Cross-posted from my guest commentary in Democracy for New Mexico (previously published).

A scurrilous legislative amendment introduced by Republican Senators Vitter of Louisiana and Bennett of Utah, intended to intimidate Latinos, both documented and undocumented, and to discount the population of undocumented persons resident in the United States for purposes of apportionment of representation was recently introduced into the United States Senate. A new city administration in Albuquerque seems poised to roll back that community’s “sanctuary city” status and assume a harassment campaign against undocumented Latinos. Nationally, there has been a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation by conservative partisans of Latinos, both citizen and non-citizen.

In its continuing toxic over-reach and intent to mount a campaign against our Hispanic neighbors, the Republican Party, is launching yet another series of assaults on the pillar of human rights and dignity, the provisions of the United States Constitution itself.

We must not let these attacks go unanswered or let them slide into effect under the radar. Progressives and others who believe in the human rights of all and the rule of Constitutional law must respond and stop these attacks and the erosion of the rights of all us.

In a statement issued this week, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund warns us, “The proponents of the Vitter-Bennett amendment hope to exclude undocumented residents and possibly all non-citizens from being counted in Census 2010 for the purposes of apportioning Congressional seats. This would thwart the clear language in the U.S. Constitution which mandates a count of all of the nation’s residents for apportionment purposes… It represents a reckless departure from decades of our nation’s Census practices, intended to ensure that every 10 years, we have the most accurate portrait possible of America.”

Section 2 of the 14th Amendment reads, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.” This sentence is simple enough, and it means what it says. There is no Constitutional exemption for Latino residents, either documented or not documented. If the issue is voting rights, the Amendment does not permit non-citizens the right to vote. If the issue is children of undocumented workers who were born in the United States having a right to vote and other benefits of citizenship, the answer is clear, the Amendment says they are free and equal citizens. This question was further settled by the Supreme Court in 1898 in the case of the United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, in which the court stated that the children of non-citizens born in the United States were citizens. Should Mr. Vitter and Bennett choose to change law, the Census enabling legislation, required by law, is not the route to take, but rather through Constitutional Amendment.

We all support a legitimate and secure franchise, legal elections and secure borders. However we also support the constitutional rule of law and must condemn any cynical attempt by the GOP to diminish the rights of all, or take us back to a time when persons could be considered “3/5 a man.” The leaders of the Republican Party have chosen to travel down a cynical, demagogic and narrowly political road that trades on petty fears and seeks to divide people through bigotry, racism, xenophobia and “wedge issues.” We must oppose them.

The 14th Amendment makes a clear distinction between “persons” and “citizens,” yet extends to both the equal protection of laws so long as the individual is resident within the borders of the United States. We must not falter on this point. It is the opinion of some so-called “conservatives,” including a few Justices of the Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment was “intended” to apply only to those ex-slaves emancipated by the Civil War. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 14th Amendment is intended to extend to all a doctrine of universal human rights.

During the Congressional debates leading to ratification of the Amendment, conservative opponents charged that if ratified the Amendment would guarantee equal rights “not only to Negroes, but to Chinamen and gypsies!” They were correct. We need go no further that the chief sponsor of the 14th Amendment, Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, the Reconstruction Congress’ majority leader to find the “original intent” of the Amendment.

Perhaps contemplating these contemporary attacks, in an address to Congress on March 18, 1868, shortly following ratification Stevens said, “Who can doubt that if you put such power into the hands of the best men it will be abused, unless restrained by equal laws? Why should one man be more responsible to his temporal or eternal governor than another, and be punished by different rules?”

That it was the intention of Stevens and the other sponsors of the 14th Amendment for the Constitution to reflect their desire for universal dignity and equal treatment cannot be denied.

