Thursday, December 15, 2011

Newt GinGrinch

It's been a while, but I couldn't resist, and I knew you all would appreciate this one. Happy Holidays Lefties!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Time For Finals... you're obviously looking for a reason to procrastinate anyway. Watch this video.

And also this one.

"Being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex

The following is a post from guest writer Athena Hughes, the producer of Notre Dame's Loyal Daughters and Sons. Notre Dame remains extremely conservative and quiet about a major issue on college campuses: sex, sexual assault, and sexuality. As Halloween Weekend arrives, we think it an appropriate time to open the dialogue about a topic that should never be made taboo. Be safe this weekend, and go Irish!

Do you have something to say about sex? If you want to contribute to the conversation about sexuality and relationships on this campus, whether it is an experience or an opinion, we want to hear it!

Loyal Daughters and Sons is an annual theatrical performance comprised of scenes and monologues, all of them based on interviews with Notre Dame students. It began five years ago as a Gender Studies thesis project with an interest in increasing awareness and promoting discussion about relationships, sexual violence, sexuality, religion, and gender relations at Notre Dame. Each year includes new scenes based on new interviews, in addition to scenes from past performances.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If you can't beat 'em, disenfranchise 'em

Republican legislators realize that they can continue to disparage those below the poverty line and enable the corporations that exploit them if they simply make it more difficult to vote.

I thought it was bad enough that corporations can spend unlimited funds on political "speech," but apparently we still hadn't undermined our democratic rights enough.

According to a recent New York Times article, a number of states have recently passed laws related to voting and voter registration; these laws limit opportunities to register to vote and to vote, while also requiring specific types of photo identification that not all voters posess.

These laws are being challenged under the Voting Rights Act (1965), but in the meantime a similar law has already been established here in Indiana.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Worth Fighting For

Yesterday I spent $5.95 on a Pizza Pollo at Recker’s. It tasted like happiness, as always. It also cost the same as about 12 human lives.

Let me explain.

This week is ND Fighting NTDs Awareness Week. NTDs are Neglected Tropical Diseases, a collection of chronic, preventable diseases that plague over 1.4 billion people worldwide. That’s 20% of the global population. All of these diseases can be treated or prevented for just 50 cents per person per year.

NTDs are chronic parasitic illnesses. They are mostly transmitted through water, dirt and human feces. I’ll spare you a technical rundown of the diseases, but just know that they cause unimaginable suffering: malnutrition, respiratory illness, debilitating and painful blindness, unmanageable swelling of the limbs, mental retardation, and the works. The medicines to treat NTDs have been developed and donated by major pharmaceutical companies, but we have no way of physically getting the treatments to the people who so desperately need help. We need money to transport the medication and to train and educate distributors to safely administer the medicine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hoosier Governor?

Seeing as I live in Indiana now, though I still don't vote here or enjoy IndyCar racing, I felt it was worth watching and passing along John Stewart's interview with Mitch Daniels.

It is nice to know what the man running this state thinks, and more importantly that he is not completely crazy (AKA not Bachmann) nor unintelligible (AKA not Perry). Daniels is reasonable, but still holds party line economic views. He has trouble defending the current Republican talking points, for that I can't blame him because there is no good argument for supporting enormous income inequality. John Stewart is on his game, as usual, keeping Daniels honest.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Justice Served?

I really hoped I wouldn't have to write this post.

It's amazing how American can uplift one day and completely destroy the next. Wednesday night, at 11:08 p.m., Roy Davis was executed via lethal injection for a crime he may not have committed.

There are several inconsistencies in the case which led to Davis' conviction. According to his attorneys, seven of the nine witnesses who testified against Troy later recanted parts of their stories in regards to the 1989 slaying of an off-duty police officer. Officials repeatedly denied Davis' appeal for a polygraph test, and the case made it's way all the way to the Supreme Court, while supporters considered going so far as to ask President Obama to intervene. The case has drawn attention in Europe as well, where human rights groups called the death sentence a tragedy and an injustice. Despite a last minute four hour delay while the Supreme Court reviewed a stay request and support from three House Democrats, attorneys and activists were unable to stop the killing.

While the specifics of the case are unnerving, I'm just as concerned with the fact that the United States still uses capital punishment as a viable means of justice. There is no justice in pretending to be God, there is only arrogance and error. Whether guilty or not, no person deserves to be deliberately murdered at the hands of the government. No one on earth should have the power to determine whether someone lives or dies. At this point, sadly, it doesn't matter whether Troy Davis was guilty or innocent. What matters is that he was a human being, and because our country still utilizes a barbaric and outdated form of punishment, I now have to write about him in the past tense.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Celebration of Progress

Congratulations, America! At 12:01 this morning the repeal of the infamous 1993 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Law went into affect, thereby freeing homosexuals in the military to live openly and honestly while serving the country they are willing to die for.

Despite continuing opposition from some members of Congress, top Pentagon officials have confirmed that the change in policy will have no affect on the ability of the military to fight wars or defend our nation. In anticipation of the repeal, 97% of the military has been trained to incorporate the changes.

Gay rights activists organized celebrations across the country, and gay Navy Lt. Gary Ross married his partner in a Vermont ceremony just minutes after the repeal became official. Other soldiers celebrated by officially coming out, with the official launch of a military magazine titled "OutServe," or, in the case of prominent gay activist Dan Choi, re-enlisting in the armed forces.

Today is a reminder that, while our country isn't perfect, while it has a lot to work on, we are still a country willing to change for the better, a country working towards complete social freedom and equality, a country putting in the work to live up to that old U.S. Army slogan: be all you can be.

I'll close with these two videos about what the repeal means to military members and this quote from President Barack Obama, when he signed the official repeal:  "We are not a nation that says, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.'

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Screwed By A Weiner

As you may recall, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned from office in disgrace after it had come to light that he had a habit of sending pictures of his junk to women he liked. I've never tried this move, but I imagine it's not especially effective. Anyway, despite being one of the few Democratic congressmen with any energy, this scandal derailed his career, and his seat was recently up for re-election. It should be mentioned that his district has not elected a Republican representative since 1923. So the Democratic candidate can't lose, right? Wrong. Republican representative Bob Turner won the race. This is intensely disturbing. If Democratic strongholds like New York's 9th are going red, despite constant coverage of the crazytown frolics that have been the Republican presidential debates, how do Democrats have a chance in 2012? But maybe this isn't a sign of the national mood. Maybe this is just what happens when a Democrat who actually has balls feels the need to show them to everyone he meets.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Truth Behind the "Invisible Hand"

So, have you ever heard a Republican talk about government being too big and getting in the way of businesses?

Okay, that's an obvious one, but in their explanation did they talk about the "invisible hand" of the marketplace? Politicians, journalists and economists really seem to love this phrase, but the problem is that none of them appear to have read the phrase in its original context.

