Friday, December 12, 2014

HAIR ON FIRE: DO LIBERALS UNDERSTAND THE SPENDING BILL?


I know Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's hair is on fire about the year-end spending bill passed yesterday (December 11, 2014) by the House of Representatives, and so is Nancy Pelosi's. A lot of other Democrats are also in flames. Many of my fellow liberals are directing their ire at President Obama because he pressured House Democrats to vote for the bill, which funds the government through September, 2015. (Fifty-seven Democrats did vote for the bill; without their votes, it would have failed.)

My liberal friends are most angry about the rider in the spending bill that weakens the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010. Among other things, the Dodd-Frank law was designed to prevent banks from using depositors' federally insured savings to gamble on swaps and other derivatives; without Dodd-Frank, if those gambles go wrong, the taxpayers would have to bail out the banks . . . again. My fellow liberals, furious about the amount of money in politics already, are also burning hot about a provision that raises limits on what individuals can give to political parties.


Elizabeth Warren is mighty angry.
The rantings of Warren, Pelosi, and others aside, here are some facts to keep in mind about all this, so we at least know what we're outraged about:

1) Obama did not ask for the weakening of Dodd-Frank regulations to be put in the spending bill. By all accounts, he did not want that provision in the bill. His asking members of Congress to support the bill as a whole in no way represents his endorsement of that one provision.

2) In 2013 a bill came up calling for this exact change in Dodd-Frank regulations—a change allowing some bank credit swaps and other derivatives to be covered by federal insurance. When that bill came up in 2013, 70 Democrats voted for it. It had in fact been co-sponsored by a Democrat. In other words, when it comes to this provision in the spending bill, Obama's own party is split, despite the publicity being given to the disgust of Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren.


Obama and Pelosi in warmer times.
3) The insured-derivatives provision in the current spending bill affects less than 10% of the banks' swaps/derivatives transactions.

4) About 50% of the Dodd-Frank rules have not even been written out yet, even though the bill was passed four years ago. House Republicans have managed to de-fund, obfuscate, or delay the implementation of most of the law up to this point, anyway. There is some question about whether the change in the current spending bill makes any difference at all, given that the law is full of so many loopholes already and that none of its strongest and most important provisions are even being enforced four years later. (Note: This failure to enforce Dodd-Frank is not the executive branch's or Obama's fault. The Republicans in the House have refused to fund enforcement or clarify the rules, so they cannot yet be enforced.)

5) According to insider reports, the Dodd-Frank-weakening provision came as a compromise necessary to protect the Consumer Protection Bureau from further Republican depredations. The Dems were given a choice: a slight weakening of one aspect of Dodd-Frank (which is already a mess) or a frontal attack on the Consumer Protection Bureau (which is the one part of the Dodd-Frank legislation that is in fact doing good work).

6) If the spending bill had been voted down, the government almost certainly would have been shut down. This would have been very bad in every way for an economy that is otherwise doing quite well these days, and the shutdown would almost certainly have been blamed on the Democrats and Obama (had he threatened a veto).


Will the current spending bill really change campaign financing?

7) The provision in the bill that allows individuals to give "10 times the current amount" (as most news reports put it) to political parties has not been clearly explained in most media. The provision allows individuals to give that extra money only to committees of the political parties that 1) put on conventions, 2) deal with recounts, and 3) control building expenses. The money would not go to those committees that distribute money to candidates. The new provision would in no way increase the amount of money given directly to candidates by any individual, which is still limited to $2,600 per election. Several nonpartisan campaign-finance experts have suggested that raising the amount given to political parties is in fact necessary so that the political parties themselves can counter, at least to some extent, the influence of political PACs. As a recent article in The Daily Kos about the Koch brothers having their own "political party" suggests, if PACs get any stronger, the political parties themselves will grow relatively weaker, and perhaps irrelevant, by comparison. That would not necessarily be a good thing, for reasons I'm sure that anyone reading this understands.

These facts in no way lessen my outrage about the riders added to the spending bill. I too am furious at any attempt to weaken Dodd-Frank, even if Dodd-Frank's enforcement is several years down the road (if it will ever be enforced). I am also furious that the bill cuts $345 million from the Internal Revenue Service's budget, making it more difficult to go after rich tax cheats, and that it cuts $60 million from the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, making it more difficult to combat poisoned air and the overheating of the planet. To be honest, I'm not too concerned about people being allowed to help the political parties pay for their conventions and rest rooms.

