Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Birth and Death of an Overnight Conservative Sensation

How fast can a Republican Great Black Hope burn out?

Pretty fast I suppose. Here's Rush Limbaugh drooling over the guy:

Now, fine. Limbaugh wants his black man as fast as he can, since Barack Obama is the anti-Christ a successful Democrat. Rush wants him some electable minority, fine. I get it, he got it. Only he might have been wrong about Dr. Ben Carson's ability to avoid being labeled.

Remember Herman Cain? He had something special until oops, he did it again, and again, and again apparently, so it's back to pizza mogul or not with his, shall we say, aspirations not totally intact.

But African-American Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon and academic and all at Johns Hopkins, maybe he's got game good enough for a conservative to take back the White House. It's like conservatives would have -- oh my god, say it!! -- their own [African-American candidate].

So Our Hero opens his mouth and says on Hannity:
Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition. So he, it's not something that is against gays, it's against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.
That my Ben, my Doctor, my brain surgeon, is a mouthful. How soon will you have to walk back that comment? TPM reports:
Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who's emerged as a star on the right, said Friday that he wants to restore civility to American political discourse and acknowledged that he is prepared to step down as commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Ben might have undertaken his civility quest, oh I don't know, starting just before he compared homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, don't you think?

Your political career lasted, what, ten minutes?

Found the videos. On Hannity:

...and then walking it back:

I guess Carson hasn't made up his mind whether to join Reince Priebus's Reformed Republican Party or Bobby Jindal's Unreformed Stupid Party. Good luck deciding that.

Brain surgeon. Wow.

Addendum. Something from TPM's Josh Marshall too cool not to add:
Over the last few days, as the emerging national marriage equality consensus has become more clear, a number of social conservatives have begun suggesting they are now in a new and oppressive climate in which they’re no longer able to speak their minds about the immorality of homosexuality or why laws should discriminate against gays.
Or, to put it more bluntly, they say they’re losing their right to calls gays gross and weird.
Yep. When the icky factor slips through the fingers of the culture warriors, you know the battle is nearing the end. On this front, anyway.

Sore Loser Update. Rush Limbaugh was early to declare Dr. Ben Carson a wunderkind, so now he must decry that "we're losing the country." Josh Marshall was right on the money, turns out:

Culture warrior running out of the icky. As Atrios would say, ruh roh.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fun Stuff in the Culture Wars

I found this excerpt from the Lawrence O'Donnell Show on the Huffington Post about a rift between Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to be very entertaining:

Much as I'd like to, no comment needed.

While we're at it we might as well offer this bit from Ezra Klein's WonkBlog in the WaPo. It's pretty amusing as well. It's bad enough we have such a celebrated clown as Antonin Scalia -- famous for his oral-argument wit -- on the bench to begin with, but now that he's aging, his ideas are not just getting stale, they're getting wronger by the minute. Sez Ezra:
On Wednesday, I wrote about Justice Antonin Scalia’s comment that “there’s considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not.”
It turns out Scalia’s comment was wronger than I thought — and wrong in a way that Scalia, in particular, should have known.
It relied, remember, on the idea that sociologists are, in some significant way, split on this question. That’s not what the American Association of Sociologists thinks. Here’s its official statement on the matter:
The claim that same-sex parents produce less positive child outcomes than opposite-sex parents—either because such families lack both a male and female parent or because both parents are not the biological parents of their children—contradicts abundant social science research. Decades of methodologically sound social science research, especially multiple nationally representative studies and the expert evidence introduced in the district courts below, confirm that positive child wellbeing is the product of stability in the relationship between the two parents, stability in the relationship between the parents and child, and greater parental socioeconomic resources. Whether a child is raised by same-sex or opposite-sex parents has no bearing on a child’s wellbeing.
The clear and consistent consensus in the social science profession is that across a wide range of indicators, children fare just as well when they are raised by same-sex parents when compared to children raised by opposite-sex parents.
Pretty definitive. And here’s the punchline: That paragraph isn’t buried in a press release on its blog or in an editorial from its trade magazine. It’s from the amicus curiae brief that the ASA filed in the very case Scalia was commenting on.
In other words, the official organization representing American sociologists went out of their way to provide the Supreme Court with their “consensus” opinion on the effect of same-sex parents on children. And yet, when struggling for a “concrete” harm that could come from gay marriage, Scalia went with “considerable disagreement among sociologists.”
 Facts have always gotten in the way in the culture wars. It's just pretty hard to take when members of the Supreme Court begin trotting out the old "experts don't agree" canard when the experts actually have a widely held consensus that confounds their personal beliefs.

Okay for Sarah Palin, but Justice Scalia? Come on, you can do better than that, huh, Nino?

Hey, Scalia, you at least used to be funny, but're just making stuff up.

Note. The American Society of Pediatrics weighed in on this a couple of weeks ago with a study of studies, declaring that:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports civil marriage for same-gender couples – as well as full adoption and foster care rights for all parents, regardless of sexual orientation – as the best way to guarantee benefits and security for their children.
Pretty definitive. But read the whole thing. Scalia -- and Samuel Alito -- should have, or should at least do so before rendering their decision.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Right to Shoot Oneself or Others

Please tell me how the 2nd Amendment as currently interpreted doesn't simply amount to the right to kill or wound, oneself or others, either on purpose, by accident, or by misadventure.