See way back in 1776, a guy named Adam Smith wrote this book called The Wealth of Nations and its been generally been considered the foundation of modern economics. But for some reason no one ever actually reads it. I'm guessing the 1200 pages, and specifically the 100 pages digression on silver might have scared some people off. But recently I was fortunate enough to read it for a class, and I was very surprised but what I discovered.

Now, before I drop my list of quotes you never would have expected, I want to emphasize that this is a very complex and long book and just as the phrase "invisible hand" leaves much to be desired, so too will my quotes fall short of explaining the full depths of Adam Smith. But maybe the next time you hear someone talk about the "invisible hand" you can remind them of these other lines from that brilliant work that stand as a direct counterpoint to their interpretations. Here goes nothing.

On the struggle over wages, "The workermen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labour. It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number can combine much more easily... But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate."

On the concept of a living wage (that would be HIGHER than the minimum wage) "There is however a certain rate below which it seems impossible to reduce, for any considerable time, the ordinary wages even of the lowest species of labour. A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more."

An explanation of why high wages can never be bad, "Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed, and lodged."

Smith's actual problems with big government, "Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters."

On the dangers of profit makers, "But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with prosperity, and fall with the declension, of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connexion with the general interest of the society as that of the other two... Their superiority over the country gentlemen is, not so much in their knowledge of the public interest, as in their having a better knowledge of their own interest than he has of his. It is by this superior knowledge that they have frequently imposed upon his generosity, and persuaded him to give up both his own interest and that of the public from a very simple but honest conviction, that their interest, and not his, was the interest of the public. The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, on many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

I know that was long, especially that last one, but doesn't that last line respond directly to the Republican claim that millionaires and billionaires are "job-creators".

Anyways, you've now read more of The Wealth of Nations than 90% of people quoting the "invisible hand". So next time you hear the phrase and you don't like the usage, quote this stuff back at them and leave them gasping for air.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why Mututal Respect Has Become So Difficult

I want to respect Republicans and give them the benefit of the doubt on some of their opinions that I disagree with, I really do.

However, this is why I can't:

If Rick Perry is elected I don't think Canada is far enough away and Europe is collapsing, so I'll probably end up in Australia. I don't know how people can approve of almost anything the man says. I know things are different in Texas, but it doesn't bother me when it stays in Texas.

(I do feel sorry for rational people living in Texas)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bachmann's Greatest Hits

Happy first football weekend! To kick things off on a light (horrifying?) note, take a minute to check out Michele Bachmann's finest moments as a representative of our great nation. And remember, President Obama may have caved to empty politics and pushed his speech back a day to please John Boehner, but he will never say things as ill-informed and vacuous as this aspiring Commander in Chief.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Debt solution at our doorstep

In one of my classes we have looked very closely at the issue of America's debt and deficit crisis. We read over numerous budget plans, proposals, tables, and charts. One thing that is clear is that a viable budget solution must employ all 4 "options": Cuts to security related discretionary spending, cuts to non-security discretionary spending, cuts to mandatory spending (entitlements), and increased revenue. Bipartisan plans, such as the Simpson-Bowles report, take this into account.

The problem is that mandatory spending for entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is already the most troublesome of the three main categories of spending and will become even more difficult as our population ages and income inequality increases.

So, it all essentially boils down to what to do with entitlement programs; from there we can find ways of solving our many other problems.

We need a solution that maintains these programs as a safety net for disadvantaged, disabled and elderly Americans and doesn't hurt our recovering economy.

Where can we find such a magical solution?

It won't be easy or be found all in one place, but CNN's Fareed Zakaria knows one place we can start and it makes a lot of sense.

Immigration reform is the subject of an article by Zakaria from CNN World online, and he makes a compelling point that is even more compelling in light of what has happened in the time since the article was posted.

Immigration policy and the contributions of immigrants is what made America great, what continues to make America great, and what has the potential to help America get back on her feet.

The hardworking people who come here for a better life are more than just a solution to our demographics problem, but they also are indeed a counterweight to an aging population of baby-boomers. If we can reform our policies in such a way that more immigrants can come here legally and those who are already here illegally can legitimize their presence, we will have more than enough money flowing into entitlement programs to support future retirees.

In fact illegal immigrants already put more into the economy and taxes than they take out in services, and that difference would only increase were they granted amnesty.

As Zakaria argues, immigrants maintain a demographic vibrancy that separates America, for the better, from other industrial powers in Europe and Asia. We simply cannot afford to lose any social or economic advantages nowadays. Reforming our immigration to be competitive in the 21st century and beyond is something that we have to do sooner or later if we want to remain a prosperous nation, and sooner is preferable to later.

If you somehow aren't convinced that immigrants can help our economy, read this article to see what they can do for society as our neighbors. If you are convinced, I still recommend reading it to see just how inspiring the story of one Pakistani man can be.

The only drawback of this idea, which ideally wouldn't be an issue, is that it might not be politically viable.

In our current political climate we can't even manage to raise the budget ceiling for the umpteenth time or agree what the government is going to spend in the next year. How then are we going to find compromiseon an issue as important and divisive as immigration reform? Republican law makers know that no amount of rational argument for the economic and social benefits of immigration reform will convince their base to support anything but a really big wall. It is also going to be nearly impossible to get anything real done on something this big until after the election.

As excited as I am about the prospects of immigration reform for addressing our nation's money problems, I might have to wait a while before the issue is addressed.

I hope our next president is willing to take a good look at the benefits of immmigration reform and to do something about it. By which I mean that I hope we reelect President Obama.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Have We Truly Sunk This Low?

I'm truly not sure about the future of America anymore.

We used to the be the country that came together in times of need to solve problems. When deficits loomed, people like Tip O' Neill and Ronald Reagan who had nothing in common when it came to policy would find ways to make deals that were real compromises. They were civil and cordial and some would say that when the day was over they were almost friends.

But today something's changed. Today, winning the next election is more important than governing. And that's just sad. I thought this debt ceiling crap was as low as we could go. I didn't think the situation could look any grimmer. But earthquakes and hurricanes, true disasters which SHOULD unite our country are instead highlighting this broken system.

With parts of the South STILL rebuilding from Katrina, with the Midwest rebuilding from Joplin, and with the East Coast rebuilding from one earthquake and Irene, nature has really given us a run for the money. Literally. Because according to majority leader Eric Cantor, we can't give FEMA more money unless we cut something else out of the federal budget. So in the meantime they are pulling money out of all rebuilding projects to help the Northeast.

This is what happens when you hold hard line commitments live an anti-tax pledge or a no new spending pledge, or whatever the hell you want to call it. Principles are all well and good, but we live in a real world, that is changing and brutal. No line liberal, conservative, green, democrat, republican, libertarian or whatever should be held constant through all times and all places. To even think to do so is insanity. Maybe the reason Mr. Cantor can't believe in Evolution is because he never developed the ability to adapt to new circumstances.

Times of tragedy and disaster require us to surrender some principles in the name of others. The Christian right believes in the sanctity of human life and maybe they should consider THAT principle when they're still talking about deficits over disaster relief.

