Saturday, October 27, 2012

More racism from Romney

We've talked about this before: although he isn't about to state publicly "I hate black people!", Mitt Romney has been reading Lee Atwater's playbook.

Earlier in the campaign, in his (mendacious) attacks on President Obama's welfare reform policies Romney released a campaign ad contrasting the hardworking white people who resemble Romney's base with the darker races who want to just sit at home and collect welfare checks.

Now he's got John Sununu making the same appeal.

First off, make no mistake about it: what John Sununu says is the official position of the Romney campaign. He is a "surrogate", someone sent out to make statements on behalf of the campaign, sometimes statements that would be too unpalatable for the candidate to say himself. It is questionable whether it makes sense to have someone as abusive and bullying as Sununu is as your surrogate, but I guess that's the point of having a surrogate: you get to have your points made in the strongest possible terms without having the candidate make the offensive statement in quite such an offensive way.

This week for the second time the Romney campaign used Sununu to make a racist attack on President Obama. You may recall that the first time was when he commented that President Obama needs to "learn how to be an American."

This week the attack was on Colin Powell. Sununu was on Piers Morgan's show on CNN, and he stated that the reason Colin Powell was supporting President Obama has nothing to do with any policy agreeemnt, but simply because they're both black.

Yes, he really said that.

As I said before, does this mean that Mitt Romney is personally motivated by a distaste for black people? I suspect not. On the other hand, the same could probably have been said of George Wallace or Lee Atwater.

But the fact that he's willing to build his campaign on such openly racist themes makes it, if anything, even scummier.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

No difference?

As we remember George McGovern, I am struck by a quote from his book What It Means To Be a Democrat.
As quoted in the Times, McGovern says: 

“We are at a crossroads,” he wrote, “over how the federal government in Washington and state legislatures and city councils across the land allocate their financial resources. Which fork we take will say a lot about Americans and our values.”

  There is no question among the writers and readers here that the Democratic Party does not always live up to its ideals. There are some who seem to take particular pleasure in pointing out our shortcomings, while ignoring those of the Republicans. Nevertheless, the reason the Democratic Party can be challenged for failing to live up to its ideals is that the Democratic Party has ideals. When our party disappoints us it is because we know it's capable of more than it sometimes achieves.

When we work here for more and better Democrats George McGovern is the kind of Democrat I, for one, am thinking about.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Now it's our turn

The BBC and the Times are both posting stories this week about a dramatic development in Cuba. The country is moving away from its status as a closed society and dropped the requirement for exit visas for Cubans wishing to move away or simply to travel abroad.

 From the BBC:

  Cuba has announced it is removing the need for its citizens to obtain exit permits before travelling abroad. State media said the move, to come into effect on 14 January next year, would "update" migration laws to reflect current and future circumstances. 

 Cubans currently have to go through a lengthy and expensive process to obtain a permit and dissidents are often denied one, correspondents say. 

 The move is the latest in a series of reforms under President Raul Castro. Cubans who have permanent residency on the island will also be allowed to stay abroad for up to 24 months, instead of the current 11, without having to return to renew paperwork.

 And from the Times:

  The new policy — promised by President Raúl Castro last year, and finally announced in the Communist Party newspaper — represents the latest significant step by the Cuban government to answer demands for change from Cubans, while also maintaining a significant measure of control. 

 . . . 

 But the new law gives Cubans leeway to stay abroad longer, letting them remain outside the country for two years before losing their rights to property, citizenship and benefits like health care, an increase from 11 months under the current policy. Analysts say the government is encouraging more Cubans to travel so that they can go earn money elsewhere and return, injecting capital into the island’s moribund economy. Whether that creates a temporary — or permanent — mass exodus, Cubans and experts say, will be determined by how many people have the means and passports to leave, and which countries welcome them.

 Obviously this isn't everything. For instance, the law will retain restrictions on emigration for people, such as doctors and other professionals, who are considered too valuable to the population to be allowed to leave.

Nevertheless, this is a move in the direction of greater freedom and fewer legal restrictions.  Although it has been obvious for years that our half-century long state of economic warfare against Cuba has utterly failed to produce positive change, this change in Cuban law creates a political opportunity for the administration to make a reciprocal move in Cuba's direction. If you assume that the rational and humane choice, a complete end to the embargo, is not a possibility, a related move, such as eliminating travel restrictions, could and should be initiated as soon as possible.