If one looks at all the facts, one can see why Obama agreed to a bill that keeps the government running for another year rather than see the government shut down: such a shutdown would have damaged his party and, more importantly, the country.

I am glad all this gives the Elizabeth Warrens of the Democratic Party a chance to have their ideas heard (I like her ideas), but Elizabeth Warren and President Obama have very different responsibilities just now, a fact that some of my fellow liberals don't seem to take into account.

 
Has Obama really betrayed Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, as some liberals claim?


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HILLARY'S BRAINS, RYAN'S ABS

Which Hillary will we see in October 2016?
For what it's worth, Hillary Clinton's interview on NPR this morning was so impressive that I'm now thinking that she could absolutely devour any Republican who runs against her in 2016. She's damn smart and articulate, as we already know, and she simply and eloquently swatted away all questions about things like Benghazi, Bergdahl, and the supposed failure of U.S. leadership in the world.

I'm still worried about her stamina on the campaign trail, however. This has nothing to do with her being female or with Fox News' rumors about her brain health. It has to do with her turning 69 years old in 2016. I am now 68 years old and in rather good physical condition (three hours of singles tennis? no problem!), but there is no way I could survive a presidential campaign. Only Reagan was older than 68 when he ran, and he was held together by make-up, hair gel and 3X5 notecards; we also now have a pretty good idea what happened to his brain while he was in office.


Picture of a presidential candidate held together with make-up and hair gel.
I keep imagining a hoarse, pale, hollow-eyed Hillary up against a young, studly, gleaming Paul Ryan in the October 2016 debates. Specifically, I imagine Ryan getting on the floor and doing push-ups and ab crunches while Hillary croaks on intelligently about NATO and Ukraine. Not a pretty picture. And if Americans judge male candidates by their looks, imagine how much more harshly they'll judge a female candidate.


Will Americans prefer Hillary or this guy in 2016?
Still, Hillary was terrific this morning, so I shall, for the time being, be optimistic about her chances.


Monday, October 7, 2013

SOCIALIZED MEDICINE: A LOVE STORY

My mother, Elsie Weathers (left), and her friend Phyllis McGuire at Biggs Hospital c. 1943.



I believe the U.S. government should cover the health expenses of every American citizen. Some call this “Medicare for everyone.” Some call it a “single-payer system,” the single payer being the federal government. Some call it the European or Canadian system. Some call it “socialized medicine,” thinking that term is pejorative, although I find it neither pejorative nor accurate. (Most of those who throw around the word “socialist” have no idea what it means.)

Whatever you call it, I believe that if a person gets sick, he or she should be able to go to a doctor or a hospital, receive treatment and medicine, and have to pay nothing.

The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, is not what I would prefer; it still leaves people vulnerable to large medical costs. It is nevertheless better than the system we have had until now. Obamacare is, of course, much in the news today, but it is not my subject here.

My subject is universal, free health care. I believe it should be the law of the land in any country that, like ours, can afford it. My stake in this is personal: Without free, government-sponsored health care, I would never have been born.


My father, Terry Weathers (left), and his friend Ed Miller at Biggs Memorial Hospital c. 1939


Sometime around 1940, my mother, then in her early twenties, a girl from a hardscrabble upstate New York farm, contracted tuberculosis. Shortly before that, my father, almost as young, a boy from a small town in Kentucky, had contracted tuberculosis while working in New York City. They did not know each other when they got sick. They met after they had both been admitted to Biggs Memorial Hospital, a tuberculosis sanatorium overlooking Cayuga Lake, near Ithaca, New York.

For nearly four years, my mother was in the hospital, taking the “rest cure.” In fact, she had little rest, enduring operation after agonizing operation. Periodically, long needles were inserted into her lung cavity, through her back. The last operation she had resulted in her right lung being shut down forever. My father, too, went under the knife, though not quite so drastically. He was in the hospital for about three years.

My father and mother fell in love in the hospital and married after they were finally released, in 1945. I was born in 1946. I was an “accident” that was a bit dangerous for my still-weak mother, but we both came out of it okay.





Without socialized medicine, this scene would never have occurred. That's my father, my mother, and me in the middle.