Because see they are the problem. We always try to equalize or be fair and say that both sides of the aisle are being unreasonable but that's JUST NOT TRUE. Obama has throughout his presidency reached out his hand to deal with Republicans. He has made offers that liberals hated. And yet the Republican party continues to say that defeating him is their number one goal.

Right now there are people who need help. And we, "the most powerful nation on Earth", are leaving them out to dry because some uppity Republicans think the bottom line on the budget matters more than human lives. And that's a danger to our country. When one party has decides that their principles and their next election really are more important than the public they represent, it's we the American people who lose. And it's time for us to demand that the Republican party wake up come back to reality. They don't agree with us and they don't have to like us, but they have to work with us. That's what democracy means.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Analysis of The Iowa GOP Debate

This is the first post from new writer Maria Wilson. She will be without internet access for a little while and doesn't have time to set up an account and wanted me to post this while it was still relevant. We look forward to more of her writing as the year progresses.

Thursday night was the Iowa GOP Debate in Ames, Iowa, an event in a state that has been known to make or break presidential campaigns. The debate consisted of those who have officially tossed their hat into the ring: Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum. The debate was interesting, to say the least, and simply a reiteration that almost any Republican president would be devastating to the social progress that the Obama administration has strived to make. Most of the candidates came across as petty, starting fickle fights with each other and blaming Obama for literally every problem under the sun. I feel like if the debate went on for much longer, someone would eventually blame Obama for the Joplin, Missouri tornado and Steve Carrell’s departure from The Office.

Two candidates were able to rise above this, I believe. There must be something in the water in Utah, because the only two candidates that stood out as genuine presidential hopefuls were Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, both of the Beehive State. Both men were able to convey their stances on issues while avoid the derogatory sparring that occurred between other candidates. Romney, especially, was excellent in his response to the many attempts to break his cool, salesman façade, where most of the attempts to rouse him regarded his health care reform during his time as Governor of Massachusetts. As he seems like the only candidate that has actually ever attempted to implement a solution to solve the healthcare crisis, he earns my respect on this issue. However, that respect was lost the instant he began to call for the repeal of “Obamacare,” a move I found very ironic, considering much of the recently passed healthcare reform was partly based off of his Massachusetts plan. When it comes to social issues, Huntsman has my support most of all. Though he said that he did not support gay marriage, he said that he supports civil unions. This certainly isn’t the ideal position for a potential leader of our country to have, but it separates him from the other contenders. My support also goes toward him for his excellent record as the former governor of Utah. Additionally, as the former ambassador to both China and Singapore, Huntsman has experience in foreign policy that he could bring to the Oval Office.

Thus, to this liberal, it is clear that Romney and Huntsman are the only reasonable Republican candidates for the President of the United States. Unfortunately, though, neither of these candidates will likely receive the nomination, and prejudice is to blame. Both are Mormon, and to the extreme right that has been gaining strength, this seems to be the equivalent of being a Satan worshipper. This is only the Republican Party’s loss, though, because I believe that these two are rational and intelligent, and out of all of the potential candidates, they are the only ones with the experience and leadership to lead our country, if Obama were to lose.

Michele Bachmann stood out from the rest of crowd…literally. Her shiny silver outfit starkly contrasted the drab black suits of the men. Fashion aside, though, Bachmann is considered by many to be the most popular candidate for the Republican nomination. Though a woman president, or even Republican candidate, would certainly be a step forward, it would be about one hundred steps backward for our nation if Bachmann was elected. She has shown herself time and time again to be the absolute worst of the Tea Party and an absolute bigot. (I recommend this video, where my favorite comedian Kathy Griffin recounts her tale of calling her out on this: She is essentially Sarah Palin, minus the fun “you betcha” accent and plus some actual debating skill. I had hoped that America had learned its lesson for keeping “crazies” like her out of political office in 2008, but this lesson obviously hasn’t been learned, as Bachmann has a huge support base. Possibly the most awkward moment of the debate, though, came when she was asked if she would be submissive to her husband if she would be elected President. The crowd instantly booed this question, and I was booing it as well. It was extremely sexist, and even Bachmann doesn’t deserve a question like that. I quite enjoyed the sparring between Pawlenty and Bachmann. Pawlenty accused Bachmann of having no real legislative spine and having no actual results on the promises she has made (which is a very apt analysis), and Bachmann accused Pawlenty of abandoning his conservative principles in his time as governor. She finished her list of Pawlenty’s “liberal” actions (which in reality were just acknowledging that carbon emissions need to be cut and healthcare needs to be reformed) by telling Pawlenty that he sounds like Barack Obama. If being a reasonable individual that might not be entirely blinded by bias is a bad thing, I don’t want anyone to be right.

Ron Paul and Herman Cain were the entertainment of the evening. Paul is always good for a laugh, and his ramblings on immigration and Iran did not disappoint. My personal favorite moment, though, was Cain’s call for a giant wall on our borders to keep out illegal immigrants, while maintaining “wide open doors.” Because, obviously, in this time of a huge deficit, the first thing we need to do is build a replica of the Great Wall of China.

Who am I missing? Oh yes, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. This is no coincidence, as I repeatedly forgot they were even present at the debate. Though I’m sure they spoke at some point, their views were indistinguishable from anyone else’s, and I can’t help but wonder if either candidate is taking their campaign entirely seriously.

All in all, the GOP candidates are underwhelming to anyone outside of their loyal base. They repeatedly used Obama as a punching bag, while none of them were able to provide real solutions to our country’s problems. All of them acknowledged that they would not even consider accepting a 10-to-1 spending cut to tax increase ratio. It is clear to this liberal that the only chance at getting out of this deficit has to include compromise from everyone, which would probably include minutely raising the taxes of those that own private jets. (*gasp!*) Having any of these candidates as President would put a great leader out of office and lead us down a very dangerous path back to the Bush years.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stephen Colbert Is A Genius

Between the debt ceiling debate and the Republican primary, it's hard not to feel like the American political system has become a parody of itself. Thanks to Stephen Colbert, this may actually become true.

A Super PAC is a political action committee with the right to spend unlimited money on campaign ads and propaganda for or against any political candidates. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, our electoral process is now more influenced than ever by shady, semi-anonymous corporate interests and fringe groups. If you don't think this is scary, not long ago - during the Wisconsin recall elections - the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity group sent notices to Wisconsin Democrats about absentee ballots, helpfully reminding them to turn in their ballots on August 11. The only problem was, Election Day was August 9. This is just the beginning of the kind of voter suppression we can expect to see over the next few years.

As viewers of the show know, Mr. Colbert has started a Super PAC of his own. When he first announced this a while back, I thought it was funny, but I was confused when he actually went through with it. I couldn't possibly imagine the purpose of donating to this cause. I figured he would let this play out a little more and then donate the funds to charity and move on to skewer some other part of our political system. Instead, he used the funds to purchase television ad space in Iowa, where this advertisement is playing now.

