Saturday, January 28, 2012

Method to the Moderates

By Lee Waites

As I watch the Republican primary unfold I feel my aching joints and aging, sore muscles more acutely than ever. The comical way the debates play out and the sadness with which supporters see their champions rudely unmasked for who and what they really are, having been hoodwinked or brainwashed to believe their candidates actually desire more than victory. It's a sad extension of the human condition, but in truth more akin to the social maneuverings in a pack of junkyard dogs. It makes my body all too self aware of the rut in which the human race finds itself, wiggling around with no power or strength of will to break free. I feel so old since I've been watching the same mess over and over throughout my life.

Where is the motivation to serve? Where is the empathy? These are the only admirable driving forces for serving one's country, to protect and serve the group. Nowadays it's more a lustful frenzy of self serving extremism, using base notions to drive campaigns. Policy becomes an extension of the campaign. And therefore our country falls further into the pit. I vaguely recall watching the passion and bluster of Richard Nixon when I was a boy, the events narrated by the unmatched delivery of Walter Cronkite. I can honestly say in the face of today's offering of politicians and media talking heads I miss them both. Yes...even Nixon. He had plans that were meant to fix the problems of the World. He was, for sure, a horrible egomaniac. In light of the candidates running now, it seems a bit justified.         

Ron Paul seems to be the only one in any of these debates who exhibits any admirable traits, expressing many ideas and notions that stem from a desire for good policy as opposed to knee jerk pandering. His opponents' ideas are obviously designed solely to win. I'll admit that many of his ideas are appealing. The ones that aren't, and the basic concept that the Government has such a limited role to play, at the exact time when other nations are forging ahead on the world stage with just such close involvement from their governments, makes him an unappealing choice. But philosophically I can at least understand what his ideas stand for. And he seems to be the only candidate currently running for the Republican nomination with any character. He harkens back to a simpler time. But things are far from simple now.

Newt Gingrich has so many flaws it's a wonder he has ever been taken seriously. The moon base idea is actually one of his better plans. But maybe we could have done that in the 90s. Or maybe we can wait a bit...until people aren't hurting as much. (Now Mars...I could get behind that plan.) name. If you drop the Rick part, it's almost a super hero name. Or a Sufi, a poet.'s not. And it's Rick. And he will undoubtedly pander to the religious right wing. And how can you believe a word of his God talk when he's a politician. In fact...God talk is so wrong to bring into politics just given the very nature of both. It is an unholy union.
 Romney...totally just wants to win. Republicans know this all. That's why they're sure to pick Romney. Certainly not a super hero name. I'm very liberal, and the guy doesn't piss me off. He seems like he is just driven to succeed and has no ill will toward me or my fellow Liberals. So if, as they say, President Obama is such an awful leader, why not go for a Santorum, or a Gingrich? Because they know that the swing vote might go for Mitt. Quite possibly they will choose diversity for the Vice Presidential position, a woman, an Asian or maybe an "actual" circus clown.  It's strategy driven, not by ideals.

The Republican party has set itself up, marginalized itself so much that if it puts forth the candidate that represents the nature of the GOP today it will be apparent that the driving force of traditional Republican values runs counter to the desires and needs of the American people. Traditional Republican thinking is backwards, designed to return us to policies that have time and again proven failures, unbridled market worship...wars on everything...including Americans. 

Unfortunately, the same can be said for the Democrats. In truth, we can see that political ideas to date, based on the old paradigm of us vs them have failed. Politicians are required to play a game and pick a card. They cannot afford to align themselves with the policies of the opposition, lest they lose their financial backing, lose the game. The American people however, are not playing a game. They are losing their houses. They are struggling with day to day issues that to many lead to a spiraling cycle and a downward trend that might take years from which to recover, if it is even possible. The American people need solutions.

Too many extremists in our own country, driven by social philosophy, religious dogma, greed, corporate interests, etc forget that according to most polls, and based on simple observation, today's America is divided nearly down the middle in it's support for political parties. That is why the few in the middle have so much pull. Why each side will attempt to appear reasonable. That is why every American should take pause, get serious and think about the effectiveness of each policy put forth by each candidate. Stop listening to the commercials. Stop screaming rhetoric. Stop using labels. Seek out the person who espouses the desire to represent the American people as a whole, who is willing to compromise, realizing that he or she is acting on the behalf of our entire country.