My father lived to be 84. My mother lived to be 93. I never saw either of my parents in a bathing suit; they were too embarrassed by the scars on their backs. And yet, until the day they died, they spoke of their time at Biggs Memorial in—surprise—the most affectionate, almost reverent terms. They spoke of the kind and beautiful nurses (and, yes, of the occasional sadistic nurse) and of the warm, caring, and competent doctors (and, yes, of the occasional cold-hearted doctor). Most of all, they spoke of the fellowship of the sick who made up the patient population. Friends they loved died in that hospital, and they were some of the dearest friends my parents ever had. Those who lived remained their dear friends for years after.

For my parents, their time at Biggs was a time of prolonged physical pain made bearable by the balm of human kindness.

Now to the point: For more than three years of hospital care, innumerable operations, and hundreds of medications, my mother paid exactly nothing. Not a dime. Nor did my father ever pay a cent for his care at Biggs. New York State paid for it all, on the assumption that tuberculosis was societally too dangerous to be left untreated and its victims too contagious to remain in the general population. The taxpayers of New York paid for my parents’ care.

That’s why my parents became lifelong supporters of universal, free health care—go ahead, call it socialized medicine—and why I feel the same way today.

Thanks to those years of free medical care, my father and mother went on to live enormously productive, generous lives. I can assure you that New York State earned back all the money it invested in their care—and much, much more.

Whenever one of my conservative friends complains about “socialized medicine,” I tell them this story. It doesn’t shut them up, but it should.





Paul Robeson was a great athlete, actor, singer, and early civil-rights activist. In November 1942, he gave a free concert at Biggs Memorial Hospital, where my father took this photo. During the communist witch-hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Robeson was blacklisted because of his political activism. My parents never forgot his performance at Biggs and always spoke of him with reverence. They despised McCarthy and his kind of right-wing politics for all of their lives.



Monday, September 2, 2013

HOW TO FLOOD THE DATA MINE: A GUIDE TO GUMMING UP THE NSA/CIA/FBI SPYWORKS


Big Brother
This post is an act of civil protest. Do not respond to it or repost it lest you be put on an NSA watch list. I’m not kidding.

If you believe, as I do, that a government that spies on its own citizens is no longer a democracy, then let’s do something about it.

If you believe, as I do, that your emails, Internet searches, personal social-media posts, and phone calls should not be monitored by federal agents, then let’s do something about it.

If you believe, as I do, that the right to privacy is sacrosanct and protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, and that that right extends to our personal Internet activities and cellphone calls, then let’s do something about it.

I believe that the federal government’s recently revealed NSA, CIA, and FBI programs to collect and examine the email, Internet, and phone data of innocent American citizens are undemocratic and immoral. If you believe as I do, then let’s do something about it.

What can we do? We can gum up the spyworks. We can flood the data mine.
We can overwhelm the NSA/CIA/FBI computers with emails, Internet searches, and Web posts full of red-flag words and phrases. If hundreds of thousands of us do it, we can slow down the spy machine. If millions of us do it, the machine may grind to a halt.


It is unclear what, exactly, the NSA and its fellow intelligence agencies are doing with all the information about our emails, Internet searches, and personal posts that they have coerced from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and the like. I suspect that they have their computers scan our emails, searches, and posts looking for red-flag words and groups of words like these: C4 plastic explosive, ammonium nitrate, LSD, Golden Gate, upstate New York City reservoir, Oak Ridge, Allah, Abd al-Hamid al-Masli, Islamic Maghreb, November 22, 2013, jihad. If I create an email or a post with those words in it (as I just have), I suspect it will draw the attention of the NSA’s computers and then of the NSA’s human spies. If millions of us create millions of such emails, it may gum up the NSA domestic spying system—or at least distract and frustrate the NSA’s human functionaries, many of whom are not even in the government but are private, government-paid spy contractors. If we cannot rid ourselves of those who are spying on us and end their spying, we can at least make their undemocratic work more difficult.

Before I go on, let me make one thing clear: I would prefer that the U.S. Congress simply defund the NSA/FBI/CIA domestic spying programs and pass a law making it illegal for any government agent, agency, or contractor to gather information about an individual American without either a) that American’s knowledge and permission or b) a warrant issued by a publicly chosen court, said warrant being based on probable cause that that American has committed or is likely to commit a crime and such court’s decisions being subject to public scrutiny at some appropriate, not-too-distant date.

I would also prefer that the federal government simply dismantle the NSA’s new 1.5 million-square-foot data-mining center in Utah, where your emails, web searches and posts—and mine—will almost certainly be scanned, and where our cellphone metadata (locations, phone numbers, times) will no doubt be logged. 