Colbert has made a living, like most satirists, commenting on the political scene and twisting it through comedy. From the beginning, he took it a step further than many by creating a full time character that was the limit of moronic conservative punditry (was, until Glenn Beck came along). Now he has done something that I'm not sure any satirist has done before. He has become part of the system he is parodying, much more so than his short-lived bid for President in 2008. This isn't just satire. This is Gonzo satire (I can't help thinking that Hunter S. Thompson would love this). It is entirely possible that Rick Parry (with an A for America and IowA) could come out on top in the Ames Straw Poll, which has an inexplicable influence on primary elections. Given Colbert's influence, and ColbertPACs essentially unlimited funds, I would not be surprised if Rick Parry wins a few states in the upcoming primary. And I would love it if that happened. It may just take a joke for America to realize what a joke our democracy has become.

To become a member of Colbert Super PAC, go here:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Lessons We Never Learned: How America Today Compares to a Dying Soviet Russia

Hello out there readers. Sorry that I haven't posted in the past two months, but I've been working on behalf of the President, so I've been busy (gotta love Organizing for America!). But something occurred to me in the middle of the night (the hottest night of the summer of course) and I couldn't go on with my day unless I shared it. So here goes, for the past decade we have been making the same mistakes that led Soviet Russia to it's downfall.

Let me explain.

While it is undoubtedly true that the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR was complicated, I think that in broad strokes it can be loosely simplified to this: We, the United States, pushed them, the USSR, to match us in military might and spending knowing that their economy was weaker and that they could not afford to continue to pour money into their military forever. A great example of this is Star Wars (not the movie). We poured billions of dollars down the drain on a technology that was nowhere in sight, but it had the desired effect. The Russians truly believed we were close to figuring out how to stop their nuclear missiles. They had to try and waste that same money but their economy couldn't afford that kind of waste. Eventually it had to go to hell.

Now let's fast forward to the 2000's. A group of small but dedicated terrorists launch a horrible attack in order to start a war. They wanted us to come in after them. They knew that from their caves, they didn't have to match our military might. And they also knew that we wouldn't be smart enough to adapt, and would instead do the exact same thing as the USSR. And we did. We spent money we did not have on a war we could not afford. AS our economy continued to decline throughout the decade this was more and more clear. And now here we are, $1.2 trillion later. And of all the military spending IN THE WORLD, we are responsible for 48%. When the USSR fell, there was no one left who we needed to match militarily, but we never really stopped. The military-industrial complex that had been built up refused to go away. They didn't care that the enemy was gone.

Flash forward again to our budget conversations today. We are in the middle of the Great Recession. Our economy is still barely on the mend. And we are talking about deficit negotiations that involve massive amounts of either spending cuts or tax increases, both of which will inevitably slow the economy down in the short term. And as we talk about trillions of dollars, I start to think, "What if we just had that 1.2 trillion back?" Don't get me wrong. Our deficit would not be solved. Our economy would still be broken. But it takes a perfect storm to end a world superpower. And if anything is to be learned from the downfall of the USSR, its that when a struggling economy is burdened with an unending military budget, eventually something has to give.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It takes two to ... compromise

With Congress gridlocked over the debt situation, Minnesota's state government officially shutdown, the NFL locked out, and a similar impasse looming for the NBA, I find myself wondering what happened to the American ability to compromise.

The United States of America is home to a great diversity of peoples and opinions, which is why we have been so far successful with a government predicated on compromise. However, with today's polarized politics it is becoming more and more difficult to reach a middle ground on important issues.

On each side of the aisle politicians have demonized the opposition and committed themselves to untennable positions. If Republicans invariably oppose any increase in taxes and Democrats prohibit cuts from any program it is difficult to solve our collective problems. Both sides need to make reasonable concessions to get things done, but when options are taken off the table this becomes almost impossible.

In the particular case of Minnesota's shutdown, Governor Dayton's proposal to increase the income tax for the top 5% of earners in Minnesota. Dayton and Democrats in the legislature have made concessions, but Republicans refuse to budge on this issue and now the Minnesota state government has shutdown and many Minnesotans are feeling the effects.

I think that the majority of Americans realize the need for compromise and want the elected officials who represent them to make a greater effort to compromise. I don't think politicians believe this is the case; politicians refuse to compromise in the hopes of winning and retaining votes from their party base.

I also believe the ability to compromise is still within us. I've seen it demonstrated while working as a counselor at Minnesota Boy's State. I also want to believe it is still there for the sake of our country.

I think the solution lies in the people letting their representatives know that they approve of needed efforts to compromise and, as Minnesota's State Representative Matt Entenza advocated, punish uncompromising legislators at the polls -regardless of their party.

This problem didn't just arise out of nothing, our culture and politics have been moving in this direction for some time.

That movement is the subject of a lecture that NYT columnist David Brooks gave at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago. The lecture is titled The Modesty Manifesto and I recommend both listening and taking some time to think about it.

I hope our modern society can move a little more toward a balance between narcissism and self-effacement in order that our politics also become more balanced.

We showed our national pride just the other day, now let's show our national humility and make the effort to compromise for the greater good.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The World's Turned Upside Down and Why the Patriot Act Doesn't Make Us Safe

Today was a strange day to be a progressive.

As I read the news, I surprisingly found myself rooting for Rand Paul and the Tea Party to be victorious over Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership in the Senate. What cause could unite the libertarians and the liberals? Well, the Patriot Act is up for renewal, and I agree with Rand Paul that this exchange for security in the name of freedom is wrong.

My primary objection is stated beautifully in the Fourth Amendment:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Patriot Act has clearly breached this freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and eliminated the requirement for probable cause. This act was originally passed in the wake of 9/11, without proper consideration of what it truly meant. There is no question that acting in such moments we often make mistakes and fall victim to our emotions. But we have defeated Osama Bin Laden, and we need to decide that fear no longer rules our lives.

I could continue on this track, but the questionable morality of this act is an argument about ends and means which is both obvious and endless by its nature. Instead, I suggest that we think about whether this act actually makes us more safe.

One of the important findings of the 9/11 Commission, was the same exact findings that we had seen after Pearl Harbor, so many years ago, namely that all the intelligence was there, it just wasn't noticed. The blame in both situations was placed upon the competing intelligence agencies within the government and a lack of centralization. But this doesn't explain the whole picture. In the weeks before before December 7, 1941, there were seven reports of Japanese submarines in the Pearl Harbor area, and all of these reports were false. In the modern era, there are easily a hundred false leads for every good one. Would a centralized agency have definitely known which information was worth following up?

Consider an interesting and important parallel. In the 1970's, a psychology professor named David Rosenhan conducted an experiment. He sent a random group of people to a mental hospital where they were to report that they had been hearing voices. They were to tell the staff that the voices were now gone and other than this simple fact, they were to answer every other question truthfully. These eight subjects were hospitalized for an average of 19 days and were given a total of 2100 pills. This is a disturbing problem, but it doesn't end there.