I don't think you can.

This man legally bought an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine...

...and killed this man's son and eleven others (while wounding fifty-eight).

Now, add to that the uncontrolled sale and transfer of guns, which is, gun laws nothwithstanding, the state of gun-law enforcement these days. What we get, then, is the right for people who should never have access to guns to acquire guns relatively easily.

This guy stole a gun...

...from his mother, who trained him to use it, and then he killed her...

...before using it to kill these children.

Next, add in a couple of NGOs, the NRA and the (ironically) Newtown-based National Sport Shooters Foundation, whose main objective is to prevent any and all laws that limit the types of guns or the access to them. Then, have these lobbying groups have outsized influence on state and federal legislatures such that, regardless of national, state, or local opinion, the chances for reasonable new and more effective gun safety laws are slim to none.

This famous actor-turned-NRA president is so much better...

...than this man?

As since the very nature of guns, small and large, powerful or extra-powerful, is to kill people, it's a reasonable expectation that people will be killed. And since guns are an efficient means of killing people -- allowing for incompetence to reduce that efficiency -- more people will die because of a broadening or at least non-shrinking presence of them in American society.

One final point is that this is American-society specific, at least among developed, industrialized democracies. Unlike most of the developed world, we have institutionalized a system in which we are free to kill ourselves or others to our hearts' content only constrained by laws that say you shouldn't do it in almost all cases. And yet, of course we do it and often.

And this is acceptable? Apparently so.

Oh, I forgot. Guns are cool in America.

Note. According to the Huffington Post, in the 98 days since the Sandy Hook massacre, guns have killed at least 2,244 more people. This trend -- of more and more gun deaths as the days go by -- is likely to continue until...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay Rights Are Human Rights

I might as well weigh in on this -- so late, I know -- on the day that same-sex marriage is argued at the Supreme Court.

I'm a long-time supporter of gay rights, with the right to marry one of the last stages of "my evolution." I don't really feel bad about having to evolve. In general, who hasn't? Even gays had to evolve on so many of the questions around their sexuality. When is the right time to come out? When is the right time to begin the drive for marriage equality? (Many gays were angered by Gavin Newsom's declaration on gay marriage as being "too soon.") And so on.

I liked this picture I found at Taking Points Memo:

This man (I can't tell exactly where he is, near the mall, in front of the Court) summed it up best: We're going around once, we can't get everything right, but hey, Scalia, give it a shot, at least on this one.

A lot of what we take as important issues -- and gay rights is an important issue, enough to see it as inseparable from human rights -- are mostly tribal affairs. You know, Scalia's tribe, which could be described as Italian Catholic, or just Catholic, is really not as ready for same-sex marriage as my tribe, which is Irish-Catholic-turned-atheist. So what? So goddam what?

That was Atrios of Eschaton's take this morning, and that was "so what?" He was speaking of Rush Limbaugh, as in why does he even need to weigh in on this, what goddam difference does it make, for chrissake?

But that's where the above sign comes in. Same-sex marriage and gay rights do matter, not because it's necessarily any of our goddam business except bigots and holdouts made it our business because, hell, you do only live once.

That's where pride comes in. I get pride. I even got gay pride, even back when I thought it was icky. In fact, it was the pride in their community that got the LGBT marching, and coming out, and being queer, and here, and, hey, get used to it.

I finally did, and, like a fever, it broke. Now that fever is breaking all over the country, maybe not in Antonin Scalia's heart, or Clarence Thomas's, or Samuel Alito's, I don't know, and I can't speak for the rest of the Supremes, but I got a feeling this morning that a fever may have broken even on the Court. Maybe they won't make it a constitutional right, but they won't make it constitutionally acceptable to discriminate against gays, I feel strongly about that. They may split the baby and let the states decide, and with that California joins those who don't discriminate. That's a huge chunk of America, a decent earthquake.

Gavin Newsom did what leaders do, they lead. Well done.

A tiny earthquake rattled Montana this morning as Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) came out for gay marriage. Hell, Tester might not be ready to take on the NRA on guns, but he feels he can and should say as he did this morning:
“Montanans believe in the right to make a good life for their families. How they define a family should be their business and their business alone. I’m proud to support marriage equality because no one should be able to tell a Montanan or any American who they can love and who they can marry.”
Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? For those who cling to their religion and their old beliefs that die hard, maybe it is just too much. Not even a question of too soon. George Will, who for me rarely gets anything right and who seems hopelessly out to lunch on most issues, does understand why the gay issue will blend naturally into the rest of human rights, at least in this country or the West in general.

“There is something like an emerging consensus,” Will said [on ABC], noting voters in three states recently endorsed same-sex marriage initiatives. “Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying.  It’s old people.”

And the Supremes are old. We'll see if they're old and wise, or just old. For me, the case is already decided. After all, you only live once, and I've got one more thing right. As for the rest of it, we'll see. We're all a work in progress.

Your rights are our rights, your concerns are our concerns. Sorry you had to wait.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Man Who Knew We Shouldn't Have Invaded Iraq in 2003

That man is Scott Ritter. I haven't been able to find it yet, but I heard him on an interview show -- Nightline, The Tonight Show, something like that -- before the Iraq War, and he singlehandedly convinced me the war was not just a bad idea but one based on false assumptions, assumptions he could prove were false.

