Friday, September 25, 2009

A Cat's Eye View

Baxter here. And let me tell you, THIS View is not a View I would ever have chosen! But for some Reason I ended up next to That Dog one day and my Humans took a picture.

I was Quite Worried this Week because I heard my Female Human talking about taking Me up to That Cabin they go to for a Week. There was Discussion about Cages and whether there would be Room in the Jeep. Luckily it seems they changed their Minds and decided not to do it This Time. I made sure they didn't Take Me With Them, though, when my Humans were leaving. My Female Human claimed that she was only trying to Say Goodbye when she called me over to her, but I didn't buy it. I hid under the Bureau until she left, Just In Case.

So, here I am. Thank Goodness they left the Computer for Me to Use. I haven't had a Chance to opine on the News for quite some time!

Today, instead of my Usual News Roundup, I want to talk about something I heard about Today that Annoyed Me. It has Nothing To Do with the President, Health Care, or the United Nations. It's about something totally Unrelated that just happened to Catch My Eye. Apparently the Government is going to start Regulating Tobacco and their First Step is to Ban all Flavored Cigarettes! The idea is that these Flavored Cigarettes appeal to Young People and therefore this should help prevent them from Starting to Smoke.

Now, don't get Me Wrong. I am No Fan of Cigarette Smoking. It is Dangerous, Smelly and altogether Icky. We Cats have Very Sensitive Noses and Smoke is Not our Friend. However, this is Some Slippery Slope they're going down. They're even thinking of doing something about Menthol Cigarettes, which have been around Forever. Plus it's such a Vague Law that Retailers aren't even sure whether Cigarillos or Small Cigars that are Flavored would count or not! (And hey, what about Pipe Tobacco? That comes in Flavors too - will it be Next?)

Next thing you know, they'll ban flavored Liqueurs or Sweet Wines! And what about Obesity? If they're So Worried about Kids' Health, are they coing to start Banning Snack Foods completely just because Kids might eat them? This Mentality doesn't take into Account that Adults may be enjoying some of these things. Shouldn't Humans have a Choice? And what about Catnip? It could be Next, and that would be the Last Straw!

Seriously, you Humans are Weird. Tobacco is a Legal Product, Bad though it may be, and it is already Highly Difficult to Smoke in many Public Places, although of course that Varies depending on what State you live in. So Smoking has been Declining as it is.

My feeling is, if they aren't going to Ban Smoking altogether then why shouldn't Humans have the Opportunity to Smoke whatever Flavor of Poisonous Tobacco Product they want? It's one or the other, People.

Of course, Banning Tobacco would also be Stupid. Americans seem to immediately turn to a Black Market to get the Vices they prefer. My Humans tell Me about something called Prohibition, when the Government decided that Liquor was a Vice Too Evil to be Endured and Banned it, resulting in the Roaring 20's, a period of Time when people drank More Than Ever and Organized Crime grew to Accommodate the U.S. Appetite for Bootleg Alcohol.

I have to tell You, I would certainly look to Underground Sources for my Dose of Catnip if I couldn't get it!

I think the Solution would be, they should just make sure only Adults buy Tobacco products, period. It should be Regulated as Strictly as Liquor. My feeling is, if a person is an Adult and is allowed to Vote or Fight in a War, shouldn't they just as well be Allowed to Choose what flavor of Cigarette they buy?

As an Independent-Minded Cat, my Preferred Recommendation to Reduce Youthful Smoking would be further Education about the Dangers of Smoking, keeping Smoking out of Movies and other Media that might make it seem "Cool" as the Humans say, and Strictly Regulate the age at which a person can Buy the Stuff. That is Enough. Because anything further would be that Slippery Slope I was talking about Earlier. What do You Think? I know this may be a Controversial Topic, but We Cats never Shy from a good Howling Match with other Cats so I'm Looking Forward to a Good Discussion.

Well, on to less Controversial Subjects. To end my Post on a more Pleasaant Note, I thought I'd show you a few pictures from the last time the Humans were in the Adirondacks.

Here are a couple of Nice Views from the top of a Hill near Ft. Ticonderoga.

A Nice Lady offered to take a Picture of all three of My Humans (including the Male Human's Father, far left)...oh yes, and That Dog. You'll notice she is Mouthing Off as Usual. That Dog never shuts up!

A View of Lake George:

A Scenic Barn with an Osprey Nest behind it on top of a Telephone Pole. A closer Shot of the Osprey below that. Looks Tasty but kind of Big so I doubt I could Catch One.

My Male Human's Father enjoying a View of the Pond and Woods at that Cabin place.

Until Next Time, Enjoy your Catnip Responsibly and Keep it out of the Hands of Kittens. They can Choose to Indulge when they are Old Enough!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Is It Racism? Of Course It Is.