Stevens said, “I know that when our fathers came to frame the Constitution, slavery having increased, they were obliged to postpone some of those universal principles, and allow individuals and municipalities to violate them for a while. I thank God that necessity no longer exists. The law‑givers of America are now as free to act as Sampson when the fire had touched the flax. May they never again be beguiled by any conservative Delilah to suffer their locks to be shorn and their limbs to be bound by the withes of a twisted Constitution.”

“The laws which were then intended to be universal must now be made universal. The principles which were intended to govern the whole of American nationality, must now be made to cover and control the whole national action throughout this grand empire. Towns, corporations, and municipalities may be allowed their separate organizations not inconsistent therewith, but must not incorporate any principles in conflict with those great rights, privileges, and immunities. What are those rights, privileges, and immunities? Without excluding others, three are specifically enumerated—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are universal and inalienable.”

This then, the “original intent” of the framers of the 14th Amendment, is crystal clear. Clear enough even to the leaders of the Republican Party, or for Mr. Vitter or Mr. Bennett, or for the cynical “conservative” activists to understand. The 14th Amendment is a declaration of equal human rights and dignity for all who reside within the borders of the United States, and we, the inheritors of their achievement must defend them and the law.

We don’t know for certain what may have led to the IOC snub of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. Chicago’s stunning fourth place finish with only 18 votes trailed even Tokyo’s lackluster bid. One clue may be have come from Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, who asked the toughest question after the Chicago presentation. He wondered how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Games because doing so can sometimes, he said, be “a rather harrowing experience.”

I suspect it was a combination of factors not least of which was an opportunity to snub the United States for its hubris. Most likely, the opportunity to award the games to Brazil, a nation that has emerged as a world leader after over a Century of instability, and to place the games in South America for the first time, was the too compelling for most of the IOC members.

In contrast to Brazil, a hyper-partisan United States, obsessed with birth certificates and where someone like Glenn Beck is considered a responsible media personality can hardly seem like a picture of stability. THe world is simply tired of us, no longer values our “leadership,” and is ready to move on.

Brazil’s story is compelling. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, a former Union leader and one time revolutionary Marxist, has reoriented his nation and his party, the Brazil Workers Party toward a Western European social-democratic mixed market model. Brazil’s economy has responded by rising to the eight largest in the world according to the International Monetary Fund, and 10th according to the CIA World Fact Book.

Lula has been among the most outspoken critics of the Hayek-Friedman model of economics championed by the United States. In Brazil, against the protests of U.S. market leaders, he moved to build strong public education and health care systems and implemented environmental protection and community-based micro-economic investment. Lula’s brand of socialism has paid off. In 2005, the government paid off its debt to the IMF in full, two years ahead of schedule, and in 2008 Brazil became, for the first time in its history, a creditor nation, loaning more money than it receives from beyond its borders.

At the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September, Lula told a reporter from Business Week Magazine, “We have an opportunity to do things we haven’t done in the past. There was a time when the world started to believe that the markets didn’t need any kind of regulation. Anyone could invest money as they wished. The banks could do whatever they wished.” As he often does, he took the opportunity to criticize the American economic model, “Thank God, in Brazil we have a financial system that is highly regulated,” Lula said. “In Brazil you can only leverage 10% of your net worth. So when the crisis came, Brazil had sound and strong institutions to confront it.”

Lula and Brazil have become the de-facto leaders and model for Latin America as the nations of Central and South America turn away from North American leadership.

Last spring, as the American economy sank, President Lula made it plain that he would no longer accept criticism from the financial leaders of the United States. “It is a crisis caused and encouraged by the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes,” the president said, “who before the crisis appeared to know everything, but are now showing that they know nothing.” This may be hardly a politic statement, but it is what the Southern Hemisphere is unanimously thinking.

Well, not just the Southern Hemisphere. Japan’s recently elected Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama has declared the U.S.-led globalization to be at an end. Hatoyama is highly critical of American economic theory. He warns that under “immoral” financial capitalism, human dignity has been lost and people turned into accounting entries. The era of U.S. unilateralism is coming to an end, Hatoyama say, “as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis.” The new prime minister is pulling back from the dollar as the global reserve currency and advocating an Asian currency bloc currency.

