Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), nearly killed by a deranged assassin in 2011, was back on Capitol Hill this week, encouraging lawmakers to approve expanded background checks. And while opposition from the National Rifle Association comes as no surprise, the far-right group raised eyebrows with a rhetorical shot at Giffords directly.
Hitting a new low in its bullying barrage against gun laws, the National Rifle Association on Thursday targeted Gabrielle Giffords in an attack mocking her 2011 shooting.
“Gabby Giffords: Everyone Should Have to Pass Background Check My Attacker Passed,” the NRA tweeted from its main account.
The tweet – which one lawmaker called “pathetic” – aimed to argue that background checks don’t reduce gun violence and linked to an article on the right-wing Breitbart website.
The Breitbart article that the NRA promoted noted, accurately, that the gunman responsible for the 2011 massacre in Tucson passed a background check, as did several other notorious killers. As best as I can tell, the Breitbart article is accurate.
That said, both the article and the NRA seem to be badly missing the point.
Alec MacGillis explained very well, Giffords “is not devoting herself to the cause of expanding background checks because that measure would have stopped [Jared] Loughner, but because that measure is the one thatvwould have the biggest impact on reducing gun violence overall.”
Exactly. The NRA’s argument seems to be that Giffords’ argument must be rejected because expanded background checks wouldn’t have stopped her would-be assassin. But Giffords isn’t talking about her shooting; she’s talking about taking sensible, responsible steps to prevent future mass murders.
MacGillis added, “The same was true of the families of the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: Universal background checks would not have stopped Adam Lanza, who got his guns from his mother, but the families wanted to push for whatever reform would limit shooting deaths, period. Making it harder for people with criminal records, histories of domestic violence, and adjudications for mental illness to obtain guns is one of the best measures at our disposal to do so. In other words, Giffords and others whose lives have been upended by gun violence are thinking about others, not themselves – they are exhibiting a form of political empathy.”
That this point is lost on the NRA and Breitbart is itself instructive.
As for the bigger picture, let’s not overlook how unnecessary the NRA’s taunts are – the odds of a Republican Congress limiting firearm access are zero. Giffords is fighting the good fight, but at least for the next two years, it is simply not possible to even imagine lawmakers approving new gun-safety measures.
In other words, the NRA has already won another round. It’s taking a cheap shot at a foe whom they’ve already defeated.
Worse, the NRA is going after one of the most sympathetic figures in American public life, for reasons that only seem to make sense to the NRA.
Steve Benin, MSNBC
San Francisco is a city full of nicknames — City by the Bay, the dreaded Frisco or San Fran, Paris of the West and Baghdad by the Bay, to name but a few.
Another one, long out of fashion, was coined before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition 100 years ago by President William Howard Taft. While visiting, he learned firsthand how San Francisco citizens helped pave the way for that world’s fair, calling us The City That Knows How.
One reason Taft bequeathed San Francisco as such was the immense amount of civic support that went into building the expo grounds for the world’s fair. As San Francisco celebrates the event’s centennial this year, much focus has been on the city within a city that stood for much of 1915, and was largely lost to history save for the Palace of Fine Arts and some other artifacts.
But there is another major contribution from the expo that continues to impact the lives of tens of thousands of residents every day.
The world’s fair helped birth Muni.
HOPE BURNS ETERNAL
The 1906 earthquake was devastating in its own right, but the fires it sparked are what really destroyed half of The City. Amid reconstruction in the years that followed, San Franciscans found renewed optimism. Adding to the upswell of hope, on Jan. 3, 1911, Congress announced that The City would host the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, or world’s fair, in 1915.
“It was a time when San Franciscans really came to embrace what was possible,” Rick Laubscher, president of the Market Street Railway historical group, told The San Francisco Examiner.
Despite all the good cheer, one major problem loomed for hosting the world’s fair. At Muni’s inception in 1912, the agency owned just 10 streetcars, which ran from the Ferry Building and down Geary Boulevard. The cars ran east-west, but not north-south.
“Muni was a dwarf at the time,” Laubscher said.
The fair was certain to draw millions and so public transit was going to be a necessity.
At the time, few train lines stopped near the fair’s future site at Harbor View, which today is Cow Hollow.
Horses trotting down Market Street were a much more common site than automobiles or trains. Overpriced jitneys, or taxis, rolled for the rich. Neither of these options would be sufficient for fair visitors.
And those famous cable cars? The City did not consider new cable lines for the expo because of the expense of the infrastructure and the obsolete technology, Laubscher said. It was cheaper to do things like build the Stockton Tunnel, which San Francisco still uses today. That resulted in a far faster trip to the Marina from Market and Stockton streets than cable cars could have provided.
The final decision was that San Francisco needed to expand its streetcar fleet.
Thus, City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy drafted street-rail plans to transport as many as 8.4 million visitors, according to transit historian Grant Ute’s “Fair, Please: Public Transportation To and Through San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.”
The City first approached the privately owned United Railroad, or URR, a fierce competitor to Muni at the time. But public sentiment was against URR.
For one thing, two streetcar workers died during a 1907 strike against URR for fair wages, which became known as “Bloody Tuesday.” And as San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency historian Robert Callwell told The Examiner, URR allegedly bribed mayors to get overhead lines built in The City.
“Absolutely, people hated URR. There’s no doubt about that,” Callwell said.
So when URR pressured The City to make outsized concessions in exchange for expanding toward Harbor View, Laubscher said, Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph Jr. and the Board of Supervisors made a decision.
The sentiment, as Laubscher put it, was: “Screw it, we’ll do it ourselves.”
MUNI’S GREAT EXPANSION
Rolph lobbied “10 city groups a day,” Callwell said, and the result was a bond approved by San Francisco voters to expand city-run rail. Muni blossomed in 1914, creating six new train lines, purchasing a seventh and building the Stockton Tunnel.
The first four lines directly served the world’s fair. A flat steel gray with red accents, the new Muni streetcars rolled out across The City.
The D-Van Ness ran from the Ferry Building to Geary Street, Van Ness Avenue, Union Street and then its end point at Chestnut Street at the edge of the fairgrounds. The F-Chestnut was known as the Fort Mason Loop, running along Stockton Street, Columbus Avenue and Van Ness Avenue.
The H-Potrero ferried folks from Potrero Avenue and 25th Street north to Bay Street.
San Francisco also purchased a line from URR and renamed it the E-Embarcadero, which ran from the waterfront to the Presidio along Columbus Avenue. This summer, the SFMTA said it plans to restart the line, which would run through a tunnel under Fort Mason by Aquatic Park.
Three other lines were also created and temporarily served the world’s fair before being rerouted — the G-Stockton-Union-Exposition ran along Union Street, the I-33rd Avenue-Exposition ran along Geary Boulevard and the J-Columbus traversed Columbus Avenue, but has no relation to the current J light-rail line.
This being San Francisco, hills had a significant impact on the infrastructure design. A pernicious one along Stockton Street, for instance, stood in the way of laying new track.
“Streetcars are far too heavy to climb hills,” said Brian Leadingham, manager of the San Francisco Railway Museum.
The City opted to just cut straight through the rock, creating the Stockton Tunnel that today is exclusively used by automobile traffic.
All of this infrastructure, Laubscher said, “was a game-changer.”
On the opening day of the world’s fair, Muni operated 177 train cars, a far cry from its initial 10-strong fleet. Those trains carried more than 80,000 people in its inaugural run to the glittering lights and vast wonders of the expo.
The ghosts of Muni lines to the world’s fair linger today, historians say.
“If you ride the 30-Stockton bus,” Laubscher said, “you’re riding a line that came into existence for the Pan-Pacific International Exposition.”
The 41-Union, 47-Van Ness and other north-south bus routes were created thanks to the existing streetcar lines, Laubscher said. Also, he added, the fair generated “public enthusiasm” to burrow into Twin Peaks to create Muni’s K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View light-rail lines.
Laubscher lamented how much public perception around mass transit has shifted since then. San Francisco’s optimism helped spark an explosion of mass transit in 1915 that the region relies on heavily even still, he said. But in 2015, the public finds massive investments like BART or high-speed rail controversial and large-scale projects become mired in political fights, leaving the public to keep paying at the pump to get around.
Birth of Muni
To learn more about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s influence on the birth of Muni, visit the exhibit at the San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop at 77 Steuart St. near The Embarcadero or visit www.streetcar.org.
From the Examiner
Libertarian philanthropist David Koch is backing a federal challenge to same sex marriage bans, signing on to a Supreme Court brief urging the court to overturn state-level prohibitions on the practice.
He will join hundreds of other prominent right-of-center thinkers, activists, and public figures in asking the Supreme Court to prohibit states from outlawing the practice under the 14th Amendment.
Koch, the vice president of Koch Industries and the world’s sixth wealthiest person, is a deep-pocketed donor to Republican and conservative groups.
Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden confirmed on Tuesday that Koch will sign his name to the brief. Holden said he did so in his personal capacity.
“I believe in gay marriage,” he told Politico in 2012. A former vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party ticket, Koch is in line with that movement’s thinking on the issue, despite his support for a party that frequently opposes gay marriage.
“I think the Republican Party has a great chance of being successful and that’s why I support it … but I believe in the libertarian principles,” he told Politico.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on Tuesday reported some of the brief’s other signatories, and on the argument they’re presenting:
The brief’s signatories include former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, conservative pundits S.E. Cupp and Alex Castellanos, former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein, former Mitt Romney senior advisers Beth Myers and Carl Forti, conservative economists Doug Holtz-Eakin (formerly director of the Congressional Budget Office) and Greg Mankiw (formerly on the Council of Economic Advisers), former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and former Massachusetts state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei. The presence of an esteemed general suggests that there is no segment of society in which gay marriage is not gaining acceptance. There are on the list centrist Republicans, more libertarian figures and even social conservatives. In a phone interview Mehlman said, “I think the diversity of the people is a reflection of what we have seen which is increased support in every demographic [for gay marriage].”
In the brief, the signatories argue that they “have concluded that marriage is strengthened, and its value to society and to individual families and couples is promoted, by providing access to civil marriage for all American couples—heterosexual or gay or lesbian alike. In particular, civil marriage provides stability for the children of same-sex couples, the value of which cannot be overestimated. In light of these conclusions, amici believe that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits States from denying same-sex couples the legal rights and responsibilities that flow from the institution of civil marriage.”
Lachlan Markay, Washington Free Beacon
At face value, this speech makes no sense. But there may be a deeper logic to the Israeli prime minister’s determination to speak to Congress.
Why is Benjamin Netanyahu going ahead with his speech to Congress in a few hours’ time, despite complaints from all quarters about the damage it is causing? It’s a trickier question than it seems.
Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s? Based on the idea, as Netanyahu has preposterously claimed, that he “didn’t intend” any affront to the sitting U.S. president and was surprised by all the ruckus? Were they that ill-informed, naive, trapped in a bubble, or plain dumb?
I find that hard to believe, from a leader who prides himself on his U.S. connections and an ambassador born and raised in the U.S. and schooled by Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz. If Barack Obama addressed the Knesset and said he had a “moral obligation” to criticize Netanyahu’s policies, would he then say he “didn’t intend” any offense? Please.
Was it crass election-year politicking on Netanyahu’s part, based on the need to get through this month’s election in Israel and the faith that eventually things would sort themselves back out with the United States? All politicians know that if they don’t hold office their platforms don’t matter, and most convince themselves that what is good for them is good for their country. So maybe he rationalized that getting through this election was worth whatever bruised feelings it might cause.
On this I defer to the reporting of The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, here, here, and here about the tensions between Netanyahu’s electoral incentives and long-term U.S.-Israeli relations. From my point of view, this would be the most benign explanation. Countries act in their own self-interest, and so do politicians.
Was it because Netanyahu has been such a prescient, confirmed-by-reality judge of real-world threats that he feels moral passion about making sure his views are heard?
Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.
