Archive | September, 2010

Good news and bad news

28 Sep

Results from a recent survey are out, and they contain some good news and not so good news. The survey has nothing to do with politics in this election season. Rather, it has to do with knowledge of religion in the U.S.

What I found encouraging is that 89% of the people surveyed know that public school teachers cannot lead their students in prayer. Still encouraging, though less so, is that 68% of the people surveyed know that the U.S. Constitution says the government cannot establish a religion nor can it interfere with one’s religious beliefs. It is discouraging, though, that less than a third know that public school teachers can read from a religious work such as the Koran or the Bible as examples of literature or teach a class on comparative religions.

I have long felt that the public largely misunderstands what the First Amendment allows and doesn’t allow. For example, I encountered a group of college students who thought that the law would not permit a public display of the Ten Commandments. They did not realize that a public display of the Commandments on private land is perfectly legal, while the same display on public land has constitutional problems. People often think, incorrectly, that public school students cannot pray in school. Nothing prevents a student from saying a silent prayer before lunch or before a difficult exam.

Often, I find myself thinking cynically that these sorts of misunderstandings are fostered by certain groups as a way of gathering supporters and donations. There are apocryphal stories of students who are told not to wear a watch with the face of Jesus on it, but further digging reveals the student was told to leave the watch home because she kept setting off the musical alarm and disrupting the class. If a student is being told to leave a watch at home solely because it is a religious watch, then I’ll be the first to represent her against the school.

The misinformation in this nation about church and state is frustrating, but we cannot lose hope. Religion flourishes in the U.S. because of our First Amendment, not in spite of it. As long as we can keep our government out of religions–and our religions out of government–we will continue to do quite nicely (on that part of our culture, anyway). If we can cut down on the misinformation, that would be a big help.

Galileo was right–accept it and move on

27 Sep

Just when you thought things could not get any crazier…I learned over the weekend that South Bend is going to be the location of the first conference on geocentrism. For those who aren’t aware, geocentrism is the belief/argument/position that the Earth is the center of, well, everything. Despite hundreds of years of actual, empirical science, these folks maintain that the sun, the planets, the galaxy all revolve around the earth. The conference bills itself as a Catholic conference, but I think the Vatican observatory would disagree with the conferees’ papers and presentations.

It seems likely that the geocentrists are an offshoot or subset of the creationists. Either way, it’s disturbing that Americans’ ability to reason critically has fallen to this low level. There are people who still believe that the earth is flat. Sadly, I bet the local media covers this conference and thus gives legitimacy to the group’s views–all in the name of telling “both sides” of the story. Never mind that one of the “sides” is demonstrably wrong and is a fringe of a fringe movement.

The real challenge here is that these folks are not likely to change their views, regardless of the facts. You cannot reason a person out of a position that he or she did not reason himself or herself into. And when the conference attendees point out that their position is “correct” because the Bible backs them up, there’s no way to even argue with them. All we can do is hope that they stay out of the science classrooms in our schools.

It’s the ineptitude, stupid

24 Sep

Every day there’s another news report in the NYTimes, on NPR, or some other news channel reminding us that Democratic voters are not very motivated this year. With the way the Congressional Democrats are behaving this week, it’s no wonder why.

At the end of this year, the 2001 Bush tax cuts are set to expire. (They will expire because the Republican-led Congress that passed the tax cuts used a parliamentary tool to prevent having to involve Democrats in the negotiations over the bill: put a time limit on the tax cuts, and the Dems could be ignored.) President Obama made it a campaign pledge that he would keep the tax cuts on the middle class. Implicitly, he would also let the tax cuts on the wealthiest of the wealthy–the top 1 or 2 percent–expire.

So here we are in 2010, with the Democrats facing a tough election season. Polls show overwhelming support for the President’s proposal: keep the tax cuts on couples making less than $250,000 a year (and individuals earning less than $200,000 a year), and let the other tax cuts expire. People around the country would benefit, yet the Britney Spearses, the Citibank executives, and others who have more money than sense would go back to the tax rates and levels they enjoyed under the Clinton tax cuts. It’s a sure way to tell voters that the Democrats are with them, not with the people on Wall Street.

Seems like a no brainer.

Unless you’re a Congressional Democrat. The leadership in both houses has decided that the vote on the Bush tax cuts will be delayed until after the election. Some Blue Dog Democrats (including my own Congressman, Joe Donnelly) don’t want to vote against the wealthy people before an election. So they managed to scuttle the whole deal.

