators:

If they’re in unions or one of the other struggle movements they should be encouraged to break with the Democrats and move left.

Their real incentives come from corporations so we have to provide an counterbalance of mass movements and mass demonstrations to get concessions. When the profit margin hits the fan, as it does in the case of ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and equal wages, expect no concessions.

Still another topic from the group: what’s to come after this election?

Deena has a theory:

Bielat will defeat Barney Frank and Pelosi will no longer be speaker of the house when Republicans win the majority. In one sense that will be tragic yet in another it will set the tone for 2012 when progress can be made. I think it is the best change in recent history because the house will know lip service is what it has always been — BS. Obama will also have to pay attention or he is toast in 2012.

As does Bill Perdue:

The next anti-incumbent Congress will do no better than the last anti-incumbent Congress and in 2012 the Republicans will suffer for it. They’re as rancid and rightwing as their Dem cousins and even less popular, because they don’t bother lying about it…

And now: a point of personal privilege.

I have kept my opinions out of this discussion, because it really wasn’t about me, but as we close out this conversation—and the election cycle—I am going to tell you that there was one comment that struck me as being the closest to what I might say if I was a voter in this situation; it comes from John Rutledge, and it required no editing at all:

I have been in the same angry place as the writer before and will likely be again. After all, this is personal. This is our lives.
I just read the Obama interview in the Rolling Stone. I hear a brilliant mind, fair and balanced. Possibility is alive, like never before. It is also close to passing us by with the upcoming elections. Now is not the time to indulge in wallowing. I now this fight is tough, but we just can not give up. We have to continue to push. Being resigned and cynical is only being that. It makes one useless to bring about change. So choose. Go home and bitch to whoever is willing to listen, be ineffectively righteous, or suck it up and get in the game. Grow or blow.

Finally, as I promised, we’ll wrap all this up with a comment from Congressman Patrick Murphy (PA-08), who has been absolutely supportive of advancing civil rights for LBGT citizens, despite the fact that he’s a freshman in Pennsylvania, which kind of makes him “double vulnerable”.

I managed to catch up with Murphy on a live chat at Bilerico, where I asked him what he would tell voters who see Democrats as unreliable partners and don’t recognize that some Members are more supportive than others.

We’ll close out this conversation by giving him the last word on the subject:

…Some of you have brought this up today and I couldn’t agree more. The far-right wing and hate mongerers are coming at me with everything they have because they know that if they knock me off, no member in a tough district will stick their neck out for DADT or other LGBT issues for years. I need your help to win this thing and show these guys that we won’t back down from doing what’s right.

 

On “Military Endorsements”, Or, Another Weird Christine O’Donnell Story October 25, 2010

I have a ton of things on the desk at the moment, and I don’t have the time to really run out this story before Election Day, but I want to bring to your attention something very strange that I found on the 2008 “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page.

What it basically comes down to is that the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army are “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace friends, or that there are persons who have created United States Army and USMC MySpace pages that purport to be official that have “befriended” her candidacy. There’s also a Navy page that appears to emanate from a US Navy recruiting office in California on her ’08 campaign’s “friends” list.

At a minimum, all of this would seem to be a combination of inappropriate behavior and poor management of social media; at worst, you have activity that is “some kind of unlawful”, either on an administrative or civil level.

I’ll make this fast…but I’ll also make it interesting.
Follow along, and you’ll see what I mean.

So here’s the deal: as I mentioned, Christine O’Donnell, perennial Senate candidate from Delaware, has a “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page associated with her 2008 Senate campaign, and she has a “Friend Space” on that page.

As of the evening of Saturday, October 23rd, right there in the middle of the second row of friends, immediately below the National Republican Senatorial Committee and “Rush”, are “Marine Corps”, “U.S. Army”, and “U.S. Navy”.

Click on the Army page (http://www.myspace.com/army) and the Marine page (http://www.myspace.com/marinecorps), and they appear to be official US military pages, with the full set of “enrichments” that you would expect on a professionally created page.

The Navy one is a bit different, starting with the address (http://www.myspace.com/nrselkgrove), which is clearly not as succinct, if you will, as the other two. It’s also not as graphically rich, and it appears to be a lot more “homemade”.

If you look at the address, after the slash you see “nrselkgrove”. It turns out NRS Elk Grove is a Navy Recruiting Station in Elk Grove, California, a Sacramento suburb. I called the phone number I found, and sure enough, the phone message seems to confirm that this is correct.