Was it because Netanyahu has a better plan that he wants Congress or the United States to adopt in dealing with Iran? No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S. As Michael Tomasky put it in the Daily Beast:
Netanyahu is creating a much bigger problem here. Ultimately, he wants war with Iran. And American neoconservatives want it, too. … Think about it. What is the alternative to negotiating with Iran? Well, there is only one: not negotiating with Iran. And what are the possible courses of action under that option? At the end of the day, there are two. Number one, let Iran do what it wants. Number two, ultimately, be willing to start a war to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Was it because Netanyahu actually believes what he is about to tell Congress: that his country faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon? These are fighting words on my part, but: I don’t really believe this can be so.
Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening. And after I argued last month that a nuclear-armed Iran would be undesirable for the world but not an “existential” threat to an Israel with its own large nuclear-weapons arsenal, I received a flood of mail summed up by one message from a man in Connecticut: “If you were a Jew, you would understand.”
There is no answer to an identity-based argument; no one can completely stand in someone else’s shoes; and the Holocaust is obviously the memory that trumps all others in discussing Israel’s security. So if the voters of Israel want to define Iran’s ambitions not as a problem but as an “existential threat,” that’s up to them.
But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths. As another reader, who also identified himself as Jewish, wrote:
Questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu (and his supporters)
Question 1: How does Iran survive the consequences of a nuclear attack of any scale on Israel?
Question 2: There is no question 2.
That Iran’s current leaders are zealots is easy to demonstrate. That they are suicidal? For that premise there is literally zero evidence, as Peter Beinart recently wrote and as Israel’s own security-services report.
* * *
Maybe I am giving Netanyahu too much credit. Maybe he genuinely believes everything listed above—that he’s been right all along, that we need to hear his message, that Obama and his administration will take no offense, and that this is a life-or-death existential issue because of a suicidal Iranian leadership.
Maybe. But I think he is smarter than any of that. And thus the explanation that rings truest to me is one offered in The National Interest by Paul Pillar, a veteran of the CIA. It’s relevant to note that Pillar was as presciently right about Iraq, concerning both the hyped nature of the threat and the disastrous consequences of the invasion, as Netanyahu was spectacularly wrong.
Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:
The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.
That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ. As George Friedman wrote in a Stratfor analysis just now:
This is the heart of Israel’s problem. … Israel does not want to be considered by the United States as one power among many. It is focused on the issue of a nuclear Iran, but it knows that there is no certainty that Iran’s nuclear facilities can be destroyed or that sanctions will cause the Iranians to abandon the nuclear program. What Israel fears is an entente between the United States and Iran and a system of relations in which U.S. support will not be automatic.
From this perspective, Netanyahu’s bull-headedness makes sense, even beyond its short-term electoral value back home. He can be willing to endure complaints about breach of protocol and partisan alignment, if in so doing he can prevent the deeper divergence in national interests from becoming apparent. And if this episode has any value on the American side, it may be to promote freer discussion of the many areas where U.S. interests align with Israel’s, and those where they diverge. We’ll see if that starts with the planned response by a number of Democratic representatives just after the speech.
James Fallows, The Atlantic
The Native American National Council will offer amnesty to the estimated 240 million illegal white immigrants living in the United States.
At a meeting on Friday in Taos, New Mexico, Native American leaders weighed a handful of proposals about the future of the United State’s large, illegal European population. After a long debate, NANC decided to extend a road to citizenship for those without criminal records or contagious diseases.
“We will give Europeans the option to apply for Native Citizenship,” explained Chief Sauti of the Nez Perce tribe. “To obtain legal status, each applicant must write a heartfelt apology for their ancestors’ crimes, pay an application fee of $5,000, and, if currently on any ancestral Native land, they must relinquish that land to NANC or pay the market price, which we decide.
“Any illegal European who has a criminal record of any sort, minus traffic and parking tickets, will be deported back to their native land. Anybody with contagious diseases like HIV, smallpox, herpes, etc, will not qualify and will also be deported.”
European colonization of North America began in the 16th and 17th centuries, when arrivals from France, Spain and England first established settlements on land that had been occupied by native peoples. Explorers Lewis & Clark further opened up western lands to settlement, which ultimately led to the creation of the Indian reservation system.
Despite the large number of Europeans residing in the United States, historical scholars mostly agree that indigenous lands were taken illegally through war, genocide and forced displacement.
Despite the council’s decision, a native group called True Americans lambasted the move, claiming amnesty will only serve to reward lawbreakers.
“They all need to be deported back to Europe,” John Dakota from True Americans said. “They came here illegally and took a giant crap on our land. They brought disease and alcoholism, stole everything we have because they were too lazy to improve and develop their own countries.”
City World News
Take a bit of out-of-control Reagan worship, add some anti-union preoccupation, and throw in a dash of unpreparedness. The result is a presidential hopeful who seems less prepared for the White House with each passing day.
Walker contended that “the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime” was then-President Ronald Reagan’s move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.
“It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world,” Walker said. America’s allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that “we weren’t to be messed with,” he said.
Walker made similar comments at an event two weeks ago, but these new remarks, delivered at a Club for Growth gathering, mark the first time Walker has described the firing of air-traffic controllers as “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime.
It’s also an incredibly foolish thing for anyone, least of all a White House aspirant, to say out loud. This is an important stage for Walker’s national campaign, and these comments might be the most striking evidence to date that the governor hasn’t yet prepared for the task at hand.
Substantively, Walker’s argument borders on gibberish. He was born in 1967, which means his “lifetime” includes a wide variety of foreign policy decisions from U.S. officials: two wars in Iraq, a series of START treaties, Nixon going to China, the end of the war in Vietnam, the Camp David Accords, the war in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iran/Contra, the U.S. role in negotiating the Northern Ireland peace process, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Iranian hostage crisis, etc.
According to the governor of Wisconsin, none of these was quite as “significant,” in terms of U.S. foreign policy, as Reagan firing air-traffic controllers. I find it very difficult to imagine even the most enthusiastic Walker supporter arguing that this is in any way coherent.
For that matter, Walker’s understanding of the firings’ impact is plainly silly. Firing striking workers let the whole world know “we weren’t to be messed with”? I hate to break it to the governor, but after the air-traffic controllers lost their jobs, plenty of foes messed with us anyway. The fact that Walker doesn’t know that isn’t a good sign.
Making matters slightly worse, the governor has tried to defend this argument by saying documents released after the Cold War by the former USSR prove that “the Soviet Union started treating [Reagan] more seriously” after he fired air-traffic controllers – a claim with absolutely no foundation in reality. In fact, Walker appears to have just made this up. Reagan’s own ambassador to Russia described the claim as “utter nonsense.”
What we’re left with is an inexperienced candidate whose views of the world lack any depth or maturity. If he considers the firing of air-traffic controllers “the most significant foreign policy decision” of the last 47 years, it’s not unreasonable to wonder how, exactly, Walker defines “foreign policy.”
Indeed, for weeks, Walker’s principal focus has been on trying to convince people that opposing labor unions is precisely the kind of experience presidents need to excel in global affairs. Repetition, however, is not improving the point’s ridiculousness.
Yes, it’s early, and unprepared candidates who make mistakes now can learn and adapt as the campaign progresses. But this is also the point at which would-be presidents make a first impression, introducing themselves to the public, and developing reputations that tend to stick.
And Scott Walker is quickly positioning himself as a candidate who simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Steve Benen, MSNBC
My first college experience was failing half my classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 1992. The highlight was getting a “D” in English 101. Like many small town kids, I was overwhelmed and underprepared. I dropped out of UNLV, joined the military and got married. Being a 20-year-old father and “enlisted” man showed me exactly how not to live, so I started a backward, fumbling and circuitous process of getting my undergraduate degree. In seven years, I attended four community colleges, a university on a military base and attended military journalism school. I pieced the whole mess into a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College, a credit aggregator that caters to military members.
Modern conservative politics push the notion that people who flip switches, burgers or bedpans don’t need “education.” They instead need “job training.” In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, someone crossed out this phrase: “to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.” And added this instead: “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” Walker backed down on the language change when it was exposed, claiming it was a “mistake.” Really it was just one more tired attack on the idea of education as a public good, one that helps people find fulfillment and meaning.
I value education more than many people, because I struggled so hard to get it. I had a bad elementary school experience, failed the fifth grade, muddled through high school and dropped out of college. Teachers were always kind to me, saying things like, “He’s clever, but lazy.” They were wrong about me, just like when Republicans are always wrong about poor people being lazy or stupid. When I failed out of college the first time I was working a full-time job far above 40 hours a week, while also going to school. I was most worried about making a living, and my skill set mirrored that of so many in the working class: Work hard, day in and day out and be grateful. Educational success has little to do with innate intelligence or “goodness” and almost everything to do with class, upbringing and privilege.
I also viewed education with suspicion bordering on paranoia. I came from a rural mining town in Nevada where I knew mostly blue-collar men who neither needed nor wanted a college education. Listening to adults talk they always had a favorite villain: the person who jumped ahead in line and got a job or promotion, only because he or she had a college degree.
I have my own children now, and I know the limits of parenting. Children heed your example far more than your advice. It’s painful to watch your children struggle. It was the same for my conservative family who encouraged me to go college. They weren’t able to offer any meaningful guidance or help, and it was not their fault. First generation college students, like me, face an impossible climb. If you add in conservative hostility to education, it gets that much harder.
After getting a bachelor’s at 27, I went back to graduate school to study 18th century British literature at California State Hayward. I landed a new job in Reno and moved to the University of Nevada, Reno, finishing a master’s in English there. A few years later, I went back again, this time for a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, a school that emphasizes social justice—for many conservatives, a coded phrase that means “liberal.” Even as a libertarian attending a liberal college, people went out of their way to be both kind and tolerant to me. My preconceived notions about the “evil liberals of the ivory tower” looked more ignorant and narrow by the day.
Before college, I voted conservative, hated gay people, loved America and served my country in the armed services. I’ve changed because of many factors, but I know that college and graduate school made a difference. I met people unlike myself and was forced to defend sometimes ugly political positions. The Tea Party thrives on blue-collar “common sense” that is composed of a combination of ignorance, superstition and fear. A literate and educated populace is an existential threat to the kind of thoughtless rage that has consumed the right over the past few years.
When I write about how my politics evolved over a lifetime from conservative to liberal, people in the comments section (note: never read Internet comments) like to point out my “liberal arts degrees.” Even my own friends like to remark on my MFA, usually by asking me to whip them up a “grande cappuccino.” It’s funny, and I go right along with the joke too. I understand the reality of trying to earn a living with an arts degree. At the same time, it’s troubling that educational fulfillment has turned into a punch line, even among those who believe in it.
Some people on the right are very educated. Rick Santorum holds an MBA and a JD (with honors, no less), and his vehement hatred of college seems to stem from his kooky take on religion. Modern politics is drawing bizarre new battle lines between “family values” and a halfway decent education. American Christians may dislike “Islam,” but they share a lot of opinions with the radical Islamic group “Boko Haram,” a name that itself translates into “education is forbidden.” In our own country, we have a massive and growing group of people who would rather have illiterate children than let their kids learn anything that contradicts their most extreme religious views.
I know many thoughtful, educated and even liberal people who hold deep faith. Despite my own personal atheism, I accept the authentic religious experiences of others, but I’m troubled by a growing chorus of denial on climate change, evolution and the age of the planet. Anti-intellectualism may be an American tradition, but when “mainstream” politicians embrace ignorance, education ends up as collateral damage.
“Serious” presidential candidate Scott Walker seems to have a problem with evolution, sounding like an idiot, most recently while in England. Unlike Rick Santorum who is an overeducated hypocrite, Walker lives the life of a true education hater. Asked about not finishing his undergraduate experience (which I’m not necessarily attacking), Walker said, “The reason I went to college, in large part, was not just to get an education for an education’s sake, but to get a job.” For too many politicians, it all comes down to money.
In America, to our everlasting shame, money is the absolute yardstick of goodness. I like money just like anyone, but many other things have brought me as much or more satisfaction: being a father, writing an essay or seeing a new part of the planet. It’s easy to pick on poetry, humanity or art degrees.
I was able to go back to school in large part because my military service made it affordable. The GI Bill paid for both my master’s degrees. My background and rough start make me an unlikely champion of college education. I’ve also been socially adjusted for my whole life to feel like a pretentious asshole and a fraud every time I bring it up. But education makes a difference in people’s lives.