Ever since Joe Wilson’s outburst of “you lie!” during President Obama’s speech to the joint session of Congress, various people have been weighing in on what it meant and more broadly, what the virulent protests against his plans for universal health care may mean.

Former President Jimmy Carter’s statements that much of this opposition, including Joe Wilson’s outburst, is fueled by racism, has ignited a discussion of the “elephant in the room” – that on top of being a tax-and-spend liberal in the eyes of the right wing, President Obama is a black man. Never mind that he is half white, if his skin color isn’t light, he’s considered black by a large portion of the population and as such, is subject to suspicion.

Maureen Dowd, in a recent op-ed piece, also raised this issue.

"I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it."

David Brooks, in a recent op-ed column, doesn't think opposition to Obama is about race. He talked about the role of populism in American politics: the innate enmity between the idea of a strong central government, led by an educated elite, and a decentralized, state-led government led by "the people." Jefferson personified the latter. He was inherently suspicious of government and didn’t like the idea of giving too much power to any central government. Hamilton, on the other hand, was a strong proponent of a central government.

"This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.

The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers."

These factions have been warring ever since, taking various forms throughout history, from Father Coughlin and other opponents of FDR’s New Deal, to those who fought Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reforms.

Brooks pointed out how the white protesters were mingling with black people on the Mall in Washington last weekend so obviously they couldn’t be racists. Of course, we all know that is meaningless; many people can have subtle racist feelings and still say "some of their best friends are black," as the old saying goes.

However, the words on the signs we are seeing at the health care town halls and at the September 12 march on Washington are very telling. (This one is from a New Hampshire town hall meeting).Another favorite is "I want my country back." What is this supposed to mean? Back from whom? The Democrats? Or is it from that black man who somehow got elected President? And if they’re really so worried about losing their country, where were these people when George W. Bush was taking more and more federal power and wiretapping their internet and phone connections?

My feeling is they didn’t care or notice as much because despite being descended from a long line of East Coast rich elites from Connecticut, George W. Bush, with his ordinary name, broad Texas accent and everyday way of speaking, sounded like “one of them.”

Barack Obama, with his exotic name and background, his ability to sound intelligent and educated when he speaks, and yes, his dark skin, does not seem like "one of them," despite the fact he came from much more humble beginnings than Bush.

This perception of him as "the other" has to have an effect on their level of anger and yes, fear. And part of that fear has to be that he is an African-American. He’s not the same color as they are. You don’t see black faces at these protests. The continual claims that Obama is a Muslim, that he wasn’t born in this country despite all the evidence that he was, are evidence of this. When people protested against FDR, LBJ or Clinton, this aspect was not part of the conversation.

There is also the fact that death threats against this President are 400% higher than for the previous president.

Does David Brooks really think that this would be the case if President Obama were white? And would people really be bringing guns to town halls if he were white? I’m not sure that they would.

Some of the people at these protests would deny emphatically that they are racist. They would vehemently assert, as Joe Wilson’s son did about his father that they "don’t have a racist bone" in their bodies. But racism is not always overt, even to those who harbor the feeling. It can be subconscious, it can be a result of cultural background, of things they heard when they were young and forgot about. It’s easy to subvert a racist feeling into a policy disagreement.

But to me the proof is the level of anger out there is way out of proportion to the issue at hand – health care. I mean, come on. We’re talking about a system to take care of people’s health. And Obama isn't even proposing a particularly radical change in our health care policies - no universal single-payer health plan in sight. This is not something that should inspire such fear and hatred. No, there has to be something more to it. And that something has to do with racism.

Of course, Democrats and supporters of Barack Obama aren’t allowed to say this. "Oh, they’re playing the race card," Obama’s opponents say if the suggestion is made that some of the opposition has to do with the color of his skin. "As soon as someone disagrees with him you call them a racist." (Of course they ignore the fact that George W. Bush's proponents immediately accused anyone who disagreed with them of not being patriotic!)

And President Obama knows this; he has been making the rounds on talk shows to support his universal health care plan, but of course has been asked about Jimmy Carter’s statements on racism. He has tried to defuse the importance of this issue in order not to add fuel to the fire.

But he knows it’s true. And so do we. To pretend that racism is not part of the opposition we are seeing out there is na├»ve at best and dangerous at worst.

Time will tell what President Obama will accomplish. Like most presidents he will probably be remembered for some important successes and some obvious failures. And that is how he should be remembered, and not for his race.

But we also must give him credit for the courage it took to run for President and become the first African-American President of the United States. He had to know there would be many who would oppose him simply for his race, and that he would be putting himself and his family in danger. But someone had to be first. And he has taken that step and that chance.

