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The Republican’s Dangerous Game of Budget Brinkmanship

2011 July 12

Any politician who tells you that the budget crisis can be solved by cutting spending is lying.  Any politician who says we can get out of the budget crisis by raising taxes is also lying.  Our budget crisis is so large, we will need to cut spending and raise taxes if we are to have any hope of making any real progress on our debt.  The United States is facing an enormous fiscal crisis in the midst of  a recession, and we have been heading this way for a long, long time, and the shock of politicians have displayed at finding ourselves in such a quandry strikes me as ridiculous and disingenuous.  We are fighting three wars, we’ve been cutting taxes for the last ten years, the economy isn’t generating the funds and jobs it used to, and Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security have been in danger of going bankrupt for at least the last 30 years.  And now we are in danger of defaulting on our loans if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, even though the debt ceiling was raised seven time during the Bush Administration.  Congressional Republicans are playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship with the U.S. and world economy by demanding spending cuts in exchange for the debt ceiling vote, and in meantime holding our economic future hostage. read more…

The Truth Comes Out

2011 July 8

It should be quite clear by now that queer men and women exist. New York has begun to realize this, as Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and our nation’s capital have done. The other states in our country have had a bit of trouble with this, particularly California, which has performed acrobatic feats of denial to circumvent queer-acknowledging legislation. However, Assembly Speaker John Perez, California’s first openly gay assemblyman, and a host of other state legislators, have plans to change that. On Tuesday, a bill was passed that would require California public schools to include LGBT men and women in history lessons, because, apparently, this was not previously necessary. Queer men and women now await the signature of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown before they will be officially recognized by history.

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The Big FAIL: How Google is Screwing Up Social, Again

2011 July 7

I don’t know what the folks at Google have against the “+” character, but it must have done something to them in the past, since they’re about to be lowering it to the level of such words as Orkut, Wave, and Buzz. Those names, which you have likely forgotten by now, are Google’s previous social network platforms, and they are all outright failures. And with Google+, whose name smacks of “New Coke,” they are also threatening to hurt their own image in a long-term manner.

Many wanted to like Google+, the search engine giant’s attempt to drink Facebook’s milkshake. They have a decent take on privacy, which revolves around a visualization of social circles. I’ve ripped on Google in the past, but this particular aspect seems intelligent, something that even the most avid Farmville farmer can understand. It is clever to the tech nerds, and makes sense to the rest, and for most companies rolling out a new product, that’s a lot of the work you need to do. But most companies wouldn’t trip over their shoelaces while trying to walk to unlock their doors. read more…

New York: Yea. Bachelorettes: Nay.

2011 June 30
by Genya Shimkin

On Friday night, when I first heard about the passage of marriage equality in my home state of New York, I was at a cook-out in Baltimore, in a large group that included just two heterosexuals: a pro-equality Army captain and a neuroscience graduate student at Johns Hopkins.  We were a loud, excitable, and endlessly joyous crowd, and when our host pulled out his iPhone and announced that the bill had passed, there was much celebration.  I immediately called my dad and younger brother in Albany (they were both thrilled) and soon received a text from my Brooklyn-based older brother: “great news.”

Great news, indeed.  On Friday night, New York became the first state in the country where a Republican-controlled legislative body approved either same-sex marriage or civil unions.  The four Republican state senators who put politics aside and voted for equality are owed a huge debt of gratitude.  This kind of courage is extremely rare these days.  Without their votes, the bill would have died in the Assembly, which has approved the measure in four of the past five years.  There was much to celebrate. read more…

Four Fails and a FTW: The Old Gray Lady’s New Digital Clothes

2011 June 30

For once, the For The Win came first: for the first time since Nate Silver, The New York Times hired someone that makes you think they care about staying relevant.

I haven’t always had the best words for the newspaper of national record. Their coverage of music, at times, looks like the old couple trying, and failing, to do the hip young dance at a wedding. Bill Kristol, Sarah Palin’s biggest fan before she hit the 2008 Republican National Convention, was a paid writer for the Times for years. But the recent, and probably temporary, hiring of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who spends much of his days writing and blogging for The Atlantic, was a twist that I did not expect. Coates, at 36, has a strong voice and is as in touch with the culture as you can expect a political blogger to be. read more…

Cry Babies: Circumcision and the Defense of Barbarism

2011 June 23

“Congress,” begins the first amendment to the United States Constitution, “shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Congress, of course, makes plenty of laws that do this, as they well should. Jews, if they like, have divine justification for stoning to death unfaithful women; Muslims, as we well know, have specific commandments that prescribe the murder of unbelievers; Christian Scientists are instructed to neglect modern medicine and have consequently watched their inherently irreligious children die, all the while lamenting their fate rather than their ignorance. It should surprise no one that the subscription to these distinctly religious ordinances is in each case punishable by secular law. Congress must naturally intervene into private religious practices when those practices damage the health of our society and the persons therein.