That’s why sensible people need to stand up against the vilification of education. A good start is to support Barack Obama’s free community college initiative. I earned most of the credits for my very first undergraduate degree at community colleges, and those classes kickstarted my interest in school. It’s hard to see how I would have ever overcome my own barriers without the patience of many community college instructors. Obama’s plan to fund community college will not only make our country a better place but will also improve, even slightly, the state of our shared humanity.
And to acknowledge the “other side,” education does help people find good, fulfilling jobs. Even my “slapped together” bachelor’s degree helped launch me into a career in public relations. The job has more than sustained me and my family, while also allowing me to explore my own outside interests.
Some days I wish I could use my graduate education to find a full-time academic job, but I passed up too many opportunities and wasted too many years fumbling around. Academic jobs and humanities scholarship itself are under assault, just like so many other valuable parts of America. I’m probably a coward, but I also don’t like the idea of leaving my longtime profession to start all over. Besides, there is inherent value to education even if someone isn’t paying you for it. I know my life would be less satisfying without it. For instance, if I had turned my back on education, I could have ended up as an ignorant asshole trying to turn back the very hands of human progress, much like the party to which I once belonged.
EDWIN LYNGAR, Salon
I love San Francisco. This is the only place where I want to live. I’ve had so many discussions about What Is Happening to the Place We Love, though, that I am frayed. I feel loss as the funky bits are swept away, and I’m experiencing culture shock in the city I’ve lived in for almost 20 years. But let’s face it, things weren’t so much better when I first got here. Let’s remember, for a minute, the San Francisco of the 1990s.
During online discussions and wine-fueled dinners spent rehashing the state of the city, I hear those of us who came of age (and now middle age) in San Francisco talking about the good old days. Everyone was an artist; you could rent a huge, sunny flat in the Mission for cheap; you could take a date to Axum Cafe for $10. We sound like the baby boomers who once blamed us for changing their town — staking their claim to cheap rents, working part-time as a daisy painter, and living downstairs from Janis Joplin.
I have to call cease-fire on the hysterical reminiscing. San Francisco wasn’t all Bohemia and rainbows when I moved here. Some things are actually better now than they were back in the day. No one misses the old Ferry Building, which was like a forgotten bus station on the waterfront, with pigeons swooping overhead. I don’t miss Mayor Willie Brown, who is a walking caricature of a well-connected politician. Brunch lovers should be glad they didn’t live here before 1998, when the statewide ban on raw or runny eggs was lifted.
This has always been a food town, but we didn’t fetishize the home cook until recently. Farmers’ markets didn’t feature pastured meats, and Safeway didn’t have an organics section. We had Cala Foods, a local chain of grocery stores with locations scattered around town. There was no joy in shopping at Cala. I went there because it was close to home, and I didn’t have a car. Every store smelled like sour milk and looked like something out of the 1950s. Herbs with faded labels, raw shrimp that reeked of ammonia, and five kinds of instant rice: Cala had it all. Twice I purchased rotten meat there that had been repackaged and flipped over so the green part was facing down. I’m surprised I didn’t give up on cooking and stick to inexpensive Thai takeout (RIP, all you forgotten delivery restaurants). Rainbow Grocery was around, but its overpriced offerings were out of my reach.
Farmers’ markets are everywhere now. There are dozens in San Francisco. Small weekly pop-ups and the large city-run markets are bringing fresh food at decent prices to areas considered urban-food deserts. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market gets all the glory, but even tiny Crocker Galleria holds its surprises (and lower prices).
Outdoor concerts inside city limits are a welcome addition to San Francisco’s cultural offerings. Once upon a time you had to drive to places like Concord or Mountain View to see a big-time musical act in a large amphitheater, or you could attend the occasional concert at Candlestick Park. Now you can take the bus (or walk!) to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park or shuttle over to the Treasure Island Music Festival. Pack your layers, spread out a blanket, and bask in the fog-glow of how great it is to live here.
Dolores Park is another outdoor attraction that has changed in the last few decades. When I first moved here, the only cannabis for sale in the park was sold in $10 bags from behind the trees near the J-Church tracks. It was sketchy business. Now upstart vendors sell pot truffles and hashish ginger snaps. The playground was run-down, and the public restrooms were for emergencies only. When I lived nearby, I logged some hours sitting in Dolores Park, but it was not the destination it is today (except for the nude sunbathers on the upper shelf of the park, also known as Gay Beach). A warm afternoon in the grass is a full-on scene of cruising and idling, ground-level entrepreneurship, and ragtag community. Dolores Park is a testament to open public spaces, but I do wish people would clean up after their rosé- and pot-cookie-fueled benders.
Biking in San Francisco is definitely better than it used to be. It’s still scary — someone’s always double-parked on Valencia Street, and delivery trucks never pull into those red meter spaces that only they can use. But if you think the bike lane on Folsom Street is edgy and dangerous, consider Folsom Street before there was a bike lane. It was one rodeo clown shy of a circus. When I first started biking, I had a near miss on Market Street. A car I had been riding beside turned into me in broad daylight. Somehow I jumped off my bike, threw it into a gas station (now high-rise condos), and hurdled to safety. The driver of the car rolled down the window and asked, “What are you doing there?” After that I started riding in Critical Mass.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has worked with the city to make this a safer place for bikers and to get more cars off the roads. Demarcated green bike lanes remind motorists that yes, indeedy, a bike with a person on it might be present. The first bike lane in the city was on Lake Drive in Golden Gate Park in 1971 — a quaint ride but not exactly a commuter route. Enter the Wiggle, a route used to get from Market Street to Golden Gate Park with the least amount of uphill riding. Shared-lane marking, also known as sharrows, were added to the Wiggle’s green lanes in 2011 to make the route more visible to bikers and drivers. Plotting official routes to get people across town on two wheels has led to a huge increase in bike commuting.
It wasn’t just biking that offered a scary ride in the ’90s. In 1998, Muni took old streetcars out of service and added the gray cars now in use. At that same time, the underground system became automated. What happened was known as the Muni Meltdown. It was bad — so bad that I don’t think Muni is all that terrible anymore. Railing against Muni is a point of pride for San Franciscans, but the system of yore was a different beast. I almost got fired because of that crappy transit system. My supervisor, who drove to work, didn’t believe me when I was almost in a Muni-on-Muni head-on collision and had to walk through tunnels below Market Street because the train I was riding on had somehow gotten on the opposite tracks heading the wrong way. She did not believe that I could stand in the Castro station and that a single train wouldn’t come for 45 minutes. In those days, it was faster to walk.
The Castro reminds me of my early days in San Francisco: late-night meals at Orphan Andy’s diner, shopping for housewares at Cliff’s Hardware, and, on a much more serious note, the tail end of the AIDS crisis. The Castro had a sadness that wound its way through the neighborhood. I remember young men who should have been in the prime of their life using canes. The obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter contained pages and pages of photos of people who had died. It was a sad and horrible time for so many San Franciscans. I try to imagine how different our city would be if those people were thriving, if AIDS have never happened. This would be a different place.
I’ve been thinking about my little studio on Castro Street and my life back then. My rent was $600 a month — about half my monthly income. Even back then it wasn’t a lot of money for a girl fresh off the plane who needed West Coast clothes and tickets to the Fillmore and who eventually got her landline shut off because she couldn’t pay her phone bill. I soon made friends, who taught me the ways of San Francisco — things like buying clothes by the pound and that I should never unwrap all the foil from a burrito before eating it.
We all think we were the last of the cool kids to set up shop here. In coming here, we set out on our own personal gold rush in search of opportunity, acceptance, or fortune. I wonder what future San Francisco will remember about today’s city. Will the city seem as polarized in the rearview as it is right now? I’ll have to ask my daughter when she grows up. I hope she remembers a creative, colorful, accepting, occasionally dirty, and sometimes funky place. Fingers crossed.
MOLLY DITMORE, The Bold Italic
The next time your right-wing family member or former high school classmate posts a status update or tweet about how taxing the rich or increasing workers’ wages kills jobs and makes businesses leave the state, I want you to send them this article.
When he took office in January of 2011, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate from his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, the soon-forgotten Republican candidate for the presidency who called himself Minnesota’s first true fiscally-conservative governor in modern history. Pawlenty prided himself on never raising state taxes — the most he ever did to generate new revenue was increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. Between 2003 and late 2010, when Pawlenty was at the head of Minnesota’s state government, he managed to add only 6,200 more jobs.
During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000, and on couples earning over $250,000 when filing jointly — a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He’s also agreed to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. Republicans like state representative Mark Uglem warned against Gov. Dayton’s tax increases, saying, “The job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It’s all dollars and sense to them.” The conservative friend or family member you shared this article with would probably say the same if their governor tried something like this. But like Uglem, they would be proven wrong.
Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy — that’s 165,800 more jobs in Dayton’s first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota’s top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.
By late 2013, Minnesota’s private sector job growth exceeded pre-recession levels, and the state’s economy was the 5th fastest-growing in the United States. Forbes even ranked Minnesota the 9th-best state for business (Scott Walker’s “Open For Business” Wisconsin came in at a distant #32 on the same list). Despite the fearmongering over businesses fleeing from Dayton’s tax cuts, 6,230 more Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket in 2013, just one year after Dayton’s tax increases went through. As of January 2015, Minnesota has a $1 billion budget surplus, and Gov. Dayton has pledged to reinvest more than one third of that money into public schools. And according to Gallup, Minnesota’s economic confidence is higher than any other state
Gov. Dayton didn’t accomplish all of these reforms by shrewdly manipulating people – this article describes Dayton’s astonishing lack of charisma and articulateness. He isn’t a class warrior driven by a desire to get back at the 1 percent — Dayton is a billionaire heir to the Target fortune. It wasn’t just a majority in the legislature that forced him to do it — Dayton had to work with a Republican-controlled legislature for his first two years in office. And unlike his Republican neighbor to the east, Gov. Dayton didn’t assert his will over an unwilling populace by creating obstacles between the people and the vote — Dayton actually created an online voter registration system, making it easier than ever for people to register to vote.
The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota’s economy into one of the best in the nation is simple arithmetic. Raising taxes on those who can afford to pay more will turn a deficit into a surplus. Raising the minimum wage will increase the median income. And in a state where education is a budget priority and economic growth is one of the highest in the nation, it only makes sense that more businesses would stay.
It’s official — trickle-down economics is bunk. Minnesota has proven it once and for all. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong.
Carl Gibson, Huffington Post
Parents, Teachers, Students, Alumni at Catholic Schools React to SF Archbishop’s Latest Statements:
“Nothing Has Changed”
Star of the Sea School Parents Mount Effort to Overturn Changes at Grade School
San Francisco—Concerned parents, students, teachers and alumni of Bay Area Catholic high schools today released the following statement regarding Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s proposed “morality clauses” for teachers and other staff:
“The San Francisco Chronicle today published an editorial stating that Archbishop Cordileone will no longer attempt to reclassify teachers and staff at four Catholic high schools as “ministers.” While it is true that he is no longer using that word, it is a mistake to believe that he has backed off his effort to reclassify teachers and other staff as ministers who would be exempt from anti-discrimination and other workplace protections. He has not. The Archbishop is still proposing that the teachers and other staff are ‘called to advance this religious mission’ and that their work is ‘ministry.’ This is not a meaningful change from the Archbishop’s previous proposal. The teachers want to be classified as teachers – and nothing else.
The Archbishop has also made no move to retract the language condemning members of our community by labeling their lives as ‘gravely evil.’ In fact, in a February 24, 2015 media advisory, his Archdiocesan spokesperson stated that ‘Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.’
The Archbishop is also now proposing to establish a committee of theology teachers ostensibly to help clarify the proposed handbook language. His formation of a handpicked committee gives the false impression of openness to dialogue, and gives him cover for speech that is very harmful to our children, faculty, staff and community.
We are concerned that Archbishop Cordileone was ‘surprised at the degree of consternation’ over his proposed changes to the collective-bargaining agreement and faculty handbook. This clearly shows he is out of touch with his flock, with his teachers, with his parents, and with his alumni. We believe the solution is straightforward. We ask the Archbishop to cease in his attempt to reclassify the teachers as anything but teachers, and to use the current faculty handbook which has been in place and successfully utilized for years by Catholic high school administrators and staff.