The NSA's Utah Data-Mining Center

Defund. Dismantle. Delegitimize. That’s what I’d prefer. But the data mine will not be dismantled, defunded, or made illegal. Congress will, in the name of fighting terrorism, give the NSA, CIA, and FBI free, secret rein to spy on us as they wish. The data-mining center will mine more and more of our private data.

President Obama, a man I admire and for whose election I have worked hard, twice (and would again), insists the NSA, CIA, and FBI are not “abusing” these domestic spying programs. The President disappoints me in this. The fact that our government is gathering information—any information—about individual innocent Americans without their knowledge or permission is in itself a form of abuse. And I fear the President is being naïve if he believes that no government-paid domestic spies are looking deeper into our private communications than they claim. The basis of my fear can be summed up in one name: J. Edgar Hoover. (Need I explain?)

J. Edgar Hoover
Gen. James Clapper

Representatives of the intelligence community claim that they are not reading the emails or listening to the phone calls of innocent Americans without court permission. They are probably lying. They are, after all, known liars. We know this because when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the man overseeing these programs, was asked earlier this year, in testimony before Congress, whether the NSA collects data on millions of Americans, he answered, unequivocally, “No, sir.” That was a lie. Later, when caught in this lie, Clapper claimed he was merely giving the “least untruthful” answer he could. And this is the intelligence community that asks for our trust?

We must not trust the NSA. We must not trust the CIA. We must not trust the FBI. No healthy democracy ever trusts secret government spy agencies. That way lies the Stasi.

In the spirit of distrust, then, I offer a simple, perfectly legal way to gum up the intelligence cabal’s domestic spyworks and flood its data mine. Here are three things we can do:

1)   We can send emails that contain red-flag words that will attract the attention of the spy programs’ computers.
2)   We can do daily Internet searches into subjects that will catch the attention of the spy programs’ computers.
3)   We can create blog and social-media posts (like this one) that will attract the attention of the spy programs’ computers.

With respect to emails, we can simply add, at the end of every email, following our sign-off, a list of hot-button words. I recommend a list that contains the name of one famous terrorist, one potential U.S. target, one potential terrorist weapon, and one significant date, like this: Ibrahim al Asiri, Gateway Arch, nitroglycerin, November 5, 2013.

Ibrahim al Asiri

If the mere listing of words like this makes your palms sweat, it is testimony to the paranoia at work in this country, thanks to our overreaction to imagined terrorist threats. If such a list seems, to you, to imply a threat (although it clearly does not, being no more than what an outline of a bad thriller would contain), then, instead, include your hot-button words in simple, clearly nonthreatening sentences, like this:

Ibrahim al Asiri is a terrorist bomb-maker.
The Gateway Arch is in St. Louis.
Nitroglycerin is an explosive.
November 5, 2013 is Guy Fawkes Day.

Guy Fawkes
Do not send such hot-button-word emails to people whom they would upset. As an experiment, I recently sent such emails to a group of friends on a political email list I frequent. Two recipients became seriously alarmed. Both, curiously, had a history of working for the U.S. intelligence community. One claimed that by sending him emails with such word lists, I was “putting [him] in the line of fire” and “endangering [his] security.”

As for Internet searches, blog posts, and social-media posts, do more or less the same thing: Every day do at least five searches into topics that the NSA’s computers will red flag. Frequently create blog posts and Facebook posts that use the same kinds of words. Again, the names of terrorists, potential targets, and weapons will probably do the trick.
North London Central Mosque

(Hot-button phone calls are a trickier area. We could make millions of innocent phone calls to numbers that might be on the NSA’s list of suspicious places and people. Examples: North London Central Mosque, in England; Amsterdam Tawheed mosque, the Netherlands; Iranian Embassy, Damascus, Syria. But calling those places is a discourtesy to those receiving the call, and expensive. I do not recommend doing that.)

The NSA, CIA, and FBI insist that they are not listening to our phone calls, reading our emails, trolling through our web searches, or examining the content of our private Facebook posts. They claim that they are doing no more than gathering “metadata” about us—not examining the specific content of our communications. I don’t believe them. But if they are telling the truth, then my call to flood the data mine will do their work no harm.

On the other hand, if they are lying, as I believe they are, then if we flood the data mine and gum up the spyworks, then perhaps we can lessen the harm they are doing to individual Americans and to our democracy in general. As for me, I suspect I may soon be on their watch list. Fine. Let them be distracted by me, a harmless old retired English teacher. It means they’ll have that much less time to spy on my fellow citizens.

