Sunday, June 26, 2011

New York Shouldn't Have Been Necessary

While we celebrate the affirmation of equal rights that recently occurred in the New York legislature, let us not forget that this entire process is unnecessary under the American system of laws.

Since when is it up to the legislature to grant basic human rights? If our government (as opposed to religious organizations) chooses to regulate marriage, then it is a no-brainer that every adult American has the right to marry the person he or she loves. Civil marriage brings certain privileges to people such as tax advantages and hospital visitation rights. Denying those rights to some is unconstitutional.

No doubt, the mean-spirited people who espouse minimal government intervention in our lives will file a lawsuit in an attempt to roll back the rights of New Yorkers, just like people of the same ilk have done in California and elsewhere. But any non-activist judge would simply enforce the Fourteenth Amendment which says:
 No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
While legislation guaranteeing rights is unnecessary by simply reading the Constitution, in the past we have had to pass legislation, like the Civil Rights Act, to ensure these fundamental principles are clearly articulated. Marriage Equality is equality and equality is a paramount tenet of our democracy.

Senator Robert Menendez recently re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment. This is another area where new laws should be unnecessary but the realities of embedded discrimination and hatred require legislation.  Let’s seize the moment and modify the ERA to finally ensure that all discrimination based on sexual orientation  as well as gender is clearly banned.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Got Science?

The Republican quest to destroy the American Dream has many components. One of the most insidious is the notion that somehow tax cuts for the wealthy creates jobs. Another is their crusade to deny adequate and affordable health care to all but the wealthy. But there's a third component – one that does not receive much attention in the mainstream media – and one that yet may prove to be the catalyst that destroys the American way of life. That is the GOP's animosity toward established scientific processes and methods.

Not surprisingly, if you follow the money, the most vocal of the anti-science kooks comes from climate change deniers. While the scientific evidence that humans are having a deleterious and potentially irreversible impact on our ecosystem is indisputable, money from the Koch brothers and their ilk to mold public opinion to be against addressing the problem flows freely. Other anti-science efforts are similarly well-funded to deny the truth in areas such as women's reproductive health, fuel efficiency standards, and evolution education.

This topic was the subject of a recent panel at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. The panel of scientists and educators discussed their initiatives to counter the propaganda spewed by the right.

The problem is real. One of the panelists presented the result of a survey showing that of the top 35 industrial nations, the United States ranks 34th in the number of people who accept the facts of evolution (sorry, Turkey, you're number 35.) Even more insidious is the fact that of the 100 new members of Congress, 46 of them are global warming deniers. The lack of awareness in Congress is unsurprising when you consider the fact that there are 222 lawyers serving and only 9 scientists (including the only human to beat the famed IBM Watson computer).

The panelists are proactively working fix the problem. One, a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader has formed an organization to educate the public about the issues. And don't even succumb to the stereotype that these women are airheads – over fifty ex-NFL cheerleaders are pursuing careers in science, engineering, and medicine.

To counter the right-wing propaganda, one scientist described a service that he is involved with. The Climate Science Rapid Response Team is a group of over 100 scientists who are on call to consult with reporters (most of whom have little science training) to help them provide factual information when writing about science-intensive issues. Yet another panelist was a filmmaker who produces films and other media to help educate the public worldwide.

It's no surprise that much of the corporate media is silent on issues that have a scientific component. After all, Anthony Weiner's poor judgement is more sensational than examination of sea level changes. It's also no surprise that surveys show Jon Stewart as the most trusted “news” anchor in the country. One panelist presented a list of scores of scientists and science writers who have appeared on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. When was the last time you saw a scientist on Meet the Press?

Copernicus and Galileo did not live in the internet era. Yet, they were each vilified when they promoted a heliocentric view of the solar system. Unfortunately, if the Tea Party and Koch Brothers have their way, we will have proven that ignorance transcends the centuries.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Netroots Notes

Going into the Thursday afternoon and evening sessions, I thought the highlight would be hearing Russ Feingold's keynote address – and I was not disappointed. But the personal highlight was a fairly lengthy one-on-one discussion of the New Jersey political scene with Markos Moulitsas. Never would I have imagined that an amateur blogger like me could have an engaging give and take with the legendary founder of Daily Kos.

The afternoon session I attended started with Moulitsas joining Lily Eskelsen of the NEA on “The Future of the American Dream.” They discussed the DREAM Act – why it is a “no brainer” - and what roadblocks the Republicans are building to destroy families. Moulitsas pondered why so-called religious people support the DREAM Act as being pro-family but are still anti-family when it comes to marriage equality.

The second afternoon session was a panel discussion “What to Do When the President is Just Not that Into You.” Elise Foley of the Huffington Post wrote up an excellent summary (and it's getting late), so I'll refer you to her write up on the session. Getting to meet Dan Choi was an added bonus for me.

The evening session was a who's who of liberal glitterati – starting off with Minneapolis' progressive mayor R.T. Rybek (“we're not Mary Tyler Moore-ville any more”), a video greeting by liberal hero Keith Olbermann (who will be the keynote at Netroots Nation 2012), Raven Brooks (executive director of Netroots Nation), bloggers from Zimbabwe and Pakistan, and Adam Bonin (chairman of the NN board) who pointed out that the right-wing counterpart to Netroots Nation, Right On Line, is meeting here in Minneapolis starting tomorrow. He was followed by Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Governor Howard Dean, and the session culminated with Russ Feingold's keynote on the disaster that is known as Citizens United. Howard Dean got the adrenaline flowing and was a tough act for Feingold to follow, but the work that Feingold is doing to overturn Citizens United may be the last best hope for the preservation of the American Dream.

