Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: June 2008 (page 1 of 3)

Supreme Court says yes to guns

Update: I was up very late when I first typed this post. I was in the ICU and typing quickly and that’s a bad combination for posting. Sorry. I think that most of my grammar errors and word omissions have been corrected.
I find it interesting that the Supreme Court has given a big thumbs up to the 2nd amendment.

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court trashed a 32 year old DC law which banned handguns. The NYT described the law this way – Not only did the 1976 law make it practically impossible for an individual to legally possess a handgun in the district, but it also spelled out rules for the storage of rifles and shotguns. But the court did not articulate a specific standard of review for what might be a reasonable restraint on the right to possess a firearm.
I can and will go through this decision. But, it seems to me that, we need to make the 2nd amendment clear. We can argue for weeks on end how to read the 2nd amendment. How should the militia clause be read? Are “the people” part of the militia or are the frames talking about all citizens? There is no “right” answer. We need to amend it.
I think the exercise of trying to figure out what the framers meant more than 200 years ago is crazy. Our society is completely different than theirs. As a matter of fact, walking through East St. Louis today is very different than back in 1789. They had no idea what a drive by shooting is but that is a reality of our life or at least life in the inner city of Houston, Baltimore and several other of our big cities. The constitution needs to reflect today’s reality.
As a trauma surgeon, I see almost everything bad that can happen with a gun. I’ve seen accidental shootings which is left 10 year old boys paralyzed. I’ve seen the anguish of the parents as they are wondering how the kids got the gun. Unfortunately, the anguish and the sorrow simply don’t matter. The bottom line, we need to be more responsible with our firearms but, since we aren’t, we must have the ability to make laws that keep us safe. An ER physician from Emory University shares this sentiment in an OP-Ed in WaPO.
So, in my opinion, new constitutional amendments are needed. (Better yet we may need a new constitution but I’ll save that idea for another post.) We must be able to ban assault weapons. We need to be able to ban fully automatic weapons (machine guns). We need to be able to control handguns. We need to be able to keep guns from felons or the 0mentality disturbed. Safety locks are not unreasonable. Frequent gun registration is not an unnecessary burden. Finally, we should be able to ban armor piercing bullets.
I have no desire to ban all weapons. I have no desire to ban all handguns. Please don’t e-mail me with statistics. These statistics have been massaged by both sides of this debate so much that you can prove almost anything if you look at the right statistic. I’m sure there’s some advocates for guns who can show me a statistic in which having a gun makes you smarter, more attractive and more successful in life. I’m sure someone on the other side of the argument can show me statistics that banning weapons allows you to own two hybrids and increases the whale population.
Reasonable people should be able to sit down and come up with a reasonable laws. Keep the zealots from both sides in the closet. (Zealots would be those who think everyone should be able to have any gun that anyone wants. On the other side, a zealot would be someone who believes that all guns should be outlawed.)
PS. I was asked how I could get through college and medical school and type something so badly. I’m sure that the question was rhetorical but I’ll answer it any way. When you major in Chemistry and take calculus, you don’t write many papers. This why, on my blog, I have a paid editor to fix my mistakes. I’m a terrible editor of my own writing. Oh, in medical school, the best that I can recall, we wrote one paper in 4 years. 🙂

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Save On Gas Now Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Sally Kohn of the Center for Community Change who discussed their Community Voting Project, a new long-term voter registration and mobilization effort.
The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3). Video of the opening monologue, about how you can save more on gas now, than what coastal drilling would give you 20 years from now, is below.
NOTE ON TECHNICAL PROBLEMS: I’ve heard from a number of readers about problems with the iTunes downloads. I’m still working on the problem. At the risk of getting into too much detail, I put the podcasts either on an outside server, or on the LiberalOasis server. (I can’t put them on just one for bandwidth/financial reasons.) It seems the files on the LiberalOasis server work on iTunes just fine, but the other ones haven’t recently and I’m still trying to pin down the problem. This week’s podcast is on the LO server, so hopefully there won’t be any issues this week. FISA, Guns, Drilling

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at, featuring myself and Bill Beutler talking about Obama & FISA, Newt & coastal drilling, and guns & bloggers.
Also, my colleagues at bhTV were particularly excited about this week’s segment with FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr — I believe the first presidential hopeful ever on bhTV — also discussing the FISA fallout among other things.
Check out both videos below.

The Correction Almost Complete?