Therefore, if George W. Bush was taking us to war, he was doing so under false pretenses. Bush was lying to the American people.

And Scott Ritter was the one who convinced me of that. Here he is in 1999:

Here again are Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice in the summer of 2001:

Here is longer Scott Ritter, driving the point home:

So the question becomes "What part of no WMDs don't you understand?" The other question is "How many of you remember the words of Scott Ritter before the war?"

I've never forgotten them. Nor have I forgotten Hans Blix, who, as the last pre-Iraq-War weapons inspector, was the last to warn that there probably weren't any since he hadn't been able to find any. He makes that clear in this video:

The one last character in this farce -- the Bush/Blair farce, I mean -- was Charles Dulfer, who, with his predecessor David Kay, looked for the weapons after the 2003 invasion. Here he is under the gentle prodding of Senator John Warner after Saddam Hussein's capture:

This very recent clip portrays his final judgment quite clearly:

Scott Ritter said it first and best, but Charles Duelfer put the cap on it. Will we make the same mistake in Iran?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Iraq War, Still Crazy After All These Years

Cheney on Atta:

Bush on yellowcake:

Bush on a mushroom cloud:

Powell on mobile biological weapons labs:

The Bush administration on general hysteria:

Powell and Rice on Saddam before 9/11:

Rice a few years later:

Powell on why he blew it on mobile biological weapons labs:

Cheney denying the Atta-Prague link he had already claimed as "pretty well confirmed":

Bush showing his depth of character:

Bush more or less 'fessing up:

Cheney on waterboarding:

It's now universally understood -- by thoughtful, rational minds that can accept the truth -- that the Iraq War was fought under false pretenses. That doesn't preclude, even if it should, that the war was were fighting anyway. That, in fact, is the stated position of both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have so much as admitted that there were no WMDs in Iraq (though at least Bush claims he was a victim of false intelligence that the WHOLE WORLD believed).

A good place to start is Media Matter's "Where are the Media's Iraq War Boosters Ten Years Later" feature:
On the tenth anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq, Media Matters looks back at the work of some of the media's most prominent pro-war voices. Instead of facing consequences for backing the invasion based on information that turned out to be false and criticizing war opponents, many of these media figures continue to hold positions of influence and continue to provide foreign policy reporting and commentary.
The "Ten" are:
Each link is live and connects to each figure's Media Matters record. They're a gnarly crew without a doubt. They all more or less skated or even prospered given how wrong they were, with the possible exception of Judith Miller, who now is employed by Fox and NewMax, which is the equivalent of being traded by the New York Yankees to the Alaska Goldpanners, except, I suppose, without the equivalent loss in income.

One piece of video on the run-up to the Iraq War that everyone who ever wants to think about why our country could allow the Iraq War to happen is this, the appearance of Tom Friedman on Charlie Rose, explaining the why:

I actually agree with the accuracy of his description of "why." It's his statement that "I think it was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie," that I disagree with profoundly, then as now.

What's not featured in the rogues' gallery above are members of the political establishment who supported the war, offered unbridled enthusiasm, or even directly manipulated facts and/or intelligence to convince the public of the worthiness of the undertaking.

Those people are well described in this MSNBC web article on the architects of the Iraq War. It also gives a then-and-now breakdown of the main players.

Chris Hayes gives you a video rundown:

As for my opinion of the Iraq War ten years after, well, you already know. Anyway, if you've watched these videos, you know the politics of it. The veterans and the wounded and the families of the dead, here and in Iraq, know more about the reality of it than any of the rest of us will ever know.

One final note: Future president vice-president Dick Cheney actually knew the real answer about whether the Iraq War was worth it years before he became president vice-president. Chilling but oh so true.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The GOP Wants to Change. The GOP Can't.

Reince Priebus: We've gotta change. What? Oh, you know, our image. Policies? Nah.

The occasion of this examination of the Republican Party is its new report, more than ironically entitled the Growth & Opportunity Project. Here's a link to its content and some reaction.

There are an endless number of expositions and explanations out there. Pick your poison. Can the GOP change? Should the GOP change? Will the GOP change?

Shorter explanation: The GOP is the GOP. It can't change for a number of reasons. It can, however, become something else. The Whigs. The Libertarian Party. The Confederacy. Or, God forbid, the Tea Party. But it can't be the GOP.

Well, yes, it can. That GOP would be the pre-Tea-Party GOP. The pre-Obama GOP. The wishful-thinking GOP. Maybe even the pre-Bush GOP, though that would, I suppose, be the Gingrich GOP. Uh-oh. Or maybe the Denny Hastert GOP. Denny who?

Going back to the George H. W. Bush GOP might do it, but how do you get there? Have Jeb Bush morph into his father and hope the Tea Party, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh let him take over? Not gonna happen, not unless he leaves his dad's legacy behind and joins the hard right.

Can the GOP go all the way back to Ronald Reagan? No, because that's part of the problem: The highly lionized Gipper has achieved such sainthood among the hard right that they own him now. Well, they don't own him, they own their wildly mythologized version of him, which essentially means that Ronald Reagan is as big an albatross around the GOP's neck as epistemic closure is.