We will remain steadfast in fighting for the elimination of handbook language which in any way would make our children, teachers or staff members feel unwelcome, unsupported or unsafe in our schools. We will insist that the employment rights of all teachers and staff be respected.”
Students will rally on Friday, March 6, from 5:30 – 6:30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral Plaza to celebrate the bedrock Catholic values of acceptance, love and justice. A forum to include parents, students and theologians is also planned for Monday, March 16 at the University of San Francisco. A number of parents and parishioners plan to boycott the Archbishop’s Annual Fundraising Appeal by either giving nothing or donating only a token $1 donation.
A full version of the Archbishop’s interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board is available at http://blog.sfgate.com/opinionshop/2015/02/25/archbishop-cordileone-were-not-on-a-witch-hunt-video/
San Francisco parents at Star of the Sea School are also concerned over recent changes at the beloved neighborhood Catholic grade school where Archbishop Cordileone has installed one of his own, Father Joseph Illo. Father Illo unilaterally ended a tradition of Altar Girls at the school and church and handed out pamphlets to second graders that “asked questions such as, “Did I perform impure acts by myself (masturbation) or with another (adultery, fornication and sodomy)?” and, “Did I practice artificial birth control or was I or my spouse prematurely sterilized (tubal ligation or vasectomy)?” as well as, “Have I had or advised anyone to have an abortion?” The Cordileone appointed priest is also evicting homeless mothers and children from the Star of the Sea’s facilities that were the recipient of a grant from Salesforce.com founder and his wife Marc and Lynne Benioff. Parents at the school are mounting an effort to undo changes made by Father Illo and Archbishop Cordileone there.
“This is a self-inflicted crisis, made up by the Republicans. It is dangerous, it is the height of irresponsibility, and it’s unnecessary.”-Barbara Boxer, February 24, 2015 (regarding the GOP threat of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.)
I love this speech, I love this lawmaker. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) minced no words on Tuesday about Republicans. Here are portions of her amazing speech. I tried to choose just a few excerpts, but there were too many jewels. Tell me if you don’t agree.
We all know Republicans won in huge numbers in the 2014 election, and they took over the United States Senate and they run it. They run it. Or at least they’re trying to run it. And let’s be clear, less than eight weeks after they took over the Senate, we are facing a shutdown; a shutdown of the very agency that protects the health, the safety, the lives, of the American people – the Department of Homeland Security.They’re shutting down the program that funds our police officers back home, our firefighters, our first responders. Any way you look at it, this is a national disgrace. And think about what our friends abroad, and those who are not our friends, are thinking about this.
Republicans say, ‘Oh, we’re in danger, we have to go to go to war, put combat troops on the ground!’ But they’re wiling to shut down the department that protects Americans here in the homeland, from a terrorist attack.
How does it make sense, at a time when we’re facing serious threats to our national security, to furlough 30,000, thirty thousand, department of homeland security workers, and to force more than 100,000 frontline homeland security personnel to work without pay?
Why don’t theses senators go without their pay?
Give up your pay! Give up your healthcare, give up your benefits, if this is so important to you. Oh, no, they’ll collect their pay!
Senator Boxer reminds Congress that this shutdown is in retaliation to President Obama’s recent plan for immigration. Boxer talks about those at risk of being deported. She talks about children who were born to American immigrants (as she was) who would be torn away from each other if the GOP had their way.
“I thought they were the party of ‘family values.’ Show me where that’s true? Ripping families apart? I thought they were the party of ‘economic prosperity.’ Show me how that’s true, when we know from study after study show that one of the greatest things we can do for our economy and job creation is get people out of the shadows so they can go buy a home and hold a good job. They (Republicans) can’t or won’t pass an immigration bill. They will not do their job. So when the president steps in and does his job, they say, ‘Oh, this is terrible! Let’s shutdown a totally unrelated department. The Department of Homeland Security.
To make her points about Republican hypocrisy, Boxer brings up the GOP’s claimed concern for ‘fiscal responsibility’ and executive orders.
The Center for American Progress, states it would cost more than $50 Billion to deport the entire population that the president is protecting.And here’s the deal – I’ve never heard of a Republican (and I will stand corrected if any Republican corrects me) I’ve never heard of a Republican complaining when President Eisenhower used his executive order power to help immigrants, when President Nixon did the same thing to protect immigrants, when President Ronald Reagan, their hero, protected immigrants, when George Bush Sr. protected immigrants, when George W. protected immigrants, they all used their authority.
Show me one Republican that stood up and said, ‘Oh this is outrageous! Let’s impeach the president. But it’s president Obama. And they’re annoyed because he won twice. Sorry. Sorry. Wake up and smell the roses. He IS the President.
The senator from California goes on to tell several stories, one about a young woman name Anna, born to hardworking undocumented immigrant parents. Anna has come out of the shadows and is now studying to be a bilingual first grade teacher.
So tell me, Republicans, how does it make sense to deport people like Anna, split her up from her parents, when all they want to do is contribute to the country that they love. How does it make sense?How does it make sense? Because you’re too incompetent to hold a vote on your immigration plan? You want to kick people out of the country? Put it to a vote! Let’s go. You want to deport 11 million people? Put it to a vote. Don’t hide behind the Homeland Security Bill, holding the President’s work hostage. You never did it to the other presidents.
Our national security is at stake, our family values are at stake. And our economy is at stake here. So get over the fact that you don’t like the president. We get it. You couldn’t beat him. Too bad for you. But you’re in charge here, in the Senate. Do your job! Bring an immigration bill to the floor. Let’s let this Homeland Security Bill go. It’s a bipartisan bill. It’s funding for the most important thing we’re doing today. Let it go. Don’t hold it hostage to your hatred of this president, and I use that word because that’s what I think. That’s what I think….
So I say to my Republican friends. There’s s presidential race coming. Forget this last one. Get over it. Okay? Let’s work together. Listen, I served with five presidents. I’m a strong Democrat. Everyone will tell you that. But I respect the office of the presidency. If I didn’t agree with Ronald Reagan, I came down here and said it. But we had the respect back and forth. If we lost, we lost. And we moved on. And that worked both ways. I know what it is not to like the policies of a president. I get it. But don’t overdue it and make it so personal. Get on with it. Grow up. Do your job, you know? Do your job! Have respect for the office of the presidency. Don’t suddenly say executive orders are bad when the president you don’t like does it, but you don’t say one word when a Republican president does the same thing!
The speech is glorious. Boxer is speaking not only for Democrats, she is speaking out for Americans. Her words are rousing and affirming much like those in the speeches of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Republican extremists are getting away with the closet thing to treason many of us have seen in our lifetimes. And it’s not only betrayal against the President, it’s betrayal against the U.S. Constitution and the tax-payers/citizens.
Here’s hoping Barbara Boxer’s words will resonate across social media. And let’s see if mainstream media picks up on a politician like this, instead of all the ego-driven Tea Party clowns like Ted Cruz. I mean for crying out loud.
Leslie Salzillo, Daily Kos
This is my story as an Airbnb host; I am one of thousands of good citizens in San Francisco and around the world who have discovered the enriching phenomenon of homesharing.
I arrived in San Francisco 43 years ago and have lived on Potrero Hill ever since. I bought a 2 unit building in 1975, which I could never afford to purchase today. I rent the second unit long term and contribute to affordable housing in our city, historically charging well below market rate –because I want to make my space available to a regular person like myself – a retired social worker.
I became intrigued by what I heard about our quirky home grown start up Airbnb. It appealed to my friendly curious nature. So, starting three years ago, I’ve offered a small guest room with private bath in my home only while I am present. The income makes a huge difference in my retired standard of living. It has been a life saver with medical expenses. It secures my ability to remain in my house and in SF because I am spared depleting my savings so quickly. Thus, I can postpone selling the house which is my main asset. The income also literally allows me to subsidize my long term tenants’ rent.
Meeting amazing people from around the world is of equal value to the income. My guests add a wonderful flavor to my life. I get to know people young enough to be my grandchildren, learn about their lives and their dreams. Over the years, I’ve had several returning guests with whom I’ve created true friendships. I’ve had the pleasure to know two university professors from Kentucky whose son and family lived one block away without a guest room. They spent numerous holidays with me and came when a new baby was added to the family. Even when they could not stay with me they brought the baby by to say hello. I hosted a young woman from Manhattan doing reconnaissance on where she would move, who became my neighbor and invited me to her engagement party. I’ve had high tech workers based in the Ukraine. I’ve had visitors of all ages and walks of life from Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. The world has come to me from at least three if not all four corners of the globe. We’ve shared stories about our families, politics, and communities. My existence has been made much richer by this endeavor.
I had my first experience as a guest this past December and got to experience the magic of homesharing from the other side. It was so positive that I’ve changed plans for an upcoming trip to Italy and will stay in hosted Airbnb rooms instead of more traditional B&Bs.
I do not have the hosting experience in a vacuum. Being a good neighbor has always been crucial to me. I live on a very stable block where we have known each other for decades. When I decided to try homesharing, I let my nearest neighbors know in advance. When we are literally sharing space with our guests, we have a vested interest in safety, security and consideration–which impacts us as much if not more than our neighbors. While I definitely had some trepidation about trying this at first, my guests have been some of the most respectful, quiet, clean and delightful people I have ever encountered anywhere.
My guests have been very appreciative of the home sharing experience and love our City. They bring value to our community. They dine at local restaurants and cafes; they shop at our markets. I cherish my neighborhood and welcome the safeguards contained in the new law in San Francisco that protect against those bad apples who give our activity a bad name. I have faith that our Planning Department can and will enforce those provisions and will work towards making it easier for myself and fellow home sharers to comply. We are all excited to share this marvelous adventure.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) are launching a series of events focusing on Democratic solutions to the woes of the middle class.
The “Middle Class Prosperity Project” starts Tuesday with a forum featuring prominent economists. On Monday, Warren and Cummings co-authored a USAToday op-ed describing a decline in middle-class prosperity since 1980.
“Beginning in the late 1970s, corporate executives and stockholders began taking greater shares of the gains. Productivity kept going up, but workers were left behind as wages stagnated,” Warren and Cummings write.
“Families might have survived as their incomes flattened, except for one hard fact: the costs of basic needs like housing, education and child care exploded,” the op-ed continues. “Millions took on mountains of debt and young people began struggling to cling to the same economic rung as their parents.”
The Middle Class Prosperity Project, billed as an opportunity “to give a voice in Washington to those who need it most,” will first hear from a panel of economists including Jared Bernstein, Beth Ann Bovino, Joseph Stiglitz and Gerald Jaynes. The event is not a formal hearing of a congressional committee.
President Barack Obama, for his part, has been pushing a middle-class-themed agenda that includes higher taxes for the wealthy, a higher minimum wage and free community college. On Monday, the White House announced it would push a new rule to require investment brokers to act in the best interests of their clients.
The Huffington Post | By Arthur Delaney
There was a time when it was permissible to think that the chief purpose of the judicial branch of government was to protect our constitutional rights as a check on runaway legislative majorities or executive overreach. To fulfill that duty, a judge is insulated from partisan maneuvering by a grant of lifetime tenure and a constitutionally guaranteed salary. In return, the federal judge must show discretion, decorum and above all, an unwillingness to be drawn into partisan quarrels. This behavior is known as having a judicial temperament.
The tradition of apolitical judges has come under strain recently, given the habit of even Supreme Court justices to pop off like opinionated customers in a saloon (I’m thinking of you, Tony Scalia). But new ground has been broken in partisan mudslinging by Justice Laurence H. Silberman, an appellate judge appointed by Ronald Reagan. He has taken to the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to attack as dangerously irresponsible the millions of Americans who believe George W. Bush lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for invading Iraq.
How does Silberman know this? He writes on the authority of having been co-chairman of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. This commission, appointed by Bush, found no intent by the president to mislead Congress or the public about the presence of WMD; after all, the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate made the claim about Iraqi WMD, not Bush.