When tracking polls noted a momentum shift to Obama earlier in the month, I noted this did not look like a post-nomination “bump” that would fade, but a longer-lasting “correction” as Clinton backers gradually joined the Obama campaign.
Two recent polls further that notion: Newsweek’s 15-point Obama lead, and LA Times/Bloomberg’s 12 point lead. Both polls show a declining number of Clinton voters (18% and 11% respectively) switching parties for McCain.
But also notable is the low numbers for McCain and the somewhat high numbers of undecideds. Obama garners “only” 51% and 49% in the two polls, while McCain is mired in the mid-30s. (It’s possible that pollsters did not “push” undecided voters to say which way they “lean.”)
Based on the LA Times report, conservative voters appear disoriented, dismayed and discombobulated.

Moreover, McCain suffers from a pronounced “enthusiasm gap,” especially among the conservatives who usually give Republican candidates a reliable base of support. Among voters who describe themselves as conservative, only 58% say they will vote for McCain; 15% say they will vote for Obama, 14% say they will vote for someone else, and 13% say they are undecided.
By contrast, 79% of voters who describe themselves as liberal say they plan to vote for Obama.
Even among voters who say they do plan to vote for McCain, more than half say they are “not enthusiastic” about their chosen candidate; only 45% say they are enthusiastic. By contrast, 81% of Obama voters say they are enthusiastic, and almost half call themselves “very enthusiastic,” a level of zeal that only 13% of McCain’s supporters display.

When [Ralph] Nader and [Bob] Barr are added to the ballot, they draw most of their support from voters who said they would otherwise vote for the Republican.

When Nader is getting more Republican support than Democratic, you know the conservative base is seriously fractured.
For some perspective, in 2004, John Kerry got 15% of the “conservative” vote, while Bush got 84%. Obama is matching Kerry, while McCain is underperforming with conservatives by 26 points.
Obama’s base is nearly consolidated. McCain’s base is not.
On one hand, you might expect some of that unenthusiastic vote to come back to the Republican fold, allowing McCain to at least get back in the 40s.
But if McCain increasingly seems like a sure loser, conservative support could continue to bleed, leading to greater numbers of protest votes and no-shows.
There are surely more undecided independent voters that Obama can win over to widen his margin. He has not reached his ceiling.
While McCain is caught needing to win over both undecided independents and conservative base voters. And after eight years of failed conservative policies, there is no overlap between the two camps. It’s a near-impossible task.
Yes, yes, it’s early. Anything can happen. Always true.
Everyone is going back to Dukakis in 1988 who had huge leads after he wrapped up the Dem nod.
But as I noted before, Dukakis’ early leads were before the conservative attack machine revved up.
Conservative-style attack lines have already been pursued against Obama — from the Dem primary, from McCain and from other Republican and conservative groups.
After Obama has absorbed the attacks, he remains substantially ahead. What’s been thrown at him so far has only made him stronger.
This is nothing like 1988.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Uprising Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was David Sirota who discussed his NY Times best-selling book “The Uprising, the presidential candidates on trade, and how Bush’s energy proposals could turn Colorado blue.
The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3). Video of the opening monologue, about the coastal drilling con, and the oil shale con, is below.

The Week In Blog: Coastal Drilling Edition

The latest edition of The Week in Blog features myself and The Next Right’s Jon Henke, discussing coastal drilling, terrorism and the 2008 campaign. Check it out below.

Leveling The Playing Field

This is not an argument that would get you very far with a conservative partisan or independent skeptic.
But as far as I’m concerned, the financial advantage Sen. Barack Obama will likely have over Sen. John McCain because of Obama’s decision to opt-out of the public financing system is utterly justifiable.
Separate from the specific elements of Obama’s so-called pledge (Rick Hasen offers a good rundown here), the reality is that:
1) Obama’s small-donor strategy means he still isn’t reliant on special interest dollars, and therefore, his government won’t be unduly influenced. But,
2) If he has vastly more money than his opponent, which is expected (not counting money from other Republican and conservative operations) he has a greater ability to get his message out to the public.
However, #2 doesn’t bother my sense of fair play.
Because it is also the reality that Obama will have to fight back a far greater amount of lies, smears, and distortions. Every Democratic candidate for president in recent history has suffered from this dynamic, and with Obama, even more so.
You can’t put a dollar amount on the impact of the smear machine.
Therefore, having to means to shout over the smears is essential, if we are to have a debate that is remotely focused on the important issues we face as a country.