The vicious hate groups and right wing fringe that oppose him, and would oppose any African-American president, are a small segment of the overall population. But that doesn’t mean the racism does not exist in those who are most filled with hate and thus the most dangerous.

The vast majority of the country really doesn’t care whether Obama is black or white and does just agree or disagree with his policies. As time goes on, more and more of the country will be like them, and the idea of an African-American man (or woman) being president will be second nature and no longer an issue.

But it took one man, Barack Obama, to take the chance to be first. Let’s hope the Secret Service can keep him safe for his entire Presidency.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

TomCat's Back!

Many of you probably remember TomCat and his great blog, Politics Plus. His voice was silenced for awhile but now he is back and we're sure glad he is.

Just wanted to give a heads up to anyone who didn't know he's up and running. And of course his link is on my sidebar.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Obama Should "Welcome their Hatred"

I haven't been weighing in that much on the health care debate since so many others have been blogging so effectively about it these past weeks. I thoroughly support universal health care, and like every sane person, realize that the Republicans are opposing it just because it was Obama's idea - and of course to curry favor with their corporate sponsors. If Obama were against it, they'd be for it.

There is no middle ground here - the Republicans will find fault with any proposal the President comes up with. It's time for Obama to give up on his Bi-Partisan Dream and face reality. The Republicans are not going to support his middle ground, they will not respect his wish for civility and honest discourse, and it has become clear that no real change will occur in a bi-partisan way, on any issue whatsoever.

There were several interesting articles in the news recently that make this clear. In yesterday's New York Times, Jean Edward Smith writes,

"President Obama's apparent readiness to backtrack on the public insurance option in his health care package is not just a concession to his political opponents — this fixation on securing bipartisan support for health care reform suggests that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to govern and the White House has forgotten how to lead."...

...and then goes on to compare this attitude to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who never made an effort to be bi-partisan in pushing through the legislation that was the foundation of the New Deal. In fact, according to Smith, Roosevelt felt that "majority rule did not require his opponents' permission."

Smith points out that Roosevelt successfully promoted regulatory legislation and other key programs over howls of protest from his opponents and corporate interests. As Smith writes,

"Roosevelt relished the opposition of vested interests. He fashioned his governing majority by deliberately attacking those who favored the status quo. His opponents hated him — and he profited from their hatred. 'Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today,' he told a national radio audience on the eve of the 1936 election. 'They are unanimous in their hatred for me — and I welcome their hatred.'"

President Obama is in a very similar situation to Roosevelt during the Depression. His party is the majority, he was elected with a solid majority of the votes, and the country is ready for a change after eight long years of Republican rule that left the country in a mess. But he hasn't grabbed the opportunity the way Roosevelt did, and this Congress hasn't risen to the occasion as that Congress did.

Many may claim that the so-called "grass roots" protests at the health care forums around the nation are signs that the population is not in favor of the President's proposal to provide universal health care. But as E.J. Dionne points out, the media have not been covering the forums where there was civil discourse and support for health care reform.

"There is an overwhelming case that the electronic media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and from television's point of view "boring") encounters between elected representatives and their constituents.

It's also clear that the anger that got so much attention largely reflects a fringe right-wing view opposed to all sorts of government programs most Americans support. Much as the far left of the antiwar movement commanded wide coverage during the Vietnam years, so now are extremists on the right hogging the media stage -- with the media's complicity."

So, if it turns out that in reality the public isn't against health care reform and is hungering for real facts, then the President's reluctance to tilt against the forces opposing him are doing that public a disservice.

In Edward Kennedy's upcoming memoir, True Compass, he discusses his feelings about President Jimmy Carter. According to the Times,

"Some of his most critical words are directed against Jimmy Carter.

He said that while they had found common cause on a few issues, their relationship had broken down over health care. He accused Mr. Carter of timidity that had doomed any chance of meaningful health insurance reform...."

Perhaps this "timidity" was due partly to President Carter's deep religious convictions, that he did not want to promote anger and dissent. Similarly, it may not be that President Obama wants everyone to like him, as some have said, but that he truly is trying to "turn the other cheek" and follow his Christian beliefs. But to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, "extremism in the defense of universal health care is no vice." While Obama's efforts toward bi-partisanship and civility are admirable, they don't get legislation passed and don't effect the real change that he was elected to provide.

The President would do well to remember that, while Jesus said "turn the other cheek," he also got angry and threw the moneylenders out of the temple. It's time Obama did the same. Sometimes no matter what your good intentions for peace, you have to fight. Edward Kennedy understood that.

I hope that the President's speech to the joint session of Congress next week is successful in getting his proposals on health care on track and wresting his message away from the GOP and back under his own control. This will be his last chance to push through meaningful reform. He cannot fail on this issue.