I left a message identifying myself, explaining the situation, and offering the folks on the other end of the line a chance to contact me for comment; as of now that has not occurred, and if it does I will be the first to let y’all know.

I sent a message to the Marine Corps press folks asking for some kind of explanation a few days ago, they have also not responded as of this writing.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, right off the bat, the Hatch Act says that Federal executive branch employees cannot engage in politics while they’re acting as Federal employees, and this kind of looks like that, at least as far as the actions of the Navy recruiter who apparently created that Web page are concerned.

The Naval Inspector General says that:

When acting in their official capacity, service members may not engage in activities that associate the Navy with any partisan political campaign or election, candidate, cause, or issue.

And that makes perfect sense: obviously we don’t want members of the military services giving the impression that those services endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office; the Navy recruiter’s MySpace page befriending the Senate Candidate’s MySpace page surely creates that impression.

Of course, it is possible that someone who has nothing to do with the Navy created the page, that’s true of the Army and Marine pages as well…but if that were true, there are additional concerns we can easily see.

If the three services are totally and completely disassociated from those MySpace pages, then does the military have an issue with anyone at all creating “official” pages on their behalf and then doing things with the pages that the services would not be allowed to do…and if they don’t have an issue with it, don’t you think they should?

Thanks to the experimental work of FNS Chief Social Media Correspondent Blitz Kreiger (who is an actual person with a nom de plume), we do know for a certain fact that the Army and Marines’ pages will “friend” anyone, automatically. To confirm that, visit the MySpace page of “Osama Sodomy Laden“, who was able to “befriend” both the Army and Marines instantly.

It would appear, at an absolute minimum, that some kind of safeguard is needed so that NAMBLA, or Osama Sodomy Laden, or…”Christine O’Donnell for Senate ’08”…doesn’t put a huge chunk of the US military on their friends list.

Finally, it’s possible that the various military services have policies galore to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but they are unaware of the existence of these MySpace pages. It would be kind of embarrassing…but it is possible.

So let’s sum up what we have:

There are a series of three MySpace pages, each purporting to represent a military service; each has a prominent place on the Christine O’Donnell ’08 campaign’s MySpace friends list.

I did not take the time to determine the “ownership” of two of those pages; the third is associated with a Navy Recruiting Station in California.

It’s possible that various military regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Hatch Act, or a series of bad decisions relating to how you manage social media are implicated in the presence of the services as “friends” on the Senate Candidate’s page; if not we have to consider another question: what happens if a disassociated third party uses your marks and logos to create a Web page that you’re either unaware of…or that you allow to exist, even after you become aware of it…and that page is used in a manner that creates the appearance of impropriety?

Since I’m 0-2 when it comes to getting someone from the military to answer my questions when I ask them about it, I can’t tell you exactly which explanation is correct, but obviously it’s not a good thing when the appearance is created that the military supports specific candidates, and it’s something that should be fixed as soon as possible.

 

On Asking Experts, Part One, Or, Do Democrats Really Understand Their LBGT Problem? October 22, 2010

Stories begat other stories, or at least they do for me; this two-part conversation came from a comment that was made after I posted a story suggesting that voting matters this time, especially if you don’t want environmental disasters like the recent Hungarian “toxic lake” that burst from its containment and polluted the Danube River happening in your neighborhood.

Long story short, we are going to be moving on to ask what, for some, is a more fundamental question: if you’re an LBGT voter, and the Democratic Party hasn’t, to put it charitably, “been all they could be” when it comes to issues like repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” or the Federal Defense of Marriage Act…what should you do?

Now normally I would be the one trying to develop an answer to the question, but instead, we’re going to be posing the question to a group of experts, and we’ll be letting them give the answers.

And just because you, The Valued Reader, deserve the extra effort, for Part Two we’ve trying to get you a “Special Bonus Expert” to add some input to the conversation: a Democratic Member of Congress who represents a large LBGT community.

“We were liberated not only empty-handed but left in the power of a people who resented our emancipation as an act of unjust punishment to them. They were therefore armed with a motive for doing everything in their power to render our freedom a curse rather than a blessing.”

–From The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition, Ida B. Wells, 1893

So we have our question, now we need a panel of experts.

As it happens, one of the sites to which I post is The Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LBGTQ”), so I went to the site, posted the question (What Would You Tell A Frustrated Gay Voter?), and told the readers that I wanted to stand back and let them inform the conversation so that I could pass the message on to the larger Democratic and Progressive audience.