You can't change what doesn't exist. The GOP doesn't exist, not in the form that the GOP autopsy -- as they've taken to calling it -- thinks it could exist.

Think the Gipper changed the GOP? Think again.

There's lots of blame to go around. One could blame Fox News, with its O'Reillys, Hannitys, Coulters, and Palins, for its extension of the echo chamber, or Rush Limbaugh, for his creation of it. You can even blame the myriad Republicans over the years that blew up the Ronald Reagan Macy's Parade balloon into its absurd dimensions. But you'd be wrong. The original sin of today's GOP was committed by Richard Nixon.

I'm not talking about his policies, which by today's standards are left of Bill Clinton's, nor his paranoia, which ultimately brought his world crashing down. No, I'm talking about his politics, which was simply called the Southern Strategy.

There, in a nutshell, lie the seeds of destruction of today's GOP, to horribly mangle the metaphor.

When Richard Nixon realized that he could defeat the Democrats in 1968 by shattering -- or, better yet, taking advantage of the shattering of -- the old Democratic coalition, pulling the Dixiecrat South away from the Democratic industrial Northeast. He did it, or used it, and retook the presidency.

Nixon did not, you may remember, begin to dismantle the Great Society. He extended it, built upon it. No, his policies were, though uneven, essentially based on the social-compact foundation of presidents from FDR to LBJ. But rhetorically, he continually threw red meat to the South, especially in his condemnation of the anti-war effort in which he praised the "silent majority." Eventually, Reagan would grab this part of the political landscape and run with it.

Little Rock Central High, 1957: Yes, this is the Southern Strategy in one picture.

Remember, Reagan began his path to the presidency with a speech at Philadelphia, Mississippi. Later, George W. Bush saved his 2000 campaign -- after losing the New Hampshire primary to John McCain -- with a speech at South Carolina's Bob Jones University, where interracial dating was prohibited. Both demonstrated unvarnished messaging, well beyond wink-wink-nudge-nudge. It was mush more like "Hey, whites, we're on your side. You are the America we believe in."

And Southern white America has never forgotten. They are the Republican Party at the core. Add to them the Sun Belt, the Plains States, and all the way over to Idaho, Utah, and Montana, anywhere where white Christians fear the heathen brown masses. (Ironically, Latinos and blacks are among the most dedicated Christians in our nation).

It worked, this coalition, for quite a while, and yes, what caught up to it is demographically driven. But it's much more complicated than that.

The GOP coalition has policies that isolate its membership to a shrinking minority who have deeply held beliefs that exclude nearly all minorities, including women, while the Democratic coalition is held together by a belief system and policies that are nearly perfect to capture the allegiance of minorities, including women.

And, the Democratic coalition also attracts educated whites, including white males. That's the clincher.

The GOP wants to keep its policies and change its messaging? Good luck with that.

So what does the RNC report on resuscitating the Republican Party want to do?
  1. Pass immigration reform now. Probably not going to happen. The right-wing won't allow a path to citizenship and without it the progressives won't let reform pass. Still, Latinos will blame the GOP. If it passes without a path to citizenship, Latinos will still blame the GOP, even if it's moderate Democrats that let it happen.
  2. Listen to minorities. Listening is fine. After listening, what changes? A black lesbian named Rodriguez wins the CPAC 2014 straw poll? Right.
  3. Be more inclusive toward gays. Okay, fine. Will the GOP rewrite its party platform to support gay marriage, gay adoption, and other issues important to gays? Just don't see that happening.
  4. Stop being the party of rich white people. Herman Cain notwithstanding, the Republicans' bread-and-butter issues are built around tax cuts for the rich. What will they do to change it? They've already marked out this territory. Their policy: no tax hikes. If they gave in and met Obama halfway on tax increases for spending cuts, it'll be seen as a Democratic win and a Republican loss. Thus they appear weak, not generous.
  5. End epistemic closure. How do Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, talk radio, the Weekly Standard, and National Review Online all begin to change their tune? They whistle their tune over and over and over because these dog whistles make them a ton of money. And the Tea Party is going to stop sitting in the echo chamber that is their wheelhouse? Hard to imagine it.
  6. Look to the states to help revitalize the party. This makes a little sense. The proof of the pudding will be the 2014 midterms. If the GOP expands or simply maintains its hegemony with state governments, there's a chance that it will serve to strengthen the Republican grip, at least on the state level. It's on the national stage, though, that the GOP needs help. It takes more than Chris Christie, for chrissake.
The bottom line may be that even if Republicans make many of the changes the Growth & Opportunity Project hopes they can, what stops the hardcore conservative base from bolting? The fact that there's no other place out there for them to go? How about the Libertarian Party or Tea Party or White Christian Party? This may be how a real third party gets born. We'll see soon enough.

Hey GOP, wanna look like this? Sorry, space taken by the Democrats, thank you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Has the "Paul Ryan Is a Budget Wonk" Illusion Finally Run Its Course?

From budget wonk to flimflam man in three easy budgets, none of which were enacted.

Paul Ryan had a good run, thanks to all the pundits, like David Brooks, who bought and then sold the notion that he was a "policy wonk" and a "budget wonk." That run appears to be over or nearly so. The question is, really, why he ever got that reputation in the first place.

