64th: Don’t be Mislead by Last Minute Smears

I recently received a creepy flier in the mail accusing Bill Barlow of voting to make it possible for convicted felons to work at your child’s school or coach their soccer team. The flier also says “Barlow was 1 of 26 out of 100 Delegates who said ‘YES.’”

I don’t know what vote is Rick Morris talking about. The flier doesn’t say. It’s as vague as Morris’s other accusations against Barlow. Whatever vote Rick Morris is talking about, the “1 of 26 … who said ‘YES’” phrasing is interesting. It doesn’t say anything about the “No.” votes.

Who's Watching Our Kids at School

I looked through the Legislative Information System and found no recorded votes on any bill related to felons or convictions with 26 yea votes. This means that the vote Rick Morris is talking about, unless he’s simply making it all up, was probably a voice vote. These votes are usually one of a few votes that a proposal will go through on its way through the General Assembly, and rarely do more than a handful of delegates even participate in the vote. So these 26 yeas probably represent unanimous support for a bill, not to be passed, but just to be pushed along to the next phase.

Bill Barlow has been strong supporter of tough-on-crime legislation. He voted to expand the death penalty to accomplishes and voted against limiting the death penalty to ages 18 and up. He voted to increase restrictions on sex offenders, including a rather tough bill to prohibit convicted sex offenders entry onto school grounds or other property. And he has voted to increase funding for police.

On the other hand, Bill Barlow has also supported bi-partisan legislation like that championed by Governor Bob McDonnell to streamline the civil rights restoration process for ex-offenders who have proven themselves worthy of a second chance. Thanks to Governor McDonnell’s efforts, along with Republican and Democratic legislators, a non-violent felon, after serving his sentence and clearing all court costs and fines, can, after another two years of proving to be a good and productive citizen, request to have his civil rights restored. So maybe Rick Morris is upset that Bill Barlow has worked with his Republican counterparts and Governor McDonnell in order to pass important, sensible, bi-partisan crime legislation.

I don’t know what vote Rick Morris is talking about in his creepy flier. I do know:

  • There were no final votes in the house on any crime legislation with 26 yeas.
  • Bill Barlow has repeatedly voted for tough-on-crime legislation.
  • Rick Morris’s creepy flier is vague and provides absolutely no information to back up it’s outrageous accusation.
  • Rick Morris’s creepy flier arrived late in the campaign, leaving little time for Bill Barlow to respond to this vicious smear.

I’m pretty certain that Rick Morris’s campaign staff combed through the legislative records, and in their efforts to paint Bill Barlow as a weak-on-crime liberal, the best they could come up with was a procedural vote to push a legislative proposal up for further consideration. And “26 out of 100” is almost certainly misleading, since this vote was probably unanimous with only 26 delegates even bothering to participate.

In fact, Bill Barlow’s voting record on crime as well as other issues would be distressing to many liberals. I certainly don’t like his votes on the death penalty. But I’m not supporting Bill Barlow because I agree with everything he does. I’m supporting Bill Barlow because he supports public schools, the police, tax credits for small businesses, and has honestly, faithfully, and intelligently served his constituents for two decades.

Bill Barlow is being attacked by an opponent who falsely accuses him of everything from fiscal irresponsibility to putting “felons ahead of the safety of our children”. We simply should not support such a dishonest politician.

This Tuesday, vote for the honest guy. If you’re in Virginia’s 64th, vote Bill Barlow.

Vote “Democrat” to Support Small Business and Create Jobs

Republicans want us to think that greater profits for the rich will lead to more jobs and a better standard of living for anyone willing to work. Like most good lies, the hype about low taxes and deregulation is based in some truth.

A small business owner, like the owner of my local feed store, might hire more help if he had more money available. The feed store owner has a couple of people working for him but often works the register or loads and unloads stock in his warehouse. The store doesn’t need any new employees, but if the owner hired someone new he could avoid the grunt work and get home a little earlier. It wouldn’t be a good business decision, but it might be a good personal decision.