Next, Rosenhan told a hospital staff that over the next three months he would be sending pseudo patients. Of the 193 patients seen during that time, 41% were diagnosed by a least one staff member as certifiably sane. But once again they screwed up, because Rosenhan hadn't sent anyone. When we try to treat one intelligence problem, such as over diagnosis, we often end up with an opposite problem, in this case, under diagnosis.

Now let's take this back to the Patriot Act. We have increased the amount of intelligence available from a ridiculous amount to a practically unmanageable amount. And yet it remains true that fruitless information and important information are hard to separate. Inevitably, we either end up over diagnosing, or under diagnosing the situation. And when we try to fix it we will swing the pendulum the other way and call it progress. Adding more information does NOTHING to solve this clear problem with our intelligence system. We need better analysis of the evidence we have if we really want to improve our counter terrorism.

So once again I ask, does the Patriot Act make us any safer, or does it just add more false leads and more confusion into a system that's already difficult enough. If we had enough intelligence to prevent 9/11, why didn't we stop it? Why were obvious clues ignored? If they were buried under the avalanche of useless clues, is it really a good idea to expand the scope of intelligence?

These are questions that need answering and unlike most Democrats, Rand Paul has shown the courage to propose amendments and seek out debate. And yet Harry Reid, insists that this four year extension needs to be be passed without consideration of amendment or even debate. So today, the world had turned upside down, because I'm standing firmly with those crazy libertarian Tea Partiers to ask, "Why are we giving up freedom for the promise of security, without even a debate or evaluation of whether its making us more secure?"

***I would like to note that much of the evidence supporting my argument was drawn from an essay entitled, Connecting the Dots: The Paradoxes of Intelligence Reform by Malcolm Gladwell, a brilliant writer for the New Yorker, whose work I highly recommend.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

UnCommon Ground: Stewart v. O'Reilly

President Obama recently welcomed the rapper/poetry slam phenom Common into the White House for a special poetry event, much to the indignation of Fox News. They object to some of his lyrics, which, according to them, promote cop killing. I don't really think this issue is even newsworthy, honestly, but I came across these two videos of Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly debating the issue, and they were too hilarious not to share. I dare you not too laugh at the end of the second one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One candidate, two candidate, which red candidate will challenge the blue candidate?

Yesterday my not doing anything was interrupted by the news that everyone's favorite hairdo was no longer running for president. It appears the Donald has decided that campaigning takes too much time away from his celebrity apprentice show and combing his hair.

I think the real reason is that Trump's campaign was such a joke from the start that even Trump eventually acknowledged it. Thus, dropping out now while he is still considered a contender is better than waiting until he is laughed out of the race. Trump is a publicity man and now that he got us talking about him his work is done.

Either that or the roasting of Trump that President Obama and Seth Meyers carried out at the correspondent's dinner finally hit Trump and he needs to recover.

Here is Trump's official announcement.

After getting this news I eagerly tuned in to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report to hear the last of the Trump jokes and was shocked to learn that Mike Huckabee had also taken himself out of the race.

I was puzzled by this decision; why would Mike Huckabee, a reasonable, respected, and Chuck Norris endorsed Republican, give up when the Republican candidacy was still up-for-grabs?

I am still not sure why Huckabee dropped out. It could be that he didn't want to sell-out to the base to beat tea party candidates like the looney Michele Bachmann and, if she gets around to running, Sarah Palin. It could also be due to the fact that it is seems more and more like Obama is going to be very difficult to beat and Huckabee doesn't want to struggle through a tumultuous primary just to lose; he could be biding his time for 2016.

Here is Huckabee's announcement on his Fox News show.

As usual with news like this, Colbert says it best. So here is the Report's take on the two dropouts.

With the most egotistic and out of touch candidate as well as the most humble and down to earth candidate gone, what will the Republican party come up with?

I think the candidates to watch are Mitt Romney, Mitch Daniels, and Sarah Palin- if she steps in.

I don't think Gingrich, especially if he keeps showing his age by trying to appeal to youth, has it in him anymore.

I would like to see Bachmann get the nod, but only because I would have the satisfaction of watching Obama annihilate her in the general election.

Whoever the Republican's come up with, he or she will have a tough time running against Obama, for good reason. But all I know for sure is that I finally get to vote for President Obama and I can't wait to do so.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Greetings from Your New Editors

Dear Lefties,

Greetings from your new editors, Tim Ryan, Eileen Lynch, and Gordon Stanton!

Just as Lefty’s said goodbye to Henry, Bill and Brendan a year ago, so now, we must also say goodbye to Chris. It’s been a great year under his watch as we picked up new writers and surpassed the 100,000 hit mark proving the staying power of Lefty’s.

This summer while the rate of posting may slow down a bit, we can promise you’ll still be hearing from us. Tim will be in the Michigan Upper Peninsula working at Notre Dame's Environmental Research Center. Eileen will be working right in Washington DC, the heart of all things political, as an intern for Congressman Larson. Gordon will be working for Organizing for America in Massachusetts as they kick the Obama reelection campaign into gear. We’ve got all the progressive bases covered.

And then next fall, you better prepare yourselves for a revamped Lefty’s. We want to get you, the readers, more involved, and we have some ideas about how. First off, we will have a weekly topic of debate for you to weigh in on. These will be timely, relevant topics, and we hope everyone will comment and tell us what you think. Debate is one of the greatest and most crucial tools of democracy. Secondly, we will be having bi-weekly polls, where you can tell us your opinion and then you can check the results to see what your fellow Lefties are thinking. Thirdly, we will be bringing back some elements from Lefty’s past. We plan to bring back the caption contest on a biweekly basis and the Lefty’s podcast on a monthly basis.

With so much fun stuff, we expect every one of you to be checking in regularly next year. Our writers can make Lefty’s great, but only the feedback and comments from you, our readers, can make it the best.

Thank you so much for reading, and get excited, because Lefty’s is going to “win the future”.


Tim, Eileen, and Gordon

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Good Day to be Catholic and Jon Stewart's Rap Music

I know posting has slowed in the horror that is finals week, but here's two things to cheer you up.

First off, its a good week to be a Progressive Catholic. This week teachers at Catholic University, where Speaker John Boehner has been chosen to deliver a commencement speech, and at other Catholic Universities, including our own Notre Dame, wrote the Speaker a letter in which they called him out on a voting record that is "at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings." They also said that, "your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress." You can view the full letter here. And you can also view a letter of a similar vein from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops here. Both of these letters have reaffirmed values that conservative Catholics have for too long tried to ignore, namely our firm commitment to helping the poor. It's on days like this that I can be proud to be Catholic.

In other news, Jon Stewart was at his finest last night, demonstrating Fox News hypocrisy so clearly, that as he himself put it, "This isn't even fun anymore." He followed this up with one of the funniest raps that I've ever heard. truly priceless. This is a must watch video:

I hope that put on a smile on your face during a stressful week.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What are your thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the reaction that took place on campus and around the US?

I'll start celebrating when we bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. I am proud that our president accomplished a major goal. I hope we can unify around this accomplishment, and transition to the peace that we have been promised ever since we put troops in the Middle East.  -Chris Rhodenbaugh

Let's start a discussion in the comments.  Other Lefty's writers are encouraged to post thoughts in their own posts or comments!