North of our border, Canadians, both French and English speaking have begun to sail out of the American orbit. Quebec separatists in Canada once saw in NAFTA and other free trade agreements as an economic path out of the Canadian Federation that would have Quebec’s economy closely tied to the United States. Conservative rule in the United States and attack on the social service infrastructures of conservatives not only within the United States, but those of Canada and Quebec have soured Quebeccers on the United States and free trade. The separatist Bloc Quebecois now trails even the Green Party in Canadian polls. Quebec has re-embraced union with English speaking Canada.

Early in September, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unilaterally announced a carbon tax, that will among other things, penalize American goods with what amounts to a carbon tariff. The European Union is likely to follow France’s lead. The United States with 4% of the world’s population produces over 25% of the world’s carbon, and Europe, threatened severely by global warming has had enough of American foot-dragging on the issue.

Earlier this year Sarkozy went to Brazil to build new trade relations between the two nations. He promised to lobby for awarding the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. No doubt much of the world was planning to do in private what Sarkozy announced in public.

I also wonder how much the continued insults of the American right toward our closest allies in the health care debate may have played a factor. Fox News and the American right has painted Canada, France and even Britain with their single-payer and national health care systems as some sort of Stalinist throwback to the Soviet Union. I’m sure most of the people in the world are simply tired of it all.

One thing is certain, the era of American hegemony over the world’s economy and politics has ended. It is time we accept the fact and get our own house in order, starting with health care.

A Canadian observer recently wrote that Americans have a tendency to sell themselves short, he knew, he said, as soon as the Iowa Caucuses had ended that Barack Obama was destined to be President of the United States. Politics and ideology aside, I agree with historian Simon Schama that, while it’s been a long time coming, the election of an African American President is the culmination of where we have been headed for two centuries. That fact itself confirms our ability to overcome our painful past, and like grown ups, sieze the better angels of our nature.

I do not believe for a minute that most of those who oppose Barack Obama’s policy agenda are necessarily racist. Unfortunately there are those voices in the Republican Party, whether they are “birthers” who clutch their birth certificate in a zip-lock bag and sob, “I want my country back,” or shock-jock Rush Limbaugh who tells us he wants “resegregated busses,” or Congressman Joe Wilson, whose membership in the racist CCC and support and membership in various neo-confederate operations speak for themselves. These voices are racist and worse.

Unfortunately, these toxic tendencies seem to have a death grip on the Republican Party.

I am old enough to remember when Illinois and California were “red” states, Ronald Reagan was a multi-term Governor of California after all; old enough to remember when conservative ideas had an honored place in the academy and university. Conservatism, at least any conservatism that Edmund Burke would recognize, has been suffocated by these fringe voices of reaction.

It isn’t particularly a good thing that California and Illinois have become one party states, or that so many other states are following the same trend. With only one approach to governing and government, the public ultimately loses.

There was a time when I cast votes for good-government Republicans who I trusted to provide honest and effective public services, as well as be a brake on the excesses of the other party. Those days, I regret to say, are behind me. Republicans, so long as they are puppets of the fringe, simply can’t be trusted to hold public office.

I hope that this situation will change. I believe ultimately it will, but until then I will be a straight party voter, something I once considered anathema!

O’Reilly backs public health care option:

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/9/17/783109/-OReilly-backs-government-health-insurance-option


The House of Representatives has rules of decorum that date back 220 years to James Madison. Members of Congress are not even allowed to address each other directly, they must say “The honorable gentleman from…” “The honorable lady from…” when directly talking about some other member. There are words and behavior they can never use on the floor. This is because otherwise the joint will break down into chaos.

When members of Congress say they have never heard an outburst like that in 35 years they are correct. It doesn’t happen, they are trained not to do it before they take their seats in Congress and warned of the consequences.