Now consider Walmart. If the lines were shorter the customers would be in better moods and the work would be more pleasant for the cashiers. I’m usually in a pretty bad mood by the time I get to the register. But in a large corporation, the people at the top don’t feel the pain of the workers on the floor. Walmart isn’t going to hire more cashiers until the cost of doing so would be outweighed by the increase in customer purchases. It doesn’t matter how angry the customers are as long as they continue to stand in line, and it doesn’t matter how much money Walmart has in the vault. Walmart already enough money to hire more people.

In fact, more money in the vaults of big business is just as likely to result in fewer jobs. At my local McDonald’s, the owner recently purchased new cash registers. They are easier to operate, require less training, and make it easier for the manager to fire workers if he sees fit. A big business owner that suddenly finds extra money available is more likely to invest in automation or overseas facilities than extra labor. A while ago, McDonald’s corporation was testing the idea of long-distance drive-through operators. The person talking to you through that little speaker might be far far away. This would allow fewer people to handle more orders, or allow your order to be taken by lower paid workers in third-world countries. But this kind of change requires investment in research and capital. This is what McDonald’s spends all that extra profit on. Not on American jobs.

There is something that would encourage big and small business to create more jobs: More customer spending. Walmart will hire more workers when the the shelves empty out too fast or the checkout lines get so long that people choose to leave without buying anything. The feed store owner will also hire more help when he has more customers than he can handle.

So, the formula for creating jobs is: Tax breaks for small businesses more customers with more money to spend. That is the Obama jobs plan. Republicans are against this plan because it means higher taxes for billionaires and higher taxes for the kinds of corporations that use capital spending to replace workers with technology or replace Americans with low-paid workers in third-world countries.

Republicans have done a good job convincing Americans that Obama’s fiscal policy has failed us. Indeed, we’re still suffering from the economic malaise that began during the last years of the Bush administration. But Obama’s policies stopped the hemorrhaging of U.S. jobs and held the U.S. economy steady as turmoil overtook the rest of the world. Imagine a doctor gives you medicine which makes you sicker, then you go to a different doctor who gives you different medicine. You immediately stop getting sicker but don’t recover at the rate you were hoping for. Do you go back to the original medicine? Republicans suggest that the appropriate response to disappointment with rate of our nation’s recovery is to return to the kind of deregulation and tax-cuts for the wealthy that caused the economic down-turn.

One of the biggest Republican complaints is that the high corporate tax rate in the US is holding down the economy. But the the OECD has been tracking corporate tax rates around the world, and the data reveals that those countries that have held strongest during the world wide economic downturn, including the U.S.A. and Germany, have higher corporate tax rates than most countries that are in serious trouble, including Iceland, Ireland and Greece. Along with the dismal performance of our economy after the Bush tax cuts (as reported by Slate and several other sources), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that tax cuts for the rich and deregulation for large corporations are not what our economy needs to recover.

Republicans are correct in saying that we can’t keep blaming Bush for the current state of the economy. But that doesn’t mean we should forget that deregulation caused the economic downturn and tax cuts for the wealthy did not help. Job-saving programs and constraints on recklessness have saved jobs and kept the U.S. economy strong despite challenges throughout the world. If there is an argument to be had about president Obama’s policies, it is an argument about whether he gave away too much to his political opponents or achieved the best possible compromises considering his level of support. Either way, the answer is the same. The president needs more support to pass job-creating legislation that is currently being blocked by Republicans.

Don’t be fooled by lies about tax cuts for the rich and deregulation. Support legislation that cuts taxes for small business and creates jobs for Americans. Vote for the those who support honest and sensible economic policy in 2011. Vote for the President and his supporters in 2012.

Don’t reward the criminals for their crimes.