Osama bin Laden: Dead At Last

Osama bin Laden was just officially confirmed dead by President Obama. I hope that this triumph brings a bit of closure to those who lost loved ones in the September 11th attacks and the resulting war. While I listen to the periodic chant of "USA! USA! USA!" erupt from the first floor of the LaFortune Student Center at Notre Dame, I also hope we pause to once again celebrate the lives that were lost almost ten years ago. But certainly, I do not fault anyone who pops open a bottle of champagne - it's been a long time coming.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

M.E.Ch.A Viewpoint Article in Its Entirety

"In response to some current debate over the Observer article, "Latino students maintain culture on campus," MEChA would like to clear up a number of the misinformed comments Ms. Lujan made in her Viewpoint, "A different way to be Latino."

First, I would like to thank Amanda Gray from the Observer for providing M.E.Ch.A and Latina/os at Notre Dame with exposure and a positive portrayal of the work that we do here on campus and in the South Bend community. I would also like to thank Jessica Lujan for her views in the “A Different Way to be Latino” letter to the editor—she is right, there are many different ways of expressing our identity. However, I would like to address a few points and challenge several incorrect assumptions that she made about the nature of our club “M.E.Ch.A.” The viewpoint article ignored and so essentially denied the existence of a nationwide attack on the Latino population via discriminatory legislation, police harassment, and the misinformed anti-immigrant hysteria that plagues our country. Allert Brown Gort also argues that in today’s political lexicon Latinos are often associated with being immigrants, who are equated with being “illegal”, and who are then in turn demonized by a society which—at the same time—benefits from their disadvantaged socio-economic status. I am glad that the author was fortunate enough to never experience this type of discrimination, but the truth is that Latina/os, even the majority who are U.S.-born, are targeted and scapegoated everyday by a misinformed population.

M.E.Ch.A., a nationwide organization whose members espouse a Chicana/o identity that can be shared by any individual, fights for the empowerment of all people through education, activism, and the preservation of culture. We “fight” ignorance by educating ourselves and the people around us. We use the aggressive term “fight” because contentious issues require more than pleasant conversation as we challenge ourselves and others to be more tolerant and just. We do not, however, condone violence and we in fact champion the nonviolent protest strategies practiced by César Chávez, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. To say that our organization is in any way exclusionary is both misinformed and contradictory to our message and goals. Perhaps because she has not been involved in the work that M.E.Ch.A does, the viewpoint author’s commentary on our organization was completely misinformed. Throughout the years we have been a vehicle for students to share and maintain their culture in the face of the United States’ tradition of pressuring immigrants to assimilate and mask their ethnic identities. In fact, our efforts to educate and retain Latina/o culture have been recognized by Student Activities as we were recently awarded the honor of Cultural Club of the Year and Program of the Year for our Diversity Panel event. In our chapter, as in chapters throughout the country, members include ethnic Mexicans, African Americans, Anglos, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Salvadorians and individuals from all ethnicities, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. We encourage all people who share our goals of social justice and equality to participate in our work. At the same time, we are also very aware and supportive of the fact that M.E.Ch.A. is not the only way Latina/o students maintain their culture on campus. We recognize that we have a very dissident style of reaching our goals-one that we are proud of, but that may not appeal to other students. For this reason, other clubs exist on campus that we are either members of or we work closely with them in cooperative event planning.

While Notre Dame has provided an endless amount of opportunity for growth and advancement for minority students, within the student body there still exists a considerable amount of ignorance about different backgrounds and lifestyles that often leads to insensitive remarks and offensive incidents. Again, I am happy that some Latina/o students have not experienced discomfort, isolation, and discrimination, but these experiences are a reality for too many minority students on campus. A viewpoint discussing these unfortunate moments is forthcoming.

Finally, we would like to say that in light of all the work that still needs to be done in support of unity, combating ignorance, and maintaining culture, we encourage all Notre Dame students to participate in and become involved with the multicultural clubs here on campus. Our efforts are futile when only our members attend our education nights, meetings, and other various events. We have successfully worked together with Domers of all backgrounds in the past and we look to continue to foster that unity in the future.

Oh, Birthers...

President Obama released his long-form birth certificate to the press today. In 2008 the president released his state-issued birth certificate, and has faced increasing scrutiny from a faction of conservative birthers who, blinded by prejudice, claim that Obama is not a natural born citizen (I highly recommend you check out the site, linked above. It's fascinating and nauseating).

The president says he released the long-form certificate because the press became fixated on the issue, which distracted from more pressing matters, like rising oil prices, budget negotiations, etc. I'm pretty disgusted that Obama's citizenship became such an issue that he actually needed to take the time to address it. We should certainly blame the media outlets who have allowed this issue to dominate their newscasts. And we can also blame Donald Trump.

In fact, Donald Trump is proud of his role in stirring up a ridiculous controversy grounded in baseless fear-mongering and Palin-esque hysteria. Trump cautions, though, that he still has questions about the validity of the form, and asks why it took so long for President Obama to produce a certificate.


Predictably, people are unhappy. Among the grab-bag of mixed reactions, birthers have already concocted various conspiracy theories, other are angry that the president is catering to crazy minorities, and many think the Obama wasted too much time avoiding the issue, and he should have silenced his critics by presenting this at the very beginning of his presidency. Here's Obama's justification for devoting time to "this silliness."

Hopefully this issue will be put to rest once and for all, but I have a feeling that, in this political climate, any mention of the topic at all is just fanning the flames of craziness. It will certainly be interesting to see what the birthers come up with next.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carbon Tax: the reasonable solution

This column was published in the Observer on April 19, 2011.

Growing unrest in the Middle East has resulted in a more than 60 cent jump in U.S. fuel prices in a two month time period. Rising fuel prices are threatening recovery from the recession just as job numbers and economic indicators are showing real signs of improvement. Why does the United States continue to tolerate economic reliance on foreign oil from volatile Middle Eastern countries? The answer is fear among legislators that any policy solution responsible for a short-term increase in energy prices will destroy a political career. This political cowardice is already resulting in drastic increases in energy prices by making the well-being of U.S. citizens and the health of the economy liable to foreign governments. Political inaction is resulting in the worst-case scenario. Costs are increasing for non-renewable energy sources while the US is falling behind the rest of the world in developing renewable technology.

A carbon tax is the most transparent, feasible and efficient strategy to make the United States a leader in the international green economy, reduce dependence on foreign oil and address the crisis of global warming. Even the most ardent free-market proponent would be challenged to argue that the problem of global warming will be solved without some government intervention. Pollution is an economic externality, meaning the entity profiting from the polluting activity is not fully absorbing the external costs of pollution on society in the price of the good or service. Therefore, the key is this: a policy solution to force energy suppliers to internalize pollution costs that have the smallest possible negative impact, while creating the most effective incentive for innovation or behavior change to reduce pollution.