Mr. Wilson knows this. This outburst was premeditated. He has brought the tactics of the street into the House of Representative and shamed himself and the history of the institution.

I agree with Arlen Specter, that the actions of the house must include the possibility of a formal censure,
More on Nancy Pelosi
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Or, a perfectly over-the-top observation on South Carolina

In flouting the rules of decorum of the House of Representatives that date back to the times of James Madison, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina may not be the most egregious example of the southerly tendency toward boorishness, but he certainly seems to fit right in.

On May 22, 1856 U.S. Representative Preston Brooks crossed over to the Senate chamber, confronted Senator Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery legislator from Massachusetts at his writing desk and then proceeded to club the Senator with the metal handle of his walking stick. Sumner, trapped against the desk fell to floor under the Congressman’s repeated blows.

Southerners responded to Brook’s cowardly attack by forming a “Preston Brooks Anti-Sass Society,” and shipped the Congressman crates of spare canes. When Massachusetts Representative Anson Burlingame denounced the attack on the floor of the House of Representatives, Brooks challenged him to a duel. Burlingame accepted. However, upon learning that Burlingame was an accomplished marksman, Brooks had second thoughts and withdrew from the duel.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, Preston Brooks’ congressional seat is now held by none other than one Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Apparently they also share the same South Carolinian manners and etiquette coach.

(Just a thought)

The haste with which Van Jones, the green jobs czar, and the only legitimate progressive within the Obama administration was summarily dispatched last week may shock a few of us, though it shouldn’t. Progressives have, regrettably clung to the belief that some “friend” might come along to see the rightness of our cause and stand up and fight for it.

Nothing could be a greater recipe for continued disappointment and loss. Nothing ever has. For decades progressives stood on the sidelines convinced that the Supreme Court would rule rightly from on high. Later on we believed that Bill Clinton would stand firm for us. In 2006 we thought a Democratic majority and a 24% approval rating for George W. Bush were sufficient grounds for the Congress to rally to our side. In 2008 we rallied our dollars, our votes, our feet and our hopes in the mistaken belief that Barack Obama might be the leader that we’d been waiting for, only to discover that like Clinton before him, Obama is much more akin to Grover Cleveland than Teddy Roosevelt.

John McWhorter, academic linguist, and hardly a liberal one, asks whether “Questions as to whether these people have any spine are becoming sadly legitimate. What, precisely, would have been wrong with letting Glenn Beck and the others keep screaming their heads off about Jones’ purported radical intentions? Why not do a Glinda and dismiss this nonsense with a breezy ‘You have no power here’”?

McWhorter should not be surprised by a lcak of fortitude. It is not a question as to quality of spine, but rather commitment to progressive values on the part of the President that we should be asking about. The truth is that Barack Obama, his administration, nor do most of the Democratic Party have any commitment to progressivism of any stripe. They simply make promises when seeking our votes on election day than dismiss us at the earliest opportunity as people who have no place else to go. We should have learned this lesson from Mr. Clinton.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should be bolting the Democratic Party or anything like it. Where in parliamentary systems, minority parties can be major players in the legislature, it is a peculiarity characteristic of American politics, largely due to the need for “winner-take-all” elections and legislative majorities, that we must fall down on one side or the other of the broad electoral coalitions and quasi-official political bodies we refer to as “parties.”

While we ought not be bolting the Party, we should not be tuning out of the process or acquiescing to centrists, either. If we are ultimately to win the day, and I believe we can, we must remain engaged and active, continue to put our demands before the Democratic Party leadership and, this is the most important part, continue to build our own independent institutions, and using our own strong and independent organisms to effect change.

In 2005, when progressives re-captured the leadership of the Democratic National Committee with Howard Dean as its Chair, the corporate wing of the party under the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) warned that we were leading the party to permanent minority status. DLC’s fundraiser-in-chief Al From told us he was withdrawing financial support. Instead, we won by huge majorities in 2006 and 2008, and no one ever missed Al From’s sawbucks.

