At this point, I should probably take that one little word out of the subtitle. The fact is, at the time I started this whole blog thing, I had: a) definite interest in the mid-term elections, b) an intellectual willingness examine issues from different sides, and c) a great deal of spare time, during which I needed give the appearance of working on something.

These days, between my two-and-a-half hour daily commute, frantic-fanatic work environment, grad school, semi-regular writing, and bare semblance of social life, I find my waking hours are pretty well filled up. That, and I can hardly bare to glance in the direction of the whole political sphere at all. I’ve caught a bit of news coverage, a few convention speeches, and most of the debates, but all of that leaves me not so much well informed as angry and depressed.

I feel bad for Obama, I really do. He seems to have fought his way into office (over my preferred candidate, ah-hem) only to enjoy a startling fall from grace, fading in a few short years from a bastion of hope and change to the main obstacle in the way of the sweeping tide of corporate Christian right. Keep your finger in the dam, bro, that’s all I can say–and, best case scenario, I really think that’s all anyone who likes women, the environment, education, or any form of regulatory enforcement can reasonably expect for the next four years.

As for the rest…

Mitt Romney is just a tool. That’s all there is to it. I honestly don’t think he’s a bad person–he’s just bumbling, weak, wishy-washy, and divorced from reality. He’s like the stereotypical sheltered high school nerd, book smart and culturally clueless, arrogant yet eager for approval, repeating whatever the cool kids say by rout, unsuspicious of just how far off the mark he really is. The examples are manifold, from the ridiculous (dog on the roof of the car, binders full of women) to the disturbing (healthcare, England).

I have a visceral reaction to Paul Ryan so strong I actually get nervous nausea when he talks. Something about his big slow-blinking eyes, set back deep in his scull like Shelley Duvall’s, that way he has of raising his eyebrows, and his parentheses bracketed smile, makes me so profoundly uncomfortable.

If I have to hear smilin’ Joe Biden mention Scranton just once more, I just don’t know what I’ll do.

What really baffles me are these so-called ‘independent’ or ‘undecided’ voters. Where are these people, and more importantly, where are their brains?

This must be a news media fiction. Maybe in the 90s when the two main party candidates essentially stood toe-to-toe on opposite sides of the fifty yard line, and candidates like Ralph Nader or Harry Browne were really out there, voters on either end of the spectrum might reasonably waver. But now–with the two candidates at completely opposite polls, with only one shared goal (job creation) and virtually no similarity in any of their policies or strategies–who could possibly have any doubt?

I suppose maybe, maybe…if you cared about nothing but the tax code, and wanted determine which candidate’s policy would save you more? But, as my rant so far has now doubt illustrated, very few people are so rational in their decision-making process.

Nobody cares where you sit, and other notes on contemporary politics

I haven’t had much to rant about on the political front in sometime, mainly because most of what I feel justified in commenting on has been on hold since the holiday recess began almost a month ago.

Just when congress was gearing up for a serious partisan smack down in the new year (something I would definitely have commented upon), maladjusted weirdo Jared Loughner shot up a Gabrielle Giffords speaking event for, apparently, no reason, killing six and injuring a dozen more. What followed was the oddest combination of genuine shock and grief and blame-slinging and political posturing in recent memory. Everyone made an initial statement, many of them quite honest and moving and heartfelt. Then everyone analyzed everyone else’s statement. Reactions were compared and contrasted.

Then the idea that the polarized political situation and negative, violent rhetoric inspired the shooting (just like rock music causes suicide, and Stairway to Heaven includes secret satanic messages) was covered exhaustively. Not to say that the tone in Washington is not a problem, but the sad truth is you can’t blame mean people for crazy ones–no matter how much you might want to. Or at least, you can blame them only in so much as their meanness contributes to the general malaise, the poisonous atmosphere that, combined with paranoia and delusion and a thousand other influences, creates both the madness and the motivation for such an act. Still, everyone vowed to play nice in the future. And then promptly turned and criticized someone else for not making the same promise, or for doing it too slowly, or whatever. I don’t even want to talk about what Sarah Palin odd little mini controversy, which was beyond bizarre from beginning to end.

The idea that an effort at civility is really a mandate for curtailing free speech was briefly floated. A hilarious concept considering that in the 1700s when the whole free speech thing took hold, the social niceties were so much more extreme that two people exchanged bows before trying to kill one another. The founding fathers it seems, were free to say and do just about anything without breaking the bounds of decorum. And, with our lax social standards, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say so are we. It’s entirely possible to refute everything your opponent stands for without being aggressive and violent, sometimes without even being impolite.