Republicans and conservative business advocates have consistently called for more certainty and simplicity in the U.S. tax code. A carbon tax prices carbon in an exact manner, by levying a fee on carbon emissions per metric ton. In contrast to the open-ended pricing mechanism of a cap-and-trade system, the proposal that failed to pass Congress last year, a carbon tax will provide certainty in the market that will best allow all stakeholders to prepare for additional costs

Concomitantly, the IRS is equipped to implement the tax, significantly reducing the need for additional bureaucracy to manage a more convoluted federal solution.

The implementation of a carbon tax would ignite a wave of innovation by making renewable technology and energy efficient decisions cheaper, or price competitive, to their environmentally unfriendly alternatives. Yet, for the tax to be successful in promoting innovation without inducing economic contraction, a carbon tax must include a variety of stipulations to minimize negative impact on U.S. businesses and low income families. Implementation must occur on a lengthy timeline that includes a two year grace period for companies and families to increase energy efficiency or transition to renewable power sources in advance of increased costs. Also, the tax should be set to increase at defined intervals over a long period of time to account for increasing feasibility of improving energy efficiency as technology develops.

To make the carbon tax politically feasible the implementation should specify unequivocally that all revenues will go towards reducing the U.S. corporate income tax and providing a payroll tax rebate and equivalent social security rebate to help offset the increasing energy costs that will be faced by businesses, low income families and seniors. According to the Cato Institute, the U.S. has the highest corporate income tax in the world at 40 percent. The high tax rate is pushing away investment from the U.S. and is an unreasonable burden on U.S. companies trying to compete in the global economy. A carbon tax, coupled with a significant decrease in the corporate tax rate, would not only lead to the expansion of the green economy, but drastically stimulate business growth across every sector. If the tax is implemented, inevitably technology will improve, making renewable energy options increasingly affordable. With lower energy costs, payroll tax and social security rebates will become long-term tax relief for low income families and seniors, without affecting the reduction in the corporate income tax.

Current legislative proposals for a carbon tax that vary in the size of the carbon tax, project between $69 billion and $126 billion in tax revenues in 2015, and between $263 billion and $361 billion revenues in 2030, in 2005 dollars. To put that in perspective, the federal government in 2005 earned $771 billion in tax revenue from payroll taxes and $307 billion from corporate income taxes.

A carbon tax, if proposed correctly, can unite interest groups across the political spectrum in support of a major step forward in environmental policy and ending dependence on foreign oil. What are we waiting for?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Calling on Joe Donnelly to change his views on immigration policy

College Democrats of Notre Dame and the greater South Bend community must work hard to move Joe Donnelly's position on immigration reform. He voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, and in response to an e-mail I sent to him through the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on immigration reform his office had this to say:
April 14, 2011
Dear Mr. Rhodenbaugh,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about immigration reform. I value your views, and your input helps me to better represent the people of Indiana's Second Congressional District.

First and foremost, I believe that securing our nation's borders is critical to our homeland security and essential for protecting our communities. Today it is estimated that over 12 million illegal immigrants are living within the United States with an additional 300,000 crossing our borders each year. Clearly, the current immigration system is broken.

Now, more than nice years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we still lack the manpower and resources to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into our country. That is why I support proposals to increase the number of border patrol agents, as well as increased funding for the technology and equipment necessary for these agents to prevent immigrants from entering our country illegally.

However, border enforcement alone will not solve the problem. Each year thousands of undocumented workers enter the United States in search of employment opportunities. Although it is against the law to knowingly hire undocumented workers, the incentives of cheap labor combined with the lax enforcement of employment laws have encouraged many employers to hire illegal immigrants. As a result, we must improve the workplace enforcement of our employment laws and crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

Illegal immigration will likely continue to be a highly contentious issue. Although a solution will inevitably require bipartisan support, I will oppose any proposal that amounts to amnesty. Rest assured, when the House of Representatives considers immigration legislation, I will carefully review it to determine if it is in the best interests of our district.

The United States has a rich tradition built upon the hard work of immigrant citizens from all over the world. Out of respect for our laws and those who have followed them, I will continue to work hard to ensure that American citizenship is reserved for those who play by the rules.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. Please do not hesitate to write, call or email me again if I can ever be of assistance. Also, if you would like to receive regular updates on my actions on your behalf in Congress, sign up for my e-newsletter, The Donnelly Dispatch, at


Joe Donnelly

Member of Congress

I replied to the e-mail:

I am deeply dissatisfied with the tone of this e-mail, and the priorities laid out by the Congressman. Border protection is an essential part of immigration reform, but to pretend the problem will be solved by tougher border security without mentioning the need to embrace the humanity of the immigrant is reckless and negligent. It is irresponsible for a member of Congress to provoke discrimination, fear and hatred by using the term "illegal" to describe a group of people. I understand he is vulnerable to conservative and populist pressure in the district, but his most loyal supporters will question their faith in Joe as their Congressman if he continues to join the other side of the aisle in belittling undocumented immigrants and blaming them for a larger set of economic problems in this country.

Thank you for your time. I hope Joe remains open to holding a more moderate position on immigration policy, particularly the DREAM Act.


 Do not give up hope on Congressman Donnelly! We have pressed him before and he has come around on social justice issues, most notably health care reform.  This should be a call to all activists at Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and the greater South Bend community to make it a goal to change his position on immigration before the 2012 election.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

There's My Obama!

I know that many fellow progressives have wondered where our Obama went. Where was the guy who would fight for the middle class? Governing from the middle and compromise are important, but why hasn't he ever offered a story to counter the Republicans myth that all government is bad? Where's the Obama from the 2008 campaign?

Fortunately, in this budget proposal speech, Obama seems to take a hard line stand against the Republican budget. The video is long, but it's worth listening to. He talks about the positive role of government, that Republicans would like to ignore. He explains that tax cuts for the wealthy are coming at the cost of health care for seniors. He says we need to cut wasteful and excessive spending everywhere (military included), but that we also need to fix the tax code and raise taxes on millionaires, who have the lowest tax rates in half a century, and any of whom are willing to give more to help us through this crisis. He says we should tackle the deficit problem with an all of the above approach rather than only thinking about cutting vital services.

It's good to hear Obama stand for something again, and specifically to talk about the positive value of government. I hope his actions will match his words, and that in the continuing budget fights he will not compromise away everything he believes in.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Possibly inspired by last month's NCAA madness, party leaders in Washington pulled through last night and compromised just in time to avert a government shutdown; the political equivalent of a buzzer-beater. However, the compromise was reached at the end of a long and contentious negotiation process. So it was less like Christian Laettner's 1992 jumper, and more like Chris Farley's reenactment:

In fact, as negotiations proceeded and each side conceded more and more the differences being debated in the face of a government shutdown became almost comedic (that is they would have been comedic if not for the seriousness of the issue).

According to a New York Times article, the dollar difference was below $2 billion dollars. A large number, but very small in the context of the federal budget and small when compared to the approximately $28 billion dollar discrepancy between the proposals of each party going into the negotiations ($33 billion and $61 billion).