My tweets from the session are on So now, I have the difficult task of choosing which of the several breakout sessions I'll attend tomorrow – and I'll be live tweeting those, too. For now, good night, all.

Netroots Notes

I've always been interested in politics, but have been a political blogger for less than two years. So when I heard about this thing called Netroots Nation, it piqued my curiosity. So in 24 hours, I flew across seven time zones, from a vacation in Europe to a convention in Minneapolis. And after a half day here, I am still a bit jet lagged, but it is well worth it.
Just to be in the presence of thousands of liberals and progressives is a breath of fresh air in a world filled by mean-spirited Republicans and turncoat Democrats (in name only.)
The day started with a lighthearted look at the news from some of my media heros – Lizz Winstead, Sam Seder, Pam Spaulding, Shannyn Moore, and others. They got the progressive adrenaline running to prepare the group for the breakout sessions. And with eleven parallel sessions to choose from, it was difficult to pick which one to attend.
Since I'm involved in a political campaign for a great state assembly candidate, I decided to attend a presentation entitled “How to Get Your Candidate/Organization Organizing Online Cheaply.” Surrounded by activists with more iPads, Nooks, laptops, and other tech goodies than you would find in a well-stocked Best Buy, the panelists ran through a seemingly endless list of tools – some free and some for a price. They discussed the pros and cons of using these tools in political campaigns of various sizes and scope. In addition to specialized tools, the panelists and participants had quite a lot of good advice on using e-mail and social networking.
As we have seen in today's news from outside the Trenton State House, Progressives and Unions are notoriously poor at getting their message out. So this panel was important if only those leaders on the left can learn from these techniques and have the discipline to stay on message and refrain from name calling.
The second session I chose this morning was “Managing a State Community Blog.” As a writer for, this session was also very valuable. And while I passed on some of the hints to Blue Jersey's Rosi Efthim, it was good to hear that New Jersey's premiere liberal blog is held in high esteem by peers around the country.
For the rest of today, there are two more parallel breakout sessions to choose from, and then tonight's keynote speech by a true patriotic American, Senator Russ Feingold. And of course, I visited the exhibit hall and scooped up several more bumper stickers for my car.
Look for another post tonight if jet lag doesn't get to me first.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I was born shortly after World War II. For most of my life, America has been at war. Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are the wars we know about. Yet, there's a difference between the wars of my lifetime and the war that my parents participated in and lived through. Their war involved sacrifice – human and financial sacrifices – that were experienced universally. Rationing and buying war bonds were some of the kinds of sacrifice that my parents generation experienced, even if they were not physically on the front lines. My generation's wars only involved sacrifice for those directly participating. The financial sacrifice is being passed down to the next generation in the form of unfunded war debts. The actual battlefields are thousands of miles away from the homeland, out of sight and out of mind to all except those who have families at the front. The thirty-something generation has never seen the cost or impact of conflict.

As I write this, I'm in a country where that generation has seen the direct impact of conflict – bombs in their back yard and thousands of refugees flocking to the cities. Croatia was a socialist republic – part of Yugoslavia – and experienced the ravages of war in the early 1990s. Before that, they were invaded and occupied by just about any group that has a chapter in a world history text, from the Ottomans to the Nazis. Today, Croatia is a young democracy with the pluses and minuses that accompany the onset of free enterprise. They have a thriving tourist business, burgeoning construction, traffic jams, and corrupt politicians. Kind of like New Jersey. While I'm here on vacation, enjoying the culture of the capital Zagreb and the amazing resorts on the Dalmatian coasts, I have also talked to native Croats – both within the tourism sphere as well as ordinary citizens.

I've seen areas of the country where there are no inhabited buildings more than 20 years old. The older buildings were either destroyed during the war or left uninhabitable. I was told that in some areas of the country, seven percent of the land is littered with unexploded mines.

The nation is undergoing a transition – from a socialist mindset to the regulated marketplace that will be required for them to join the European Union next year. In an area that has been ravaged by wars and invaders for centuries, Croatia is at peace – for now. The people here know first-hand what war can do to a country and her people, and I hope their path to peace and prosperity is traversed easily.

It's interesting that during the time that Croatia is rebuilding its infrastructure, it is not forgetting its people. Health care is universal and mostly paid for by the state. While I was here, I had to have a routine blood test. In the US, my insurance company is billed $136 for the test. Here, it cost the equivalent of $14. Compare this to the governor of New Jersey who is cutting off Medicaid for families earning $7,000 per year. And speaking of New Jersey, unlike in the Garden State where tax money is used to rehabilitate private beaches, here in Croatia, all beaches are open to the public.

The economic problems that we face in America are not due to Social Security or Medicare. Those programs actually help people and put dollars back into the economic stream. The problem today is the multiple trillions of dollars we spend on wars. Unlike the threat from Hitler and Tojo, our wars are wars of choice – ones that our Presidents commit to with only cursory oversight from Congress, and ones that explode the national debt. Our obsession with war and guns can only lead to the conclusion that we are a belligerent people, and if America is to survive we need a change in mindset. Croatia's peace may be solid or it may be fragile. Only time will tell. America’s wars are invisible and endemic. If we don't fix both of those problems, the battle over Social Security will be tragically irrelevant.