Most of what you’ll be reading in this two-parter will be those comments; I’ll be offering a few thoughts of my own, but my main effort will be to be “set the stage” for others.

So as we said, the big take-away here is that there is a portion of the LBGT community that feels like they have been “left behind”, if you will, by the very Democrats they helped to elect; Hannah offers an example of how that thinking manifested itself in the comments:

I don’t think many politicians really are pro-gay. Democrats will vote for gay issues, but the issue in question can’t stand alone. It needs to be attached to military spending or to credit card legislation, so that their constituents that don’t pay attention to detail will miss their pro-gay votes. When it gets there, I don’t think ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] will be a stand-alone bill. I can’t even think about how DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] will end.

Bill Perdue puts it a lot more strongly:

The ‘progressive’ wing of the Democrat party is a wet noodle. It has no – zero, nada, zilch – clout or influence. It’s barely tolerated as left cover and if it gets too pushy they call the cops…

The Democrats have a long and clear history of bigotry and of doing what they have to do to appease bigots and get their votes. Democrats voted for DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and DOMA in large majorities and a Democrat bigot signed both bills.

Rank and filers and supporters are welcome to donate time and money and even attend conventions to watch their betters maneuver and scheme but they have no power.

Gina9223 picks up part of Bill’s theme and runs a bit further with it:

Between the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights organizing group] they both use GLBT and our struggles for gaining equal rights ONLY to generate money for their bottom line. How often have you heard or seen the some ad hack saying ‘the fight has only begun and they need your dollars now!’??? A few weeks or months go by with the assurance that they’re “doing everything possible” to secure the passing of ENDA, but they had to let that fall to give support to repeal of DOMA but they had to let that go to run after repeal of DADT. But don’t worry, they’ll come around in the bus next time to pick up our money. Just not us.

Now comes to the table Alex Blaze (who often gets stuck with the yeoman’s work of editing the things I post to Bilerico) with a bit of realpolitik:

It’s a catch-22: If Dems do fine in November they’ll learn that ignoring LGBT people was great and they should keep on doing it. If they lose big, then they’ll think that they went too far to the left and they should do even less.

One would become suspicious about the fact that there’s no situation where they become more responsive to public opinion and more queer-friendly, but we obviously can’t question the Democrats’ commitment to LGBT rights. That just wouldn’t be polite.

Andrew W expands on Gina’s point that it’s not entirely a Democratic problem:

The frustration is warranted, but instead of simply singling out Democrats for not accomplishing something they never had the votes to accomplish, what about Gay Inc. and activist groups? A significant amount of money was spent in the last 2 years and we have nothing to show for it. GetEQUAL resurrected 1960s styled civil disobedience and protest – without any measurable results and mounting evidence that we’ve simply alienated our only “friends.” HRC spent millions lobbying Congress and yet they cannot show us a single vote they “changed.”

SoFloMo is of the opinion that a big part of the problem is staring at voters in the bathroom mirror each morning:

Too often we get indignant and then throw parties where politicians and/or Gay Inc. come to collect checks after everyone has found their way to the bottom of three or four cocktails.

I’ve been to events in South Florida where the house is packed to meet a gay-friendly celebrity or the head of a national LGBT organization. But few people will turn up to canvass on behalf of local candidates who have passed laws protecting LGBT rights. Few people will work the phones to defeat candidates supported by the Christian Coalition.

So I need to keep a handle on how long stories run, and “we’ve stated the problem, so let’s come back tomorrow and address some answers” seems like a reasonable plan for splitting the story in two…so that’s what we’re going to do.

Let’s bring this Part One to a close by restating the premise: there exists some number of LBGT voters who feel they have nothing to gain by voting this time, because they perceive no available political path to achieving forward progress on civil rights issues. There’s another group who feel Democrats are not a trustworthy partner in the effort to advance civil rights, and if they show up to vote at all this time, it probably won’t be for Democratic candidates.

Just as soon as I get this posted, I’ll be assembling Part Two; with the “question now asked”, we’ll be getting to answers—and I think you’re going to be surprised at the diversity of responses.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been in touch with a currently unnamed Member of Congress who has a significant LBGT constituency over the past 24 hours, and the Press Secretary over there has indicated that they’ll try to have a response for attribution in time for Part Two.

Between now and then, try on a thought exercise and see where it takes you: put yourself in the shoes of an LBGT voter, think about this election it it’s full context, and consider what advice would make sense to you—and then, after you’ve done that, consider how you’d pass along what you’re thinking to either the Democrats or the voters we’re talking about.