This is going to backfire, of course. As one person over at Talking Points Memo put it, the Democrats have apparently decided they’d rather let the Republicans run ads saying “Democrats are going to raise everyone’s taxes” rather than ads saying “Democrats have raised taxes on the rich.”

Some bumbling idiots in the White House are pointing the finger at the GOP, accusing the often-obstructionist Republicans of obstructionism. The problem is, it won’t work this time: as a Republican pointed out yesterday, the Republicans can’t obstruct a piece of legislation that hasn’t even been brought forward yet.

At this point, I’ve had it with the Blue Dog Democrats. Some claim that the BDDs have to be BDDs in order to hang onto their seats in certain parts of the country. That’s a load of goat glop. Instead of making the case for good, sound, progressive government, they want to be able to claim they are “independent.” The fact that their “independence” means pushing policies that created this holy hellhole of an economic mess in the first place doesn’t seem to matter. “We back the Republicans’ economic plan, even though the numbers don’t add up.”

It’s all very discouraging. Barack Obama campaigned about real change, giving hope to millions of Americans. He helped get a huge Democratic majority in Congress, a bigger majority than George W. Bush ever had (and yet he still managed to get everything he wanted), and we can’t get squat done. Health care reform ends up being half baked. Sensible economic policies? A mediocre stimulus package that could have done so much more. The Democrats had the opportunity to show what they could do if given the chance, and they are blowing it. Big time.

I used to say that Republicans are very good at winning elections, but they are lousy at governing. The idea was that Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, but they can govern when in control. Today I feel like that whole concept has been shot to hell: the Democrats aren’t good at winning elections, and they are not good at governing, either. The Democratic National Committee might as well liquidate, close up shop, and let the staffers write their memoirs. At the rate we are going (and there’s virtually no time left to change things), Democrats will put themselves in the position of giving Republicans control of Congress and the White House for a long time to come.

Anyone need an American lawyer in Canada? Maybe Costa Rica?

A moral issue

23 Sep

I’ve been reading T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America lately. He opens the book by telling the story of a 32-year-old woman who was diagnosed with lupus. Her health insurance company canceled the policy, so she couldn’t get the treatments she needed. As a result, she died much sooner than she would have if she received medical treatments. Reid notes that other “first world” nations (Germany, the U.K., France, Japan, Switzerland, etc.) have different health care systems where the lupus victim would have received treatments she needed.

Reid creates an interesting frame for discussion: Other nations have made the decision that it is immoral to let people go without medical treatments they need, and that this immorality is worse than whatever problems might be caused by making sure everyone has real access to health care–whether it’s mandatory insurance, higher taxes, etc. Here in the U.S., however, we seem to have made the opposite moral choice: better to let some people die than deal with the negatives of a universal health care system.

I’m still working my way through the book, so I am not reaching any conclusions yet. The frame Reid has created, however, is disturbing. We’d better give this question some very serious thought.

Because facts don’t matter anymore…

22 Sep

There’s a group of “senior citizens” running ads against members of Congress who voted for the health care reform bill. Joe Donnelly is one of the targets of this ad campaign. I’m not Joe Donnelly’s biggest fan, but this kind of “voter education” makes my blood boil.

One of the statements made in the ad is that the bill cuts $500 million from Medicare.

True? Yes.

Misleading? Yes.

PolitiFact has the details. Is it a long article? Yes. But you can’t explain complicated legislation in a 30-second commercial. Shame on the “seniors” group for misleading voters.

Why I want the Democrats to win

21 Sep

I wish I could say that this essay will persuade everyone that they should vote for more Democrats in Congress this year. I’m afraid it won’t do that, because frankly the Democrats aren’t giving us many good reasons to vote for them.

Perhaps the best we can do is look at some reasons why we should vote against Republicans for Congress this year.

Some will be surprised to hear me say it, but there are some Republicans I really miss. Gentlemen like Howard Baker of Tennessee, even Bob Dole. They had a world view that I didn’t always agree with, but it was reasonably sane. They understood that their “base” of business interests would do well even if the most pro-profit policies were not in place. Yes, they called for lower taxes on businesses, but they seemed to remember that businesses succeed when people have money to spend.

Today’s Republicans…well, they just don’t. They talk about creating jobs, but they really don’t want to create good jobs. A good job, after all, means someone is paid enough to have some discretionary income. They can work just one job, make ends meet, save for a rainy day, and still do some fun spending to help the economy. Today’s Republicans don’t seem to want to do this. You have to work three jobs to keep up with your bills? They will praise you for working hard (not bothering to mention that you’re not getting ahead).