That conclusion is hardly surprising, because the commission’s scope was so narrowly defined as to preclude examining whether the president and his advisers put pressure on the intelligence community to produce the worst NIE (national intelligence estimate) in history. The failings of the commission and Silberman’s misrepresentation of its findings have been covered more than adequately elsewhere. It is worth mentioning though, that the commission was stacked with partisan Republicans (can one imagine Senator John McCain, who was on the panel, performing a dispassionate analysis of anything?). Among the token Democratic panel members was the co-chairman, former Sen. Charles Robb, a walking vacuum.
Whatever his other cognitive weaknesses, Bush certainly knew what he was doing when he appointed Silberman to run the commission. In 1980, Silberman was a co-chair of presidential candidate Reagan’s foreign policy team. Later, when on the federal bench, he overturned Colonel Oliver North’s conviction on three felony counts in the Iran-Contra case. He upheld key portions of the Patriot Act, an unconstitutional statute that had been stampeded through a panicked and fearful Congress. As a judge who served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, he is a member in good standing of the Deep State. No wonder Bush awarded Silberman the Medal of Freedom; that little spangle was the customary gold watch for George Tenet, L. Paul Bremer and all the other hired help who cleaned up after the president’s messes.
Distasteful as it may be for someone to flaunt his judicial credentials while claiming to adjudicate the historical truth of a subject on which he has a partisan conflict of interest, that is hardly the limit of his transgression. What is truly insulting is for Silberman to compare critics of the war who believed Bush lied to Nazis. He writes:
I am reminded of a similarly baseless accusation that helped the Nazis come to power in Germany: that the German army had not really lost World War I, that the soldiers instead had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by politicians.
One hardly knows where to begin with this historical falsification. The “stab-in-the-back” myth, the “Dolchstosslegende,” was concocted by far-right Germans, including Nazis, in an attempt to justify rather than discredit the war. They claimed the German army could have continued fighting, but was stabbed in the back by pacifist politicians. Critics of the Iraq war, by contrast, always believed the war should never have been fought in the first place. German critics of their country’s participation in World War I, like Karl Liebknecht or Rosa Luxemburg, ended up being murdered for their views. One shudders to think that a federal judge has so much difficulty sorting out facts and evidence.
The stab-in-the-back myth has been a standard right-wing refrain throughout my lifetime. The slippery politician Harry S. Truman stabbed General MacArthur in the back over Korea by refusing to let him win. Dirty hippies and the media stabbed our boys in the back as they fought in Vietnam. And now, of course, ISIS is Obama’s fault because he withdrew troops from Iraq. Never mind that Obama withdrew them precisely according to Bush’s already-negotiated timetable and that ISIS was the bastard child of our invasion. Yet Silberman smears critics of war, rather than chickenhawk proponents of war, because it fits so neatly into his worldview.
Judicial corruption does not require a cash nexus. The justices of the federal judiciary, who have lifetime tenure and fixed salaries, receive no bribes to rule the way they do. What Laurence Silberman has shown us is the fact that intellectual corruption can be as corrosive to the integrity of the bench as a cash bribe.
by Mike Lofgren, TruthOut
Are we in a bubble? Is it going to burst? And if not, what do I do?
N’Jeri Eaton lives in Oakland’s Eastlake neighborhood. “Funktown,” she told us. “It’s amazing.”
It’s part of what she loves most about Oakland, where she has lived for 10 years. She remembers her first visit to the Grand Lake Farmers Market near Lake Merritt — she couldn’t believe how diverse it was.
“Seeing white Rastafarians and Ethiopians and Vietnamese musicians playing for the crowd … it was just everyone. Oakland felt like a real-life version of United Colors of Benetton,” she said. “This is the first place that has felt like home ever in my entire life.”
Eaton loves her cozy apartment and would like to stay here forever, but she’s worried that she won’t be able to. She’s in her 30s, with a full-time job in documentary film. Her life can stay the way it is only if absolutely nothing changes — not her job, not her rent, not the number of people living in her apartment. And, of course, that’s not realistic.
“I just feel vulnerable,” says Eaton, who grew up outside Chicago and has lived many places in the Midwest and on the East Coast. “And I want control of my own space. I want to have kids someday soon, and I can’t have a kid in this apartment and have a healthy semblance of a life.”
So Is It a Bubble?
“This is not a bubble,” says Chris Thornberg, an economist in Los Angeles.
Though he’s just one guy, we called him because he has the dubious distinction of having predicted the 2008 market crash. His colleagues used to call him “Dr. Doom.”
He says that the money flooding the Bay Area isn’t built on speculation like the last boom.
“These are people with real money, with real incomes,” he says. “They have enough money to live in whatever cities and neighborhoods they want, so if there’s not enough high-end housing, they’ll just gentrify lower-income neighborhoods.”
And while the growth may slow, it won’t stop, Thornberg predicts. He believes the solution is a matter of adding to the housing supply. As more units come on the market, prices become more reasonable for everybody, he says.
But others argue that without policies making sure some of the housing is affordable, it’s not going to make any difference for middle-class and poor people.
“That’s completely wrong,” Thornberg says. “The evidence tends to suggest that for the most part, when you start layering rule after rule after rule on real estate developers, ultimately you end up simply hurting the supply worse.”
So what should Eaton do?
Thornberg’s answer? Buy now. Anything you can get.
The Bigger Problem
“Did you tell him what I do for a living?” Eaton said, laughing, when we told her Thornberg’s advice. “I can’t just plop down $200K for a condo in deep East Oakland. That’s great advice for someone who has a lot of equity and doesn’t work in nonprofits.”
Eaton reached a troubling conclusion: “It’s time for me to leave.”
But is that really her only hope?
Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster who thinks about the future of the Bay Area for a living. He said he’d understand if someone like Eaton chose to leave, but he thinks we should try really, really hard to keep her here.
“I’m less concerned about your caller’s problem than the region’s problem,” he says.
More and denser housing alone isn’t going to keep people like Eaton here, says Saffo. We also have to build better transit, bend outdated rules and think creatively about how the region works.
Some work on this front is already underway. People have proposed new rules for in-law apartments, and some are banding together to buy buildings cooperatively through structures like co-ops and land trusts.
Saffo says we all need to start thinking cooperatively — to see the Bay Area as a city-state. Even if this isn’t a bubble, the reality is that single-industry booms don’t last forever, he says.
“I think the danger today is becoming a monoculture,” said Saffo. “So we need to keep thinking about diversity in the ecological sense of lots of different kinds of people, lots of different kinds of industries, lots of different kinds of housing. That’s what protects us when booms go bust.”
The Imitation Game, up for eight Academy Awards on Sunday, gave us a glimpse into the life of Alan Turing, a codebreaker who helped turn the tide of World War II for the Allies. Turing (pictured above) was a gay man who left the world a better place, but like so many LGBT heroes, he was forced to live a closeted life that denied him the full pleasure of his achievements and success. While Turing is now finally getting his due — last year, the Queen of England officially pardoned him, lifting his 1952 conviction for homosexuality — there are others like him worthy of recognition.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
George Washington Carver was born into slavery in southwestern Missouri during the Civil War. A sickly child, Carver threw himself into education and was admitted to Iowa’s Simpson College as the only African-American student, eventually joining the faculty after graduating. He would then head the agriculture department at Tuskegee University, where he devised agricultural innovations, including new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes, including oil, flour, and ink. His work paved the way for modern advances in biofuels and cleaning products. Gay rumors followed Carver at Tuskegee, which were not dispelled when he and his research assistant, Austin Wingate Curtis, Jr., began living together. Curtis worked hard after Carver’s death to preserve his companion’s legacy.
Oliver Sipple (1941-1989)
Oliver Sipple, a highly decorated U.S. Marine and Vietnam War Veteran, saved President Gerald Ford’s life during a 1975 assassination attempt in San Francisco. Sipple was among thousands waiting to catch a glimpse of Ford and noticed the woman next to him had drawn a gun and was pointing it at the president. His quick lunge at the woman saved Ford’s life. Sipple was quickly thrust into the media spotlight and despite his request that his homosexuality remain a secret, he was outed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Sipple sued the newspaper for invasion of privacy, but the Chronicle eventually won the drawn-out legal battle. After the assassination attempt, Ford merely sent Sipple a thank-you letter, but the president would later contend a White House invitation was not witheld because Sipple was gay. Sipple, sick and nearly penniless, died of pneumonia in 1989 at age 47.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Known as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale trained and managed British nurses caring for soldiers in the Crimean War. She laid the foundation for the modern profession with her establishment of the nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. While it was never confirmed by Nightingale that she was in fact a lesbian, she refused marriage proposals from men and made it known she preferred the company of women. This quote is attributed to Nightingale: “I have lived and slept in the same beds with English Countesses and Prussian farm women. No woman has excited passions among women more than I have.”
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin was a leader in civil rights movement of the 20th century. In 1947 he planned the first Freedom Ride, which challenged segregation on interstate bus systems and inspired further such rides in the 1960s. Rustin combined his organizational skills with support for nonviolent resistance and became a key adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. He was often arrested for his stances and spent two years in prison for refusing to register for the draft. Widely known as gay to his contemporaries, Rustin was also jailed for homosexual activity in 1953 and often attacked as a “pervert” by his political opponents. Although he rarely served as a public spokesman, his influence on civil rights never dimmed. Rustin died in 1987; 26 years later, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Hans Scholl (1918-1943)
Hans Scholl was a founding member of the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany in the 1940s, leading opposition to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. The group produced six political resistance leaflets that demanded freedom for the German people, called Hitler a murderer, and encouraged resistance and revolt against his regime. The White Rose leaflets, distributed throughout Germany, became a rallying cry, and anti-Hitler graffiti began appearing in Munich, Scholl’s home. The Gestapo was on the hunt for the leaflets’ authors and Scholl, his sister Sophie, and the other founders of White Rose were discovered in February 1943 and immediately executed; Scholl’s last words were “Long live freedom!” Prior to beginning the White Rose movement, Scholl was arrested and tried under the German code that criminalized homosexuality.
Teresa Butz made the ultimate sacrifice for her partner during a nightmare come true. In 2009, Butz and her partner were awakened in the middle of the night to see a naked man standing at the foot of their bed holding a butcher knife. For 90 minutes the women were raped and stabbed. When Butz saw that her partner was losing massive amounts of blood and growing weak, Butz tackled the maniac, allowing her partner to run from the room. Butz then hurled a nightstand through a window and dove out of it. She bled to death on the street, while her killer ran from their Seattle home. Butz’s partner survived — she was there when Butz’s mentally disturbed killer, Isaiah Kalebu, was convicted of aggravated murder, attempted murder, rape, and burglary.
Tori Johnson (1976-2014)
In December, 18 people were taken hostage by Muslim extremist Man Haron Monis in a café in downtown Sydney, including café manager Tori Johnson. After hours of being held at gun point, Johnson noticed the gunman getting tired and tried to wrestle the gun out of his hand. Unfortunately, Johnson’s attempt failed and he was executed by Monis. To Johnson’s credit, that gunshot is what prompted police to force their way into the café, kill Monis, and save the lives of 16 hostages (another hostage, Katrina Dawson, died before police stormed the restaurant). Johnson’s partner of 14 years, Thomas Zinn, spoke after his death about their dreams of being married one day, once it was legal in Australia.
Leonardo da Vinci
Known as one of the greatest painters in history, the man behind the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper was more than just an artist. He was the preeminent mind of the Renaissance, intrigued by anatomy, technology, and alternate energy sources, subjects he advanced with his studies and drawings. da Vinci was also very human; at the age of 24, he was charged with sodomy (accusations later dropped because, allegedly, the men charged with him were from wealthy families). Though the television drama Da Vinci’s Demons included some of the artist’s gay relationships, no mainstream film has done the same.
Torill Hansen and Hege Dalen
Four years ago, Norway suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. It was a horrific tragedy that claimed 77 lives, but would have been much worse if not for the actions of Torill Hansen and Hege Dalen, a couple vacationing at a campsite across from Utöyan Island. The women heard gunshots coming from the campsite, where a man named Anders Behring Breivik was murdering scores of people. They jumped in a boat and, making four trips, ferried 40 teenagers to safety as bullets hit the side of their craft.
Daniel Hernandez Jr.