In the midst of the back biting and general scramble to either avoid or acknowledge culpability as circumstances seemed to warrant, a few individuals stood up and stood out in an admirable way. The president broke out his not inconsiderable rhetorical skills at the memorial service Wednesday. The old John McCain, the McCain we loved for his compassion and his faithfulness and his ability to step outside his own perspective (even if he is a homophobic old coot), reemerged unexpectedly with Sunday’s Washington Post op-ed. Ms. Giffords staff opened the offices as usual on the Monday following the shooting.

So it’s been 10 days, and congress has decided it’s now appropriate to get back down to business–possibly a kinder, gentler business. So, the “job-killing health care bill” is now the “job-destroying health care bill,” (much less violent that way, right?) and we’re all going to sit side by side at the State of the Union (because this is 8th grade and it matters who we sit by). And now it’s time to see how it all goes forward.

What’s the big deal with the estate tax?

So, I know I’m super uber liberal and everything, but I don’t get why the estate tax is supposed to be such a good thing.

I mean, yes, I know it was championed by TR (my all time favorite president), I know it’s our most “progressive” tax, I know the people who support eliminating it are super-rich and mostly reprehensible. And I do believe that the wealthy should undertake a greater share of the tax burden overall.

But here’s what I don’t get: haven’t people already paid tax on that money? Wouldn’t it be both more practical and more just to tax earned income and accruing interest more heavily in the upper tax brackets to begin with?

Added to that, according to NPR, the estate tax has never produced more than 1-2% of federal revenues. And according to the Huffington Post the Democratic alternative is “only a little more irresponsible” than the proposed plan, the difference between $33 billion (Dems) and $68 billion (Reps & Obama)–small change when you’re talking Federal budget.

Finally, the current plan (the one Obama negotiated), basically just raises the threshold for paying estate tax from $1 million to $5 million. This doesn’t strike me as all that nuts. Remember, this isn’t just a tax on liquid assets–it’s the entire estate. If you own a small business, a car or two, and a house, your estate can get up close to the $1 million mark pretty fast. Some kinds of life insurance are also taxable under the estate tax, which can easily throw an estate over that threshold.

A $1 million baseline hits the upper middle class, not just the wealthiest 1% of the entire country. Of course, I personally think we’d be pretty safe with a threshold of $2 million instead of $5–but in any case, this is hardly the thing to go to bat over when the >$250k income tax is on the line.

But I still love Bernie Sanders.

Take a tally….

Look’s like someone‘s a little upset about his approval rating.

Well, you know what? I’m a little upset about his attitude. Um…take a tally of campaign promises? Seriously? Well, off the top of my head: the end of the war in Iraq; health care for every American; an end to additional tax breaks for the super-rich; gay marriage. Maybe the president could take a moment to point just one of those things out to me?

Obama is probably lucky he doesn’t have to depend on me for justification, because I’m inclined to leave it at that. But, as it turns out, someone actually did take a tally. According to PolitiFact, the president is doing basically what he said he’d do. The site summarizes his success so far as “okay, we will.”–which is pretty much exactly what president said of himself (though in somewhat milder terms). He’s doing what he said he’d do–but it’s going to take more than just two years, and it might not be as bright and shiny as well all imagined.

Of course, what PolitiFact doesn’t take into account (what, indeed, it would be almost impossible to quantify) is the relative importance of some of successes and failures, or as the site calls them kept and broken promises. For example, Obama “kept” a promise to implement a “Women Owned Business” contracting program. But he “broke” a promise to institute cap and trade. Now, women owned businesses are laudable, certainly–but are they comparable to cap and trade in terms of impact and implication? To be clear, no one’s saying they are–the point is, with this data, how would you know? One promise is weighted the same as any other. Deeper analysis is required.

What I think is so frustrating for anyone left-of-center at this point is not, as Obama seems to think, the concept of compromise. We aren’t children (for the most part). We understand that no one gets their own way all the time. It’s not even, as the media keeps telling everyone, that Democrats can’t seem to stand up to bullying from the GOP–at least not entirely. The real ongoing problem is that whatever they do, the Democrats come off looking kind of bad. It doesn’t matter if they’re squaring off or trying to negotiate an equitable agreement; if it’s possible to put a negative spin on a Democratic action, that’s what will happen.

