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Archive for July 2011

If tea partiers are serious about reducing deficit, they should consider plenty of liberal deficit cutting ideas

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The image of Nero fiddling while Rome burns seems almost comical. Why would Nero play the fiddle while the city was truly on fire?

The story is about a political leader who is clueless about the crisis around them. But in the case of the teabaggers, they are rather loud to point out that Rome is not on fire. And they call out those who say Rome is on fire by saying, “Liar, liar, pants on, uh, well, they’re not on fire either.”

The teabaggers are too busy to play the fiddle; they feel playing the fiddle may distract them from their stated purpose: reducing the deficit.

We are told by the MSM that the teabaggers are principled in bringing down the deficit, and the MSM has shown us what principled means to them.

We know better: this isn’t about bringing down the deficit. If this were, we would be out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and anywhere else we would be. We would be out of Germany, Japan, and South Korea. We would eliminate the Bush tax cuts. We would retool farm subsidies so farmers can grow a wider variety of crops and have income standards so farm subsidies wouldn’t go to rich people or factory farms.

We would pass universal health care, which would also reduce costs for businesses (i.e., job creators). We would make corporations pay more or, in some cases, something, even if it isn’t up to their fair share. We would raise the income level subject to Social Security tax from $106,000 to something above New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s annual salary.

We would make sure hedge fund managers pay the same percentage as their administrative assistants.

Finding these and other similar ideas aren’t that difficult. The difficulty lies in entering them into the discussion, because, these ideas are “liberal.”

People can certainly disagree with the ideas above, having their own more conservative views on cutting the deficit. But conservatives are teabaggers aren’t even being given the chance to say “no.”

Facts and statistics can get in the way of the teabaggers agenda. Most teabaggers live in states that get more back from Washington than they give. Tax rates are low, especially on the rich. And while a lower deficit and debt helps the U.S. economy in the long-term, every economic pattern leads to spending more, but strategically, by government to get jobs and the economy back to the point where this country is treading water.

The sad part is the deficit and debt are important, and we need to reassess our priorities to reduce both to make our country as strong as conservatives think we actually are. Having the teabaggers in charge of that discussion isn’t wise, they only know a small percentage of the problem and ignore solutions that agree with their quest because their overlords don’t approve.

In the analogy, the teabaggers are Nero, and yes, Rome is on fire. Except the teabaggers aren’t the best ones to put out the fire, especially when they don’t even think it’s hot. And we have several fires going.

If you find Borders closing to be sad, support your local bookstores

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As Borders announces that the rest of its locations will close soon, the sense of loss hangs in the air. But what exactly is connected to that sense of loss?

Sure Borders closed most of its locations, so the outcry has been in stages. But as someone who walked through the stores at 30%, 40%, 50%, and even 70% off, you had to wonder, “what are we mourning?”

Some of the mourning is all about the bookstore, how it’s dying or being turned into cafes that have books alongside overpriced coffees and wi-fi. Barnes & Noble is stil alive, and we do have local bookstores with selections you won’t find at the major chain bookstores.

Some of the mourning is all about what is happening to books, that books are disappearing. The marketplace is shifting both in how to buy and what you get, but people are still reading. Sure some people ranted when movies and television came along that books would disappear, and books survived both of these trends.

Some of the mourning is all about seeing what is out there in the book buying process in air conditioned comfort surrounded by like-minded people. Amazon can help you if you know what you want. Local bookstores may have what you want, but you might have trouble finding it.

And some of the mourning is all about the loss of Borders, current and past.

Those who remember Borders in Ann Arbor, MI — before it became the Borders that people know — their mourning is for a time when going to Borders was cool. When seeing so many books in one setting was incredible. And no one came along to hassle you, yet they were there to help you find what you wanted; truly a book consumer’s dream. I was lucky to be one of those who knew about Borders before it became big.

Borders sold more than just books; they had CDs, DVDs, and other related media. Buying a CD at Borders would become laughable after awhile. You might not have found the book down the block, but you could find the CD for a lot cheaper than Borders. When the going out of business sale hit 50%, some of those CDs were still too expensive.

Being too big had drawbacks. Those also mourn the loss of Blockbuster for videos, the huge colossal corporate home for renting movies, though its corporate high-and-mighty, violence-over-nudity, anti-NC-17 practices weren’t consumer-friendly.