Currently the person most seemingly willing to compromise is President Obama. He makes me mad sometimes. He doesn't do everything I think he should. That's exactly the reason the American people should make the adult choice and reelect him.  In turn, he needs to get the job done so we can go back to grilling out and drinking beer.    


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Our Facebook Overlords

Very short and concise editorial in response to Facebook blocking our posts to our own page.

When you become a major source for information sharing you have a responsibility to adhere to time honored traditions based on widely accepted interpretations of our Constitution.

The power base may shift. The controls may change. But the issues are the same and the right to freedom of the press must be maintained.

You cannot choose what information we are allowed to see or what constitutes news. You do not have that authority. This is a public trust issue and you need to be aware of your responsibility to use your power wisely. This includes proper controls on your users, both to avoid undue, arbitrary censorship and to protect their freedoms.

The only reason for this short editorial is to illustrate that the blocking of our posts to our own Facebook page is an issue of the 1st amendment. You have created a new town square. That is a wonderful thing. You must treat it as such. This is a simple explanation of your responsibility.

I will now attempt to post this to our Facebook page. I respectfully request that you return our ability to do this.    

Here’s to the American Dream

By Sabrina Pandora

I’d like for this to see some circulation, folks, so if you could repost it and ask that it be passed along, I would very much appreciate it. Maybe if enough people read it then maybe someone might be held accountable for these sort of things, and it might save someone else from the same fate.

When I met Wendie Goers, she was just beginning her gender transition, and amongst the advice that I gave her, I warned her that in order to finally gain possession of her own soul and be true to herself, she would have to be prepared to lose everything. How true that advice has proven to be today.

I lost my job in early 2009, and she lost her job in mid 2009. We both set to hunting work with a fervor, making our daily job to seek out opportunities to get us back into the workforce. She fretted and worried but I reassured her… something would give, someone would hire us. We were intelligent, motivated and experienced- sure, we were a little unusual, but that wouldn’t put people off in a tolerant city like Atlanta.

We worked, we chased, we hunted… and we failed. We drained our savings, we drained our retirement, we drained our nest egg, we sold everything in sight and traded like fur trappers on the Mississippi. We kept other folk’s spirits up, fed the hungry that came to our door and did our best to be a haven for those in need and for those whose circumstances were poor- after all, that’s part of the American Dream. Take care of people and be good folks, help out here and there, do what you can… part of what makes America great, and what makes Atlanta such a nice city. We kept at it and kept at it, all the while with me reassuring Wendie that something had to give eventually… and I was oh so terribly wrong.

I think my favorite ‘opportunity’ was the one where it came down to Wendie or the other candidate for a job with An Unnamed Workshop, and they decided to hire the other candidate (with the possibility of Wendie getting contract work). We later found out that the other candidate had lied extensively about her skills and experience, which Wendie had not… and of course, Wendie was never contacted for contract work ever, nor even reconsidered for the position, never contacted... hell, they couldn’t even be bothered to reply to her inquiries. In the end they apparently rehired the person who had quit and just gave them a big old raise instead. It beat hiring a tranny I guess. You know what those people are like, after all. They put people off and scare away customers.

So that brings us to our current topic- our beloved and embattled home. Wells Fargo financed Wendie’s purchase of our home back in 2005, when she put 20% down and bought into the idea that this was a ‘transitional neighborhood’. If that transition meant ‘from bad to worse’ then that description was accurate- the original note for the home was $189,000. Today it is valued at $40,000- how’s that for a transition?

Now, if we’d been smart, we would have seen the writing on the wall when we first became unemployed, realized that we were now unemployable by virtue of being middle-aged transwomen in Atlanta and just walked away from the mortgage, let it slide into bankruptcy and used the money we still had at that point to just buy a foreclosure elsewhere free and clear and been better off for our trouble. But instead we played it straight. We believed in the American Dream. We held out hope for change, kept at it and slowly burned through every resource we had.

Finally in 2011 we got a break and an idea… if we could go back to school, then we could get loans and grants and that could help keep us afloat while we learned a trade. Cosmetology is a career that is historically open and embraces ‘alternate lifestyles’- or as we liked to put it, “Let’s get into a field where nobody cares that we’re big girls with deep voices!” Then we got more good news- Wells Fargo had a mortgage assistance program that could get our payments lowered, and if we qualified, we could get our mortgage payment lowered for good! We were still sinking, but we were treading water like champions now. All we had to do was make it out of school and we would have trade skills in a field that would embrace us, and more importantly, hire us. We could do this!

