Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana's Problem: Acting on Religious Beliefs Can Be Discriminatory

Lesbians eating cake. What an affront to religion!

The problem with Indiana's new religious freedom law is that is is quite different from the other laws that it claims it's not different from. But it is quite different:
Every other Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to disputes between a person or entity and a government. Indiana’s is the only law that explicitly applies to disputes between private citizens.* This means it could be used as a cudgel by corporations to justify discrimination against individuals that might otherwise be protected under law. Indiana trial lawyer Matt Anderson, discussing this difference, writes that the Indiana law is “more broadly written than its federal and state predecessors” and opens up “the path of least resistance among its species to have a court adjudicate it in a manner that could ultimately be used to discriminate…”
Unfortunately, most media get this wrong. And this difference between Indiana's law and others is huge. When government inhibits the free expression of religion, it's violating the First Amendment. Government rightly has a public interest in assuring that it doesn't do that.

By applying the First Amendment guarantees to acts between private citizens makes it legal to discriminate based on religious beliefs. That's an invitation to violate laws against discrimination. That's exactly what the Indiana law does, and it's the reason for the uproar.

Indiana is in a pickle, made all the more precarious because public opinion on GLBT rights have changed so much so fast. Republicans -- Indiana's new law and other religious freedom laws in other states are Republican actions -- are so far behind the eight ball here precisely because of how unexpectedly they've fallen behind the times.

The GOP contenders for the presidency in 2016 are also very much in trouble here. They're falling in step behind Governor Mike Pence on this matter, believing they must do so because they're the "party of religion." Fine, but that's an increasingly marginalized place to come from. It's worked for years, but now it's increasingly a liability.

Republicans are out of step here, and Indiana is taking the heat for it. Since the GOP is also "the party of business," that's a big problem.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Clown Car Rundown, Person the Fifth: Has Indiana's Mike Pence Just Blown It?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Everybody else got to be a dick, why can't I?

Sorry, Mike Pence, but your timing sucked. It no longer matters that you were considered a potential presidential candidate -- I mean, shit, so was Bobby Jindal, you know Bobby Jindal!? -- for ten minutes. That part of your life is over. It ended yesterday on This Week when George Stephanopoulos asked you if you would "fix" your law by inserting language against any kind of discrimination. Your answer was, essentially, "No, we here in Indiana reserve the right to discriminate." Let's look at the video:

Governor Pence, you want to reserve the right for your precious Hoosiers to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Essentially, you're admitting your law allows that, and you won't stop it. Does it stop there? Can you discriminate against Muslims? Jews? Blacks? Where does it stop?

What stops are your ambitions moving forward. Sorry, Mike. You're a relic of the past.

But wait. Leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination are supporting you, mostly because, as the party of religion, Republicans are, frankly, afraid to be seen as supporting gay rights over "religious practices." Weird, Mike Pence, but you've trapped the GOP chances in 2016 in a cage of discrimination. How will this play out? We'll all stay tuned.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

False Political Dualities: Rethuglicans Aren't the Opposite of Libtards.

How we see each other, in the comment threads, at least.

Actually, this is a serious post. I just included the ridiculous names each side calls the other in the title as click-bait. (Also because they're super funny in their own perverse way.)

I discovered an article in The Nation that summarizes beliefs I've had for a while now. Conservatives and liberals, as they've evolved over the years, don't represent polar opposites. In fact, there's a false duality at play:
The primary difference between liberalism and conservatism, at least in theory, is that the latter is an ideology and the former isn’t. Conservatism, as Milton Friedman argued, posits that “freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself.” Liberalism, however, as Lionel Trilling observed, “is a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine.” And while John Kenneth Galbraith helpfully pointed out that only those programs and policies that honor “the emancipation of belief” are worthy of the term, liberalism, at bottom, is pragmatism. Conservatives desire low taxes and small government because this is how they define freedom. They like to pretend that liberals prefer the opposite in both cases, but the truth is that liberals are OK with whatever works.
Our political dysfunction has many sources, but one way to describe our problem is this: we have allowed conservatives to define the terms of debate at a time when conservatives have lost all sense of moral, intellectual and especially practical responsibility.
We see this all the time lately. Examples of conservative ideology:
Yes, it's possible to claim that liberals adhere to an ideology, but that claim is weakened by the reality that liberalism is liberal, which roughly translates to "being open to new ideas and knowledge," while conservative roughly translates to "adverse to change," as in the way we used to do things. Burn coal to make electricity? Been doing that a long time. Use solar panels to generate electricity? That hurts Kentucky and West Virginia! Solar is cleaner? Yeah, but coal is a job creator! (Solar power isn't?)