If you liked having the top of the top, giant outlets for books, video, and other media were the place to be. Those who liked more obscure titles often felt shut out by the big behemoths.

Thousands of bookstores and video stores and similar media outlets have closed in the last few years. Tears are shed in their own individual neighborhoods or cities. Collectively, we cry over Borders and Blockbuster because of what they represent, even if it didn’t always fit our needs.

Those who live in large cities that have a few good CD stores, book stores, and video stores should feel bad for those in smaller towns who are losing their main sources of media outlets. And everyone should feel bad for those who are stuck buying their media from Wal-Mart.

The way to keep the media alive is to buy, buy, and buy. What and how we buy has changed over the years and will change again. We will mourn the loss of how we buy those media; let’s hope we aren’t someday mourning the loss of the media itself.

Written by democracysoup

July 22, 2011 at 8:56 am

CBC stands to lose viewers, American and Canadian, thanks to August 31 digital conversion

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We’ve been praising Canada lately for its ability to produce jobs and even a small riot. But your sympathy can go out to Canada on one issue that troubled Americans back in 2009: converting analog TV signals to digital TV. Remember the clamor over the coupons for converter boxes? This is when Americans knew they were going to get all the digital signals, unless they lived too far away from the digital signal.

Well, a significant number of Canadians and some Americans are going to lose access to CBC on the August 31 deadline unless they go to cable or satellite. Saskatoon, SK, London, ON, Kitchener, ON, Moncton, NB, and most of Quebec among others will lose English language service; Calgary, Windsor, ON, and Halifax among others will lose French language service.

For more, check out the coverage via CanadianCrossing.com. And scroll to the bottom to relive magical memories of American TV conversions with archival material from Democracy Soup.

American jobless held hostage by GOP-led House

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‘America Held Hostage’ was the theme of the Nightline episodes in 1979 and 1980 as Americans were held hostage in Iran. ABC News devoted considerable resources to the fledging program, and its ongoing countdown reminded Americans of what we going on half a world away.

This tool, so effective for conveying something far away to our lives, could be used for what is going on at home. But once again, the MSM, ruled by GOP talking points, misses the big picture.

To the MSM and GOP, almost in lockstep, the debt ceiling crisis is worthy of a countdown down to August 2. The real countdown started on January 3, when the new GOP-led House took over, with the theme of when the House would pass job creating legislation.

The numbers cry out for a solution: Canada, with 11% of the U.S. population level, produced 29,000 jobs in June. The United States produced 18,000 jobs. And Canada has universal health care. The American numbers were on top of a dismal May.

The debt ceiling crisis, a overblown, almost-made-up phenomenon, has swept the attention, running second to someone named Casey Anthony these days. The MSM’s sudden interest in the deficit runs lockstep with the Republican push. And while the MSM’s agenda isn’t clear, the GOP reasoning is there if you’re looking: reduce domestic spending on programs they don’t like.

After all, the GOP isn’t afraid to spend (see years 2001-2007) and if taxes on the rich were a tree, we’ve cut down to the smallest of stumps.

President Barack Obama has been capitulating to the Republicans on the fake crisis, even offering deals the GOP hasn’t asked for such as Social Security cuts. We’ve seen Obama’s bargaining skills in motion, giving 2 years of Bush tax cuts for 1 year of extended unemployment. Yes, we are going back to just 26 weeks of unemployment in 6 months. And his Treasury department isn’t helping things by heightening a world of mass hysteria once we hit August 3.

Missing the deadline will result in some upheaval, in part because of the hype involved. So concern is relevant. Then again, the #2 person in the GOP House leadership, Eric Cantor, stands to benefit financially if the debt crisis deadline is not met. If the markets really think that the adults in the room aren’t going to be responsible for the debt … then again, the children (teabaggers) appear to be in charge.

We do need to reduce the deficit and debt (the difference between the two, largely ignored, could comprise a whole column), and we can certainly make some changes now. However, if the economy is creating 18,000 jobs when it needs to average 250,000 jobs per month, deficit and debt can wait.

We have written several columns in the last 6 months wondering where is the outrage over not having job creation legislation. Tax cuts won’t make companies free up money to hire people (again see 2001-2007).

The GOP reminds us of college basketball before the shot clock. They pass the ball around over and over killing time; they want the ball but they don’t want to score. And the fans are desperate for baskets.