If I recall correctly, there was some speculation that his casting as wonk was to fill a deficit in the Republican Party: What was needed was intellectual heft in a party bereft of new ideas, and young Paul Ryan fit the bill. The fact that he actually never had any intellectual heft was unnoticed by a sufficient number of journalists, that is until now.

Here are reactions to Ryan's new fiscal 2014 budget. First, Paul Krugman:
Way back in 2010, when everybody in Washington seemed determined to anoint Representative Paul Ryan as the ultimate Serious, Honest Conservative, I pronounced him a flimflam man. Even then, his proposals were obviously fraudulent: huge cuts in aid to the poor, but even bigger tax cuts for the rich, with all the assertions of fiscal responsibility resting on claims that he would raise trillions of dollars by closing tax loopholes (which he refused to specify) and cutting discretionary spending (in ways he refused to specify).
Since then, his budgets have gotten even flimflammier. For example, at this point, Mr. Ryan is claiming that he can slash the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, yet somehow raise 19.1 percent of G.D.P. in revenues — a number we haven’t come close to seeing since the dot-com bubble burst a dozen years ago.
The good news is that Mr. Ryan’s thoroughly unconvincing policy-wonk act seems, finally, to have worn out its welcome. In 2011, his budget was initially treated with worshipful respect, which faded only slightly as critics pointed out the document’s many absurdities. This time around, quite a few pundits and reporters have greeted his release with the derision it deserves.
That's not surprising, coming from Krugman. More surprising is Dana Milbank's reaction:

Paul Ryan’s budget is an amazing and wondrous document.

Not only does it balance the budget in 10 years while reducing tax rates, it also does so without any pain or suffering — or even breaking a sweat. It achieves not just the longtime goals of policymakers — “a safety net strengthened . . . retirement secured . . . a nation protected” — but also brings about changes in human nature that have bedeviled civilization from the beginning of time. “This budget ends cronyism; eliminates waste, fraud and abuse,” Ryan’s plan promises.
"Now, how do we do this?” Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, asked with a magician’s flourish as he unveiled his budget Tuesday morning.
Here’s how: The former Republican vice presidential candidate’s budget eliminates ___ loopholes in the tax code, cutting the ___ and the ____ deductions. It reduces spending on the ____ program by _____ and the _____ program by _____. Retirees would see ____, students would experience ____ and the poor would be _____.
There are so many blanks in Ryan’s budget that it could be a Mad Libs exercise. But this is not a game. It’s black-box budgeting — an expression of lofty aims, with binders full of magic asterisks in lieu of specific cuts to government benefits. If this were a fitness plan, Ryan, a former personal trainer, would be telling Americans that under his revolutionary program, they could lose 50 pounds in 10 weeks without dieting or working out.
Ouch. And Dana Milbank is no roaring progressive. Beverly Mann of Angry Bear may be. I don't know because I've just started reading her. She is no shrinking violet when it comes to Paul Ryan:
Paul Ryan is, in effect, the Joe McCarthy of our era.  He consistently spews outlandishly false statements of fact, never offers actual evidence in support of them and never refutes factual challenges using actual and full facts, and tries as a matter of routine to obfuscate his specific and broader objectives and therefore to trick the public.
He is a serious nutcase.  And yet he has garnered mainstream media attention as though what he puts out is credible.  We have a mainstream media that treats this nutjob as though he were a legitimate policy wonk. And that acts as though facts are legitimately in the eye of the beholder.
Okay. Matthew Yglesias, Moneybox blogger at Slate, does not sugarcoat it either, with his piece entitled "Paul Ryan Will Balance the Budget With Class War on Behalf of the Rich:"
In his Wall Street Journal op-ed laying out the case for the House Republican budget, Paul Ryan contends that "the most important question isn't how we balance the budget." When a politician tells you something he's doing isn't so important, that's probably a good place to look at where the ball's been hidden.
And judging by the budget he just released, the "how" here is pretty darn important. The budget will be balanced, if Ryan gets his way, through a campaign of thoroughgoing class warfare aimed at Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution in order to protect the interests of a small, high-income minority.
Ryan's plan starts, like all good GOP deficit reduction plans, with a giant tax cut. Specifically, he wants to replace the current progressive rate structure with a two-rate structure—10 percent and 25 percent. If you're currently an individual paying a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate on your income over $400,000, that's an enormous tax cut. If you're currently an individual paying a 25 percent marginal tax rate on your income of $70,000 a year you may wonder what's in it for you here. The answer is, most likely, higher taxes.
Flimflam is the proper designation for the Ryan budget(s). Why did it take so long?

I did try to find a spirited defense of the Ryan budget in the right-wing press, and this was the best I could come up with. It's by Michael Tanner at the National Review:
In the kingdom of the blind, according to Erasmus, the one-eyed man is king. And in a land of big spenders, the budget proposed yesterday by Representative Paul Ryan is a model of fiscal rectitude.
Let’s be honest about one thing: The budget introduced yesterday has about as much chance of becoming law as Nancy Pelosi does of being elected pope.
And of course Ryan’s budget relies on a veritable garden’s worth of rosy assumptions in order to reach balance, including the repeal of Obamacare and GDP growth of slightly more than 3 percent. Either or both could happen, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
But at least it is a budget. [...]
At least it is a budget. Wow. What was that line about faint praise? Well, it hardly matters. The nation is better off if we achieve a consensus around the notion that Paul Ryan isn't a wonk, isn't an intellectual, isn't a serious policy man, and doesn't hold the key to the new-ideas factory that the Republicans should be running three shifts a day, seven days a week.