 

Halliburton Gets $2 Billion Contract For Florida “Cardboard Condos” October 18, 2010

Miami, Florida, September 13, 2018 (FNS)—Facing pressure from voters to “do something” following the disaster caused by the privatization of Social Security, the White House today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is awarding a $2 billion contract to the Halliburton Company for the purchase of 22,000 “cardboard condos” that will be installed in public parks around the Miami area in an effort to alleviate the problem of homelessness among the impoverished elderly.

“Having homeless senior citizens drag their appliance boxes all over the city reduces the community’s aesthetic appeal and leads to complaints”, said Halliburton spokesman Tendei Furlough. “The new modular design, combined with our ability to print attractive images on the outside of the boxes, guarantees both increased protection from winter weather and fewer complaints from affected neighborhoods.”

FEMA’s Director of Emergency Housing Resources Spike Fromula agreed: “We thought we had a real problem with homelessness in a number of our major cities after the Social Security safety net collapsed…but now, we think…well, we think we have a way to wrap the problem up in a neat little package.”

Nearly two years in development, the new product, officially known as the Emergency Living Device, Experimental, Regular Length, Yard (ELDERLY), is a response to the 2014 privatization of the Social Security program and the 2016 stock market collapse that occurred after the secret effort to sell “futures” in Republican Party policies and programs came to light, creating a national scandal which is still having repercussions across the United States.

These two events led to almost 18 million of the nearly 60 million elderly Americans now on Social Security losing all their future retirement income; almost 3 million of that 18 million now live in the Miami area, creating a massive homelessness problem that has overwhelmed every community in South Florida.

At today’s press event, Halliburton displayed a “block” of the ELDERLY boxes, which combine various pastel colors in a manner that makes them entirely compatible with the Miami “style”, and it was easy to see how effective the design will be:

“The boxes open on both ends to make them comfortable in the summer” Furlough told me, “and the people who occupy the boxes in the middle will be very comfortable in the winter as well, thanks to the insulation provided by the boxes on the ends of the rows.”

The Social Security Administration plans to distribute “ELDERLY vouchers” throughout South Florida over the next several months in order to provide an organized path to “home ownership” for some of those who lost all they owned in the market collapse; some have suggested that this may be the only asset most of the newly-destitute 18 million Social Security account holders will ever recover.

FEMA’s Fromula was enthusiastic about the new partnership: “Once again we’ve shown, that, given a problem, the free market can provide a solution, and we are grateful to Halliburton for stepping up with ELDERLY technology, and for doing it at the very affordable contract price of under $9500 per unit, including delivery, setup, and assembly. Barring cost overruns, we expect to be able to provide a shelter for every homeless person in Florida for about $3 trillion dollars, assuming that sufficient taxpayer funding can be provided.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The fine folks at the Campaign for America’s Future are thinking about what would happen if Social Security were to be privatized because it’s something a lot of Republicans are thinking about right now…and it’s something you better be thinking about, too.

 

On Why Voting Matters, Or, Could You Outrun The Toxic Red Flood? October 7, 2010

It is about a week before early voting begins for a bunch of us around the country, and that means this may be one of the last times I have to convince you that, frustrated progressive or not, you better get your butt to a ballot box or a mail-in envelope this November, because it really does matter.

Now I could give you a bunch of “what ifs” to make my point, or I could remind you how we spent all summer watching oil gush into the Gulf, and how that came to be…but, instead, it’s “Even More Current Event Day”, and we’re going to visit Hungary for a extremely real-world reminder of what can go wrong when the environmental cops are considered just too much of a burden by the environmental robbers—and if today’s story doesn’t scare you to death, I don’t know what will.

It ain’t Texas, but we will surely visit a Red River Valley…and you surely won’t like what you’re gonna see.

“…Oui, ma foi, c’est un bougre déterminé…”

–A sailor aboard the French ship Héros describing his Admiral, Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, 1783. Quoted from the book Command at Sea, by Oliver Warner.

So here’s the long and the short of it: Monday afternoon a sludge pond failed near the town of Devecser, Hungary. That failure has so far released about 265,000,000 gallons of extremely toxic sludge from a facility that mines bauxite as part of the process of making aluminum.

That release manifested itself as a full-scale flash flood, which (courtesy of the RT network) looks something like this:

The red lake and the red mud that you see flowing like a river in the video has killed four people so far, injured hundreds, inundated four towns, and is on its way to the Danube River if it can‘t be stopped, where it will become part of the water supply for millions of Europeans.