Yes, I agree with Eric Alterman here:
Today’s conservative intellectuals aren’t even bothering to offer “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” Instead, they’re making calculated attempts to undermine our democracy, exploiting and manipulating a public that has decreasing resources for the kind of reliable information that would lead to a pragmatic “liberal” response. It’s time we woke up to that reality while we still have a country—and a planet—left to save.
Wake up, liberals, and stop treating conservatives like our political polar opposites. As George Lakoff says, repeatedly, it's the frame, and conservatives have control of it.

Non-compliant children and authoritarian father figure. Kids had it coming.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

When Will the GOP Obamacare Talking Points Fail? Cathy McMorris Rodgers Can Tell You!

Ouch, Cathy. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Sometimes you reap what you sow. Cathy McMorris Rodgers just has, in spades. Hoping to show her anti-Obamacare cred on her Facebook page with her "Tell us your Obamacare horror stories" thread, she instead unleashed the hounds of trolling beyond measure. So many positive comments in favor of Obamacare resulted with so many likes upon likes of Obamacare approval comments that a sort of critical mass, a kind of I-can't-stop-reading-these-comments-they're-great!! mania ensued. Even I was still reading a half an hour later.

See for yourself. It's priceless. Look down her timeline for the Obamacare 5 Years Later post. Biggest LOL in history?

Welcome to Indiana and West Virginia: They Hate Us for Our Freedom!

Oops, no Barbie! Don't let them eat cake!

In Indiana, they don't want to discriminate unless it's for religious reasons. USA! USA! Indiana, fuck yeah! (Oh course, they deny it's discrimination.)

In West Virginia, howdy friends, welcome to McDowell County! Nice camera you got there!

In the weird way we seem to be moving in modern-day America, these stories are connected. They're about sexual panic. In Indiana, it's about same-sex marriage, pure and simple.

In the incident in West Virginia, some tourists were taking in the rural beauty and quaintness of the town of  Raysal, when its fine citizens decided the photographer and her husband were pedophiles. Not defending pedophilia, but West Virginia, WTF?

It's amazing what the liberals have done to destroy America.

"You're not from around here, are ya?"

Thanks, George W. Bush, You Blew Up the Middle East

Mission accomplished? W. didn't know the half of it.

It's broadly accepted that invading Iraq may be the single worst foreign-policy blunder, at least in recent memory, by an American president (for fun, look at it from a British perspective). As the growing Sunni-Shia conflict, with Saudi Arabia and Iran engaging in a growing proxy war in the Middle East, gets worse, we should remember that Bush blew the lid off Pandora's Box by destroying the firewall that was Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It's beyond irony that Ronald Reagan helped Hussein build and maintain that firewall. Equally mind-boggling is that Donald Rumsfeld and Bush's father were very much at the center of Reagan's support of Hussein.

Though Barack Obama may appear to be lurching from one ineffective military or diplomatic response to another -- all in the main an attempt to preserve the flow of oil while avoiding boots on the ground, by the way -- we shouldn't forget that this is essentially an ad hoc attempt to outmaneuver George W. Bush's legacy.

Bush's dumb-and-dumber pugilism is the gift that keeps on giving. Saudi Arabia, and now potentially Egypt, fighting Iranian interests is Yemen? Smart people saw this coming.

And now the GOP-controlled Congress demands reductions in any social spending to offset a large -- and largely unnecessary -- increase in defense spending. Great set of priorities you've got there.

Let's manage the Middle East with diplomacy and aid to the refugee problem we've helped cause and get our military out of there. Why? Tell me one thing we're accomplishing that won't vanish or degrade whether we stay there or not.

It takes a village idiot to explain the good we've done there. We should have never left!

These people also did the other thing: Building the rationale for torture, and then unleashing it.

Note. This is slightly off-topic, but this piece by Greg Mitchell on last year's anniversary of "Mission Accomplished Day" is both stunning and revolting.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Trying, Let Alone Incarcerating, Bowe Bergdahl Is Beyond Immoral

I should read The Nation more often. Why the cry for Bowe Bergdahl's blood?
“I am shocked at the concerted effort led by pro-war elements to pillory this guy, rather than offer serious compassion,” Robert Musil, who wrote an article on Vietnam deserters for The Nation in 1973, told me last year. “Where is all that rhetoric about ‘we support our troops’? He has suffered a lot, as have others. Where is the understanding, the compassion, the humanity? I frankly think that’s the proper response to an American kid stranded in the middle of Afghanistan who feels he has no choice but to go away from his unit.”
I'm reminded of General George Patton, in a field hospital during World War II, slapping a pair of shell-shocked soldiers, an act that led to his being relieved of his command. Now America as a nation is slapping one of its own in a collective convulsive jerk. Bowe Bergdahl, after being held by the Taliban for 5 1/2 years, should be court-martialed? For what? To satisy our national honor?