Or not.

First we got our bit of news from one of the preeminent salons in town, who pointed out that while effeminate gay men are always in fashion with moneyed women, transwomen never will be, and they wouldn’t ever consider hiring us… and they weren’t alone. Our dream of a new career took a hit, but we persevered. We could make it work… we could just work within the gay community, because we didn’t repel them; or at least, not as much as so very many of the straight community.

Then came the notice that not only had our mortgage assistance program run its course; great, were we approved for a new payment structure? Hahaha! Not only were we not approved, we now owed even more than we had been ‘assisted’ for over that six month period. So either pay Wells Fargo five grand plus right here and now or we foreclose… wait, what?!? Can’t we appeal? Sure, feel free. Don’t expect Wells Fargo to respond though. Is there someone else we can speak to?

Nope, it has to go through the one guy handling your case who doesn’t want to talk to you, return your calls or acknowledge any paperwork that you send in. Well, if we can scrape them together can we at least make regular mortgage payments for now? Nope, your payment option is frozen until you pay us… wait, six grand and change now, all in one lump sum. No, wait, scratch that, we’ve decided that we’re just going to foreclose on you. Oh, and don’t expect much communication about it either… here’s a month’s notice to get out of your home, and be grateful for that.

Now, I am not a businesswoman, obviously. So I do not understand the intricacies of mortgage financing… particularly the part where refinancing the home to keep a couple who has clawed and struggled to hold on to a home in a terrible DMZ of a neighborhood, who have watched the value of the home plummet lower and lower, who have braved drive-by shootings and muggings on their doorstep to try to hold on and turn the neighborhood around is not preferable to simply dumping the property.

See, here is Wells Fargo logic at work. If they can take a loss on the remaining $140,000 of this note- which they will, oh boy will they- and force us to default, then they can sell the house as a foreclosure on the courthouse steps. Let’s see, according to the Fulton County tax assessor’s figures, on the average that means that this house should sell for about $10,000. Yup, ten grand, leaving $130,000 for them to write off (though they did collect fifty grand from us in the seven years we’ve been here).

Is that how they paid their bailout money off?

And then the house will likely be bought by an investor who has never set foot in this neighborhood (nor will they) who will just as likely turn what was once our home into Section 8 housing… at least, after the repair all of the damage that will occur as soon as we aren’t here, like replacing the AC unit and furnace the locals will steal for copper, the refrigerator they will steal outright, the gutters they will tear off for the aluminum… it is a lot like watching locusts attack a farm crop, really.

I know, you think I am exaggerating… sadly, I am not. There is a reason almost all of the AC units in this neighborhood have cages welded around them.
So here we are, still trying to get out of school- hey, the congressional cut to the grant program really helped too, America, thanks for that. So much for helping out with the bills. We got a little money, but finding out it was going to be cut right in the middle of our scholastic career was a winner for sure. And now after all of this we’ll lose our home, the nearby property values will decline that much more, and we will be out on the streets with severely damaged credit after all of our savings has been poured into a home that is no longer ours.

I’d like to tell you that through all of this I still have optimism, that I still have hope. I would like to tell you that this story will have a happy ending and that a miracle will come along and save our home, and let us keep our little house in the ghetto that we’ve worked so hard on to make it a nice place, where we were going to build a salon in the garage so that we would be able to give ourselves jobs in a field that apparently isn’t very fond of us, but at least might support us. I would like to say that I still believe in the American Dream- that perseverance, doing the right thing, working hard and being good honest people still pays off.

I’d like to say that, but damned if it would be very convincing through all of the tears.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dueling Mormons in New Hampshire

I don't expect today's New Hampshire primary to be anything like as exciting as last week's Iowa caucuses were. All the polling has consistently shown a strong lead for Mitt Romney. He's very probably going to win. I know. But secretly, I'm hoping New Hampshire wil surprise us. It wouldn't be the first time, after all.

Substantial as Mittens' lead is, it's slipped six points since last Wednesday, from 43% to 37%. He's still 20 points ahead of likely second place Ron Paul, but tied with fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman in Dixville Notch's well publicized midnight voting. Where did those six points go, you may be wondering? Straight to Huntsman, it seems.