Immediately the Republicans are blaming the mess they created on Obama the way a rapist might blame the ineffectiveness of the local police. Romney (via NPR):

“America’s creditworthiness just became the latest casualty in President Obama’s failed record of leadership on the economy.”

Romney is a lying, flip-flopping, soulless piece of garbage. He was always a liar and a flip-flopper but the loss of soul is a more recent development.

If you think there’s too much crime in your neighborhood, firing the police and putting the criminals in charge would be a bad strategy. But Republicans are expect the American people to put them in charge as a reward for the damage they’ve done.

Although the S&P press release does spread the blame around a bit, the overwhelming message is clear (via TPM):

The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

And

Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues.

How bizarre it would be if the Republicans benefited by causing mayhem and then blaming Obama and the Democrats for failing to stop them.

If the crime rate rises in my neighborhood, my solution would be more cops, not more criminals. Elections are coming soon.

Cutting Military isn’t a Win, but the Deal is Alright

I’m hopeful that the future won’t be quite the disaster that Paul Krugman predicts with his chronic and pessimistic Obama-bashing, but still I agree more with Krugman than anyone who says this budget deal was a win for the Democrats or for the American people.

For one thing, I’m not ready to cheer just because much of the cuts will be from the military. The idea that cuts in the military balance out cuts in education, health services, and other programs is just plain false and perpetuates the myth that Democrats don’t like the military and that it’s somehow a win for them if the military is defunded. Despite all the talk about supporting the troops, Republicans have proven more willing to start wars then to provide the men and women who fight them with adequate supplies and numbers. And the Tea Party, crazy as they are, seem to be the only people in town who realize the military is part of the government. So they’re just as happy about our weakened defenses as they are about our crumbling infrastructure.

In the near future, there will be economic ups and economic downs. Partisans on each side will take credit for the good and blame others for the bad, and nobody will know for sure how different things would have been if their own side had won more. But important government programs have been cut, and It seems pretty clear to me that our military will be weaker, our infrastructure will suffer, we will loose ground in the technology race, fewer of our children will be adequately educated, and jobs that would have been created by the effort to avoid all of these pitfalls will not exist.

Furthermore, when the threat of cross-the-board cuts, including cuts to the military looms over the bi-partisan negotiating team, the Democrats will be at a disadvantage because they will not be as willing to cut off vital supplies for our fighting men and women as the Republicans will be to allow cuts in children’s health care, education, and other investments in our nation’s future.

So I agree with Paul Krugman’s stance that this hasn’t really been a win for liberals. Where I depart from Paul Krugman’s thinking is on blaming Obama and the Democrats for being too weak. Instead, I agree with Al Frankin:

Unfortunately, in a game of chicken, the player most concerned about protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is put in the most difficult position.

So I have to disagree with Deaniac’s assertion that Obama “ate Boehner’s Lunch”, but, as Daniel Markovits more realistically explains, the Democrats came away with a much better deal than a “rational observer would have predicted”, considering the risks Republicans were willing to take with the nation’s economy in order to get what they wanted.

Rather than accusing Democrats of being weak, we need to make them stronger. It’s our job to ensure Republicans don’t have the power to get want they want through threats rather than fair negotiations.

This debt deal wasn’t the result of a Democratic president with a fighting chance caving in to empty threats. This was a Democratic president facing down an opposition willing and able to put our economy in jeopardy unless their demands are met, and actually coming away with a surprisingly acceptable deal, even if it shouldn’t be called a “win”. We should praise Obama’s negotiating skills, not criticize him for giving too much away.

Who’s Compromising?

In broad terms, Republicans want to slash programs and avoid tax hikes. Democrats want to do neither, but have offered a bills which drastically cuts programs and raises taxes on only on the wealthiest Americans. Republican have not deviated from their stance. So what to people mean when they say Democrats need to work harder?