Somewhere along the line, the Republican party was seized by a bunch of crazy people. Newt Gingrich is one of them, Sarah Palin is another. They yell about freedom, but they don’t seem to realize many Americans are slaves to their employers, unable to get ahead, create a better life than their parents had. That’s not freedom.

My biggest worry is that the Democrats are going to let the Republicans win big this year. There’s a lot more the Dems could be doing (and some of their accomplishments are not exactly monumental), but the Dems’ biggest problem is they are afraid to stand up and promote their ideals. Bill Clinton (who knows something about being demonized) once remarked that the Republicans cast Democrats in such negative light because the Republicans know they can’t beat the Democrats’ ideas. Therefore, they have to call progressives names like traitor, call them soft on terrorism, all these ridiculous things–simply because if we match up ideas vs. ideas, the Dems will win.

For some reason, we Democrats seem to be more worried about appearing to play fair rather than actually playing to win. We may not like it, but our loyal opposition has turned politics into a sport where the win-loss record matters. Our ideas may be superior, but we won’t get the chance to put them into place if we don’t wake up, grow a backbone, and start fighting back. We don’t have to demonize the Republicans, but we can point out how hypocritical they are–like saying they want to reduce the deficit one day, then the next day saying they want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% (regardless of what that would do to the deficit). We can point out that they will accuse us of not supporting the troops when we question the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that they are willing to filibuster the defense appropriations bill–to not let it even come up for debate on the Senate floor!–because they have to oppose don’t ask/don’t tell repeal. How is filibustering the defense budget money supporting the troops?

My biggest fear today is that Barack Obama is going to be a one-term president. He’s not doing much these days to fight for voters’ minds and hearts. He’s not doing anything to motivate people to vote for Democrats. And if the Republicans take over Congress, or even just one house, then the Obama agenda is dead in the water. And, he will end up being a one-termer.

I’m not a huge fan of the President these days. He has carried on way, way too many policies of the Bush administration. He sold out the public option and let health care reform become a requirement that we all buy insurance and line the pockets of the insurance companies. (Yes, we should all have insurance, but that public option–being able to buy into a non-profit program–would have kept the prices low in the insurance market.) As a columnist once remarked, Candidate Obama probably wouldn’t vote for President Obama.

But if President Obama loses to a Republican candidate in the 2012 election, we’re in deep trouble. They all want to go back to the way things were under George W. Bush. The candidates are all moving further and further to the right, almost going off the map, playing to the Glenn Becks of the world. As I see it, a mediocre Democratic president is better than anyone like Mike Pence, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, or even Mitt Romney.

We need to keep the Republicans out of control, but it’s awfully hard to do that when we don’t give our own troops many reasons to get to the ballot box. We are dooming ourselves to economic disaster, endless war, and worse.

When will we wake up and do something about it?

U2 fans–I am the dumbest in the whole world

11 Sep

Quite a few people have heard this story before, but I am still beating myself up over it, so here goes.

I’m a U2 fan. Do I memorize every minute detail? No. But I really enjoy their music. I’ve listened actively since about 1984 and have loved almost every minute of it. (Pop took a while to grow on me.)

Back in 2001, U2 announced they would kick off the second leg of their North American tour by playing the Joyce Center at the University of Notre Dame. My wife worked for the athletic department at the time, so she could get tickets in advance. We were psyched beyond being psyched. A small venue. U2. Advance tickets.

Then I realized the concert was on the same night I had to teach a class at Indiana University South Bend. So I told Catherine to take a friend. And I went ahead and taught the class.

I could have just canceled it.

The program director all but called me a moron (she was at the concert).

I am as dumb as a bag of hammers. I should have canceled that class.

I am stupid.

I am dumb.

Here we are, nine years later, and I STILL can’t get over it.

DUMB! DUMB! DUMB!

I was fortunate enough to see U2 live in Chicago in 2005 on the Vertigo tour. It was an incredible show. I don’t know I’ll get to see them again–$250 a seat in 2010 is getting way beyond ridiculous. I loved the ’05 show. I’d love to see them again.

But I am so dumb. I should have canceled that class. Rescheduled it. Found a sub. Anything.

Guys–could you maybe swing back through Notre Dame again? Help out a dumb guy whose mother’s maiden name is Duffy, whose roots go way back into Celtic families? Please?