The secret of organizing for a progressive future is not to withdraw, but rather to build strong independent organizations and fundraising mechanisms of our own and to demand, from Democrats who count on our support, real progressive change. This is in our DNA. Progressives throughout American history have built their greatest successes not on one or two elections, or on counting on some other leadership group to pave the way, but through participatory democracy and organization on the ground.

Let us get to work.

stevens_smithIt is a cruel irony of history that the Republican Party that originally stood for “Free Soil, Free Labor and Free Men,” the Party that led the nation in Civil War, the Party that wrote freedom and equality into the Constitution has become a bigoted and right wing extremist southern regional Party dominated by the likes of Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney.

In becoming a southern rump, that party has betrayed every founding principle of its first generation of statesmen.

Happily, at least for one of those first generation of Republican founders, Thaddeus Stevens is finally getting his due in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After a decade of conflict between the City of Lancaster and preservationists, the derelict homes of Stevens and his African American housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith are being restored and will be opened as the focus of a major museum and heritage center highlighting their work and contributions to American history.

In the process archeological work around the homes has now also uncovered the involvement of Stevens and Smith as conductors in the Underground Railroad leading to the expansion of the original project to include a below street level heritage center under the re-designed convention center. When complete, the Stevens and Smith site will be a major destination where generations of Americans can uncover with pride, some of their past.

While the City of Lancaster has seized the opportunity to develop a major tourist attraction out of what once was a bitter feud with preservationists, the rest of us will be able to reacquaint ourselves with the pivotal events of the mid-19th Century and a major leader in those events who has been left to fade to the recesses of American memory.

For all of our “original intent” friends on the right, including Justice Scalia and the radical right wing of today’s Republican Party, among others, the actual original intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment, equality for all, is soon to be displayed for anyone to see in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Thaddeus Stevens fought a lifetime against bigotry and slavery and for racial and social justice. He demanded equal access to public education for all. In the processed he fathered the reconstruction Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and left us our greatest legacy of the promise of liberty, the equal protection of the laws for all Americans.

The Majority Leader and whip of the Republicans of the Civil War and Reconstruction era in the U.S. House of Representatives, Chairman of the House Ways & Means committee, and leader of the “Radical Republican” faction of the Congress, Stevens was the one of the authors and the chief floor leader who helped craft and win passage of the three Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution.

He shepherded through the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments during his lifetime, and he also led the fight for passage of the 15th Amendment until his death in 1868. The 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870. Taken together, his contribution to the American Constitution is surpassed only by that of James Madison and the founders.

Lydia Hamilton Smith was a woman who defied convention, she ran Stevens household in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. She organized his household, his social and his political events. She grew adept as a businesswoman in her own right, acquired and managed property of her own. To the shock of many, she freely advised Congressman Stevens in his home and in his offices, and he freely and openly sought her advice and counsel.

Stevens believed passionately in the equality of all, African Americans, Asian Americans, women, working people, the disabled and the poor. He was a forthright egalitarian in an age when few shared his views. Despite his “radical” views on race and class, he became the most powerful member of Congress, and in the view of many historians, the most powerful and effective to have ever held a seat in the House. He remains one of histories greatest parliamentarians.

An effective leader with unshakable views, he was no ideological purist simply for the sake of purity. He freely compromised his legislation in order to get “half a loaf,” then worked to get the other half after his bills passed into law. More often than not, he ultimately won the whole loaf.

When Andrew Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment on the grounds that “blacks were too barbarous” to govern themselves or share equal rights, Stevens had him impeached on the trumped up grounds that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act. While Johnson was acquitted, the 14th Amendment was ratified without any further interference from the President.

One notable failure, however, was Stevens proposal for the confiscation of the slaveholding plantations and redistribution of the property to the former slaves in forty acre plots. Property confiscation proved to be a bridge too far for his fellow Congressmen, and “forty acres and a mule” failed in committee.