The Coastal Drilling Con

Over at the Campaign for America’s Future blog for the last few days, I’ve been blogging about Bush’s and McCain’s proposals to lift the ban on coastal drilling — which will do absolutely nothing to lower gas prices. You can check out the posts here.

The Failure of the Republican Party to deliver anything for Blacks

My good friend, Timothy Johnson, Ph.D., was recently honored by the Buncombe County (Asheville, NC) Republican party. Timothy Johnson has been elected party chair. It did not go unnoticed that he is the first black elected party chair in Buncombe County – Republican or Democratic. In an interview with the Weaverville newspaper, Tim commented on how many blacks are “ignorant” of the bedrock beliefs of the Republican Party. Dr. Johnson believes that the ideals of the Republican Party line up very well with the ideals of the Black community.

Before I go on any further, I would like to say that no one and no party has cornered the market on ethics or morality. There are bad and evil people that are motivated by greed and power in both parties. But, with that being said, I think we can look over the past 40 years and honestly begin to evaluate which party truly benefited Blacks and continues to benefit minorities and the underprivileged. Let’s look at a few issues.

Civil rights. This one is easy. There is no contest. In the 60s the Democrats stood with Blacks. Southern Democrats who were opposed to integration did not like the direction of the party and slowly but surely left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party. Were there individual Republicans who believed that integration was inevitable? Were there individual Republicans who believed that segregation was an abomination? I think the answer is yes on both counts. Did the Republican party change their platform in 1964 and 1968 to appease Southern Whites? Yes.
The Economy. Republicans like to talk about cutting government spending. I lived in Texas most of my life. Republicans rule in Texas. I saw the state government cut so deeply that some regulatory agencies had to stop regulating. They had to fire some government workers because there was no more money. Republicans stood back and smiled but when you go to the DMV and have to wait 2 or 3 hours just to talk to someone before you can begin the process of getting your license? Please think of those cuts. When you get a brand new tatoo which gives you a skin infection or possibly even hepatitis because there was not enough inspectors to regularly inspect that parlor who’s smiling now?

When Ronald Reagan took office he promised to cut the size of government and to cut government spending. Conservatives talk eloquently about how masterful Reagan was with the budget. They forget to tell you that the budget deficit grew during the Reagan years. No matter how the Republicans like to sugar coat their policies, the fact that under Reagan, Bush and now, George W. Bush the budget deficit has grown completely flies in the face of any fiscal responsibility. Even the conservative Cato Institute, in an article by Chris Edwards states, “Reagan’s failure was that he did not control federal spending growth. By 1989, federal spending was up 69 percent from 1981. The deficit widened.”

In my own book, A Letter to America, I criticized the Bush administration for its tax cuts for the rich. I believe that your tax policy should reflect your morals beliefs. The budget process is more than pushing numbers around. The process should reflect the hopes and dreams of America. A small and simple program like LIHEAP (low income heating and energy assistance program), this program provides assistance to the poor for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Who can be against this program? The Bush administration. Bush tried to cut funding for this program several years in a row. In 2003, it took a Senate vote (88-4) to force the Bush administration to release the funding. You can’t tell me that this helps Blacks, minorities or the poor.
Race. When President Reagan increased the low interest rates on student loans, it was clear that he really did not understand the needs of working Americans. When Ronald Reagan stood by and supported Apartheid well that’s a completely different story or is it? You don’t have to take my word for it, take Bishop Desmond Tutu’s. In 1984, while on Capital Hill, Bishop Tutu blasted Reagan’s support of South Africa, “In my view, the Reagan administration’s support and collaboration with it is equally immoral, evil, and totally un‑Christian. . . . You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or you are in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can’t be neutral.”

Right wing Republican think tanks have been working on trying to reverse affirmative action for over 30 years. Affirmative action has been fundamental to the progress that we have seen recently. From Justice Clarence Thomas to Barack Obama, affirmative action has begun to equalize the playing field. Thomas came from a small town in Georgia. Why would Holy Cross take him in 1967? He wasn’t a great student from a small Georgia town. In college, he did well then went on to Yale. Remember before affirmative action, colleges would simply pass over Blacks and other minorities. Whether they were qualified or not. No matter how some folks try to spin affirmative action, it is an excellent program that has benefitted Blacks, Whites, Latinos … Americans.