I’m not asking to be sarcastic. There is a huge gulf between what we citizens are hearing from our leaders and our news sources. From what I hear, Republicans haven’t given an inch on anything and Democrats keep offering more cuts in hopes of getting Republicans to agree on something. I’m interested in knowing what people think Republicans have done so far in the name of compromise.

To be fair, I think I’m right. I don’t think anyone’s going to say anything that will make me think the Republicans aren’t putting their careers over the future of our nation. I think we Americans, especially those of us with busy lives who can’t spend hours each day analyzing proposals, can’t possible know all of the details and can’t predict the future. But I believe that the wealthiest Americans, including our politicians, will do very well no matter how hard the rest of us are hit. I think Republicans are taking advantage of our ignorance and pandering to populist, simplistic concepts such as lowering taxes and cutting government programs because supporting these simple, popular ideas will earn them political points and will be good for their financial supporters. And they’ve proven that no matter what happens, they can blame the president.

So, if this starts a conversation, I admit that I’m not entering with a clean slate. It’s more like this: I think the Earth is round and revolves around the sun. If someone told me otherwise, I’d think that person was an idiot. If lots of people told me otherwise, and among them were people who I think are reasonably intelligent, I’d still think they’re wrong but I’d be willing to listen to their arguments. In that light, I’d be interested in hearing why anyone believes it’s the Republicans who have been negotiating honestly.

All you need to know won’t fit in this post

Daniel Mitchel wrote a post a few months ago, but I just came across it recently. Although it’s old news now, it illustrates something important enough to bring up: Simplistic factoids which are replacing real news.

The post is titled “The Chart That Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Whether Public Workers Are Over-Compensated”, and refers to the following diagram:

Chart showing monthly quit rate of 1.6 for private sector and about 0.5 for gov't

This “chart” consists of two big blue rectangles. This chart tells more about what Mitchell thinks of his target audience’s mental capacity than it does about anything else. It’s just two numbers, people. Does Mitchell’s readership really need a big blue and yellow diagram to explain two numbers? Do these two numbers really tell you everything you need to know?

Here’s a few things that the chart doesn’t tell you:

1) A lot of government workers do their jobs because they want to serve the public, even when it’s a public that doesn’t appreciate what they do. Government workers place special needs children in loving homes, defend innocent people who wouldn’t otherwise get a fair trial, help people find jobs, pull people out of burning buildings, remove dangerous people from society, and carry out other vital functions. They do these jobs because it makes them feel good, even though they might make more money fighting their way up a corporate ladder.

2) Almost nobody takes a government job expecting to get rich, but many people take government jobs expecting stability. They hope to do their jobs, get fair pay and benefits, and eventually retire. This kind of person doesn’t quit one job seeking a better opportunity in another.

3) As Sam Hananel, of the Associated Press noted, “A disproportionate number of federal employees are professionals, such as managers, lawyers, engineers and scientists. Over the years, the federal government has steadily outsourced lower-paying jobs to the private sector so that blue-collar workers cooking meals or working in mailrooms now make up just 10 percent of federal employees.”

4) Some private sector jobs really suck. Crazy, abusive bosses and business models that make a point of treating workers poorly because they want high turnover affect the size of the big blue box, but shouldn’t be counted as the standard against what any job should be measured.

You can agree with me or disagree. You can even bring up facts that you feel contradict mine. But at least admit that an intelligent person doesn’t need a bar graph to compare two numbers and, more importantly, two numbers isn’t all the information you need to know if you want to understand the appropriate compensation for government workers.

It would be nice if all of our questions could be answered with a “yes” or a “no”, or if policies could be substantiated with three-word-chants, or if everything we need to know about a subject could be illustrated with two pretty blue boxes on a yellow background. But some things can’t be properly understood without knowing the details. That’s why Herman Cain’s pledge not to sign any bill longer than three pages is an outrageous celebration of simple-mindedness.