#   #   #

Perhaps I'm tilting at windmills. But some windmills really are ogres.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

GUILT RIDDANCE: How to Live without a Conscience

Notice that the conscience has already been removed in this illustration.

 
     When I was five, my parents took me to the hospital, where the doctors dispatched me with ether, opened my mouth, reached into the center of my head, and removed a few things. My mother, carefully explaining the word “vestigial,” had promised me that the offending items, called “tonsils,” served no good purpose, that in fact without them I would suffer fewer of the sore throats that are (I have since decided) the proper lot of five-year-olds.
    I had my suspicions about the entire enterprise. Most of the other stuff Mother Nature had given me—teeth, spit, nostrils—seemed pretty useful, I thought, and on the whole it wasn’t like Her to stick in merely-decorative extras. But then I considered earlobes, navels, and toe hair, and on balance I decided to leave my trust in Mother Weathers.
     The instant I woke up after the operation, I knew I had been bamboozled. I was in a strange bed in a dark room full of whining little bodies. My throat screamed unceasingly with a condensed lifetime of pain. I quickly ran out of Kleenex to cough blood into. My mother was nowhere to be seen.
     Within the limits imposed by uvular agony, I began to bawl, and after an eternity a giant nurse materialized by my bed, white and ghostlike, whispering coldly, “Hush. Brave boys don’t cry. Sssh. Don’t be a sissy. Quiet! You’ll wake up the other children!” At any time earlier in my life, her appeals would have worked at once. But the operation had changed me. Instead of meekly shutting up, I looked her defiantly in the eye, pointed to the empty Kleenex box, and demanded, as loudly as I could, “UH!”
     I was never the same thereafter. It was clear to me that when the doctors reached into my head, they had removed more than my tonsils. Later, surrounded by still-cold Popsicle sticks in my bed at home, I hounded my mother about it, and she finally admitted that, yes, the doctors had in fact also removed something called my “adenoids.” That sounded ominous. “Adenoids,” my mother explained, were lodged behind your nose and made you talk like a kazoo.
     So she said. Today, sixty-umph years later, I know that when the doctors excised my adenoids, they were actually after, gasp, my conscience. Apparently they got it. I haven’t heard from that adenoidal Jiminy Cricket of a naysayer since, and even today I am unable to secrete the master hormone called . . . Guilt.

Jiminy Cricket plays no role in my psyche.

     Yes, I am the only guilt-free man of the Post-Freudian Age. It is a strange thing, and a mixed blessing, to go through life without tonsils, adenoids, or guilt. While those around me writhe in creative agonies of conscience (“Mea culpa! I don’t love my father enough!” they moan, proceeding to write chapter twenty of their third novel; “Oy, the sins I commit in the dark!” they wail, finishing the fourth movement of their Sixth Symphony), I lollygag through life burbling, “Hey, what’s the big deal?” and swing on the hammock of worthlessness.
     But if guilt is the juice of creation, it is also, from what I can see, the hemlock of despair. I’m just as happy to be without it, thank you, even if it means I’ll never win a Pulitzer.
     At this point I need to make a distinction. While I don’t feel guilt, I do, of course, feel shame. I am, after all, only human. Shame tells me, “You are foolish, weak, a dud.” I have, naturally, all sorts of things to be ashamed of. I once invented a joke about a New Delhi swain who, attempting to seduce a well-wrapped young thing, uses the line, “But, Indira, love means never having to stay your sari!” That’s something to be ashamed of. The way I look without a shirt is a shame. My forgetfulness for names is something to be seriously ashamed of. The amount of time I spend in front of the tv is monstrously shameful. And so, infinitely, on.

Love means never having to stay your sari.