Whatever your level of disappointment over what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, along with President Obama, did to create/save jobs in 2009-2011, their numbers and production look Clintonesque compared to the last 6 months.

When (if?) the debt ceiling crisis gets solved, the GOP will look for another excuse to run out the clock until November 2012. As we’ve seen from the job numbers, millions of Americans can’t wait that long. And the MSM has gone out of its way to lay the entire blame on President Obama. While we have been quite critical of some of his approaches and philosophies, the judgment falls on the body that initiates legislation, the GOP-controlled House. Without the House, Americans will continue to be held hostage, waiting fruitlessly for job growth help to arrive.

Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch need to be held accountable for phone hacking

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The “News of the World” is no more, but the phone hacking scandal lives on. And the only question remaining is whether the scandal will reach the top of the News Corp. chain.

The allegations of phone hacking of a murdered young girl, relatives of victims killed in terrorist acts stirred emotion among those in the UK.

But those who found this behavior so despicable in 2011 have to respond to “Why are you only complaining about this now?”

Rupert Murdoch’s journalism style has involved phone hacking for years. True, the victims then were royals, politicians, and celebrities. However, as much as it pains us to say so, royals and politicians and celebrities are … people.

We put these well-known people in a different category, needing tougher skins than regular people. The tradeoff is they have power and status that we will never get. And tabloid journalism, more in the UK than in the U.S. even, thrives on catching those people in doing something that we think they shouldn’t do.

And this is why the public went along with the Murdoch philosophy, phone hacking be damned.

The logical extension is that the Murdoch philosophy would eventually shift to “regular people,” and according to the allegations, they have been long before 2011.

By sales of the News of the World, the British public voted with their pounds and shillings that this behavior was acceptable, and they have some level of accountability.

Some accountability lies in the reporters and editors that engaged in this behavior, but we have heard very little about them. Did they get punished when the victims were politicians and celebrities? Did they get punished later when the Murdoch philosophy expanded?

The majority of the accountability in this behavior rests with those who encouraged, instigated, or condoned the behavior.

To say that Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch, and had no accountability in any of the behavior over the many years at the numerous News Corp./News International properties is a stretch. To say that Rebekah Brooks played no role is highly unlikely.

Let’s pretend that the Murdochs had no idea of anything that was going on, they didn’t know about paying off the police or hacking into phone accounts, or any other unethical and/or illegal behavior at any of those news operations throughout the world, including the United States’ Fox News Channel.

To not know what was going on is beyond inexcusable, so even in the best of scenarios for the Murdoch family, they must receive a just punishment for their actions. And if they knew, every reason to assume that is true, well that requires a bigger punishment.

Some of the blame for this expanded phone hacking scandal lies in government. Obviously, the British government has its role: not just that Prime Minister David Cameron hired a former News of the World editor as his press secretary, an editor that resigned because of, brace for it, a phone hacking scandal. And allegations that the police had been bought off by News Corp. employees reflects a sense that Murdoch can’t be touched. And minus the scandal, Murdoch was going to grow his media empire by buying B Sky B.

This impression extends significantly into the United States. Various U.S. government agencies have let Murdoch accumulate media power that no one else is allowed to own. Murdoch was allowed to buy the New York Post while owning WNYW-TV 5 in New York City, a violation of the law at that time. Murdoch was allowed to own two VHF signals in New York City in buying WWOR-TV 9, something that was and still is illegal. And Murdoch was allowed to buy the Wall Street Journal and didn’t have to sacrifice owning a daily newspaper and two VHF stations in the country’s #1 media market, something so illegal for everyone else that no category exists for such an abomination.

And Fox ‘News’ Channel, as Jon Stewart has noted recently, gets away with so many factually inaccurate statements that 6 columns couldn’t fit all of them.

We still don’t know to what extent the impact is on American shores, though we have the early complaints of phone hacking for 9/11 victims. But there is great reason to believe that Murdoch won’t suffer on these shores because he is too powerful to be stopped.

Then again, you could have said the same thing about Murdoch in England just a few months ago.

An investigation that doesn’t seriously consider Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks and others in News Corp. management isn’t legitimate or thorough. We’ve seen the journalism practices, minus the recent allegations, of this company and its owners: the assumption that the allegations are true is based purely on the idea that we wouldn’t be surprised if all of them and more are true.