As an intern with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez Jr. was only five days on the job when tragedy struck. On January 8, 2011, Gifford and her team set up a booth in front of an Arizona supermarket to talk to her constituents — Jared Lee Loughner walked up to the booth, shot Giffords in the head, and then turned his gun on the crowd, ultimately killing five people. Hernandez, a certified nursing assistant, sprung to action: He wrapped Safeway aprons around Giffords’s head and sat her upright so she didn’t drown in her blood. Hernandez held Giffords’s hand as she was wheeled on a gurney toward an ambulance — he told her not to worry, he would contact her husband and parents. Hernandez’s quick actions helped save the congresswoman’s life. Unlike Sipple, Hernandez was embraced as a gay hero and later elected to a Tucson-area school board.
Eric Alva (born 1970)
Staff Sergeant Eric Alva was the first Marine injured in the invasion of Iraq. He was in charge of 11 Marines in a supply unit when he stepped on a land mine in 2003, resulting in the loss of his right leg. Alva was given a Purple Heart for his bravery and received medical discharge after his service of 13 years in the United States Marine Corps. Alva went on to become an LGBT rights activist, eventually featured on the cover of The Advocate, and a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, focusing on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Frances Power Cobbe (1822-1904)
Born in 1822, Frances Power Cobbe was known as one of the most influential women to speak out against domestic violence and animal abuse. She founded the National Anti-Vivisection Society, a nonprofit animal welfare organization in London. As a writer, Cobbe published several articles on feminism, spousal abuse, and the legal rights of women in marriage. She was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage. In 1860, Cobbe met Mary Lloyd, who shared her love for animals, and the two were together until Cobbe’s death.
Source: The Advocate
Conservatives like to pretend that Presidents Day is a holiday for the exclusive celebration of Ronald Reagan, their favorite president and a man they lionize as an earthbound saint crossed with the world’s manliest cowboy.
So it’s a good idea to remember Reagan’s real legacy: a bad president surrounded by bad people who did bad things. Here are five of the worst things Reagan did as president to remind you exactly the kind of leader he was.
5. Reagan Stole Money from the Social Security Trust Fund
Remember those Saturday Night Live sketches in 2000 where Al Gore promised to put Social Security in a lockbox? (If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, Al Gore is the man who invented the Internet and came up with the global warming hoax.)
The reason Gore was so committed to protecting Social Security is that Ronald Reagan used the funds as his personal piggy bank. After his tax cuts devastated the federal treasury, ushering in the era of giant deficits we’re still mired in today, Reagan raised Social Security taxes ostensibly to protect Social Security for future generations. Instead, he dumped that money into the general treasury fund to reduce the deficits he had created. Speaking of corruption…
4. Reagan Filled His Administration With Corrupt People
No administration was as corrupt as Ronald Reagan’s, not even Nixon’s. His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts. His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.
Reagan’s vice president and successor, George Bush, pardoned six separate people for their roles in the Iran-Contra affair, including Reagan’s National Security adviser and his secretary of defense. Speaking of Iran-Contra…
3. Reagan Presided Over the Iran-Contra Affair
In 1985 and 1986, Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran, locked in a horrific war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for cash and the release of U.S. hostages. The sales to Iran violated sanctions against Iran.
But much of the money that came from the sales was diverted to fund the Contras, right-wing rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua. That was in violation of laws against helping the Contras.
As noted above, George Bush had to pardon several Reagan aides in the wake of the scandal
Speaking of aides…
2. Reagan Refused to Mention AIDS, Then Cut Funding for Research
In the early 80s, a horrific new epidemic ravaged America’s gay population. Because so many of the victims of AIDS were gay, the right-wing viewed the disease as a kind of divine retribution for their sins.
Reagan didn’t mention AIDS in public until September 1985, after more than 10,000 people had died from the disease. In 1986, Reagan called for a report on AIDS but also proposed cutting federal funds for research and patient care as treatments were just starting to make it to market. Speaking of inhumanity towards his fellow man…
1. Reagan Opposed Sanctions on Apartheid Era-South Africa
When Congress looked likely to pass sanctions on South Africa to battle apartheid in 1985, Reagan vigorously opposed any action. In order to stop moderate Republicans from defecting, he issued a half-assed executive order imposing some sanctions.
The next year, when Congress realized Reagan’s sanctions didn’t have teeth, it overwhelmingly passed a bill imposing real sanctions on the racist regime. Reagan vetoed the bill. Happily there were enough votes to override his veto, and the sanctions became a key part of the eventual end of apartheid.
Jesse Berney, Blue Nation Review
Last year, around the time after the elections, an unearthed recording of now Senator Joni Ernst was revealed to the public, truly showing the lack of compassion and monstrosity that has engulfed the GOP. The video captures Ernst’s monologue in which she says Americans are insufficiently “self sufficient,” and therefore feel entitled to government programs:
“What we have to do a better job of is educating not only Iowans, but the American people that they can be self-sufficient. They don’t have to rely on the government to be the do-all, end-all for everything they need and desire, and that’s what we have fostered, is really a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them. It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that. So do we have the intestinal fortitude to do that?…
We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything.”
Yeah, the government will give you a six-figure salary, free healthcare, a lifetime pension, travel expenses, your own paid staff, allowances for food and office renovations…oh wait…that’s you, Senator Ernst.
“It’s going to be very painful and we know that. So do we have the intestinal fortitude to do that.”
Well if this doesn’t sound like a sadistic elitist I don’t what is. Exactly why is this going to be painful? Why would one want to inflict such pain on people who are clearly in need after having the rug pulled out from underneath them in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? And if you even have to question whether or not you “have the intestinal fortitude to do that,” here’s really big hint: you don’t do it. You don’t hurt people so you can be this semi-important unsung hero of the right. You’re never going to be Reagan, so stop trying.
“And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do.”
I got a few words for you, Senator Bread-Bags: your family’s “reliance” came from the federal government at a cost to the tax-payers of $460,000. I rest my case on that point.
Congratulations, Iowa (where over 900,000 residents- or one-third of the state- receives some form of government assistance) on electing this woman who thinks you’re all just a bunch of lazy, entitled moochers, and who wants to inflict a “painful” ideology on you.
RYAN DENSON, Addicting Info
Normally, I’m the quiet passenger in a taxi cab. I’ll ask the driver how he’s doing and follow through with a bit of small talk, but after a few minutes I retreat into my own bubble, watching New York City’s lights pass me by. But around 4 a.m. on a cold Wednesday morning last December, I was on my way home from a concert, sitting in an Uber cab, and the conversation didn’t stop.
Not long after I hopped in, my driver started talking about his faith — he was a devout Christian and pastor — and the hope and peace it has brought to his family. These types of conversations, in which God is mentioned more than a few times, would normally make some people uncomfortable, especially those who either question his existence or deny it outright. For me, however, it was an opportunity to see the world through a different lens (I’m agnostic), and about five blocks before we reached my apartment building, his wife was talking to him through his phone’s speaker, reciting prayers before going to bed.
This conversation might have gone in a different direction if we’d been in a different city — NYC is one of the most tolerant in the country. Sometimes atheists feel the need to compare their beliefs to those of someone who is religious, and they form opinions on why atheism is better. In truth, it’s simply not right to compare like that; each person is entitled to their own faith. But, because we live in a society that’s constantly clashing, it should come as no surprise that scientists have already found some interesting trends when it comes to the health, personality, and intelligence of both groups.
Here’s what they’ve found.
Religious People Are Happier
One thing my driver showed me during our ride to Queens together was how content he was with his way of life. Believing in God, and his plan, put him at ease, and it brought his family and friends together. Surprisingly, it’s the latter, having a community, which confers these higher levels of happiness, according to a study published in 2010.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Harvard surveyed 3,108 adults in 2006, asking them about their religious activities, beliefs, and social networks. A year later, they called back just under 2,000 of them to ask the same questions. They found that, overall, religious people were more satisfied with their lives than non-religious — 28 percent reported being “extremely satisfied” compared to 19.6 percent of non-religious folk. “We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” sociologist Chaeyoon Lim told Live Science.
“We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.”
Non-Religious People Are More Tolerant
It’s probably important to note now that there are a variety of ways people can be non-religious. Some are atheist, meaning they lack a belief in God, while others are agnostic, who neither believe nor disbelieve in God. Secular groups tend to include people who’ve strayed from religion — the growing populationof Americans who’ve become unaffiliated.
Secular groups, a 2010 study from Duke University found, are far more likely to be tolerant of other races. Looking at the links between religiosity and racism since the Civil Rights Act, researchers found that “religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups,” because being part of the in-groups “promotes general ethnocentrism.” While some of these groups’ racism tended to recede as societal acceptance of racism decreased, it was only “religious agnostics,” or secular groups, that were racially tolerant. Moreover, the researchers found racial tolerance wasn’t evinced from humanitarian values, or treating others as you would like to be treated (the Golden Rule), which was “consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members.”
Other studies have shown that because morality among secular groups is based on the Golden Rule, secular groups tend to be less vengeful, less militaristic, less authoritarian, less sexist, and less homophobic than religious groups, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.
Religious People Can Handle Stress, Anxiety Better
It’s a common response in our brains to immediately become anxious or stressed when we make mistakes, or get things wrong in general. People who believe in God, however, seem to be protected against that response, at least to a certain extent.
A study from the University of Toronto, Scarborough, found that a higher belief in God resulted in lower activity in the area of the brain responsible for the bodily states of arousal associated with a stress response — the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). They discovered this by asking participants to write about religion or complete a scrambled word task that included religion and God-related words. Then, they had participants complete a Stroop task, in which they were told to name the color of a word printed in a different color while hooked up to electrodes that scanned their brains — the test is meant to elicit a high rate of errors.
They found believers were less likely to experience activity in the ACC when compared to non-believers, and suggested the reason could be because belief in God provides a way to order the world and explain seemingly random events.
Non-Religious People Are More Intelligent
Atheists can call this one, as they probably wanted to. A review of 63 scientific studies spanning the ages — OK, maybe just since 1928 — found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 of them, and a positive correlation in 10. However, only two of those showed a significant link. The researchers defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.”
How is this true? According to the University of Rochester researchers, “First, intelligent people are less likely to conform and thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Second, intelligent people tend to adopt an analytic (as opposed to intuitive) thinking style, which has been shown to undermine religious beliefs. Third, several functions of religiosity, including compensatory control, self-regulation, self-enhancement, and secure attachment, are also conferred by intelligence. Intelligent people may therefore have less need for religious beliefs and practices.”
In other words, intelligent people already have many of the qualities religion seeks to bestow on a person because, well, they’re intelligent. “Intelligent people typically spend more time in school — a form of self-regulation that may yield long-term benefits,” Miron Zuckerman wrote. “More intelligent people get higher level jobs, and better employment may lead to higher self-esteem and encourage personal control beliefs.”
Religious People Have Better Physical Health
Maybe it’s because they’re so happy and stress-free, but several studies have found religious people’s physical health benefits from believing, too. One such study, from researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia, found people coping with chronic health conditions and disability, such as spinal cord injuries, stroke, and cancer, fared better when they had religious and spiritual support.
“Both genders benefit from social support provided by fellow congregants and involvement in religious organizations,” said co-author Brick Johnstone, a health psychology professor, in apress release. “Encouragement to seek out religious and spiritual supports can assist individuals in coping with stress and physical symptoms related to health issues.”
In that same vein, another study from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that out of 92,395 postmenopausal women, those who frequently attended religious services cut their risk of death by 20 percent.
Non-Religious People Are More Generous
It’s common in almost any church to pass around a collection plate, in which congregants can donate. And donate they do, according to a 2012 study that found states with more religious residents were also the most charitable. These states included Utah, where residents gave about 10.6 percent of their discretionary spending to charity, as well as Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina. In comparison, states along in the Northeast, like Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine were the least charitable — only 2.5 percent of Maine residents gave to charity.
But giving more to charity doesn’t make a person more generous. It’s common in religious communities to give up to 10 percent of annual income to charity, a practice called tithe. While the donation amount varies with each faith, it’s typically encouraged as a way to thank God, care for others, and show faith in God’s giving. It’s worth reminding that religious in-groups tend to show humanitarian values most to those in their congregation.