The debate erupting in California surrounding the morality and legality of infant male circumcision should have absolutely nothing to do with religion. That the practice derives from barbaric religious tradition is incidental to the fact that it has dangerous physical, not spiritual, consequences, and concerns a person who has not the cognitive or vocal faculties to speak on behalf of his own genitals. Earlier this year a bill was introduced in San Francisco that, if voted into law this fall, would make the circumcision of men under 18 a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. The Male Genital Mutilation (MGM) Bill has provoked a counterattack which calls the bill anti-Semitic, anti-Christian or anti-Muslim, depending on who is doing the yelling. The validity of these claims is unfortunately aided by the detail that the President of MGM Bill, a San Diego-based group rallying in support of the eponymous bill, has published a series of troubling and truly odd comic books, entitled “Foreskin Man,” in which an Aryan iron-pumper in blue tights battles a gang of Hasidic thugs led by a monstrous, white-eyed mohel ravenous for infant flesh. This ridiculous and shockingly hateful series has given ammunition to an otherwise irrelevant, one-sided argument, led by a host of religious leaders who fear that their freedom to separate an unknowing infant from a significant portion of his penis is being threatened. read more…

Judge Walker’s Sexuality Doesn’t Matter

2011 June 20

Last year Judge Vaughn Walker was the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  It was this court, with Judge Walker presiding, that heard the suit brought by opponents of California’s Proposition 8, which made gay marriage illegal.  The case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, challenged the constitutionality of the Proposition 8 ballot initiative, claiming the law was illegal on the grounds of violating homosexual citizens’ constitutional rights to Due Process and Equal Protection under the 5th and 14th Amendments.

Judge Walker ruled that Prop 8 did indeed violate homosexuals’ constitutional rights and could not be enforced.  In his beautiful and eloquent ruling, Judge Walker stated Propisition 8 was incompatible with the 14th Amendment because  there is no legitimate state interest in denying homosexuals the right to marry; that “by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts…as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal.”

Judge Walker retired shortly after issuing his ruling in Perry v. Schwazenegger, and shortly after that, revealed that he himself is gay and has been in a relationship with another man for 10 years.  Judge Walker’s admission ignited a firestorm, and opponents of marriage equality lit up with glee at the possibility that they might have what could be construed as legitimate legal grounds to have Judge Walker’s ruling overturned.  The defendents in the Perry case argued that because Judge Walker is himself gay, his impartiality was so compromised in judging Perry v. Schwarzenegger that he should have recused himself.  The premise of this position is rather insulting, as this argument—were it valid—would prohibit Jewish judges from presiding over the trials of Neo-Nazis or other Jews, Black judges from presiding over KKK trials or trials of Black defendants, female judges from presiding over the trials of women, etc.  Just because the jurist happens to belong to a group or minority does not preclude him or her from acting impartially.  U.S. District Chief Judge James Ware made this point, stating:

The sole fact that a federal judge shares the same circumstances or personal characteristics with other members of the general public, and that the judge could be affected by the outcome of a proceeding in the same way that other members of the general public would be affected, is not a basis for either recusal or disqualification…it is not reasonable to presume that a judge is incapable of making an impartial decision about the constitutionality of a law, solely because, as a citizen, the judge could be affected by the proceedings. read more…

Schoolboy Journalism and the Resignation of Anthony Weiner

2011 June 16

Since the revelation of Representative Anthony Weiner’s various indulgences and the subsequent schoolyard hysteria, President Obama, House Democratic Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and a hoard of skinless Democrats have called for Weiner’s resignation. “Congressman Weiner has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help,” Pelosi said on Saturday. She continued with a bit of admirably euphemistic condescension: “I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a Member of Congress.” Weiner, apparently, has caved to the advice of the President, Pelosi, and his fellow Democrats, announcing today that he is resigning from office and seeking treatment to “focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” The allegation made by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair (and Nominal Mouthful) Steve Israel is that “Anthony’s inappropriate behavior has become an insurmountable distraction to the House and our work for the American people.” How could the private, governmentally irrelevant, and undeniably legal phone messages sent by Representative Weiner have caused an “insurmountable distraction” from the ability of the entire House of Representatives to adequately serve the citizens of this country? Only if a nation of children has elected a government of children.

