The Socialist prophecy


So they say, so they say:

The restructuring of society taking place, in the direct interests of the corporate-financial elite and at the expense of the working population, is not occurring unnoticed. The American and international working class will inevitably find itself drawn into struggle against the present, untenable form of social organization.

Hiram Lee invokes a recurring fantasy of the left, and while I do not scorn the underlying sentiment, I admit to a certain cynicism. Perhaps in other places around the world, populist anger might bring down governments, but the prestige and wealth of the United States is such that Americans are wary of risking it all for an unproven thesis.

Continue reading

Notes On the Health Care Battle: Dust and Smoke


Only vague first impressions; it’s difficult to get any real perspective while so much dust and smoke hangs in the air after the conflagration.

Paul Krugman, before the vote:

Adam Zyglis via CagleSo what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Republican David Frum on the political fallout:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Kirk Walters via CagleCould a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

Continue reading

When second class equals victory


Danny Westneat devoted a column earlier this week to gloating over Washington state’s Referendum 71 vote, and all of its significance:

Gays can’t win at the ballot box.

That has always been the harsh reality. Put the subject of equality for gays and lesbians to a vote of the people — practically any people, in states from deep red to dark blue — and the people have always said: “No. Not here. Not yet.”

Until — it appears — now. Right here.

There’s a week’s worth of ballot-counting remaining in an election everyone is saying is too-close-to-call. But it appears Washington state will be the first in America to approve a gay-equality measure not by court fiat or legislative action, but by the direct will of the people.

It’s never happened before. If the slim lead holds for the gay-partnership law Referendum 71, it would be a landmark. Huge.

Not because the law that was on the ballot Tuesday is the last word in this debate.

But because the vote signals, finally, a tipping point of sorts — a bellwether of public acceptance — that has eluded gays and lesbians forever.

Yes, a town here or a county there has voted on the pro-gay side over the years. Usually to bar overt acts of discrimination against gays (which Seattle voters did way back in 1978).

But no state has ever approved a pro-gay vote. The opposite, in fact — dozens of states have voted overwhelmingly to outlaw gay marriage, domestic partnerships or even the ability to adopt kids. Those votes actively consigned gays and lesbians to second-class-citizen status.

In 1997, even supposedly liberal, libertarian Washington rejected a gay anti-discrimination law by a landslide, 60 percent to 40 percent. That vote set back the drive for gay equality here by nearly a decade.

And on Tuesday, voters in Maine repealed a gay-marriage law that had been passed by that state’s Legislature.

The vote here on Tuesday was far from a landslide. But in it you could see the slow wheel of societal change turning ….

All of that, and more, in this vote, in which supporters have claimed as theirs, and currently stands at 52-48% in favor, leaving opponents to pray against. Westneat’s column is obviously not written for homosexuals, but rather that potentially-sizeable bloc of readers for whom this vote was a significant milestone in their own personal evolution. This is a feelgood moment, of a sort. After all, voters have apparently approved a law that would have already been law had some people not chosen to challenge it at the ballot box. Good to know the people are on board, but the writing was prominently scrawled on the proverbial wall. We’ve already been through a gay marriage fight and people know it’s coming eventually. This was an easy wrangling of the conscience; this was an easy vote.

Let us pause to consider again:

But no state has ever approved a pro-gay vote. The opposite, in fact — dozens of states have voted overwhelmingly to outlaw gay marriage, domestic partnerships or even the ability to adopt kids. Those votes actively consigned gays and lesbians to second-class-citizen status.

And so does this, Mr. Westneat. So does this.

When victory means second class? Putting it gently as such, it means tomorrow there is still work to do.

Continue reading

How to flush your home business down the crapper


You know, if he was selling to the cops, that would be one thing. But there’s no hint of that here. Hector Castro explains:

“A plainclothes sergeant and officer from the department’s training unit were in the bathroom when they heard the man answer his cell phone and attempt to make a deal for the drugs,” police reported.

The suspected dealer, apparently growing more desperate, made several more calls in his effort to sell the drugs, all while the sergeant eavesdropped on his conversations.

As the man left the bathroom, he saw the sergeant and asked if he worked for probation, in the mistaken belief that he was at the probation office.

When confronted by the officer about the dealing, the man reportedly confessed and surrendered his stash of drugs.

Write your own punch line, I suppose. The obvious is already taken.

Terror in America?


Sometimes, things get so insane that you actually hope the guilty party is one of your allies. That statement, of course, will require some explanation. Let’s start with the story out of Seattle; Dan Savage posted today at Slog:

Eleven gay bars in Seattle received letters today addressed to the “Owner/Manager” from someone claiming to be in the possession of ricin, a deadly poison. “Your establishment has been targeted,” the letter begins. “I have in my possession approximately 67 grams of ricin with which I will indiscriminately target at least five of your clients” ….