 How about an announcement on November 13? It's our turn.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

George McGovern is near death

There is sad news tonight. Former Senator George S. McGovern, who ran as an antiwar candidate against Richard Nixon in 1972, is near death. His family reports that he was admitted to hospice a few days ago and is "unresponsive".

“He’s coming to the end of his life,” his daughter, Ann McGovern, told The Associated Press. She declined to elaborate but noted that her 90-year-old father has suffered several health problems in the last year.

Because the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, lowering the national voting age to eighteen, had been ratified in 1971, McGovern was the first vote that I and many of my contemporaries had the chance to cast. Like millions of others who had spent years demonstrating and organizing to end the Vietnam War, 1972 was our first chance to vote for the political positions we believed in. It was also, for me, the first of many votes for unsuccessful candidates. While the results showed that the election probably could not have been won, even against Richard Nixon, McGovern was an inspirational character.

The current dilemma in Vietnam is a clear demonstration of the limitations of military power ... [Current U.S. involvement] is a policy of moral debacle and political defeat ... The trap we have fallen into there will haunt us in every corner of this revolutionary world if we do not properly appraise its lessons."[74][99]

While McGovern is apparently still alive, let's take a moment to remember him, and to rededicate ourselves to working for progressive change.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bigotry and Intolerance in Franklin, Vermont

We've written about this before: a local resident, Marilyn Hackett, successfully sued the town of Franklin and this year won an injunction preventing the town fathers from beginning their annual Town Meeting with a prayer.

It was a heroic effort and the news reports at the time documented the abuse she was subjected to based on her willingness to stand up for her principles. Perhaps most shockingly, one of the suggestions from the town was that if she doesn't like the prayer she just shouldn't show up at Town Meeting. That's right, in the view of some of her fellow townspeople it would be reasonable to condition her right to participate in the governance of her town on her acceding to their religious views.

Today the Burlington Free Press has an update, and guess what: bigotry and intolerance are still rampant in Franklin. I think the article is behind their paywall, but here are a couple of key quotes:

“It’s almost like a joke — a cheap shot — to try to knock that thing out of there.”
“I said right from the beginning to have an outsider come into town and all of a sudden she’s changed the way Franklin runs its Town Meeting,” Hartman said. “I think it’s awful.”
"If she (Hackett) was somebody who wanted to be a part of that town, she could’ve overlooked that."

In addition, the story by Sally Pollak makes clear that Marilyn Hackett continues to be harassed, including by students at the school where she works in nearby Richford.

What do we learn from this episode? A few things.

First, if there were any doubt, today's story illustrates just how brave someone has to be to stand up for principle, especially in a small town.

Second, it confirms the heroism of Marilyn Hackett.

Finally, everything in this story demonstrates how important it was for Marilyn Hackett and the ACLU to bring this case. It's not the people who go along with the majority, who hold popular opinions, who need the Constitution's protection. It is the minorities, people who can't get their way without the protection of the law, the courts, and civil libertarians.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BREAKING: Obamacare Works!

Many regular readers know that I work for a small nonprofit up here in Vermont, and we made a decision a long time ago that even if we had to make sacrifices in salary to support the important work we do, we would try to make sure all our employees have good health coverage. It costs a lot of money, but our employees get to go to the doctor when they need to and people with serious health issues are able to get the care they need.

What I have in front of me right now is a memo from our executive director explaining the rebate our organization has received from Connecticut General (CIGNA) because they overcharged us for health insurance last year.

One of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (I don't like to call it Obamacare, although President Obama now says he's okay with it) is a provision sponsored by Al Franken, the newest senator from Minnesota. It's based on the radical notion that health insurance payments should go to pay for--guess what--health care. According to this idea, any health insurance company that doesn't spend enough of the premiums it collects on health care must be spending too much money on marketing, fat executive salaries, and other things that you and I and our employers shouldn't be paying for. Therefore, unless the company pays out at least 85% of its premiums on health care they owe a refund back to the people who paid the premiums.

I got my rebate in my paycheck last week. It was about $300. In addition, we have almost $70,000 that they refunded to our employer that we can save to help reduce what we have to pay for health insurance next year.