By contrast, atheists who give to charity tend to do so on the basis of empathy and compassion, according to another 2012study. Researchers arrived at their conclusion after conducting three experiments, one of which involved 101 adults who were asked to watch two videos — one neutral and the other about children living in poverty — and then given 10 “lab dollars” to donate however much they wished to a stranger. Those who were least religious were more motivated by the emotionally charged video, and thus gave more money to a stranger.
Although science has all this to say about one group prevailing over the other, it really shouldn’t matter whether you’re religious or not. Religious people can also seek education and become successful, and today there are more tolerant views of people of different races, sexual orientations, and religions all over the country. At the same time, atheists and other non-religious groups can still build communities that support each other, as well as develop systems of meaning that help instill an understanding of the world.
Anthony Rivas, The Raw Story
Did San Francisco just get out-gayed?
Recently released data from the 2012 U.S. Census revealed which cities have the highest concentration of same-sex couple households (among cities with a population of 65,000 or above). The surprising frontrunner? Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where same-sex couples make up a whopping 2.8 percent of total households.
The Florida beach town has long been a destination for the vacationing LGBT community and is home to 19 gay resorts.
The real jaw-dropper, however, comes with a switch-up between two much larger cities. With 2.5 percent same-sex households, San Francisco came in a close third (third!) to Seattle, where gay households are suddenly booming. The city leaped from an estimated 1.7 percent of households in 2011 to 2.6 percent, according to recent data, nudging San Francisco from its cherished gay pedestal.
Seattle has long been hailed as a gay-friendly city, but its recent hold on same-sex households may be attributed to its overall family-friendliness.
“Most same-sex couples, in choosing a place to live, want what other families want — affordable housing, more space, good schools,” the Seattle Times noted in 2011, when the city’s surge in gay couples was first noted.
On the whiteboard above the bar at Doc’s Clock in the Mission, “Google” was scribbled in red marker. But the tech giant’s name wasn’t highlighted for the sake of criticism or mockery as one might have expected a year ago. Instead, the message described Google’s offer to match all donations in a fundraiser hosted last weekend to raise money for victims of a devastating fire on 22nd street.
At the Doc’s Clock fundraiser, people from all walks of life gathered in support of the community and a shared goal. The experience of the event itself, plus the collaboration between Google and the “real” Mission institution seem to support new research from Mayor Ed Lee’s office that suggest the anti-tech movement has run its course.
As we reported last week, a new survey conducted by Mayor Lee’s office in December polled 501 probable SF voters and reported that 65% had a positive view of the tech industry and 68% thought the mayor should support its growth. Of course, 501 isn’t the hugest sample size, and since this is the first survey of its kind, we don’t have a baseline against which we can measure. But on top of that news came a story in SF Gate Friday asking if the antitech movement is now obsolete. Reporter Kristen V. Brown answers that question with purely qualitative assessments seem to indicate that energy around protests has notably died down. Despite the occasional screed stereotyping workers as “tech invaders,” it seems safe to assume that the anti-tech movement has drawn to a close, with people focusing more now on criticizing individual companies and leaders for specific misdeeds instead of slamming the industry as a whole. But why?
As an anonymous member of the protest group Counterforce told the SFGate, they were unable to recruit the necessary support for their group because most people in SF “are either captured by the capitalist economy and working full time to pay rent, have been priced out, or are a transplant working for the tech industry.” But even here in the Flaky Capital of America, it’s hard to believe the movement dissipated simply due to lack of human resources.
Instead it seems a few big things have changed in the past year. For starters, tech companies seem to be trying harder to do good; tech dollars comprised almost 50% of the $9.8 billion donated in 2014 by the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy 50 list. They’re not only engaging in generic philanthropic efforts, but also choosing projects that actually serve the SF community, such as the Doc Clock’s fundraiser or Google’s donation of $6.8 million towards free Muni passes for lower income students. Those types of activities, combined with the taxes that companies now pay to use Muni stops, indicates that the Google bus protests actually resulted in positive action from tech companies.
As tech companies have made an effort to support the city, it’s been easier for people to focus on the real issues rather than scapegoating the city’s newer residents. For example, most people now understand that while the tech boom caused the spike in population, the housing crisis is much more tied to city regulations around building. It’s also become clearer that the average tech worker isn’t all that wealthy and is having trouble finding and affording housing here, as well. That issue is reflected in Lee’s survey, in which the cost of housing was voted a top concern for respondents. It’s also reflected in the news, where we hear about tech collectives for those who can’t find housing (or friends) and of course that programmer on Reddit who wants to live in a tent. There’s still the urge to condemn or mock the occasionalentitled Dropbox employee, but there’s also a more realistic view of the problems we face as a city.
There’s also the fact that San Franciscans seem to be tired of getting swept up into a toxic, internal battle based on generalizations about an entire industry. In the past year, I’ve spoken to many people who were negatively impacted by tech wealth and gentrification for various articles. So many of them, particularly influential people who had the opportunity to get their supporters riled up, opted instead to take the high road. When the Urban Flow yoga studio closed, its owner Rusty Wells decided not to speak poorly about the landlord who was evicting them because it was against the values of the studio. When I spoke to Randy Shaw from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, he didn’t exaggerate tech’s negative impact on the SRO community — even though if he had, it would have made an incendiary story. I was and am impressed by these community leaders who have chosen not to feed the dragon.
Even in the artist community, I see people who are mourning the economic changes but are still continuing to create. When Jason Kick was priced out of the city and had to move to Oakland, he developed the concept album and band “Rent Control.” People are still mourning and undoubtedly experiencing difficulty as a result of this latest boom. But it seems like hostility and blame are slowly giving way to behavior that better exemplifies the hippie city we knew and love: working together, solving problems, and making stuff
Rachel Balik, Bold Italic
The final week of January saw an annual ritual in government statistical gathering that few people know about — the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time survey of the homeless population, in which HUD recruits volunteers around the country to go out and try to count up all the homeless people living in America. This year, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough even joined up, volunteering as part of the San Francisco PIT crew.
Counting the homeless is, of course, a critical element to making appropriate homelessness policy. But good policy also requires greater awareness of a discovery that research continuously confirms — it’s cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.
The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on “the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues.”
By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.
This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Coloradofrom focusing on simply housing the homeless.
The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a “housing first” approach to homelessness. And by and large it’s worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That’s a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.
Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness
But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.
When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don’t need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don’t even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem — a lack of housing — and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven’t yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.
Matthew Yglesias, VOX
David Brooks must be giving kudos for getting it right. He went against the Right Wing grain as well as against rather elitist comments from journalists Andrea Mitchell and Jon Meacham.
Jon Meacham claimed that within Christianity, the Crusades was an exception to the rule. This illustrates how one can change a narrative when the context is kept limited in scope for a self-serving purpose. As noted in my previous post “This Obama speech put fear into Right Wing Evangelical Leaders,”
The President was rather kind by not articulating the fact that similar heinous behavior in our country is less than just a few centuries and decades past. Isolated heinous acts are less than a few months in our past.
Andrea Mitchell’s comment was simply ludicrous. She does not believe the prayer breakfast is a place to speak truth. “You don’t use the word Crusade in any context right now. It’s too fraught,” Andrea Mitchell said. “And the week after a pilot is burned alive and a video shown, you don’t lean over backward to be philosophical about the sins of the fathers. You have to deal with issues that are in front of you or don’t deal with it at all.” In other words ignore the sins that indirectly impact or have impacted all that is occurring in the world.
Jon Meachem does seem to believe that atrocities in the name of Christ ended with the Crusades. He forgot the savagery Christianity inflicted on Native Americans from the tip of South America, the Caribbean, Central America, to North America. He forgot that African slaves throughout the America’s were murdered, lynched, burned, and beheaded, many of these acts justified by religion. He forgot that while some did these bad deeds in the name of Christ, most Christians remained quiet.
Yet, many Americans now want to condemn Islam because many of its members seem to be just as quiet as Christians still are for many still occurring injustices in America and abroad.
When Chuck Todd asked if politicians can have the debate, David Brooks got it perfectly right.
I am pro Obama. I am totally pro Obama on this. I think he said the right thing. It was a gospel of humility. What sorts of people need a little gospel of humility? People in Washington, pundits, religious believers, — I happen to be all three of those things — and so we are told to walk humbly in the path, that the Lord’s paths are mysterious. And so he was saying we are prone to zealotry. As Jon said we are fallen. So to underline that, that’s useful in Washington today. That’s useful always.
When Chuck Todd asked if it was necessary for a President to leave office before he could speak that candidly, David Brooks response was again on point.
No I think he was right. He gave the race speech. It was a beautiful speech. He has given a whole series of great speeches, Trayvon Martin. I think this was utterly fine. This is exactly the moment you want to say this. We are most in moral danger to ourselves when we are caught up in a righteous fervor against an evil foe. Which is what we have. So while we exercise hard power, we have to take morally hazardous action, we are prone to get caught up in our own self-righteousness. This is exactly the moment you want this.
The President’s speech was about humility. It was about ALL humans being fallible. As such we should all get of the high horses and work together to bring us all together for a better nation, for a better world.
by Egberto Willies, Daily Kos
Citigroup is one of three Wall Street banks attempting to keep hidden their practice of paying executives multimillion-dollar awards for entering government service. In letters delivered to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over the last month, Citi, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley seek exemption from a shareholder proposal, filed by the AFL-CIO labor coalition, which would force them to identify all executives eligible for these financial rewards, and the specific dollar amounts at stake. Critics argue these “golden parachutes” ensure more financial insiders in policy positions and favorable treatment toward Wall Street.
“As shareholders of these banks, we want to know how much money we have promised to give away to senior executives if they take government jobs,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “It’s a simple question, but the banks don’t want to answer it. What are they trying to hide?”
The handouts recently received attention when Antonio Weiss, the former investment banker at Lazard now serving as counselor to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, acknowledged in financial disclosures that he would be paid $21 million in unvested income and deferred compensation upon exiting the company for a job in government. Weisswithdrew from consideration to become the undersecretary for domestic finance under pressure from financial reformers, but the counselor position—which does not require congressional confirmation—probably still entitles him to the $21 million. The terms of the award are part of a Lazard employee agreement that nobody has seen.
These payments are routine at major banks, several of which have explicit policies, found in filings with the SEC, outlining automatic awards for executives who rotate into government. Goldman Sachs offers “a lump sum cash payment” for government service, for example.
Other banks’ policies are subtler. Banks often defer certain types of compensation in order to retain talent. When an executive terminates employment, unvested stock options and other forms of deferred compensation are usually forfeited. But several companies let executives’ equity options continue to vest if they leave for a government position, or allow them to keep retention bonuses that would otherwise be returned to the firm. A 2004 tax law banned accelerated payments but made an exemption for employees who leave for government service. Critics wonder whether the gifts are intended to fill the government with friendly faces who will act in their former employer’s interests.
“It fuels the revolving door between banks and the government,” said Michael Smallberg, an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), whose 2013 reportdetailed these types of compensation agreements. The average executive branch salary is substantially less than these millions in awards, so the bonuses effectively supplement the lower pay, raising questions about who the government officials actually work for.
Citigroup is a serial user of these practices, if only because so many of its alumni serve in government. Jack Lew, Weiss’ boss at Treasury, had $250,000 to $500,000 in restricted stock vested after he left an executive position at the bank, part of a $1.1 million golden parachute revealed during the confirmation process. Stanley Fischer, currently the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, had a similar clause in his Citigroup employment contract. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman received over $4 million in multiple exit payments from Citigroup when he left for the Obama Administration.
A template of Citi’s compensation policy, filed with the SEC, states that executive stock options continue to vest in the event of a “Voluntary Resignation to Pursue Alternative Career,” including a government job. But Citi’s agreement does not specify which executives are eligible.
Last November, Trumka wrote letters to seven mega-banks—Citi, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Lazard—asking their compensation committees to explain why giving incentives to executives for government service benefits shareholders or the company. The labor federation holds shares in many public companies through its pension funds. “We oppose compensation plans that provide windfalls to their executives unrelated to performance,” the letter states.