It turns out that bauxite ore contains alumina, which eventually become aluminum, but to get that alumina you apparently need huge quantities of caustic soda, in water, to make the extraction process work. The problem is that you extract more than just alumina: the same ore can contain lead, or cadmium, or any number of other heavy metals…including radioactive materials. The waste materials are discharged as sludge into holding ponds at the mine for further treatment, and the failure of one of those ponds is how we came to today’s story.

According to the BBC, emergency workers are pouring tons of plaster into the Marcal River in an effort to stop the flow of the liquid, and Hungarian Government experts believe the top inch of topsoil will have to be removed…from the entire land area affected by the flood.

So what’s all this have to do with the upcoming American elections?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

This is not a problem somehow unique to Hungary…nor Brazil, nor Jamaica, either. We have sludge ponds of our own, many associated with coal mining, and in fact, one of those failed in Kentucky in 2000, in a massive way, and by 2004, things hadn’t improved much at all in terms of cleaning up the mess. Others are associated with the other end of that process: coal-fired power plants have coal ash containments of their own, and they also fail. A pond failure in Tennessee in 2008 probably released over a billion gallons of waste into the local rivers.

And if our Republican friends have their way, this will continue.

Even as we speak, the EPA is considering regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste for the very first time—and if Republicans gain control of Congress, wanna guess how the considerating will come out?

Look, folks, I know we’re all frustrated that we aren’t where we want to be with this Administration, but you gotta know that if you don’t show up for this election, we are going to be dealing with Republicans who are far nuttier than what we have right now—and while I know that it was a fantastic change of pace to be able to vote for someone in ’08, the plain fact is that most of the time, you’re voting against something, and this time, that something is the insanity of the Tea Party.

These Republicans are some very determined buggers, to quote that French sailor, and we have to be just as determined to stop these folks—and to do it where it counts, in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Delaware—because if we don’t, it means another generation of people in coal towns living with water they can’t drink and cancer they can’t cure, more rivers and wetlands and aquifers destroyed all over this country…and, eventually, it means all of this contamination, one way or another, will find its way to you and your family.

Voting matters, Gentle Readers, and this is just one reason why.

 

On Fence-Straddling, Or, And Now, A Few Words From Blanche Lincoln September 27, 2010

Those of you who’ve followed my work over a period of time know that I’m usually the one suggesting moderation and keeping everyone in the big tent, and, even in this most difficult year, I’m the one telling folks that sometimes you just have to hold your nose and vote for the candidate that sucks less.

And even though the last thing I’d ever want is a Speaker Boehner or a Leader McConnell (or even worse yet, DeMint), the fact remains that there are two Democratic Senators I would actually vote against, even if the candidate that sucks more does win…and those two are Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.

One of those two is up for re-election this year, and thanks to a particularly ridiculous vote by Senator Lincoln, we found ourselves in a bit of an email exchange, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

And there is still this most difficult question of all: If we are eventually fortunate enough to find truth, who among us will know how to make good use of it?

–Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences

So here’s the deal: as you may or may not know, Senator Lincoln’s was one of the Democratic votes that killed any chance of reforming the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy and also killed the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for non-citizens who serve in the US military…despite the fact that she is one of the Senate co-sponsors of the DREAM Act and has publicly supported repealing DADT…despite the fact that this vote hurts her in a re-election campaign, by painting her as a flip-flopper…and despite the fact that her vote hurt Democrats nationally, twice, once by not forcing Republicans to vote against the Defense Appropriations bill (“they hate the troops!”), and, secondly, by making Democrats deal with a very, very, angry base, for no good reason.

I’m part of that angry base, and, even though I normally try to be a bit more restrained, I just had to send a note to the Senator’s office to make a point; here’s that note, reproduced:

Apparently Senator Lincoln has no interest in supporting troops who are gay who are serving today, despite the flag-waving stuff on your own home page?

As a supporter of Democrats, I have to say; “nah nah na na, nah nah na na, hey hey hey…good bye!”

Have a great November…and honestly, we won’t really miss you.

The Senator was kind enough to offer a response, which arrived Friday.
Today we’ll look at what she had to say:

Thank you for contacting my campaign regarding my recent vote on the Defense Authorization bill.

The stalemate we find ourselves in today is an example of Congress’ failure to appropriately deal with issues of critical importance to Arkansans and the American people, and that is why people are so angry.

Both political parties are so focused on how they can tear each other down that they’ve forgotten that we were all elected to build our country up by coming together, finding common ground and working to move our nation forward.