Wait. I suppose I should let Charles P. Pierce of Esquire weigh in:
Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from Wisconsin and most recent first runner-up in the vice-presidential pageant, has released his latest "budget," which is only a budget in the same way that what the guy says to the pigeons in the park is a manifesto. It is constructed from the same magical thinking, the same conjuring words, the same elusive asterisks, and the same obvious obfuscations of its actual intent that Paul Ryan and his running mate put forward in the last campaign, in which they were so thoroughly rejected that Ryan couldn't even carry his home town. In fact, in this fiscal fantasia, the magical thinking, conjuring words, and obvious obfuscations are now run by us at 78 r.p.m. so as to balance the budget in 10 years rather than in 40. It is very doubtful that a country that declined to savage itself on a 30-year layaway plan is likely to agree to do so over a decade so as to get all the savaging done at once. What is it about elections that Paul Ryan doesn't understand?
What is it about America that he just doesn't get?
Pierce, whose avocation beyond politics is humorist, finds Ryan particularly unfunny. For an even more scathing Pierce takedown of the faux princeling of things fiscal, please don't miss this one called "Things in Politico That Make Me Want to Guzzle Antifreeze, Part the Infinity." If you still think Ryan has an unsuspect idea in his head, you're the one guzzling antifreeze.

So, who is the new-ideas guy or gal for the GOP? Marco Rubio? Rand Paul? Scott Walker? Bobby Jindal? Chris Christie? Jeb Bush?

If you answered Rand Paul, you'd be in line with the attendees at CPAC this week, who voted Paul in as conservative favorite, 2013.

What are his ideas again?

Of course, Rand Paul isn't fixated on Hitler. He's only referenced him constantly since April, 2009, which I'm sure is only a coincidental date, coming a couple of months after Obama was elected. Check out the occasions on TPM.

Update. Even conservatives are turning on Paul Ryan. Uh oh.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ted Cruz Wants All Guns Everywhere Because Freedom

...or if he doesn't, then what's the point of this harangue?

Because, frankly, I don't see the point other than to announce, for the umpteenth time since his election, what an unmitigated jerk he is.

I do realize that he has competition:

Yep, if I was a recently elected jerk from Texas, who wants a LOT of attention, I'd realize I'd have to really get going to outdo the recently elected jerk from Kentucky.

Of course, comments like Rand Paul's don't bring out the crazies. Oh, well, there might have been this comment on his YouTube video:
MrRickywallace 5 days ago
I wish that they would blow up jane fonda with a drone,that dirty slut commie bitch!She was a traitor to America when she went to Hanoi and consorted with the NVA,and she gave away secret information of the prisoners to the NVA.That's treason,and I wished she'd be assassinated. obama is a Marxist because he wants to kill Americans with drones,but not prosecute muslim terrorists in military court or water board them.How odd!I say torture the raghead terrorists, rendition them,military trial them.
In fairness to Ted Cruz, his video elicited this comment:
Once They Take Away Assault Weapons,Then They Will Try Their Best To Take Away Your Hand Guns,Shot Guns,Knifes,Etc! They Basically Want to Strip You of All of Your Rights to Do Anything! It is All About Controlling "You",and Me,That is Their Agenda! They want to Control Everthing You Do! As "True American's" "WE THE PEOPLE" need to Stand Up for What We Believe In,or One Day,You and Me will No Longer Be Able to Even Walk Down the Street Without Their Consent to Do So!
Okay. Guess what territory we're headed toward, gentlemen...

Update. Some of this video from Rachel Maddow's reaction to the Ted Cruz/Dianne Feinstein dialogue repeats some of the above, but the overall clip is exceptional, if a little chilling. It's a must-see. Don't have your children with you when you watch.

Holy crap.

Expand Social Security. Expand Medicare. (Obamacare Already Expands Medicaid...)

There's a broad movement afoot -- underway for quite a while -- to slash spending. The conservatives favor slashing entitlements, and because of the various media bubbles -- DC beltway, talk radio, "mainstream" media, Faux News -- we're inundated with fear-mongering from deficit hawks who scream cut, cut, cut and Greece, Greece, Greece. This is not good because what bounces around the echo chamber isn't what we need to do right now.

Paul Krugman, Duncan Black, Dean Baker, and now Alex Pareene of Salon are among a tiny (vocal) minority that favor preserving and even expanding Social Security and Medicare. They prefer a slow balancing of the budget with emphasis on short-term spending and long-term deficit reduction with a view toward achieving a sustainable debt-to-GDP ratio. Sounds reasonable. It is. A large majority of Americans agree. Nonetheless, that means it's soundly rejected by:

Talking heads (brains optional). Also, see People, Serious, Very. captured in the wild by Alex Pareene. Although seemingly benign when encountered, especially in the Washington, DC, area, they can in fact be quite dangerous, most especially when people actually listen to them. They have a strange, bleating kind of call, which is surprisingly consistent across the breeds, sounding something like, "Everybody knows you're not serious if you're not ready to face up to dealing with entitlements." By which they mean cutting them, of course.