“We did not get much of a response,” said Heather Slavkin Corzo, Director of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment. So the federation decided to use their shareholder rights to file proposals, to be voted on at the companies’ annual meetings, seeking full disclosure of the golden parachutes, with the names of each executive eligible for the awards, and the amounts. “We wanted to get a sense of how prevalent the practice was before proposing an outright ban,” Slavkin Corzo said.
Of the four banks with explicit golden parachute policies (the others have discretionary policies on a case-by-case basis), only JPMorgan Chase has not asked the SEC to exclude the AFL-CIO’s proposal. According to Slavkin Corzo, Citigroup never so much as reached out for a conversation before filing the SEC request. The letter is dated December 19, 2014, just a week after a provision written by Citigroup lobbyists repealing derivatives rules in the Dodd-Frank Act passed Congress.
The SEC oversees the shareholder proposal process, but in a strange, passive-aggressive fashion. A rule dating back to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 14a-8, defines how a proposal can be placed on the ballot. Corporations use all sorts of well-honed arguments to disqualify proposals from a vote under Rule 14a-8. Then they send a “no-action” letter to the SEC to get clearance to exclude the proposal. “The company requests that the SEC will not take any enforcement action against the company if they don’t put the proposal on the ballot,” said Slavkin Corzo. “It’s a bizarre intermediary world that has built up around the entire process.”
Citigroup’s no-action letter essentially argues that they “substantially implemented” the proposal already, a key provision in Rule 14a-8. They claim that disclosure of their equity award agreement with the SEC does the job, and since its named executive officers have their unvested awards disclosed elsewhere, there’s no need to duplicate the request with an additional report. They also deny the existence of golden parachutes, arguing that these officers would receive the same treatment no matter how they left the company, as long as it wasn’t for a competitor.
But, as the AFL-CIO’s response states, though the shareholder proposal requests the names of all “senior executives,” Citigroup wants to narrow the playing field to merely “named executive officers,” which for them would only be five people. Citigroup wrote in a footnote in their no-action letter that they “interpreted the phrase ‘senior executives’ to refer to its named executive officers,” which the federation believes varies from the SEC’s definition of senior executives. Jack Lew and Michael Froman, who received golden parachutes for government service, would not fall under this named executive officer standard.
Later in the no-action letter, Citigroup actually cites an article by New York Timescolumnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, celebrating the golden parachute payments as a way to “encourage public service,” as part of their argument. “The piece is nothing more than an opinion,” the AFL-CIO responds, and “irrelevant to the standard set by Rule 14a-8.”
No-action letters from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley argue mostly the same thing, that they have substantially implemented the proposal already and that the golden parachutes don’t exist. Corporations frequently build on each other’s no-action letter arguments. “If it works, they do it more and more, and broaden the scope of what the commission will kick out,” said Slavkin Corzo.
Though the SEC values corporate disclosure, according to Slavkin Corzo, it has leaned more in favor of corporations over shareholders on these requests. A 2013 Project on Government Oversight report found that SEC alumni often represent companies trying to kick shareholder proposals off the ballot. For example, Martin Dunn, a 20-year SEC veteran who worked for the division that decides on no-action letters, became a corporate lawyer for O’Melveny and Myers, and repeatedly obtained favorable rulings from his former employer on behalf of Alaska Airlines, Yahoo, UnitedHealth Group and JPMorgan Chase.
The SEC will make a ruling on the no-action letters sometime in the next couple months. “It would be really unfortunate if shareholders are not allowed to get basic information about what’s being done with their money,” said Slavkin Corzo.
If stymied on disclosure, action could move to Congress, with legislative action to ban these windfall payments that make the revolving door more attractive. “At a time when people are worried about the over-representation of Wall Street in policymaking positions, we see that the revolving door is baked into the compensation structure,” said Michael Smallberg of POGO, “It’s worth considering whether these provisions should be banned altogether.”
David Dayen, New Republic
As the American Heritage Dictionary noted, fascism is: “A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”
Well, it it may well on our doorstep. And the oligarchs are plotting their final takeover by using their economic dominance to capture governmental power – specifically, the governmental power which sets the rules for the very marketplace that provides the oligarchs with such massive wealth.
Once the American corporate barons own the institutions that are meant to regulate them, it’s game-over for both rational capitalism (including competition) and for democracy.
Last week, at David and Charles Koch’s annual winter meeting near Palm Springs, California, it was announced that the Koch Brothers’ political organization would spend close to $900 million on the 2016 election. If this goal is met, the group of corporate leaders will spend far more than the Republican Party and its congressional campaign committees spent, combined, in the 2012 campaign.
Once upon a time, it would have been illegal for the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs to buy an election. Of course, that time was before the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, presented the best opportunity for the Roberts Court to use its five vote majority to totally re-write the face of politics in America, rolling us back to the pre-1907 era of the Robber Barons.
As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”): “In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.
Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.”
Back then, the modern Republican Party and the oligarchs that dominated it, knew that the only way to recover power was to immediately clear away all impediments to unrestrained corporate participation in electoral politics. If a corporate board likes a politician, they can make sure he or she is elected every time; if the CEO oligarchs become upset with a politician, they can carpet-bomb her district with a few million dollars worth of ads and politically destroy her.
And it looks like that’s exactly what the Roberts Court accomplished. The oligarchs succeeded. In the Citizens United case, forces within the Republican Party asked the Supreme Court to go all the way back to the 1980s and re-examine the rationales for Congress to have any power to regulate corporate “free speech.”
As Robert Barnes wrote in The Washington Post on June 30, 2009, “Citizens United’s attorney, former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, had told the court that it should use the case to overturn the corporate spending ban the court recognized in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, as well as its decision in 2003 to uphold McCain-Feingold as constitutional.”
The setup for this came in June of 2007, in the case of the Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right To Life, in which the Roberts Court ruled that the FEC couldn’t prevent WRTL from running ads just because they were a corporation.
“A Moroccan cartoonist,” Justice Scalia opened his opinion with his usual dramatic flair, “once defended his criticism of the Moroccan monarch (lèse majesté being a serious crime in Morocco) as follows: ‘I’m not a revolutionary, I’m just defending freedom of speech. I never said we had to change the king-no, no, no, no! But I said that some things the king is doing, I do not like. Is that a crime?’”
“Well,” Scalia wrote, “in the United States (making due allowance for the fact that we have elected representatives instead of a king) it is a crime, at least if the speaker is a union or a corporation (including not-for-profit public-interest corporations)… That is the import of §203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).”
The idea of Congress passing laws that limited corporate “free speech” was clearly horrifying to Scalia. He went after the 1990 Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce case, in which the MCC was limited in their “free speech” in a political campaign because they were a corporation.
“This (Austin) was the only pre-McConnell case in which this Court had ever permitted the Government to restrict political speech based on the corporate identity of the speaker,” he complained. “Austin upheld state restrictions on corporate independent expenditures,” and, God forbid, “The statute had been modeled after the federal statute that BCRA §203 amended…”
The Austin case, Scalia concluded his opinion with four others nodding, “was a significant departure from ancient First Amendment principles. In my view, it was wrongly decided.”
Scalia also quoted at length from opinions in the Grosjean v. American Press Co case, “holding that corporations are guaranteed the ‘freedom of speech and of the press, safeguarded by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,’” and from the 1986 Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. Public Util. Comm’n of Cal. case: “The identity of the speaker is not decisive in determining whether speech is protected”; “[c]orporations and other associations, like individuals, contribute to the ‘discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas’ that the First Amendment seeks to foster.”
The bottom line, for Scalia, was that, “The principle that such advocacy is ‘at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection’ and is ‘indispensable to decision making in a democracy’ is ‘no less true because the speech comes from a corporation rather than an individual.”
Continuing to quote from a plurality opinion in Pacific Gas, Scalia “rejected the arguments that corporate participation ‘would exert an undue influence on the outcome of a referendum vote’; that corporations would ‘drown out other points of view’ and ‘destroy the confidence of the people in the democratic process…”
He even quoted an opinion in the Grossjean case, writing that “corporations are guaranteed the ‘freedom of speech and of the press…safeguarded by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.’”
The Fourteenth Amendment, which says that no “person” shall be denied “equal protection of the laws,” was promulgated after the Civil War to free the slaves. But corporations have long asserted that because it says “person” rather than “natural person” it included giving, in 1868 when the Amendment was ratified into law, full Constitutional rights under the Bill of Rights to corporations. (Corporations are, at law, known as “artificial persons” and humans are “natural persons” – both have to have some sort of “personhood” in order to pay taxes, sue and be sued, etc.)
As Scalia wrote in his opinion in FEC v. Wisconsin Right To Life: “…FECA was directed to expenditures not just by ‘individuals,’ but by ‘persons,’ with ‘persons’ specifically defined to include ‘corporation[s].’”
Chief Justice Roberts weighed in, too, in the main decision. It’s a fascinating decision to read – and search for occurrences of the word “corporation” – and here’s one of Roberts’ more convoluted observations in defense of corporate free speech rights:
Accepting the notion that a ban on campaign speech could also embrace issue advocacy would call into question our holding in Bellotti that the corporate identity of a speaker does not strip corporations of all free speech rights. It would be a constitutional ‘bait and switch’ to conclude that corporate campaign speech may be banned in part because corporate issue advocacy is not, and then assert that corporate issue advocacy may be banned as well, pursuant to the same asserted compelling interest, through a broad conception of what constitutes the functional equivalent of campaign speech, or by relying on the inability to distinguish campaign speech from issue advocacy.
Bottom line – corporate free speech rights are Real Rights that Must Be Respected.
Justice Souter wrote a rather frightening dissent (this was a 5-4 decision, with the usual right-wing suspects on the “5″ side): “Finally, it goes without saying that nothing has changed about the facts. In Justice Frankfurter’s words, they demonstrate a threat to ‘the integrity of our electoral process, which for a century now Congress has repeatedly found to be imperiled by corporate, and later union, money: witness the Tillman Act, Taft-Hartley, FECA, and BCRA.
“McConnell was our latest decision vindicating clear and reasonable boundaries that Congress has drawn to limit ‘the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth,’ and the decision could claim the justification of ongoing fact as well as decisional history in recognizing Congress’s authority to protect the integrity of elections from the distortion of corporate and union funds.
“After today, the ban on contributions by corporations and unions and the limitation on their corrosive spending when they enter the political arena are open to easy circumvention, and the possibilities for regulating corporate and union campaign money are unclear.
“The ban on contributions will mean nothing much, now that companies and unions can save candidates the expense of advertising directly, simply by running ‘issue ads’ without express advocacy, or by funneling the money through an independent corporation like Wisconsin Right To Life.”
Sounding almost depressed, Souter closed his dissent with these words: “I cannot tell what the future will force upon us, but I respectfully dissent from this judgment today.”
The attempt of corporations (and their lawyers, like Roberts was before ascending to a federal court) to usurp American democracy is nothing new, as David Souter well knew. Fascism has always been a threat to democracy. Oligarchs have sought to buy the power of government to suit themselves, since the beginning.
In early 1944 the New York Times asked Vice President Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”
Vice President Wallace’s answers to those questions were published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan:
“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those… With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
“American fascism will not be really dangerous,” he added in the next paragraph, “until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information…”
Noting that, “Fascism is a worldwide disease,” Wallace further suggested that fascism’s “greatest threat to the United States will come after the war” and will manifest “within the United States itself.”
In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism the Vice President of the United States saw rising in America, he added:
“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Finally, Wallace said, “The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people. … Democracy, to crush fascism internally, must…develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels.”
As Wallace’s President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said when he accepted his party’s renomination in 1936 in Philadelphia:
“…Out of this modern civilization, economic royalists [have] carved new dynasties…. It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction…. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man….”
Speaking indirectly of the fascists that Wallace would directly name almost a decade later, Roosevelt brought the issue to its core:
“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.”
But, he thundered in that speech:
“Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power!”
We now stand at the same crossroad Roosevelt and Wallace confronted during the Great Depression and World War II. Fascism is rising in America. Oligarchs like the Koch Brothers are poised to capture more political power. The point of their spear is “corporate personhood” and “corporate free speech rights.”
The Roberts’ Court’s decisions and the election plans of the Koch Brothers and their fellow oligarchs now eerily parallels the day in 1936 when Roosevelt said: “In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for.”
Thom Hartmann, AlterNet