This comes down to accountability, something upstanding journalists pride themselves on doing.

SB 1070 gives Arizona black eye for impending MLB All-Star Game

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When SB1070 was in the headlines, the idea of holding the 2011 MLB All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix could have gone 50-50. While protesters will be out there, the game will be held in the state of Arizona on Tuesday, and you will hear very little coverage of the protesters in Phoenix.

The protesters wanted the game to be moved somewhere else away from Arizona as an economic punishment. True, the federal judicial system has had its way so far in making sure SB 1070 can’t be implemented. But we wanted to see what the impact of Tuesday’s game would be if SB 1070 was indeed law.

Now we know that some of these players may have become American citizens, and they all have proper documentation to play in the United States for the whole season. And this only reflects the original All-Star rosters, some of these names will be changed.

When you crunch the numbers, you are surprised that the rosters are mostly American-born. From a suspicion standpoint, those American-born players with Hispanic surnames would get hassled. And the lone Canadian player on each roster would probably not get a second look.

In the American League, 6 of the 9 starters are American-born. The other 3 are from the Dominican Republic: 2B Robinson Cano (NY Yankees), OF Jose Bautista (Toronto), and DH David Ortiz (Boston). Each league has 13 pitchers: 10 are American-born, the exceptions are Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (Venezuela), NY Yankees’ Mariano Rivera (Panama), and Detroit’s Jose Valverde (Dominican Republic).

Of the 11 AL bench players, 7 are American-born. The other 4 are NY Yankees catcher Russell Martin (Canada), infielders Texas’ Adrian Beltre (Dominican Republic), Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (Venezuela).

For the hometown NL squad,  7 of the 9 starters are American-born, with these two exceptions: Philadelphia 3B Placido Polanco Phillies (Dominican Republic), NY Mets SS Jose Reyes Mets (Dominican Republic). On the pitching staff, 12 of the 13 are American-born; Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens (Curacao) is the exception.

On the NL bench, 10 of the 12 are American-born, though 2 of them are from Puerto Rico: St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina and NY Mets OF Carlos Beltran. Arizona officials may not be aware that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. The exceptions are Chicago Cubs SS Starlin Castro (Dominican Republic) and Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto (Canada).

The NL might have a slight advantage if non-American born players weren’t allowed in Arizona, especially if someone convinced Arizona officials that Puerto Ricans don’t need papers.

Baseball fans don’t take country of origin into account when rooting for their team to win. And the All-Star Game is unusual in that you root for your team’s rival players because you support your league of choice. Votto was the NL’s Most Valuable Player last year.

SB 1070 was never about immigration enforcement; the law was about intimidation and racial profiling. You have the senior senator from Arizona, a presidential candidate in 2008, telling us that illegal immigrants started recent wildfires in the state. Since SB1070 was passed in Arizona, you had the horrific assassination attempt of Congressman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was a target of literature from Sarah Palin, a vice-presidential candidate in 2008.

One prominent AL starter who had talked about boycotting the All-Star Game was Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is of Mexican descent, U.S. born, but spent a lot of his youth in Tijuana. Until this year, Gonzalez played his entire major league career on teams in states that border Mexico: Texas for 2 years and the next 5 years for the San Diego Padres, mere miles from the U.S.-Mexican border.

Gonzalez will play in the game. You couldn’t have drawn up a better spokesperson for a possible boycott, but popular players have that much more pressure (including the players’ union) on them not to rock the boat.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has traditionally been a little squeamish on dealing with anything politically. Concessions could have been made even if the game wasn’t pulled. But Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, a staunch supporter of SB 1070, never felt an ounce of pressure from MLB.

Courtesy of a June interview with The Associated Press sports columnist Jim Litke, MLB spokesman Greg Bouris said: “Our position on the (Arizona) law hasn’t changed. We oppose it as written and that won’t change until the courts decide what the law is. But we think the All-Star game is a chance to celebrate the contribution of all baseball players — including our international players.”

MLB acknowledges its international players, but does Arizona? We won’t bore you with an analysis of the Diamondbacks team or any of the other MLB teams, but games in Arizona would be a lot less fun if it reflected SB 1070. And Arizona’s favorite professional athlete is Canadian via South Africa (and is white).