This, as Pareene pointed out, is really, really strange. As he says, "Begging Republicans to let us cut Social Security and Medicare is insane (no matter how much pundits lust after it)," the "us" being the Democrats who will suffer the most when they realize they've just facilitated cuts to wildly popular and successful programs. Part two of this two-step is the Republicans, during the 2014 election cycle, blaming the Democrats for cutting entitlements. Where have we seen this movie?

People love Social Security and Medicare and want to keep them, period. (See graph, left.) Social Security protects Americans against the incredibly shrinking pensions (something Republicans hate even more than Social Security and Medicare, if you can believe that) and, as Duncan Black points out, the failed 401(k) experiment that replaced those pensions. And Medicare provides the rate-setting that is used everywhere in the advanced world to slash health-care costs, everywhere except in the heath-insurance industry of America.

Okay, health insurers do bargain down healthcare costs, but not nearly so much as government rate-setting can.

This, then, is key to long-term debt reduction: Medicare is not out of control, healthcare costs are. How do you bring down healthcare costs? Answer: by setting lower rates of compensation to doctors and hospitals, the way Medicare can (and the way the rest of the advanced countries do).

As for Social Security, a few tweaks in the tax code can take care of it. How to do that has been known for years. Ask Robert Reich, he'll tell you. And tell you. And tell you.

So, do we need a Grand Bargain? If it means -- and it does -- cutting Social Security and Medicare as the price for new tax revenues, then we don't need one. A better strategy for Democrats is not to set themselves up for attack ads in 2014 and instead trade tax revenues for targeted spending cuts that replace the sequester, which means waiting for the sequester to bite and for Republicans to begin to sweat. And they will.

We can only hope that the Grand Bargain is actually a stupid game of chicken played out to placate the Very Serious People so that Congress can at least say they tried, with each side blaming the other for failing to enact cuts that neither side had the courage to claim. Obama gets to look like the grand mediator who was willing to go against his liberal base to (sigh) fashion a bipartisan solution, but oh well.

Weird roadmap to success if you ask me. Even weirder is feeling grateful that Congress can't get its act together: At least they're too incompetent to cause real damage.

Say, if I sprang for dinner, would that sway you?
(Answer before dinner, yeah! Answer after dinner, no!)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bill Keller: A Tool of the Elite Classes

Bill Keller, elite wanker.
Yes, Bill Keller is a tool, but you probably already knew that. The former executive editor of The New York Times is occasionally allowed to write op-eds for the paper, and when he does I generally read his product with a sense of foreboding, knowing that I'm sure to be reminded of what the worst of our journalistic elite have at their core.

I'm especially incensed at this morning's offering on Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the unfortunate whistle-blower that didn't quite get that he wasn't going to be greeted as a Daniel-Ellsberg-style hero for dumping terabytes of diplomatic cables, videos, and other artifacts of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters via WikiLeaks. Here's a taste of what an elite journalist considers good writing:
If Manning had connected with The Times, we would have found ourselves in a relationship with a nervous, troubled, angry young Army private who was offering not so much documentation of a particular government outrage as a chance to fish in a sea of secrets. Having never met Manning (he was in custody by the time we got the WikiLeaks documents), I can only guess what that relationship would have been like.
In the first sentence, Keller describes Manning. In the sentence that follows, he says he never met the man he just described. It takes a very particular kind of snob to think we wouldn't notice the incongruity. The elite are allowed, before all others, that special gift of understanding their lessors without deigning to mingle with them.

I'll let you judge how hollow a line like "offering not so much documentation of a particular government outrage as a chance to fish in a sea of secrets" is, considering much of the released material led to unbridled outrage, especially the videos of aerial attacks on unarmed Iraqis.

"Having never met Manning" doesn't mean Keller doesn't know that had he offered a scoop to The Times, life might have turned out better for Manning, as in not being liable to be sentenced to life in prison. Says Keller:
If Manning had delivered his material to The Times, WikiLeaks would not have been able to post the unedited cables, as it ultimately did, heedless of the risk to human rights advocates, dissidents and informants named therein. In fact, you might not have heard of WikiLeaks. The group has had other middling scoops, but Manning put it on the map.
And, finally, if he had dealt with The Times, maybe we would better understand Bradley Manning. Lionized by WikiLeaks and his fan base as a whistle-blower and martyr, cast by his prosecutors as a villainous traitor, he has become dueling caricatures.
So, let's get this straight: Keller describes Manning as a "nervous, troubled, angry young Army private" that he's never met but "if he had dealt with the Times, maybe we would have better understood Bradley Manning." Okay. I should have gone after The Times' editorship instead of mucking about teaching and writing. Editing's not a very demanding job, turns out, by Keller's standards.

