Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Many states using $2.5 billion mortgage settlement to solve budget woes.

Today the NY Times reported that "more than a dozen states...want to help close gaping [budget] shortfalls using money paid by the nation's biggest banks and earmarked for foreclosure prevention, investigations of financial fraud and blunting the ill effects of the housing crisis."  In other words, these states are not using the money to help homeowners, but instead to balance their budgets or pay down state debt.

According to a report by Enterprise Community Partners, 6 states are not using their funds for housing, an additional 9 states are only using part of their funds for housing, and 9 are still deciding. Who are the culprits?

Alaska, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia have designated or proposed to use about 98% of their combined $243 million for non-housing spending.  Georgia will use all $99 million for economic development, Missouri has has designated $40 million to "soften planned cuts to higher education," South Carolina has designated all $31 million to encourage businesses to move to the state, and Virginia has proposed all but $1 million to offset cuts to state and local government and give state employees a 3% raise.

Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, North Carolina, Nebraska, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia have designated at least $126 million (over 60%) of their total $203 million for state general funds.  Today, the Times reported that Texas sent $125 million into its state coffers, and that California will use the bulk of its $400 million to pay state debts.

Not to put a political spin on it, but of these 17 states, only 2 are designated "blue" by the last five presidential votes, with the other 15 either red or "purple."  We leave it up to you to decide whether this is typical of conservative government, but we submit that money sent to a state for a particular purpose should be used only for that purpose, and that states who fail to do so should have to pay all the money back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Don't Forget to Thank North Carolina

North Carolina's recently passed "Amendment One" may have upset about half the country but we should take a second to applaud the authors for enacting a law that attempts to punish everyone equally.  One of our main pushes on this blog has been to require legislation that takes away the rights of one group to be balanced by measures that equally take away the rights of everyone else. Tit for tat, if you will.  In banning gay marriage, the North Carolina senate also banned all other forms of civil union and domestic partnership, which affects all citizens (straight or gay) who wish to benefit from the legal protections of marriage without entering into the religious institution.  Granted, a more reasonable ballot measure would have been to outlaw all marriage, but this is certainly a noble first step.

There is little doubt that many groups will bring suit against this state's amendment on a variety of arguments.  It certainly reads to us that this restriction violates the 13th Amendment.  In the meantime, take a few minutes to congratulate North Carolinians on screwing over everyone, rather than just the targets of their narrow-minded bigotry.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remember the unintended mothers.

Mother's Day is an important celebration of the immeasurable value of our mothers.  They are the sparkling gems in all our lives.  To moms everywhere, we love you.

But just as during great feasts, we remember the hungry, so too should we remember the mothers in our own country who didn't want to be.  

There are teenage mothers who were exclusively taught "abstinence only" by their parents, churches and schools and found themselves with the surprise of a lifetime.  There are mothers whose partners abandoned them.  There are mothers who sought abortions but were either too shamed or legally barred by their state's anti-choice statutes.  There are mothers too poor for adequate health care for themselves and their baby.  There are mothers who steal and go hungry just to feed their children.  

We have abandoned all these mothers, through restrictive laws, economic strangleholds, and freedom-slashing "social values."  If you truly love all mothers, then you need to remind your lawmakers that there are very real and very tragic victims of today's conservative agenda.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reprimand Liars: Pay for Truth

On May 3, Stephanie Cutter (Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama 2012) put out a short video responding to a new $6.1 million ad campaign financed by the Koch Brothers.  You can see it here.  The essence of the video was to tell the truth about a number of lies that were made in the Koch Bros' ads.    The problem is that Ms. Cutter's response relies on the viral nature of internet clips and will mostly be only seen by people who do not already need convincing, while the Koch et al. campaign will blitz everyone. This is just an example, and this post is not to raise up one party or put down the other.  It is about truth.

Defamation* is is illegal but the legal fees and time needed to sue in court are so excessive that in politics, there simply isn't time to let the justice system provide adequate protection.  In effect, I can essentially say anything I want about my opponents and leave them to clean up the mess.  They are forced to waste their money and time to set the record straight, are derailed from their message, and may lose an election not because they were bad candidates but because they were the covered with the most muck.

Right now, the FTC "truth in advertising" law requires that all advertising be truthful, fair and substantiated but this is limited to protecting consumers, i.e., advertisements for something that you buy or pay for.  So politicians can use the same "telecommunications and electricity" governed by the FTC to say just about anything that want, under the legal protection of the First Amendment and the practical protection of our legal red tape.  

Now imagine if we changed our laws slightly.  First, broaden the definition of "consumer" in federal truth-in-advertising laws to anyone paying attention to the advertisement.  Second, amend our defamation laws to include a simple reprimand that anyone issuing falsifiable statements as facts has to retract and correct their statements in the exact same way in which their original claims were made.  

Knowing that you have to stand back up on that podium and retract your claim about 80 communists in the Senate, or that you have to pay another $6.4 billion to correct all your malicious claims in prime-time TV might just be the kick-in-the-pants needed to make our leaders, and their wealthy supporters, think twice before opening their mouths.  Maybe elections would become a little more about the best candidate winning versus the last one standing.  

The protection of free speech is a cornerstone to our society, but we have to weigh this against (1) the rampant abuses that are being made now that anyone with enough money can have a microphone with nationwide reach, and (2) the ethical requirement that people who are or aspire to be our leaders should do so truthfully and without deception.  It would be interesting to see lawyers argue before the Supreme Court that the First Amendment protects the rights of people in positions of enormous public influence to lie to us.  

If you agree, please write your Congressional and Senate representatives and tell them to Reprimand the liars and bring facts back to the public discourse.

*Cribbed from wikipediaDefamation—also called calumnyvilificationtraducementslander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individualbusinessproductgroupgovernment, or nation a negative image.