The New York times article said Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, was embarassed that arguing over a relatively small sum might force the government to shutdown. the article quoted him as saying, "People across Virginia cannot understand why we can’t get this done."

The final way in which the budget agreement resembles a buzzer-beater is that, although both sides support the agreement reached last night, the actual legislation won't go through until sometime next week (after the buzzer). The government will keep running until Thursday, thanks to a short-term resolution. The budget agreement will be translated into legislation and passed in the meantime.

On a positive note, after all the ridiculousness and last minute drama, the government will not shut down and Democrats and Republicans demonstrated that it is at least possible to compromise.

A real compromise allows both sides to save some face but ensures one is entirely pleased with the end result. So let's look at how Washington did:

Representative Boehner had his chance to appease tea party republicans by demanding outrageous cuts from Obama and opposing compromise until the last minute. But in the end republicans didn't get the ridiculous budget cuts they wanted and had to give up on targeting groups like Planned Parenthood for especially harsh cuts.

Democratic leadership and President Obama were able to protect important government institutions and programs as much as they could in the face of Republican demands and fiscal realities. However, Democrats had to agree to cut more than they wished and will have tough job trying to help impoverished Americans when so many programs facing large budget cuts.

So both sides, eventually, made the effort to compromise.

We are in a difficult time when the economy has yet to fully recover and the federal budget is being strained by defense spending, failing entitlement programs, and a number of other factors. The Republicans have decided to respond by attacking the public sector and trying to eliminate any government program they can (at least the one's they disagree with). This has put Democrats on the defensive as they try to preserve vital programs that help the poor, sick, and disadvantaged in our society.

This trend has progressed to each side scoring political points instead of addressing real problems. The way to address problems when no one party has an overwhelming majority is to compromise, which this latest crisis has shown to be very difficult but possible.

Hopefully Republicans and Democrats can reach more compromises in the future and eventually come together on issues with less unnecessary squabbling.

Otherwise, our government might as well have shut down for all they'll manage to get done.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Case for Government Shutdown

Let me be clear. I hope desperately, that some TRUE compromise can be reached on the budget before time runs out. But Republicans, from the very beginning, have sought to use this threat to shove their agenda down our throats. They have proposed massive cuts that significantly hurt the low income families who need government the most. They have targeted Planned Parenthood in an outrageous overreach of the abortion debate. They have targeted NPR and PBS, the last standing beacons for educational media. They have proposed slashing the EPA budget, because they have forgotten that our clean air and water is one of the few remaining things that separates us from a third world country, since our income inequality does not. And throughout it all, they have avoided military spending, a constantly ballooning source of debt.

This isn't "budgeting". This isn't "fiscal responsibility". This is an agenda being driven through a budget and carried out under threat of shutdown. To see the full extent of the policy changes being proposed through the Republican budget click here.

A few months ago, we faced a similar stand off on the expiring Bush tax cuts. The Republicans said there, as they have said now, it is our way or no way. Obama backed down at that time and chose to give them their tax cuts in order to obtain unemployment benefits. But truly, compromise under threat is not compromise, it's extortion. At some point we have to stand up for what we believe in and be prepared to make sacrifices for that cause. As progressives, we believe in a government that helps the people who need it most, not just the top 1%. I still believe in Obama, and I believe he wants to do good things. But as President he has allowed the Republicans to get under his skin. Right now, he has a chance to stand strong again. If the government must shutdown for a few days in order that Republicans come to the table with real compromise, then so be it.

In this matter, I must admit to having a TV-based source of inspiration. While the show the West Wing, is most surely fiction, the issues it raises are in fact all too real. The Obama White House has had several moments of similarity with the Bartlett Administration, but none have been so eerie as this. In the clip below, from the end of the episode "Separation of Powers" you will see the attempts of a young, more radically conservative, Speaker to extort the President in the 11th hour negotiations around the budget. (For those who want to see how the crisis is eventually resolved, watch the episode "Shutdown" where Josh Lyman pulls out some absolutely brilliant political moves.)

There's an eerie similarity between the fictional Speaker Haffley and today's Republicans. In the words of Harry Reid, “We’ve been more than reasonable. More than fair. We meet them halfway, they say no. We meet them more than halfway, they still say no. We meet them all the way, they still say no.” They have truly become the party of no, and they believe threats hold more value than compromise.

So I ask, is Obama prepared to say "shut it down"? I hope so. Because like Bartlett, I wonder, "What next?" This is not the first showdown, and it will not be the last. We cannot afford to set a precedent of fake compromise. We must prepare for real sacrifice and a real fight. Republicans have shown that they have a whole lot of bark, but I think if we force them to act, we'll see they're still growing baby teeth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Playing Catch-Up

I've sort of been paralyzed by indecision lately (so much to write about, so little time!) and the result has been complete silence on a number of really important issues. In an effort to fix that, in this post I'm going to address a few things that have been happening in our crazy country lately. Bear with me.

First: Freedom of Speech v. Freedom of Information
Some really disturbing news came out of the labor rights controversy last week. Conservative Michigan Think Tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy used the Freedom of Information Act to demand the emails of a handful of professors at Michigan public universities. In Wisconsin, the Republican Party demanded the emails of prominent scholar William Cronon, who challenged Governor Walker's attack on union rights. I understand the legal right to access information about public employees, but it's undeniable that these measures are a blatant form of political bullying. The GOP is seeking to create an atmosphere of fear and repression among scholars and vocal challengers. Rachel Maddow tackles the issue in the clip below, and while she tends towards the dramatic, she makes some great points about "big intrusive government conservativism" and it's implications.

Second: Good News (Finally!) for the EPA
There's plenty to be upset about when we take a look at the environment (tsunamis, leaking radioactive material, news broke that the ozone level thinned by FORTY percent this winter). I'm going to focus, though, on two positive developments for a change. Senate Democrats defeated a bill to ban the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases this week. The bill, which was backed by Republicans Mitch McConnell and James Inhofe, will reappear in the House later this week and will probably pass, unfortunately, but the White House has vowed to veto. I'm encouraged, though, simply by the fact that Democrats are saying no to the party of no.

In other news, at the Phillies season opener last Friday, fans witnessed the first "green fly-over." The Air Force debuted an F-15 fighter jet powered in part by fuel made from plant oil. The fuel was 50% plant product, primarily camelina, a weed considered more fuel efficient than ethanol. While still financially unfeasible, the Air Force is actively developing cheap, eco-friendly fuel, and has proven that this fuel is capable of powering the fastest jets in the world. The military's interest in green energy is an incredible gesture of hope and progress.

Finally, the very opposite of progress. I can't ignore the prospect of a government shutdown, but financial entanglements frustrate and confuse me. I'll leave the ranting to Jon Stewart, and just say this. The prospect of a shutdown absolutely terrifies me. The economic and political repercussions are far more expensive than a few concessions by either party. Let's all cross our fingers that this crisis is averted, and with minimal damage to the programs that define our country.