All I need to know about astrology might be summed up in a little chart, because I don’t do anything that requires any knowledge of astrology. But if I was planning on making decisions based on the stars, I would read up on the subject. If you’re actually going to vote, or support political causes, you need to know more than what’s being told to you by people who don’t respect your intelligence. Don’t trust anyone who shows you a simple diagram and tells you that it’s all you need to know.

Heck of a job, Brownie. A new level of Hypocrisy

In January 2009, the Right wing, still in shock over Obama’s election, was outraged by the new President working in the Oval Office without a proper jacket. “Disrespectful”, they said. Pat Buchanan said he’d never seen a president’s shirtsleeves in the Oval Office. But Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush, have all sat in the Oval Office without a jacket. In one of photo, Ronald Reagan wears a bright read shirt.

In April, 2009, Obama was criticized for the size of his entourage of over 500 people on a European tour. When Bush made a similar trip, he had an entourage of over 700.

In early 2010, Obama was caught with his feet on the desk. “Arrogant, Immature, and self-centered” they called him. But then, well, you guessed it.

Obama has been criticized for every vacation he’s ever taken, though he hasn’t taken that many compared to many of his predecessors.

But Micheal Brown just rose to a new level of hypocrisy in criticizing Obama. The man in charge of FEMA when President Bush was partying in California and eating cake in Arizona as thousands of Americans drowned in New Orleans, just criticized President Obama for being in Europe during the deadly rash of storms which included the devastating tornado that destroyed much of Joplin, Missouri. “It’s not like he’s at a G8 summit”, said Brown, “He’s visiting relatives.” Actually, it is “like” he’s at a G8 summit. Obama was in Europe for several official visits culminating with ( yep ) the G8 summit. And, he’s not there to visit relatives. During his hectic diplomatic tour, Obama only made a brief stop in the city of Moneygall, the home of his Irish ancestors. He stayed just long enough to crack a joke about the the “Moneygall O’bamas” and moved on.

Obama will visit Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday.

Start with the 1967 Borders

At recent event, someone asked me how I felt about President Obama insisting that Israel return land occupied since 1967. I pointed out that the president is not insisting on a return to the 1967 borders, but only that those borders be a starting point for negotiations. I also said I was offended by by Prime Minister Netanhahu’s reaction to the president’s speech, and that I felt Israel never dealt honestly with the Palestinians.

It wasn’t the answer she was expecting. It is, perhaps, surprising to hear someone of Jewish heritage criticize Israeli policies, especially when the media posts headlines like Fox’s “Obama Risks Losing Jewish Voters After Backing Key Palestinian Statehood Demand”. But while I’m no spokesman for the Jewish people myself, it seems to me that Jewish opinions on Middle East issues are as varied as those of the general population.

More and more, Jewish voices for peace and fairness are being heard. Organizations like J-Street and Americans for Peace Now are Jewish organizations that support Palestinian statehood and holding both sides of the conflict to their promises. A person, Jewish or otherwise, can acknowledge the importance of Israel, advocate for supporting and defending Israel, and still believe that Palestinians also have rights, and that Israel is not being fair or honest either militarily or diplomatically.

Critics of Israel are often accused of being anti-Semitic by hard-line Zionists. This is understandable because in some cases the accusations are true. White supremacists, Islamic militants and other bloodthirsty bigots use criticism of Israel as a tool to discredit the Jewish people. But people who confuse honest critics of Israeli policy with anti-Semites are guilty of the “with us or against us” line of thinking. They believe that one either supports Israel’s hard-line actions or seeks Israel’s destruction. The truth is, there are more than two choices.

Israel is a long time friend and strategic ally of the United States. They are a small democracy in a hostile region surrounded by enemies with horrible human rights records. Those are valid reasons to advocate for continued support for Israel. But they are not good reasons to support Israel’s own human rights violations or disregard for keeping promises.

