Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wouldn't You be Angry?

This is supposedly a banner year for the angry voter. For over a year now, we have all heard and read stories about highly-compensated wall street executives, once supporters of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, who are resentful of the way they have been portrayed by the Obama White House. They claim to be alienated by the financial reform legislation that made it through Congress, legislation that establishes consumer protection guarantees, provides the government with new tools for protecting taxpayers, and prevents financial firms from taking the types of risks that led to crisis housing meltdown in 2008. The truth is that the legislation was not even as strong as originally intended. Certain types of risky credit derivatives can still be traded “in-house” by the firms, instead of within newly created affiliate entities designed to deal with the riskiest types of trading.

Be this as it may, we can all agree that the financial reform legislation represents the strongest consumer protections enacted in recent decades. This was incredibly necessary legislation; this country simply cannot afford another meltdown like what occurred in the mortgage industry two years ago. Although I do not side with them, I can understand why certain Wall-Street executives would be unhappy. These people want to make money, and they are paid outrageous sums to lead their firms as far into the black as possible. Any legislation that makes it more difficult to do this will be generally abhorred on Wall Street.

More recently however, anger within the highest tax brackets has been focused on the (hopefully) inevitable expiration of the Bush tax cuts. The rage among the rich has grown louder, more widespread, and harder for me to understand.

By almost any statistical measure, the income gap between the richest people in this country and the less-fortunate is increasing. Not coincidentally, this widening is correlated with the decrease in the highest marginal tax rate seen since the '70s. The classic case for tax cuts is that they benefit middle-income Americans and lead to the vaunted “trickle-down” effect. Come on. There is no way that all of the ardent condemnations of tax increases are from wealthy business-owners afraid that raising their taxes might hurt the profitability of their business. With the political structure we have, wealthy people have a disproportionate ability to effect politics through campaign contributions and smoozing with politicians, and movement conservatism provides them the robust structure necessary to make their views widespread.

Right now, there a record amount of Americans are in deep poverty. If the wealthiest Americans get their way with tax policy, what does that say about how our elections work? Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in Washington every year by Conservative think-tanks to advance tax policies that are driven by the richest people in the country. I don't necessarily think that the highest marginal tax bracket needs to go back to where it was in the '40s and '50s, but the amount of anger and whining being spewed by conservatives about taxes is discouraging.

I agree much as the next person that the American Dream should be earned by hardworking Americans, but if the gap between the haves and have-nots keeps rising as it has been, poor Americans are going to be worse off for it. That much just seems obvious. As a Democrats and Progressive, I don't think that the wealthiest 1% of this country should get to keep the Bush tax cuts. If they do, I won't be able to shake the notion that their wealth makes them different from someone like me and especially from millions of poor Americans who don't have nearly as many opportunities as I do.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guest Column: Josh Varanelli

Here at Lefty's Last Cry, we encourage civilized debate. That is why I bring you this post from Josh Varanelli, President of College Republicans. The views presented here are in no way endorsed by the Lefty's editors and staff. We are not abandoning our progressive values by allowing Mr. Varanelli's post to be displayed on our main site. In fact, we are strengthening our values and our purpose by giving the Lefty's community a chance to sharpen its arguments when presented with the dissenting view. So please enjoy Mr. Varanelli's article in the context in which it is meant to be taken: The spark for meaningful dialogue.

I think Christian Meyers makes an excellent point in his "You Say Progressive, I Say Progressive.." piece (save the jab at the end there -ouch). There are manifestly problems with parts of the Republican Party's worldview in achieving some of the things you mentioned. I think a lot of it stems from intra-party disagreement on what morality, tolerance, heart, etc. consist of.

I, for one, feel that if the Pro-Life aspect in the party is to truly live up to its name, no pro-life Republican should be in support of the death penalty. If a state is to be one that truly respects human life, then a systematic, barbaric method which has been proven time and time again to not work, has no place as a government institution. I know several Republicans who share this idea, and lots who don't. It's a mess.