No, Manning would have been better off leaking directly to The Times:
But if Manning had been our direct source, the consequences might have been slightly mitigated. Although as a matter of law I believe WikiLeaks and The New York Times are equally protected by the First Amendment, it’s possible the court’s judgment of the leaker might be colored by the fact that he delivered the goods to a group of former hackers with an outlaw sensibility and an antipathy toward American interests. Will that cost Manning at sentencing time? I wonder. And it might explain the piling on of maximum charges.
Of course, to be clear, Keller states that The Times would have been obligated to throw Manning to the wolves anyway.
The most important thing that would not be much different if The Times had been his outlet would be Manning’s legal liability. The law provides First Amendment protection for a free press, but not for those who take an oath to protect government secrets. This administration has a particular, chilling intolerance for leakers — and digital footprints make them easier to catch these days — but I can’t imagine that any administration would have hesitated to prosecute Manning.
Bradley Manning, criminal mastermind.
Great. If Manning had given the scoop to The Times, they would have gotten to know him better, and he might not be treated as badly as he was for using WikiLeaks, but he would have been prosecuted to the fullest because any administration would do it, in spite of The Times.

I'm glad Bill Keller grabbed valuable Times' Op-Ed-page real estate to carefully explain this to us. What he did explain -- and this may actually be his underlying purpose in this, as in life -- was that he is not a tool, he's an elite tool.

Thanks, Bill, for setting the record straight, again, and again, and again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Was the Iraq War Worth It?

My answer to that question is an unequivocal no. Except for Dick Cheney, the fractured neocons, and the Bush dead-enders, it's generally agreed that it was one sorry idea foisted on us with the same verisimilitude as the Gulf of Tonkin incident used to justify getting into Vietnam. America is nothing if not good at inventing its justifications for military intervention.

As we come up on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, the judgment of history is beginning to be applied. The first is a bit of analysis by Carne Ross in Slate, and it's pretty straight-forward:

Ross' message is on point: We never needed to invade Iraq, we merely needed to shut down Saddam Hussein's oil smuggling, which was propping up an otherwise tenuous regime.

Now comes another, deeper deconstruction of the War's pedigree in the context of just which wars throughout history were "successful." This one appeared in today's Washington Post, written by Boston University history professor Bacevich. It's a fascinating article about war, with these words the most pertinent to the Iraqi conflict:
I am prepared to speculate — unlike McCain, I make no claim of offering a definitive judgment — that, in its historical importance, the Iraq war will end up somewhere on a par with the War of 1812 (though without a comparable musical legacy). If not forgotten, it will be subsumed into a much larger story, remembered not as a big, important war but as a small, insignificant skirmish. Indeed, that process of diminishment has already commenced, albeit with an unwelcome twist.
In what has become one of the most momentous stories of the 21st century, the inhabitants of the Islamic world are asserting the prerogative of determining their own destinies. Intent on doing things their way, they are increasingly intolerant of foreign interference. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington sought to revalidate an altogether different prerogative, one pioneered by Britain: an entitlement to meddle.
To reaffirm that entitlement after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States sought to demonstrate its capacity to impose its will on its designated adversaries. The failure of U.S. forces to do that — to win clearly and unambiguously — calls any further exercise of that entitlement into question. More to the point, it suggests that the big story of Muslim self-determination is likely to continue unimpeded, whether Washington approves or not. Sure, American troops captured Baghdad and overthrew Saddam Hussein. So what?
Back in 1947, the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine kicked off Washington’s effort to put its imprint on the Greater Middle East, while affirming that Britain’s exit from the region had begun. U.S. power was going to steer events in directions favorable to U.S. interests. That effort now seems likely to have run its course. The United States finds itself today pretty much where the British were back in the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve bitten off more than we can chew. The only problem is that there’s no readily available sucker to whom we can hand off the mess we’ve managed to create.
In this deeper context, it's easy to see where George W. Bush's fiasco fits in and why it was the usual American mistake. We don't blunder into war, we blunder out of them. Can we stop this insanity some day?

I sure hope so. The exit from Afghanistan is being dragged out, not for strategic reasons but simply to delay the inevitable. Whatever we do and whenever we leave, Afghanistan will go back to being what it is: Afghanistan, and it'll be no better for our having been there, not matter how long that will have been.

I wonder how many Very Serious People in Washington were never quite sure how good an idea it was to stay in Afghanistan for thirteen years, but I'm sure that it's exceeded by the number of Dirty Fucking Hippies* that thought the idea was fucking stupid from the beginning. But who listens to them?

Iraq, 2013. The bombings have never stopped. Heckuva job.

*Dirty Fucking Hippies © 2006 Atrios of Eschaton

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bill Clinton Is Off the Hook on DOMA

Bill Clinton went from shining hope to scoundrel to wise old sage. What a trip.

Maybe I'm just treating a favorite pol of mine lightly, but I take him at his word, as reported on Daily Kos. Sez Clinton about DOMA:
When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.
We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.
I buy his perspective and his story. It rings true. I'm a nobody on this issue -- although at the time I thought DOMA was dumb, dumb -- but I had to do my own evolving. So the movement from gay marriage is weird to gay civil unions is okay to gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right is a voyage many of us took.

I like that Bill Clinton said this and shared it. And cynical as I am about the state of America at this point in time, it's heartening when we're reminded of the kind of real progress we have made over time on so many issues. Reason for hope.

I remember why I was against this. I'd much rather forget. Oh well, growth.