President Obama’s call for the 1967 borders to be a starting point for negotiations is reasonable and is in line with the policies of previous American presidents. In truth, despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s surprising response, nothing in the President’s speech represented a significant departure in America’s Middle East policies. I, along with many Jewish and Non-Jewish supporters of Israel, also support the president’s efforts at restarting Middle East peace negotiations and the goal of self-rule for the Palestinian people.

A Crazy Wingnut Mistake

Doug Ross, a wingnut blogger, misunderstood a tweet and thought Obama had a U.S. flag removed from Ground Zero because he hates America. Then his stupid mistake was repeated by Malkin and Drudge. Malkin later acknowledged the mistake. Ross did too, sort of. He says his mistake was Obama’s fault for making him think such a delusional accusation could be true.

In justifying his hair-trigger overreaction, Ross linked to a video of Obama standing with his hands clasped during the National Anthem, to prove that Obama hates the flag. A little bit of Googling reveals photos of Bush and other presidents also failing to put their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem. A little more Googling led me to videos of Bush sitting, bored, fiddling with a hand-held American flag and drumming it against his thigh, and a photo of Bush stepping on a floor mat with the U.S. flag printed on it. I also remember (because I’m old enough) Bush Sr. draping a flag over his shoulders like it was a bath towel.

People make gaffs and every president has done things that appear to be disrespectful. These are either due to a deficiency in knowledge about ceremonial etiquette or due to being distracted by other things, like running the country. I can find gaffs committed by Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, but I can’t find swells of lunatic reactions from the left that come close to spreading as quickly as those on the right, or which contain the same amount of murderous and hysterical accusations.

I wish the hateful nonsense would stop, but Republicans are at a low. Their obstructionist tactics almost lead to a government shutdown, their plan to kill Medicare didn’t quite slip by without the people noticing, the birther movement is pretty much dead, Bin Laden was caught and killed on Obama’s watch, and the Republicans can’t seem to produce a leader who excites their base without sounding like a lunatic or a moron. Brace yourselves, folks, for a tidal wave of accusations against Obama that are hateful, racist, and most of all, unbelievable, at least to a thinking person.

Aspects of the Cordoba House Controversy

1) Can it be stopped? Probably not. It would be unconstitutional for the government to stop it. Politicians trying to use legal tricks to block it should stop. On the other hand, people have a right to protest.

2) Is it gloating? No. Even Jeffery Goldberg, rarely a champion for Islamic causes, praises Imam Rauf and assures his readers that Cordoba House would be the antitheses of a victory mosque.

3) But how would you feel about a Japanese shrine near the Arizona or any other hypothetical analogous example? I would support the constitutional right for the structure to be built as long as it complies with existing laws. I would also welcome an effort by a peaceful group to disavow the violence of a group with whom they share an ethnic, religious or national bond. So if a group of Japanese people who condemn the attack on Pearl Harbor chose to build a shrine in the name of peace near the USS Arizona, I would accept it. The location of Cordoba House is not analogous to a shrine ON Ford Island. I would similarly support effort by a German group condemning genocide with a religious center near Auschwitz (not inside one of its buildings).

4) They don’t allow Churches in Saudi Arabia, do they? The United States does not ban religions based on an association between those religions and oppressive nations. We didn’t ban Protestantism during WWII, and we don’t ban Buddhism based on China’s oppression of its various minorities. We don’t respond to oppression throughout the world by enacting it here.

5) We wouldn’t have allowed it in the past! In the past, we threw Japanese Americans in concentration camps while treating German prisoners with more dignity than we did Black American solders.

6) They’re trying to spread Islam throughout the world! If trying to spread a religion throughout the world made that religion evil, Christianity would be a the top of the list.

7) Personal Opinion? I think Cordoba house was a bad idea that will likely instigate violence and delay the very healing that its supporters are trying to encourage. But if those who don’t like it allow it to be build as Constitutional law requires, it will not be a silent acceptance of insult, but a display of allegiance to our Constitution and the religious freedom that it guarantees.