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2011 June 14
by J.A. Myerson

Early in 2010, I got frustrated with my blogging life. I had stuff to say, and I thought it was worth reading, but I was too busy to write frequently enough for my blog to be worth checking. Unless I posted constantly, it seemed, the prospects for building a readership were essentially nil. It occurred to me to start a group blog, the idea being that even if everyone only contributed once every two weeks, fourteen contributors would enable us to update the site daily. I mentioned the idea to Henry Casey, whose drive and know-how propelled my faint little notion forth into what it eventually became: The Busy Signal.

I remain in awe of all that we’ve accomplished, our articles featured on many blogs and outlets, shared, praised and retweeted by intellectuals and commentators from every point on the ideological spectrum. We’ve got both video and audio interview series going, we’ve provided provocative commentary and reporting about a huge variety of topics, we’ve fostered a lively comments section where vigorous debate thrives… the reasons for pride are many.

So it is with considerable sadness that I announce my resignation as Executive Editor of The Busy Signal, having become too busy even for a blog whose express purpose is providing an outlet for the too busy. I’m excited that my work has begun receiving publication elsewhere – at Foreign Policy in Focus, at AlterNet, at Truthout – but it means that I can no longer handle day-to-day operations of this blog. I am leaving it in the fantastically capable hands of Mr. Casey, Editor-in-Chief, and our excellent Managing Editor Julia Wentzel.

And, of course, the writers will persist.

Akie’s lyrical essays on music, race and culture remind us all what stylistic prose can be.

Andi’s passionate treatises about the human side of injustice focus the mind and exhilarate the spirit.

Brian’s provocative screeds about secularism and freedom force all of us to re-examine our values and the first principles to which we attribute them.

Celia, our wunderkind, has shown that will surpass us all someday – look out, world.

The breadth of subjects about which Colin is eloquent shames one-trick ponies into reading more widely.

Genya’s perspective on issues affecting the LGBTQ community is reliably among the most considered and hard-hitting available.

Henry’s 4 Fails and a Win tech series is the only one I can stomach, because it’s consistently so amusing and sophisticated.

Jackie’s articles about American politics, especially her series on reproductive rights, constitute a truly smart and compelling response to the condition this country finds itself in.

We are so lucky to have published some of Katy’s comments on pop culture and gender – her lives at Jezebel, Literary Traveler and NBC’s nightlife blog The Feast have all benefited as we have from her grace and earnestness.

Matthew’s contributions are the rhapsodic poetry of The Busy Signal: highly intellectual roller-coasters of prose, the doctoral theses of the blogging world.

Meg’s deep thoughts on science, religion and the relationship between the two add a level of poise and honest inquiry to a debate that can easily spiral into platitudes and shouting.

Randa’s brave journalism from Mexico brings into stark relief a side of globalization from which American readers are often shielded.

Thomas’s polemics on food politics allow us to consider the topics with which we are most familiar from a standpoint with which we are not, and they do it with grace and fervor.

How lucky I have been to work with such a roll of contributors.

I will still post occasionally – keep your eye out for more diavlogs – so this is not a clean split. I feel very lucky about that.

Ever, as the Argentine was known to say, onward.

Signing off,


California Prisons: Cruel and Unusual

2011 June 8

On May 23rd the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case of Brown v. Plata, deciding that the rampant over-crowding in California’s prison system is illegal and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, violating the 8th Amendment.   The Court ordered California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 prisoners within the next two years.  Brown v. Plata arose out of two class-action lawsuits, one started in 1990 by seriously mentally ill prisoners (Coleman v. Brown) and the other in 2001 by prisoners with serious medical conditions (Plata v. Brown).  The Court found the chronic and serious overcrowding of California’s prisons resulted in dangerous conditions for inmates and prison workers, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and horrifically inadequate medical and mental health care.  The Court’s decision sets a new precedent in terms of its authority, and brings renewed attention to the over-looked but critical issue of prison reform.

California’s prison system has been in crisis for decades now, due to over-crowding (the state’s prisons have been operating at about 200% design capacity for at least 11 years) and a lack of funding.  The case of Brown v. Plata began almost two decades ago, so some background on the case and it evolution is necessary in order to fully grasp the implications of the Court’s ruling.  Brown v. Plata began with the federal class action lawsuit Coleman v. Brown brought against California by mentally ill prisoners in 1990.  A “Special Master” was appointed to oversee the remedial efforts, and reported 12 years later that “the state of mental health care in California’s prisons was deteriorating due to increased overcrowding.” read more…