Shortly before his death, Stevens bought a plot at one of the prominent cemeteries in Lancaster. Upon learning that the cemetery deed included a covenant restricting burial to whites, Stevens demanded a refund and instead purchased a plot in a small African American cemetery.

He was buried there on August 17, 1868. His tombstone reads, “I repose in this quiet and secluded spot not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race by charter rules, I chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life: EQUALITY OF MAN BEFORE HIS CREATOR.”

As a final bequest he endowed the creation of a trade school in which orphans and other indigent persons were to be admitted without tuition or fees. His bequest stipulated that no student was to be segregated on the basis of race, religion or color in housing or in meal halls. Today that institution remains, true to his bequest, as the Thaddeus Stevens Technical College of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In one more recent tribute to its founder, the College unveiled a bronze statue to Stevens on the occasion of his 213th birthday on the grounds of the college. In Lancaster, at least, and hopefully beyond, Thaddeus Stevens has made a great political and historical comeback from obscurity.

In a recent speech at Dartmouth University, Steven’s alma mater, Randall L. Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard University noted, in speaking about Thaddeus Stevens, “Could history have gone another way; the people who we laud as heroes, were there other people in their environment who made other choices?”

Thaddeus Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith were two people who made other choices than many of their contemporaries. They were partners for equality, great Americans, and truly, in the words of Lincoln, the better angels of our nature. To me, these two individuals are genuine heros of their own age, in ours, and in any age.

For more news about this history center in Lancaster, see also the Stevens and Smith Historical Site

This just in from the here we go again department. After the health care debate dies down, plan on taking up arms on behalf of high speed rail and funding for Amtrak. Sombody, cue “Amtrak Joe” Biden. It’s curtain time.

Just over the horizon, beyond the health care debate are all the future scraps that we have to look forward to. Today’s Washington Post features an op-ed piece by Robert J. Samuelson attacking President Obama’s commitment to high speed rail and taking aim at another perennial favorite punching bag of conservatives, Amtrak.

Yeah, right, here we go again, and so’s your mama…

The reality of the matter is that the gridlock in both the air and on the highways on the east coast have made high-speed rail more imperative than ever. Anyone from Washington DC ought to know this, but for Mr. Samuelson and others living inside the bubble, seats on Amtrak are hard to come by all over the place, not just in the Northeast Corridor. The same is true for the Midwest, where rail ridership has tripled in 6 years and in California where voters have mandated their cash-strapped leaders to build more rail and free their lives from gridlock.

If Amtrak were an airline, it would be the nations fourth largest and the carrier is still gaining ground. Even long distance services are on the rise for the first time in decades. Amtrak is so pressed that it hasn’t got the equipment to keep up with demand, a result of successive Republican administrations to slowly strangle it to death.

Whether rail works or not ought ot be obvious. The experience of Illinois is a good case in point. When that State decided to subsidize additional trains, largely through the efforts of Senator Dick Durbin and far sighted Democratic allies back home, with more service between Chicago and St. Louis, Chicago and Quincy and Chicago and Carbondale, ridership went through the roof, no matter that the equipment Amtrak had to offer was not exactly their best. Illinois riders wanted more!

OK, conservatives say in response, but those liesurely long distance trains, who the hell needs those anymore?

Anyone whose taken Amtrak’s Empire Builder (and I have) across the northern tier can tell you about the crowds that wait to board the once a day train at places like Minot, North Dakota and Wolf Point, Montana. Amtrak keeps these remote states economically viable. Trent Lott was one of Amtrak’s biggest supporters, not because he was fond of trains, but because the price of an airline ticket between Jackson, Mississippi and Atlanta, Georgia is about the same as heart surgery.

Oh, what about that Sunset Limited, that useless train that runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles. Conservatives arguments against rail always winds up riding on the Sunset Limited.