Everyone keeps saying Democrats are bad at politics, but what they’re really bad at is PR. Everyone knows the Republican PR machine is consistent, powerful, and pervasive. The Democrats just don’t roll that way. They don’t all repeat the same phrases in interviews and speeches. They rarely espouse a take-no-prisoners, we’re right and everyone else is wrong attitude (even when I think they should). Although many reporters and journalists are probably liberal, we’d never know it since, with the dual (occasionally overlapping) exceptions of actual pundits and people on Fox, they abstain from political activism in the interest of journalistic ethics.

From the outside looking in, it seems that the right is all the same. From my point of view, way off in the western hinterlands, everyone on the left is totally different. I can’t listen to “Best of the Left” without getting totally mad at Jay and Thom Hartmann and that winy girl on “Young Turks” who just keeps laughing and agreeing with everything. As the above, clearly illustrates, even Obama can’t talk to me in a way that doesn’t piss me off.

I cannot honestly imagine how the president managed to generate such a groundswell of support in the first place, much less where it all went to once he settled into the job. Since Obama has continued to do what he said he would, the problem must lie, not in what he does, but in how he does it, or how he communicates it to his constituency.

In closing, for the record: I can’t tell you how wrong and how politically stupid I think this decision to compromise with republicans on the >250K tax issue is. Even Obama admits holding out “might be good politics.” He tries to spin this decision as a win for the American people, maybe it even is a win–but it feels like a loss. Case in point: PR!

Well, it’s official…

…all 42 senate Republicans are assholes.

In case there’s any doubt, here’s written proof, in letter format.

Now, I realize filibusters have become pretty common in recent years, and especially in recent months. As Rachel Maddow furiously but accurately points out, Republicans already block everything anyway. This letter just marks the subtle transitioned from pattern to policy.

So it’s not that this little declaration of war is all that surprising. It’s just that the whole thing is so completely repellent. After all this talk of “comprise” this and “adult conversation” that, congressional republican’s next move, as a body, is a hostage-style ultimatum.

You know what: that’s actually fine. If the the 42 signers of this letter really believe that sustaining the Bush tax cuts for earners making over $250,000 per year is the most important issue our country faces, let them prove it. Let the all the tax cuts expire.

I’ve written to the white house, as well as Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer on this issue, it pisses me off so much. Ugh!

I Miss Ronald Regan…

…a president who, by the way, I cannot freaking stand, with his ripping the solar panels off the white house and screwing Jimmy Carter out of credit for bringing the hostages home; and his elitist trickle-down economic theories; and his vehement opposition of Roe v Wade; and his “homeless by choice” bullshit; and never mentioning AIDS until 20,000 people were already dead; and his “nine most terrifying words”; and his wife’s lame “just say no” campaign; and Iran-Contra; and Grenada; and whatever other secret CIA shit went down.

But I’ll say this about Regan: he was smart. He actually read the economic theories he promoted, and he was capable of explaining them coherently. He wrote some of his own speeches, including everybody’s favorite “government is the problem” inaugural address. He had the intelligence and (for lack of a better word) the soul to appropriate and rejuvenate the biblical “city up on a hill” analogy from John Winthrop and JFK. He had a sense of humor.

I’m pretty sure Regan would know what the 14th Amendment is, not to mention which supreme court decisions interpret separation of church and state as implicit in the 1st Amendment. I’m also pretty sure I’d hate what he’d have to say about both the constitution and the supreme court today…but at least I’d understand it. And there’s something to be said for that. Something to be said, too, for an opponent you can respect, someone you can argue with in a meaningful way, and someone who, at the end of the day, might not be such bad company over a beer.

The Debate

Wow, so, raise your hand if you listened to the third and final gubernatorial debate last night? If not, you can get the whole thing here.

One thing I’ve been learning over the last few months: State elections are a lot more fun than presidential elections. Way more gloves-off, say-whatever, drama-city then you could ever hope for from someone competent and presentable enough to eek through the presidential primary processes. Another great thing about these mid-terms: for once California isn’t the craziest state in the lower 48 (Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle make Gary Coleman and that porn star from 2003 look kind of sweet).

So, the debate. Tom Brokaw pulled no punches with the questions. He asked Whitman about the maid and Brown about the “whore” debacle.