So far, so good…

I voted against the Motion to Proceed on the Defense Authorization bill today because of the lack of an open amendment process. I had eight amendments to improve services and benefits for Arkansas’s veterans, Guardsman and Reservists. But under the process and time-frame established by the Democratic Majority Leader, none of my amendments will merit consideration this week.

Well, now we’re getting to something.

Apparently you felt, Senator, that Arkansans would be so grateful that you absolutely killed reforms that even you support because you couldn’t insert a few amendments, that they would ignore the fact that…you absolutely killed reforms that even you support because you couldn’t insert a few amendments.

Well, guess what? This kind of thinking is exactly why you’re gonna lose your job.

Try to imagine, Senator, if you hired me to paint your house, because I made such a great sales pitch (“I’ll paint that house, and I’ll paint it cheap, and I’ll use good quality paint!”)…and then I held a press conference to announce that I’d like to paint your house, just like I told you I would…but I can’t, because right now you won’t allow me to propose cutting the grass and redesigning the pool.

That’s appears to be what you just did…and if I came up with a story like that, wouldn’t you fire me?

However, my vote against this procedure does not in any way alter my co-sponsorship of the DREAM Act or my support for allowing the military to repeal the ‘Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. These important issues were taken hostage by an election year political agenda at the expense of full and open debate on a $726 billion defense spending bill. I look forward to the day we can debate these issues fully and vote on them.

You might still support the DREAM Act, and you may still support DADT…but your vote killed ‘em both…which means you’re holing those issues hostage, right this very second…and since you’ll become a lame duck in November, and you won’t be around after January, you probably won’t be debating much of anything.

Transparency should be the rule, not the exception. I have heard Arkansans loud and clear, and I will continue working to ensure that we do things in an open and transparent way.

If you had heard Arkansans loud and clear, you probably wouldn’t have supported either of these reforms in the first place…but if you really believed in these ideas, what you should have been doing these past 18 months is gettin’ out there and doing a better job of explaining why, so that Arkansans would have heard you loud and clear.

That’s called “political leadership”, and that’s how you win elections, and, sad to say, a lot of other Democrats this cycle also seem to have been unable to grasp this most basic lesson from Politics 101 (Barack Obama, I’m looking at you…).

There are many important issues in this critical bill that deserve our full attention. When we are ready to get serious about debating the multitude of issues that are relevant to this bill, I am prepared to help move that debate and this legislation forward.

Translation: I hope to be the super duper important 59th vote, after the election, and I hope that y’all will get serious about making a deal so that Olympia Snowe can get something and I can get my last eight amendments, even though by then I’ll be fired and my Party will have taken a beating in the election and the reform I claim to have supported will basically die away in the night, pretty much thanks to me.

In late July, I was able to gain unanimous approval by the Senate for the most ambitious Child Nutrition Authorization Bill in the history of our country. It didn’t require a procedural motion. It was bipartisan, paid for and reflected the best of what this Senate can be. I hope that process becomes the norm.

Well congratulations to you for having the political courage to support feeding babies, and I’m willing to bet that if a “don’t strangle puppies” bill comes along, you’ll probably have the intestinal fortitude to support that as well.

Again, thank you for contacting my campaign.

You’re more than welcome, and you have yourself have a great day.

 

On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa’el? September 22, 2010

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur’an burning aside, we don’t really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

I pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur’ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques…and finally, that this apparent “paradox of freedom” is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson’s wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message…with one giant exception, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country’s population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks…but maybe if they knew my friend Wa’el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine…and if you’re not familiar with how things work there, users may “seed” a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco’s seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here’s one example…

…I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

…and here’s another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to “submit” to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute “terror tomatoes” among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the “terror tomato” part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can’t be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well…let’s start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy…and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa’el.

Wa’el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk’s reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful “takeover” of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa’el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa’el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained for…you guessed it…suspicion of arson.

It’s not just Wa’el, or the other members of his Party…nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If were to take the time, you’d find out there’s a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you’d discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you’d find out there’s even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India’s current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)…and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today’s Spain, but what used to be Andalucía (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today’s Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa’el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell—and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives…I’m guessing that wouldn’t go so well for Wa’el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow “mainstream” Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don’t know, and I guess you’ll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here’s what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement’s influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they’ve seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa’el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he’s been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy…and that the world’s largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we’re addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans—and the fact is that Wa’el and his family would make great Americans…even though they’re not…and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the world…how much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?