It’s true that the train isn’t exactly a stellar performer in the ridership department, but it also only runs three days a week. If Illinois’ experience is any indicator if you stepped that up to daily and re-routed it so it reached Phoenix, the Sunset Limited might perform, too.

Americans are also used to thinking that Amtrak trains are not much of a bargain in the service department. Have you ridden in an airline seat lately. Amtrak’s customer service runs circles around their air competitors. Here’s another dirty little secret. Amtrak’s treains are often nicer than their European counterparts, at least the long distance trains are.

I recently rode the Southwest Chief in a sleeper between Chicago and Los Angeles. The ticket was $400 something and included meals in the dining car, a shower in the sleeping car besides my little private room with a view and a bed. A German couple travelling in the same sleeping car were thrilled to death. “I wish we had nice trains like this in Germany,” one of them said, “it’s just like those Hollywood movies.”

Our trains aren’t fast, but they’re fun.

With high speed rail money available from the stimulus, everybody wants a piece of it. I might agree that Governor Bill Richardson’s last minute application for consideration for an El Paso to Albuquerque high speed rail line over the sparsly popoulated desert is not a top priority. If conservatives wanted to be responsible critics they could lodge an objection rightly there, but a train across Ohio between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati probably would be in order.

Wisconsin, like Illinois, has even put some skin in the game contracting with Spain’s Talgo Company to build high speed rail cars in the Dairy State for use on the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor and a future high speed line to Minneapolis. Wisconsin will get two birds with it’s stone, transportation infrastructure and good paying jobs for its workers.  

China is spending billions on rail to prepare for the coming century. If the United States intends to maintain its (big economic term coming up here) comparative advantage economically we need to rebuilt our rail infrastructure or learn to start speaking Cantonese.

Wouldn’t that just thrill Tom Tancredo!

Conservatives rage against health reform and warn senior citizens of “death panels,” rationed care for the elderly and the impending government take-over of Medicare.

In this particular inverted vision, conservatives are somehow the champions of the well being of old and young alike. The trouble is nothing could be further from the truth. Conservatives have fought against every program ever enacted to protect well being and health of the elderly and children against the raw cruelty of the unbridled market. Social Security and medicare, just to name two examples, were passed over the shrieks of conservatives.

Conservatives still fight to abolish both programs. Has anyone ever heard of Newt Gingrich or Dick Armey? Ronald Reagan warned us not to pass Medicare, it would lead us down the primrose path to “socialism” he said. If medicare was passed into law, Reagan warned us in 1961, America’s senior citizens would lose their choice of doctor and face government rationing. Sound familiar? Learn to play another note on the piano, already!

Reaching back further progressives enacted legislation abolishing child labor and passed laws mandating universal education and worked to fund public libraries. Conservatives fought against schools and libraries, warning us of the dangerous ideas they might spread. Abolishing child labor was an intrusion on the family, they said. State Universities? Conservatives opposed them. Municipal water standards, publicly operated fire departments and pure food and drug regulation. They opposed that too.

Conservatives warn us of the impending doom of a “Canadian-style” or “British-style” “socialized” medical system where the government rations care to the old, and lets them wither and die, to save a little spending cash for the governments of those Stalinist Monarchies to spend on beaver abatement and saving the wild haggis from the ravages of global warming.

I have a history background, but anyone who purports to know a little something about mathematics would tell you to check your numbers. According to the CIA World Fact Book, life expectancy in Canada ranks 6th from the top and the United Kingdom comes in at 25th. The United States? We weigh in at number 50, way behind every other industrial nation and some not so industrial. It’s just a hunch here, but considering the similarities in diet and lifestyle between us and Canadians, the difference in rank of #6 versus our #50 might have something to do with universal access to health care.

“Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?” Conservatives have been raving for a century and a half, “Do you need health care? Just go to the emergency room!”

Progressives applaud and encourage the free market, but when corporate bean counters overstep and begin rationing care to those too old, to young, too sick, or too weak to meet their preferred “market demographic,” we will support the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of all Americans and demand reform!