…. According to the CDC’s website, someone who has ingested “a significant amount” will develop vomiting and diarrhea within the first 6-12 hours; other symptoms of ricin poisoning include hallucinations, seizures, and blood in the urine. There is no antidote for ricin but ricin exposure is not invariably fatal ….

…. A letter also arrived in The Stranger’s offices, addressed to the attention of “Obituaries.” The letter’s author said the paper should “be prepared to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals all of whom were patrons of the following establishments on a Saturday in January.” The listed bars are: the Elite, Neighbours, Wild Rose, the Cuff, Purr, the Eagle, R Place, Re-bar, CC’s, Madison Pub, and the Crescent. “I could take this moment to launch into a diatribe about my indignation towards the gay community,” the letter concludes, “however, I think the deaths will speak for themselves.”

The Re-bar letterQuite obviously, stay tuned. Perhaps suspects or bodies will start turning up in the near future. To the other, we can only hope that Roland, who manages the Madison Pub, is correct when he says, “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”

That is not to say the threatened establishments are not taking precautions. At the Eagle, a sign has been posted advising customers to remain vigilant. But nobody’s going to close their doors over this, and local promoters and DJs are discussing a pub crawl as a show of solidarity with the bars.Customers at the Eagle are warned to be vigilant.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports that Savage told them the lack of religious references makes him wonder whether the author is an embittered homosexual. And, indeed, we come back to the point made at the outset.

I would, in fact, prefer that this is the outcome. Or maybe even a cynical ploy by bar owners or employees to increase business during a period of reduced custom by rallying the community around a political cause. This I can better deal with. Hell, I’d take a disaffected teenager with a warped sense of humor. The thought that the letters are genuine? I would hate to believe the situation has really come to this.

The perils of technology meet the perils of humanity


If technology seems soulless and dispassionate, well, it is. It doesn’t laugh or cry, and it certainly doesn’t get embarrassed. On the other hand, it can very well make us laugh and cry, and there is no question that it can embarrass us. Like this example, from the Seattle Times website:

Image captured from Seattle Times website, July 2, 2008.It’s a simple enough pitch, and hardly uncommon. Many news websites offer prints of dramatic photos, and often use galleries with names like “Photos of the Day” to promote the service. And in many cases, you can get reprints of articles or your favorite political cartoons. But there is something amiss about the pitch, which I snapped in the wee hours of the morning. Something seems incongruent about the sunny invitation to “Capture a memory and own a moment” compared to the image detail. Indeed, the photo it refers to—

Relatives mourn Abdul Ghani Shiekh, an 85-year-old man killed during clashes, in Budgam, a town 19 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Srinagar, India, Tuesday, July, 2008. Authorities in Indian-held Kashmir made concessions to Muslim activists Tuesday in hopes of quelling heated protests that have left five dead and hundreds injured.  (Dar Yasin/AP)

—is from Dar Yasin, via the Associated Press, and is captioned as follows:

Relatives mourn Abdul Ghani Shiekh, an 85-year-old man killed during clashes, in Budgam, a town 19 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Srinagar, India, Tuesday, July, 2008. Authorities in Indian-held Kashmir made concessions to Muslim activists Tuesday in hopes of quelling heated protests that have left five dead and hundreds injured.

Yes, here’s a picture of you that went around the world as you wept for poor Abdul. I saw that I could get a print of it from the website and thought, “My goodness, she would probably be delighted if I put that one on a coffee mug for her!”

Capture a moment, indeed. So I did. I couldn’t help myself. It’s just one of those unfortunate moments that technology occasionally brings. (Or did someone have to choose that detail specifically?)

As to the violence in Budgam, or anywhere else? Well, shit. Very unfortunate, but that should go without saying.

Or maybe not. But I can’t imagine that saying it over and over and over and over again is actually going to stop the killings. And that’s perhaps the most unfortunate thing of all.

Pig what? (Basketball and the decline of empires)


The decline of an empire is something that, in history, seems very apparent. Few if any omens have been persuasive enough to shake the people awake. Rome still fell. And life goes on.

    Argument One: The Seattle SuperSonics are preparing to leave town and it is only, really, after it is too late to do anything substantive and dignified about it that people are starting to panic. 

    Argument Two: People are starting to panic.

    Argument Three: The lawsuit attempting to keep the team in Seattle through the end of its lease is already a disaster, involving accusations of bad faith and suspicions of Machiavellian cabals.

    Argument Four: The current owners of the basketball team have filed a motion asking that two witnesses—radio host Mitch Levy and author Sherman Alexie—be barred from testifying.

Continue reading