I found his framing of the whore comment a little weird–

“We’ve heard no outrage from you about the use of that kind of language, which to many women, is the same as calling an African-American the n-word. Have you been in charge of the investigation to find out who’s responsible for using that phrase?”

–I can kind of see the analogy. Both terms are derogatory, disrespectful and dehumanizing, and both terms have been to an extent reclaimed. But I think anyone who interacts in the world on a semi-regular basis knows that being called a whore is not as bad as being called a nigger.

Maybe because sexual identity is only one part of what a person is, while the n-word is used to refer to the totality of a person. Whatever. Whore is just not as bad. Maybe in the right context, like the 19th century, or Iran, it might be more comparable.

Neither candidate handled this particular exchange with anything resembling grace. Brown babbled on about how the incident occurred a whole five weeks ago while Whitman cooed “ooooh” like someone was being sent to the principle’s office. Eventually, Brown managed to wrench out a defensive apology, to which Whitman responded with a prissy little lecture. Awesome.

I have to say, as someone who fundamentally disagrees with just about everything Meg Whitman stands for, that woman is really, really well-spoken. I mean wow. She falls back on vague political-stump-talk with some regularity (who doesn’t), but she managed to get in some clever little digs and turns of language. She comes off as especially oratorically gifted compared to poor Jerry Brown, who was busy stumbling over phrases and sticking his foot in his mouth (the back pocket thing?!?) the whole time.

But, you have to get beyond presentation to the content, and the content was:

Budget cuts, obviously.

Sounds like Whitman has her first 15 billion picked out. She didn’t really pinpoint exactly what it was, although welfare, state employee salaries, and future state employee pensions are definitely in the pot along with whatever else.

More jobs.

Not really clear on the plan for this. It’s more of a stated goal for both candidates.

Suspend Proposition 23.

Based on her speech, Whitman’s main reason for the suspension is to ensure that trucking jobs stay in-state. They’re trucking jobs. Where are they going to go? China? Maybe not the best choice for a case-in-point.

Lower taxes.

Of particular interest is the elimination of capital gains tax in order to encourage businesses to establish themselves in California over neighboring states. The flip side of this argument is that individual investors (i.e. non-business entities who just happen to have the income of a major corporation) will also benefit from the tax break.

Support Prop 8.

This one makes me so angry I really don’t know what to say. Whitman used an argument that I think will play really well with middle aged moderates on both sides (i.e. my dad et al): essentially that whatever your point of view, as a part of the state constitution, the proposition deserves another day in court and it’s the duty of Attorney General to make sure that gets done.

Finish the big fence.

Guest worker programs, yea; basically everything else, nay. Whitman specifically targeted San Francisco’s sanctuary status, which, let me just say, I resent. Also beefing up boarder patrols, creating a database that makes it easier to identify faked documents, and, yes, finishing the fence.

Whitman is not some tea-party nut-job.

She didn’t exactly say this, but she did say she wouldn’t be campaigning with Sarah Palin. More than that, she’s pro choice, she’s fine with civil unions, and she never mentioned God.

Apparently we don’t like teachers anymore.

One of the weirdest things about this debate was the discussion of education. Neither candidate could put enough distance between him/herself and the California Teachers Association. Exactly why this is isn’t clear to me.

Normally, teachers are right up there with cops and fire fighters. In every other election I’ve ever seen, an endorsement from the Teachers Association is something candidates brag about in their commercials. The implication seemed to be that schools are failing because teachers are lazy and ineffective; maybe schools are failing because there are 30+ multilingual kids in every room and not enough money for pencils.

Meanwhile, Jerry Brown stressed the following points:

Budget cuts again.

Jerry Brown’s statement about budget cuts was initially pretty hard to follow. He said he would cut the governor’s office by 10-15%. Driving home in my car, I definitely thought to myself: “how much can that possibly be?” and low and behold, Meg Whitman called him out on it before long. At that point Brown clarified, explaining that a leader can’t ask people to make sacrifices without making some himself. Since this is straight out of 90% of the business books I’ve worked on, I immediately thought “yes!”

Brown says he wants to get all the stakeholders together and re-budget, making the necessary cuts in his first 100 days, then go around the southern half of the state explaining why the cuts are necessary. Not as satisfying at Whitman’s 15 billion right off the bat, but I think somewhat more reasonable, since you would need assembly and senate buy-in to pass the new budget anyway.

More jobs.

Nothing to add here. Just, find more jobs.

Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

This was one of the few parts of the debate where I felt like I could really get behind Jerry Brown. He basically stated that Prop 8 violates the 14th amendment. ‘Course, he hasn’t always been exactly rock solid on this.

Pathway to citizenship.

On this issue, Brown became very articulate, but he also offloaded most of the responsibility on the feds. He had some good closing lines about the treatment of migrant workers, though.

Both candidates left something to be desired, Whitman in the areas of policy and compassion, Brown in (not exactly sure how to put this, but) respectability. What I mean is, like most career politicians, Brown is an older white man with a slippery record, who resents having to apologize for letting his staffers call his bitchy opponent a whore. Part of that slipperiness, like the gay marriage thing, may be due to the conflict of duty vs inclination, which I can appreciate. But it doesn’t make for much of a legend.

Oh well. Go Governor Moonbeam. I guess.

Just did something I never thought I’d do

Actually, more like swore I’d never do. I gave financial support to a politician who:

a) is not pro-choice (although not a completely horrifying one)
b) voted for the Iraq war, and
c) is not even running in an election I’ll be voting in

For context, let me just add that this is only the second time I have ever given money to any political campaign. The last time was in 2008 when I donated to the DNC–A contribution which, by the way, never went through because it turned out my credit card was overdrawn (incidentally, I’m also broke most of the time). So that should tell you about how important I think this particular election is: I have no money, but I still choose to give some theoretical money away to an incumbent senator in another state.

Which Senator? Harry Reid.

The thing is, while Reid may be the Senator from Nevada, he’s also the Senate Majority Leader, which means in a weird way, he belongs to everyone. Even those of us not part of the Democratic party (no, I am a liberal, but I’m also an independent–mostly because I’m too consistently angry at the Democratic party to switch, even for the primaries).

It’s hard enough passing anything in the current senate. Loosing that 59 to 41 majority (and the majority leader into the bargain) isn’t going to ease that situation.

And then there’s is Sharron Angle, a terrifying individual so far to the right that even Bill Raggio can’t bring himself to support her. With this candidate, it’s almost impossible to cover the standard issues questions: her stances include abolishing the department of education and leaving the United Nations. This is someone who talks about the idea of privatizing veterans affairs and refers to autism using air quotes.

At the moment Angle is leading Reid 50 to 46 (or 42 to 40, depending on who you ask) in the polls, and while Bill Mann somewhat snidely remarks that “Harry Reid must have been saying a lot of prayers to get an opponent as weak as Sharron Angle. He will do extremely well.” not everyone is feeling quite so confident.

Including me. I mean, I honestly thought there was no possible way President Bush would be elected for a second term, and I couldn’t have been more wrong there. The 2004 election was the first in which I was old enough to vote, and it taught me one important lesson: you can’t be complaisant. If you think one situation is preferable to another, you have to get behind it. “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it.” A vote is literally the very least we can do.

Giving a small sum of money might be the second-to-least I can do…but it’s a move in the right direction.

Hurray for California! Everyone else…sorry…

Well, the mid terms are over, and the world isn’t…yet.

In the Bay Area, everyone has been pretty much beside themselves since Sunday night. The Giants won the series, Jerry Brown is the governor, Gavin Newsom his trusty Lieutenant, Barbara Boxer has lived to wheel and deal another day, the 2006 Global Warming act will stand, and today, there is a parade.

Goodbye to Meg Whitman (for four years, at least). Goodbye too, to Carly Fiorina. Now if only we could say goodbye to Prop 8 and stabilize the budget as easily.

The rest of the map is predictably red. But it’s not as bad as you might think. Or at least, as I did think. Harry Reid hung in there, for which I am really and honestly grateful. I’d be even more grateful if he’d take this opportunity to stop throwing state money at his sons’ assorted nefarious businesses and focus–but we take what we can get. (An older man teared up on NPR this morning about how disappointed he was in Angle’s loss. Couldn’t believe it. She strikes me as the most insensitive and racist candidate in the whole country. Except maybe Jim Russell. But I guess it takes all kinds.)

In fact, no one too crazy won anything. No Sharron Angle, no Christine O’Donnell, no one wearing an SS uniform or a costume of any kind, no Carl Paladino, no John Raese. Even second tier crazy Joe Miller might not make it (M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i! What’s that spell?). Despite all the talk (change this, tea party that) and an admittedly significant shift in the balance of power, this election hasn’t been the insane alternate universe we all predicted, expected and in some cases, feared. It could still be okay.