Maybe you got one of these checks, but maybe you didn't realize why you got it. My $300, and even my employer's $66,000 isn't going to make anybody rich, but it adds up. Across the country it adds up to a billion dollars paid out to over twelve million Americans.That's all money that didn't go to buy health care for anyone: didn't cure any infections, buy any bandages or tests, and didn't make anyone healthier, but the insurance companies would have been able to just pocket all that cash without the Affordable Care Act.

The average rebate per family in Vermont was $807.00, the highest in the nation. You could say that we made out pretty well this year, or you could say that we got ripped off more than other states, and now we're getting it back. There's a map to see what the families in your state got back in rebates.

So this is a good thing to know. The next time one of your conservative friends starts whining about how we didn't need or want the Affordable Care Act, and how it's not helping anybody, remind them of the rebate that you and the other people in your neighborhood are getting.

And also remind them that if Mitt Romney gets his way the insurance companies are going to get to keep that money.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

About last night

Okay, I'm glad I didn't write this last night because I've gone through at least three sets of reactions to the debate. I'm still not prepared to say definitively who "won", but I just have a series of thoughts.

My first thought, while I was watching, was a mix of recognizing that Obama was better on substance and Romney was better on style. Overall Romney had better control of the situation, and even the atmospherics were in his favor. For instance, I noticed a number of times that Obama was nodding his head while Romney was talking. Just a tic or pattern that many of us have while we're listening to somebody, but it still seemed almost like a submissive gesture of agreement.

Plus, there was one question where Romney seriously gave a better answer. It was the question about the role of the federal government. Don't bother going to look for the transcript: the substance doesn't matter. What matters was that Romney had a prepared statement that was arguably related to the question, pumped up some right-wing talking points, and tied it to the Constitution. Obama had nothing, and it was a softball for him. As in:
One thing I know about the role of the federal government is that it is the government of all the people, not just those who are fortunate enough to have material success. I know that it includes doing for people what they can't do for themselves, protecting the environment, investing in the future of our young people, and protecting consumers and home purchasers from unregulated and unscrupulous businesses who would exploit them. The federal government must encompass and advance the vision of America that is faithful to the vision of our Founders, and also keeps faith with the generations since who have built America into the strongest, freest nation on earth. [and so on].
He could have said something like that, but he kind of rambled and lost that question.

Still, the other part of my immediate reaction was that there was more substance in Obama's answers than in Romney's. This was not, though, inconsistent with the idea that Romney may have won.

From there, my second reaction while watching one of the fact-check stories right after the debate, was to think that people will feel pretty stupid when they wake up the morning after and realize how much of what Romney said just wasn't true.

 This was followed quickly by two counterreactions:

1. Who ever said the winner of a debate was determined by comparing the ratios of accurate and inaccurate factual claims of the two debaters? and

2. Okay, if Obama was right and all those claims by Romney were false, would it have been so bad to say so during the debate?

For instance, Obama probably said five times that Romney's plan calls for five trillion dollars in tax cuts, and every time he said it Romney said that just wasn't true. Wouldn't it have been better if somewhere along the way, instead of repeating "five trillion dollars", Obama had said, "Look, the plan Romney has been touting for a year and a half calls for reinstating all of the Bush tax cuts, totally eliminating the estate tax, slashing the corporate income tax from 45% to 25% (or whatever the numbers are) and cutting individual tax rates across the board by 20%. That adds up to five trillion dollars and he won't even tell us one deduction he wants to get rid of to make up that five trillion dollar hole."

 Of course, there could have been a strategy at work. The Obama people could have decided in advance that whenever Obama was responding to Romney's points he was talking about what Romney wanted to talk about, so they would stay away from that. Unfortunately, if that was there strategy I think it sucked.

 Finally, I got some good news tonight. I saw the diary from the DailyKos staff discussing the first poll after the debate, and apparently Obama actually did pretty well. Specifically, he didn't lose support overall and he gained a lot in favorability among independents.

 Finally. For an electoral debate, gaining support is the actual measure of success. You probably know this already, but when Kennedy debated Nixon the people who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon had won, but the people who watched it on television thought Kennedy won it, and Kennedy's win is the story we remember.

 We don't know what story we're going to remember yet. As a friend observed at lunch today, there are too many hands to know the final answer. On the other hand, I've said this before: I wish I saw some more fight in the guy.