Education. This is the great equalizer. You can lift someone out of poverty by giving them the winning lottery ticket (Evander Hollyfield’s house is up for foreclosure so having a pile of money doesn’t guarantee that you will keep that pile.) or by giving them an education. There are no guarantees in life but an education maybe the closest thing. Everyone has seen the numbers that the average income for someone without a high school diploma is about $23,000. The average income for someone with a college degree is $52,000.

With student loans harder and harder to come by and college tuition going up faster than the price of gas, college students need some help. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has had none to offer. There is no major program that the Bush administration has designed to help college students.

No Child Left Behind. The fact that the program has never been fully funded should be considered a crime. The whole concept of teaching to a test just never sat well with me. There is no data suggesting that testing equals learning which is the whole basis of NCLB. As a matter of fact, I think that the opposite happens. When focusing on the information for a test, students and teachers miss great learning opportunities.
Reagan, Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. have trying to suck funding out one of the only government programs that has been universally praised – Head Start. This program has been credited for helping minorities get out of poverty. We need more programs like it and not less. We need a Head Start like program for middle school and for high school, so our children can get ahead and stay ahead.

One of the best hoaxes played on the American people are school vouchers.
The Republicans have been pushing this idea from coast to coast for some time. The idea is if your public school isn’t performing well then you should be able to take your child out of public school and place your child in some other school using public funds. It sounds great. Of course, if you pull funds out of failing schools how are those schools going to get any better. Actually, these cash strapped schools should get increased funding if they are failing. We need better teachers and better books and facilities in these schools. The other side of voucher hoax is where are you going to try to put your child? Is there a good school that has a bunch of openings for kids from failing schools? No. School vouchers are just another way to cripple the public educational system.
Tim Johnson, I congratulate you on your new position but I don’t think that the Republican party has been friendly to minorities in general or Blacks in particular. I saw Senator John McCain, the Republican party’s presidential nominee, speak last week in Kenner, La, just outside New Orleans. He spoke in front of an almost completely White crowd. Outside of Governor Jindal, I was unable to see any face of color in the crowd. I have watched the video several times. I think that’s telling. You can’t tell me that you can’t find a Black face in Southern Louisiana. Tim, I wish you good luck hopefully you can change the Republican party for the better.

Responsibility. For All.

Jonathan Martin at Politico considers Obama’s speech on fatherhood “includes some remarkable language about absentee dads that only he could deliver.”
But I don’t believe it’s true that only one person could give such a speech.
Yes, he’s eloquent. And yes, he’s African-American. But there’s some critical substance that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Consider that when Bill Cosby delivered a similar speech, he suffered far more criticism from other African-Americans than Obama did. Why is that?
In the great Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic article on Cosby, Coates notes that Cosby’s lectures are part of “the ‘organic’ black conservative tradition: conservatives who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention, but whose black-nationalist leanings make them anathema to the Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh.”
Whereas Obama’s speech coupled personal responsibility with shared responsibility.

Dana Goldstein of Tapped observed that Obama’s speech “avoided falling into conservative tropes by admitting that while two-parent households are one solution to the challenges facing poor children, social services are necessary as well,” citing the following passage from the prepared text:

We should be making it easier for fathers who make responsible choices and harder for those who avoid them.
We should get rid of the financial penalties we impose on married couples right now, and start making sure that every dime of child support goes directly to helping children instead of some bureaucrat. We should reward fathers who pay that child support with job training and job opportunities and a larger Earned Income Tax Credit that can help them pay the bills.
We should expand programs where registered nurses visit expectant and new mothers and help them learn how to care for themselves before the baby is born and what to do after – programs that have helped increase father involvement, women’s employment, and children’s readiness for school.
We should help these new families care for their children by expanding maternity and paternity leave, and we should guarantee every worker more paid sick leave so they can stay home to take care of their child without losing their income.

And it’s not just that Obama made such a linkage in a single speech, but the themes of personal responsibility and shared responsibility have been woven throughout the campaign.
He has established credibility as a leader who is willing to invest our government’s resources for the common good, with the understanding that our government can’t effectively step up to solve problems if we as a people don’t step up in response.
Therefore, his exhortations cannot be easily rejected as cold, callous finger-pointing, but more easily embraced as tough love, since it is backed up with substantive compassion.
You don’t have to be a great speaker to make the connection between personal responsibility and shared responsibility.
Though of course, it doesn’t hurt.

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