Yes, the case can also be made very well that the GOP is somewhat blind to the needs of the poor, presenting policy that's not responsive enough to that (growing) lower-income segment of society. I doubt I have to elaborate much here on Lefty's.

The problem that people like me face in attempting to reign in their political and social ideas and throw support into a party has a lot to do with the ever-increasing polarization in policy, from both sides. Fear of "the other side" plays a role as well. The healthcare bill is something I constantly talk about in this sense. I'm a Republican, a Catholic (lapsed with some points maybe, but still..), and a taxpayer. It's my view that any civilized society that has the resources has an obligation to ensure that every citizen has access to healthcare (yes, really!). The problem I had with the bill that passed was the fact that it was THAT bill. It was constructed privately with no transparency, it's overreaching in the role that it tries to give the federal government, and, until Kathleen Sebelius confirms either way (which, for some bewildering, unknown reason, she refuses to do right now..), it forces taxpayers who want a better-than-basic plan to directly fund abortion.

So I think Christian's right. It's a matter of policy and how we go about achieving some human rights. If it's at all relevant, I really do think DADT would have been repealed had Harry Reid not (smartly, for the Democrats) tacked an immigration bill to the measure. If Reid and the Democrats know that Republicans are touchy on immigration, why did he include the DREAM act on a gay-rights issue bill, AND block Republican amendments?

In light of this, it seems to me that at this point, the Democrats are using gays as a political football. If they really wanted to repeal DADT, why not try to pass the bill alone? It probably would get through Congress (and if not, then I'd be REALLY scared of my own party) and could expose what true bigotry there is in the Right by getting Congresspeople to vote one way or another on this ONE human rights issue.

Tying it up with another was a brilliant method to be able to say, after the repeal (et al.) failed, "The Republicans hate gays; they're COMPLETELY against gay rights!" We're tough on immigration during a financial crisis; that doesn't necessitate an anti-gay-military sentiment.. Unless of course they're conjunct. Then it's unnecessarily problematic.

Dems and Repubs will never agree on some policy stances, like the author said. But why does that mean screaming at each other, demonizing the other side, and categorizing people (and policy) into two aggressive airtight boxes will make things better?

I volunteered at public schools through high school where 80%+ of the kids were at or below the poverty line. iMacs and new TVs were in every classroom, but the children were at abysmal reading levels. Teachers taught to the state standardized test, and ONLY to the standardized test. Money can't be pumped into social programs and be expected to solve problems (rather, it can worsen them). On the flipside, cutting funding to the extent some politicians want to would be just as much of a travesty, for obvious reasons. Policies coming from the left AND the right are all too often lackluster, largely because of inter-party strife. Discourse goes from, "How can we solve this together?" to "I'm so liberal that I propose THIS!" and "I'm so conservative that I'm going to pass THIS!" The victims don't end up being the opposing politicians; they're the American people.

That's not to say we need to embrace a kum-bay-ah (did I even spell that right?), let's-all-be-friends approach to solving problems wisely. Disagreement can largely be the best thing for advancement.

So, again, I think Christian hit a great point- even with the title of his piece. "Progressivism," if it's defined just in terms of helping mankind, can be fought for (easily) from both sides. Republicans need to shape up in being a life-affirming improver of society. Democrats need to be more fiscally realistic. That paints the situation far too broadly, but I think the idea is somewhat clear. We're similar in end goals. Policy has got to begin reflecting that.

For social justice and a realistic worldview,
Josh Varanelli
President, Notre Dame College Republicans

**These are my views only, not per se those of College Republicans**

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nuns and "Nones"

For once I gave a poster at O’Shag more than a passing glance, and I was rewarded for it. The poster led me to make time for a lecture at Washington Hall; a lecture that I am very glad I attended.

The lecture was given by co-authors David Campbell, a professor here at ND, and Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard. Both were compelling and insightful as they discussed religion in America and how it has affected and been affected by our society and our politics. Their lecture, and their book, was based on a very thorough, comprehensive, and impressive survey.
The highlights for me were learning just how tolerant of other religions Americans are, how American religiosity has changed over time, and the noticeable effects of the religious right.