     But one cannot help one’s afflictions, even as one is ashamed of them. A withered wit, a sunken chest, a gripless memory, even a limp character—one doesn’t feel guilty about them because one did not intend them.
     For guilt is about intent. More specifically, it is about malice—the intent to do harm. The way I figure it, if I never intend to do harm—and I never do—I have nothing to feel guilty about. When I had it, therefore, my conscience was indeed a vestigial organ, and it is just as well they took it out with my adenoids.
     Oh, I’ll admit that there have been times since the age of five when I thought that maybe the doctors had botched the operation, leaving behind just a piece of a conscience, a slip of pathogenic tissue hanging invisibly behind my septum. In the fourth grade once, for example, as we were passing our papers forward after a spelling test, I noticed as Bobby Zambri’s paper reached me that he had spelled the word “dangerous” with an “e” in it; that looked more inspired than my version, so while pretending to shuffle the papers around, I sneaked an “e” into mine. And later, for a period of about five years starting when I was 13, I regularly did things to my sweet older brother George that resulted in his enduring various forms of physical and emotional pain, not to mention teeth marks, knowing that because he was bigger he wasn’t allowed to retaliate in kind. And still later, when I was 19, I managed, with all the delicacy of a beanball, to bruise the feelings of a nice girl named J---. Fleetingly, I felt something almost like guilt in each case. But nah, I decided, it was just the nature of youth, for which no one—least of all myself—could blame me. And so I bubbled blithely—and guiltlessly—on.

This is how I once treated the feelings of a nice girl.


     Since then I have been negligent, stupid, ignorant, insensitive, dim, petty, ornery, and disgusting—but, hey, what’s the big deal? I never try to hurt anybody.
     Nevertheless, my absence of guilt has been infuriating for many of those who have touched my life, especially wives, children, parents, lovers, bosses, psychiatrists, giant nurses, and others with a stake in emotional manipulation. “Ach, how you hurt me!” and “Sssh! You’ll wake the kids!” never work on me. I am not to be moved by appeals to an organ I no longer possess. And that, as any giant nurse will tell you, makes me a dangrous man.

(The original version of this essay appeared in Memphis magazine in July 1986.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LIBERAL PARANOIA AND THE CITIZENS UNITED DECISION: 10 Myths My Fellow Liberals Believe about Election Spending


Despite the paranoia of my fellow liberals, the sky is not falling because of the Citizens United decision.
For two years now, I have been arguing with my fellow liberals about the Supreme Court’s well-known (shall I say notorious?) 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which permitted corporations, unions, and other organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election advocacy. I support the Supreme Court’s decision. Yes, you read that right. I am a liberal (some would call me a flaming liberal), and I support the Supreme Court’s decision in what I shall hereafter call, for brevity’s sake, simply Citizens United.

Let me put it as baldly as I can: I believe casino magnate Sheldon Adelson should be permitted to give $53 million of his own money or his company’s money (as he did) to whatever PACs or other organizations he wants in order to help get Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or anyone else elected. I believe the oil-rich Koch brothers should be able to give many millions of their companies’ dollars (as they did) to whatever organizations they want that are dedicated to defeating Democratic candidates. I believe the coal companies and banks should be able to spend whatever they want (as they did) to produce ads that support candidates they like and oppose candidates they don’t like.

My reasoning is simple: Unfettered political speech is important. In a democracy, it is indispensable.  Any restrictions on the ability of an individual or a corporation or a union or any other entity to express its political opinions is a restriction on political speech. Restricting political speech is wrong, per se, in a democracy.

Sheldon Adelson, conservative
George Soros, liberal
In this I am simply being consistent: When I support the right of the conservative Sheldon Adelson to support his candidates as he wishes, I am also protecting the right of the liberal George Soros to do the same. And when I support the right of Exxon to make a political ad, I am also protecting the right of the Sierra Club to do the same. If I were to deny the right of those on one side of the political spectrum, I would of necessity deny that same right to those on the other. To do that would be to strangle the voice out of our democracy.

I am not the only liberal who believes the Citizens United decision was correct. So does the ACLU, the most important defender of civil liberties in the country, and an organization vilified in some quarters as too liberal. The AFL-CIO, no friend of conservative causes, also submitted a brief to the Supreme Court that supported its final decision in the case. Michael Kinsley is just one liberal columnist to come out in support of the decision. I agree with the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, and Kinsley: Citizens United was properly decided. Post-Citizens United, democracy is still safe and as thriving as ever.

We have just finished the first presidential election since Citizens United was decided. I now ask my liberal friends: What harm did the Citizens United decision cause in this election? The answer is clear: No harm whatsoever.

To feel and exhibit fear when no fear is justified is a sign of paranoia. When it comes to Citizens United, many of my fellow liberals have simply been paranoid, imagining the sky to be falling when it is still holding up the sun just fine.