At lunchtime, a bunch of us were watching a protest for immigration raids. A middle-aged woman was rather loud about how we should send them all back. Not to pigeonhole her, but she sounded like someone familiar with the Rush Limbaugh show. These are usually the same people who think Obama is turning us into a socialist country, whatever that means.

But the reason why even those ardent anti-immigration people shouldn’t support SB 1070 is that it turns us into a fascist country. U.S. citizens presenting their papers to local authorities sounds like fascism to us. Even as an American citizen, how do you prove you’re legit? Driver’s license doesn’t work. Being white doesn’t work.

The federal system has a way to deal with immigration that follows the law and respects those who are legal and those who aren’t. Because even the illegals are still human beings. If it isn’t working too fast for some, SB 1070 doesn’t address legitimate issues and is designed to intimidate American citizens on the basis of color. That isn’t American or even patriotic.

Canadians more free for ‘pursuit of happiness’ than Americans

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Today is Canada Day, the day where the Great White North celebrates the birth of its country. Fireworks, picnics, and beach trips dominate the landscape, and this year, the country has the newest Royal Couple, Will and Kate, visiting Canada.

The sense of “freedom” isn’t as dominant in Canada as in the United States for the Independence Day. As excited as people are about the expanded freedom of gay marriage in New York state, there are more provinces (10) that allow gay marriage in Canada than states (6) in the United States. Which country has more freedoms?

Throw in 3 Canadian territories and gay marriage covers way more ground in Canada than the United States.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is in the U.S. lexicon, not Canada’s. But Canadians have freedom that most Americans can only wish for having.

President Barack Obama is slowly warming up to the idea of gay marriage along the lines of a frog in water where the heat has just been turned on. Obama’s empathy for marriages not in the mainstream should stem from his parents mixed marriage, an illegal act in some parts of the United States when his parents were married. Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped his empathy level for gay marriage.

What little freedom that exists in the United States is extremely limited. A few states allow for gay marriage, but the vast majority of states have some barrier to recognition. Freedom also means the freedom to move around a country, especially in uncertain economic times. If you are gay married, you don’t have the freedom to move to another part of your own country.

Federal law in the United States doesn’t recognize gay marriage, so just because you’re American and gay married doesn’t mean you are in most of the country.

A lesbian married couple who lives in Ontario and gets married in Ontario, and one of them gets a better job in Alberta due to oil production, that couple has the freedom to move to Alberta and still have their marriage legitimately recognized because they’re Canadian.

Think about couples that have moved from New York to California over the last few years. Gay married? Not gay married? Some people who care would be confused about the Golden State in the last few years.

Canadians, gay or straight, are also free to pursue jobs that suit them best. Americans? Not so much.

Americans aren’t free to do so if they are tied to their health care plan based on their employment location. Want to be an entrepreneur in the United States? Better not have any health issues for you or your family.

In fact, some American couples, gay or straight, have divorced not from animosity but from financial practicality where being married is a drawback for getting insurance. And other American couples have been tempted or actual got married to get health care from their spouse. Is that what they mean by the Defense of Marriage Act?

Freedom can’t be just about the freedom to grill meat outdoors, shop at Wal-Mart, and blow up body parts with fireworks.”Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has to mean something in Americans’ everyday lives instead of being a patriotic slogan that doesn’t translate in the 21st century.

One freedom that Americans have than Canadians don’t is freedom of speech. Canadians tend to limit speech based on hate, but you could easily argue that hate is rather difficult to define. But since Canadians have freedom to say mostly what they want, have freedom to move around based on marriage and health care, they are a lot more free than their Southern counterparts.

And the freedom of speech that Americans have and Canadians don’t has been damaged since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money is speech, average Americans now have less freedom to make an impact in the political process, unless they’re rich. And average Americans aren’t getting rich these days. For full disclosure, the majority conservative government of Canada wants to strip political parties of federal funding, making corporate money a stronger player in Canadian federal elections.

Freedom needs to be a 365-day part of people’s lives, not just on the Canadian holiday (July 1) or the American holiday (July 4). The pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but the pursuit does require maximum freedom to pursue happiness. Right now, neither Canadians nor Americans live in the ideal, but in a head-to-head North American matchup, Canadians would win it running away.

So enjoy your grilled meats, potato salad, and other picnic fare this weekend, Canadian or American. But once your holiday is over, think about what freedom really means to you, and do what you can to put pressure on your politicians so that you can pursue happiness.