Sunday, February 26, 2012

Obama and the long con

Wednesday's Daily Show included a fantastic takedown of the hyperbole that so often dominates our national politics. At least, a takedown of some Republican examples of it. My favorite comes about 2 minutes in, when NRA President Wayne LaPierre references "a massive Obama conspiracy" to "destroy the Second Amendment."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If one administration can destroy your country, your country wasn't much to begin with.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is your congressman much like you?

I'm listening to an audio book about James Madison and his role in the debates that led to a Bill of Rights accompanying the U.S. Constitution.

And a particular passage, from a Madison speech to the Virginia ratifying convention, seems relevant to some of the recent coverage of just how differently members of Congress live compared to their constituents.

Said Madison:
"Powers are not given to any particular set of men. They are in the hands of the people, delegated to their representatives chosen for short terms. To representatives responsible to the people and whose situation is perfectly similar to their own. As long as this is the case we have no danger to apprehend."
I wonder, are we there still? Or have we arrived at a place where our leaders no longer live in situations "perfectly similar" to our own? Do the short terms House members serve offset this effectively, or have the over-riding result of our partisan redistricting process and the advantages of incumbency negated that check on out-of-touch congressional influence?

The median net worth of a member of Congress is more than $900,000, compared to $100,000 for the average American, according to The New York Times which looked at this issue in December. As ABC's The Note summarized:
The average American’s net worth has dropped 8 percent during the past six years, while members of Congress got, on average, 15 percent richer, according to a New York Times analysis of financial disclosure.
Members of Congress also saw their wealth advance faster than the country's richest 1 percent over the last six years, The Times found. You have to think that's at least partly due to stuff like this, this and all sorts of this.

I'm not in a position to say whether today's wealth disparity is unusual in our country's history. Neither was The Times, other than to say Congress "has long been populated with the rich ... but rarely has the divide appeared so wide." Madison himself was well-off, growing up on one of the larger plantations in Virginia.

But when you look at the money it takes to run for Congress, the subsequent $174,000 annual base salary paid to House members, their staff budgets, health and retirement benefits, various privileges and the fact that House members represent nearly 710,000 people each, it's difficult to trust that the majority of them know what it's like out here in the cheap seats, even if they have to stand for election every two years.

It seems we've evolved a system that elects a disproportionate number of wealthy representatives from our political fringes. Which is perhaps what made this section of The Times' report particularly disheartening:
In an effort to gauge how directly the country’s economic problems affected lawmakers, The New York Times contacted the offices of the 534 current members (one seat is vacant) for an informal survey. It asked if they had close friends or family members who had lost jobs or homes since the 2008 downturn.

Only 18 members responded.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Understanding N.C.'s gay marriage amendment

I'm covering North Carolina's vote on Amendment 1, which would write the state's ban on gay marriage into the N.C. constitution. I'd like to use this post as a call for input and to think out loud about the way this amendment would interplay with some of the principles on which our government was built.

Nuance and questions about the amendment's full impact on domestic partnership benefits aside, it's fairly easy to understand why people are against the amendment. What I'd like to hear more about is: Why are many people so passionately for it? What is so threatening about the government allowing gay people to marry?

Does it really boil down to God says it's wrong to be gay? If so, are you sure he does? And if you are, are we the kind of country that codifies the majority's understanding of God's word on social issues?

And if we are, why isn't, say, adultery illegal?

It is not my place to decide or advocate. I just want to put as many relevant facts and voices before voters as I can, and play a part in North Carolinians deciding issues from a position of knowledge.

That's my role in our democracy as a member of the press - to verify, to agitate and to question. But I believe in democracy not because it's intrinsically great, but in large part because it seems to be the best method developed to protect individual rights.

And because I believe individual rights are a foundation of society, it's hard for me to understand the argument against allowing gay people to marry each other. That's the point I'd like to hear from people on: What is so dangerous about it, how does it so violate your own rights, your safety or society's needs  that it should be banned by the state's constitution?

I'll be covering this issue for the Winston-Salem Journal, but this is my personal political blog and unaffiliated with the paper. If you'd like to share your thoughts, and your name, please contact me via cfain (at) Thank you for your time.

"A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach?"

- Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Newsweek's "Gladiator" Cover: Awful

This is actually Newsweek's cover:

Obviously Newsweek is continuing its strategy of hoping controversial / ridiculous / Mad Magazinesque covers will sell magazines. But as you soak this one in, realize that something along the lines of this conversation took place last week:
Newsweek Editor: We need to do a GOP primary cover, and we're thinking - let's paint Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich dressed like gladiators on the White House lawn.

More Senior Newsweek Editor: Yes. That's a good idea. Do that.
I honestly don't see how you can think that's a smart move and be qualified to run a national news magazine.