I do understand the reasons many of my fellow liberals opposed the Citizens United decision. Those reasons were myths to begin with, and the recent election has proven them to be myths. Here are some of the myths that too many of my fellow liberals believe about the Citizens United decision:

Romney (above) and Obama (below) ended up spending about the same amount of money in the campaign.
Myth #1: Citizen United will let rich people and corporations drown out the voices of ordinary people. This is simply untrue, as the recent presidential election showed. President Obama and Mitt Romney each raised about $1 billion to fund their campaigns (including both direct contributions and contributions to PACs and other organizations that supported them).  President Obama’s campaign raised twice as much from those giving under $200 as Romney’s raised from those giving more than $2,000. In other words, Obama’s money came from “ordinary people”; Romney’s came from richer people; Obama’s “ordinary people” gave more to the campaign directly than Romney’s rich people. The President’s campaign took in far more than Romney’s; Romney’s PACs took in far more than the President’s; in the end, the money given to advocate for each candidate balanced out almost perfectly evenly at about $1 billion. And in the end, both campaigns saturated the airwaves with their ads. The voices of both candidates came through loud and clear. Conclusion: The rich did not drown out us ordinary folk in either dollars or decibels.

Myth #2: Citizens United will let rich people and corporations give all they want to candidates’ campaigns, making candidates obliged to them. The rich, in effect, get to bribe the candidates. This claim, too, is untrue, and it is probably the most common misconception among those who oppose the Citizens United decision. Before Citizen United, there were strict regulations on how much an individual may give directly to a candidate’s campaign. After Citizen’s United, those regulations remain exactly the same. Today, an individual may give no more than $2,500 directly to a campaign. Corporations may give nothing directly to a campaign. (Few liberals I’ve argued with even know that.) Unions may give nothing directly to a campaign. There are similar limits on what individuals and organizations can give to state or national party committees. Although I generally believe in the freedom of individuals or groups to spend their money to express their political opinions, I support these limits on direct contributions to candidates and their campaigns. Why? Because giving directly to a candidate or his campaign can be tantamount to bribery. But if I create my own ad, with my own (or my corporation’s or my union’s) money, the candidate receives no direct wealth. That is not a bribe. It is simply my (or my organization’s) expression of my political opinion. Citizens United did not let anyone give more money to candidates. It simply let people create their own political ads, commercials, books, movies or whatever. (For those who didn’t follow the case closely, it involved a movie made by a group called Citizens United. The movie vilified Hillary Clinton. The decision  allowed the movie to be shown.)

Myth #3: Citizens United will give Republicans, the party of the rich, an advantage in elections. This year’s election certainly gives the lie to that myth, doesn’t it? The presidential candidate supported by rich Republicans like Adelson, the Kochs, Donald Trump, et al., lost. Nearly all the Senate candidates supported by those rich Republicans lost. (Adelson and his wife spent $42 million to support eight Republican Senate candidates; they all lost.) Most Republican representatives already in the House won, but so did most Democratic incumbents; the Dems actually picked up seats in both the House and the Senate. The gerrymandering done by the Republicans in the states after 2010 had far more to do with Republican victories in the House than Citizens United. Nothing in Citizens United would have affected that gerrymandering.



If Citizens United had been decided otherwise, both Stephen Colbert (top)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

HOW MOM WOULD HAVE HANDLED MITT

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . . These are people who pay no income tax. . . . My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
—Mitt Romney at a Republican fundraiser, Spring 2012
Mitt Romney


My mom, Elsie Weathers, was one of the "47 percent" Governor Romney claims to describe. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and would have voted for him this year, too. Warning: Don't let the meek smile fool you, Mr. Romney.



In her final years, my late mother, a tiny woman who died at the age of 93, paid no income taxes on her small social security income, and she relied on Medicare to pay her medical bills. She had never worked a regular job outside the home, so she had never paid any income taxes. Instead, she had raised five kids, scrubbed the floor of our kitchen twice a week, washed all our clothes, vacuumed the house, and handled all the finances in our family, buying the groceries and doling out each mortgage, utilities, and tuition check with extraordinary Finnish parsimony. Of course, Mom did pay sales taxes on every piece of clothing she bought for us kids (she bought little for herself), and she signed the check that paid the property taxes each year on the small house she and my dad had skrimped and saved in order to buy in 1956.

If, at the end of her life, Mitt Romney or anyone else had ever walked up to my mother and claimed that she was a moocher who took no "personal responsibility" for her life and had failed to pay her own way, my stubborn, proud little Finnish mother, who, it's true, never paid any income taxes of her own, would have kicked him emphatically in the . . . keister.