Less than a week ago, Huntsman was polling around 8%. The latest polls show him surging up to 18%, running neck and neck with Ron Paul. Considering his dismal .6% finish in Iowa, a second place finish here would be the shot of adrenaline he needs to make it through South Carolina, and on to Florida.

To be fair, Huntsman's meager .6% of Iowans was more or less what he expected. He took a pass on the caucuses to focus on more moderate New Hampshire, saying, "They pick corn in Iowa. They pick presidents in New Hampshire." It took a while, but it's starting to look like that gamble may pay off in a big way.

Despite, or perhaps thanks to, his relatively low profile, Huntsman has earned something of a cult following as the Democrats' favorite Republican candidate. Unlike many of his opponents, he is not completely batshit insane, which does hold a certain appeal. He's the only member of the GOP field who unambiguously believes in evolution. He not ony preaches, but has practiced bipartisanship, serving as President Obama's ambassador to China. He's unapologetically intelligent. And he's really funny on tv. These are all excellent qualities in a person, presidential contender or not.

Huntsman is without question the Republican candidate I'd most like to have dinner with. Actually, he's the only one I can imagine being in the same room with without trying to make him cry. I'm sure it would make for an interesting evening, but a contentious one as well. While his support for same sex civil unions, though not marriage, renders Huntsman far and away the most moderate of the GOP contenders, a look at a few more of his positions shows an abiding commitment to conservative values.

He is relentlessly anti-choice. He wants to repeal health care reform, and to eliminate the employer tax deduction for contributing to health care coverage. He wants to, "streamline," the FDA approval process, making it easier for drug companies to bring new meds to market without demonstrating efficacy or safety. His statements on energy policy are factually sloppy, and would prioritize greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels above investment in sustainable energy sources. Where he initially voiced his belief in the human contribution to climate change, he has recently back pedalled substantially, falling in line with his fellow Republicans in saying the science is inconclusive. Disappointing, that was.

No one expects Huntsman to do much of anything in South Carolina, where a more evangelical electorate's not-Romney vote will likely be split between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. At present, he's polling below Steven Colbert, but as Colbert won't be on the ballot, maybe some of his supporters will shift to Huntsman on election day. A strong showing today would probably send him directly onto Florida, whose primary is shaping up to be a deciding factor in the GOP nomination. I hope Florida has learned from its past mistakes, and is ready to handle the responsibility, but I remain skeptical.

By Gaije Kushner

Monday, January 9, 2012

Oh What a Week!

Very late on the night of Tuesday, January 3rd, I went to bed blissfully believing the people of Iowa had made my dreams come true by voting Rick Santorum to the head of his caucus class. It was quite a disappointment, waking up to find Mittens had won it after all, courtesy of eight Iowan spoilers. I shouldn't have been surprised, considering the lead had been flip flopping around all night, changing twice in the time it took to microwave my mushroom tortellini.

All of last week was like that though, wasn't it, for the GOP's presidential aspirants? So strange it veered into surrealism, from Iowa to New Hampshire, with an unscheduled stop in Austria, courtesy of the good Dr. Ron Paul.

Despite a third place finish, Dr. Paul seemed to think he'd won a massive victory, beginning what would in other hands have been a concession speech with the declaration, "We are all Austrians now!" While I'd happily sell my soul for an EU passport, I very much doubt Austria would be any more inclined to give me one in the wake of Paul's surprisingly strong showing than it had been the day before. Nor do I see the preference of 26,219 Iowans as a ringing endorsement of the largely discredited Austrian school of economics upon which Paul's economic policies are based.

The eventual silver medalist, Rick Santorum, offered the biggest surprise of the night in his speech. In a stunning departure from his usual hate speech, he made a stunningly persuasive attack on Mittens' only electoral advantage, his supposed electability. As I understand it, this supposition is based on his having won a statewide election as a Republican, in the largely Democratic state of Massachusetts. It doesn't seem to take into account the vastly different policy positions Mittens espoused at the time, instead credits him with some sort of electoral magic. Not counting this one, he's participated in three campaigns, winning just one. When does the magic start?