It turns out that American religious groups are very tolerant of others, and this is true consistently from Atheists to the most devoutly religious. It is also consistently high among different faith groups; Mormons are very tolerant and Evangelical Protestants are less so, but still quite tolerant.

As for change over time, the data revealed the huge drop in American religion that occurred early in the 1960’s, the backlash that increased the ranks of the Evangelical Protestants, and the current trend of youthful movement away from religion. The current trend intrigued me most because it is happening now and involves my generation. The data indicates and the professors have concluded that since the 1990’s the “religious right” has coupled conservative politics with religion, which has driven young Americans away from organized religion. The non-religious, a group the professors refer to as “nones” because they answer none when asked for their religious affiliation, have steadily increased in number as religious groups have declined in number. The reason young adults have led this movement away from religion is that they oppose politically conservative social values and see those values as inextricably linked to religion. They found the biggest issue of concern for these young people was tolerance of homosexuality.

The religious right not only contributed to the youth movement described above, but also contributed to the more general “God gap.” The “God gap” refers to the increasing division in American politics between the religious right and the secular left. The professors showed data that revealed how Republicans and Democrats were equally religious prior to the rise of the religious right.

The thing that I was most worried by was the lack of respect for Mormons, Buddhists, and especially Muslims among America’s other religious groups (the statistics were based on opinions from outside each group, i.e. what do Christians, Buddhists, Jews, etc. think of Muslims).

Fortunately, Professor Campbell had a hopeful response to this problem. He presented two archetypal examples known as “Aunt Susie” and “My Pal Al,” these represented individuals in everyone’s life who affected their religious tolerance. “Aunt Susie” represents an incredibly beneficent relative who converts to another religion or is of another religion, who then leads one to reject the idea that people outside one’s faith are doomed. “My Pal Al” represents a good friend of another religion who inspires tolerance for other religions. The really intriguing thing is that “Al” tends to inspire tolerance for all religions, rather than just his particular religion. He explained that exposure to “Aunt Susie” and “My Pal Al,” as well as geographical expansion, will help the religious groups that are currently disliked to assimilate into the American populace and gain more complete acceptance. He noted that Jewish and Catholic Americans were once in a similar position to that of Muslims and other groups today, and are now two of the most respected religious groups (based on survey data).

For info about the book and the lecturers check out:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Craziness from Bill O'Reilly

Check out this video of Bill O’Reilly focusing all his bigotry on gay couple Lupe Silva and Brandy Johnson, who were voted Cutest Couple for their high school yearbook. He debates Dr. Laura Berman, a sex educator, and basically makes himself look like an idiot.

This video pretty much speaks for itself, no ranting required. I would just like to point everyone to the 6:00 mark. Bill O’Reilly compares homosexuality to drugs, saying we shouldn’t support or encourage homosexuality just because it exists. “That’s the old argument…let’s legalize drugs because it happens anyway.” HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT AN ILLEGAL SUBSTANCE OR ACTION! It is love, and love falls outside legal bounds. Twenty years from now, hopefully, this debate will seem just as archaic and backwards as the old ban on bi-racial relationships. I look forward to the day.

Special thanks to Alisa Rantanen for directing this video to my attention.

Time to Walk the Walk

This may have slipped past your notice (it escaped mine), but it’s a great article. It appeared in The Observer last month and it was my dad who recently called my attention to it.

The author talks about how a Catholic Democratic politician was censured by the church for his pro-choice stance, while a Catholic Republican politician met with no such response when he rejected a petition for pardon of a death sentence. This is something that has always bothered me about the “pro-life” movement in general. If they really want to defend life, they should defend ALL life. Regardless of your opinions about abortion and capital punishment you have to admit that this is a convincing argument. Catholics, and really everyone, should form their beliefs and not allow political affiliations to compromise them.