Santorum, on the other hand, reminded us of his own repeated victories in Democratic districts, achieved without soft pedaling his crazy train conservative agenda. Granted, Pennsylvania Democrats are not the most progressive of us all, but still, they are Democrats, and repeatedly sent Santorum to D.C., with full knowledge of his policy positions. That's the kind of magic more often found in Disney films, than Congressional campaigns.

For all he was the night's big winner, Mittens can't have been thrilled with his result. In 2008, when he came in second to Mike Huckabee, he received 29,949 votes, 25.2%. This year, five years and vast fortunes spent as a full time presidential candidate bought him 66 more Iowans, just 24.7%. It must be unpleasant, discovering you're too unlovable to buy even electoral love,at any price. Mittens is just too dull to love. He's isn't even interesting enough to bother hating. He's like the adults in Peanuts cartoons, an invisible presence, sort of squawking at us blandly.

He did himself no favors as the week progressed. He may believe his own claims of job creation, but no one else does. He must have known the business success of which he endlessly boasts would at some point face media scrutiny, but he didn't bother coming up with much of a response. There are those ethereal 100,000 jobs he created by downsizing and outsourcing other jobs first, but they're already heading back into the ether. He further explained, in an interview with Bloomberg Television,that,"every time we reduce jobs somewhere, it was to try and save the enterprise and make it more successful." Aside from his appalling grammar, this statement suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the world within which most of the electorate, 99% or so, reside. Has anyone in the history of unemployment ever been consoled by knowing it was all for the good of the shareholders? And if, as he's always saying, we need businesses to expand to create more jobs, yet businesses need to cut jobs to expand, it's at best a zero sum game he'd have us playing.

I hate the word disconnect, but no other comes to mind to describe Mittens' response to questions about the extent to which his interests intersect with those of Wall St. He didn't offer any meaningful critique of Wall St. practices, or demonstrate any real understanding of why his ties to the financial industry might be seen as problematic. Nothing that could have made him the least bit more relatable to that pesky 99% of of potential voters. Instead, he assured us he was not, "dependent on someone else for my survival. I'm independent of Wall St. By the way, I haven't ever worked on Wall St. They were service providers to the business I was in." He's not independent from Wall St. as a matter of principle, or because, like many of us, he's found their practices personally detrimental, in one way or another. No, Mittens' independence springs from superiority. Wall St. firms are nothing more than hired help to billionaires, after all.

He apparently sees this as a selling point. In yesterday's debate, he astonishingly told us only the independently wealthy should ever run for office, citing his father's sage advice to, "Never get involved in politics if you need to win an election to pay a mortgage." Whoever's handling his debate prep should really try explaining to him the concept of the oligarchy, and its general unpopularity in this country.

The week's back to back debates gave us more of the evasions and incoherence we've come to expect from such events. Rick Perry vowed to reinvade Iraq,because Iran will be moving in on it, "literally at the speed of light." Maybe someone told him Dr. Who was a documentary. More likely, he doesn't understand the meaning of the word literally. He further distinguished himself on Sunday, displaying his ignorance of the definition of socialism by confusing it with policies of President Obama's. Doesn't a day of prayer in Texas or something require his personal supervision?

Ron Paul lost his place in time in Saturday's debate, trying to get anyone to care about Newt Gingrich's failure to serve in Vietnam. Didn't we decide to move on from such things when we elected draft dodging Bill Clinton president twice? Or surely when we allowed The Bush regime to take things over? If that's the best ammunition Dr. Paul can find to use against Newt, he needs to be watching more cable news.

Last week also brought us a special bonus preview of the general election, when a Georgia judge ruled to allow a hearing to resolve the question of President Obama's citizenship. Apparently his birth certificate does not suffice in Georgia. I assume we'd have seen any film footage of the birth by now, so I cannot imagine what proof the court will require. Even if Obama had been born in Kenya, which he of course was not, no one's yet questioned his mother's citizenship, have they? Isn't the son of an American citizen a, "natural born citizen," wherever he might happen to have been born? This is what happens when civics classes are removed from the curriculum.

This week promises more excitement. The New Hampshire primary, is coming up,of course. Mittens is so far ahead in the polling, anything short of massive victory will disappoint, and boost the runner up's momentum heading to South Carolina. I'm hoping for a repeat of 2008's New Hampshire surprise, turning all the pollsters on their ear, and finally giving Senator Santorum the victory of my dreams.