We've long lost our national honor. That's the crime.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

With Iran, All Options Don't Need to Be on the Table

The Ayatollah Khamanei: More dangerous than Lindsey Graham? Not to us.

It's funny how phrases get stuck on automatic. One such is "all options are on the table." American politicians -- and even diplomats who don't prefer war -- use it, but only with foreign powers that can't existentially harm our interests. There are bizarre exceptions. All options are not on the table with North Korea, for example. Are we even vaguely ready to go to war with Kim Jong Un? Hardly. His bark is worse than his bite. It gets weird when we talk of bombing Iran when a tin-hat dictator north of the 54th parallel is the one with the nukes.

It's possible that Kim would go off the rails and try to start WWIII, but it's more likely that his bodyguards would put a cap in him than let him move ahead with such a national suicide. Of course that's just my opinion, but please run the thought experiments through your own brain and decide how many inner-circle North Koreans want to wake up south of Kim's desire to take on the U.S. in any ultimate way.

The same goes for Iran with a major exception: Iran, in its current political configuration, can work a terrific amount of mischief in the region without directly challenging the U.S. existentially. Iran causes no end of headaches for Israel, which it has managed to live with, as Hamas and Hezbollah are more gadflies than existential threats. And heaven knows Israel has caused much death and destruction in Gaza and Lebanon as a result. Nobody looks good over there.

But Iran will never directly threaten Israel in any concrete way, even if it had ten nuclear bombs on missiles ready to fire in ten minutes, for the simple reason that it would no longer exist with any of its aspirations intact. It would be decimated within hours, full stop.

Our goal with Iran is to manage the long-term benefits of upholding the nuclear non-proliferation regime that stabilizes the world short of widespread nuclear disaster more than it is to keep Iran from getting the bomb. It's bad enough we lost India, Pakistan, and North Korea for what are complex and varied reasons. Iran is one too many, and serious dominoes might and probably would fall. And please recall that we "allowed" Israel to gain nuclear-weapons capability because it suited our purposes. Other regimes notice this kind of American duplicity and don't forget.

But would we take that last option, military attack, simply to preemptively stop an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability? I doubt it. There is an exception, and that's if Israel started the attack, and we came in to help finish it if for no other reason than to maintain stability in the attack's aftermath.

Only maniacs would welcome that broader and more dangerous war. It's John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the rest of the bellicose subset of American politicians, quite nearly to a person members of the Republican Party, who call out the loudest, who demand ever more defense spending, and whose friends in the defense industry would welcome yet another conflagration. Do they deserve to be called maniacs. Yes, they do.

Back on planet Earth, there is a way to reign in Iran. It's through painstaking negotiations that bring Iran slowly back into the community of non-bellicose nations who understand their economic self-interests lie in peaceful pursuits and not endless war. Iran is a nation that, while threatening our interests in the past, is developed enough to see its interests intersecting with ours.

Forget the warmongers. Barack Obama and the rest of the rationalists are on to something. It's diplomacy, and it should be used to the fullest. With Iran, it's actually our only sensible option, irrespective of the flapping gums of America's gunslingers and their Israeli counterparts.

A two-man war caucus. One a JAG officer and the other a specialist in crashing planes.

Note. Fine, John McCain deserved his war-hero status, in spite of the crashed planes. But does that mean he gets to call for endless war over and over again? Should America continue its series of crashed wars? After all, we didn't win in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Our adventures in Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and other Arab Spring fiascoes aren't going so well, either. The only thing that has gone well is the health of the defense industry. (See Eisenhower, Dwight D. for his impressions of why that is.) And don't forget, our Iraq misadventure birthed ISIS, without question.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Consensus Builds: Ted Cruz Pushes the Field to the Right

The unusual suspects: OMG x WTF...

I knew the second Cruz said he would announce that, regardless of his chances, he'd be in it long enough to make the field move to the right or at least try to move to the right of Cruz. After all, which candidate -- maybe even Jeb! -- wants to be thought of as "not conservative enough"?

Here comes TPM with its acknowledgement of the Cruz Effect:
Where Cruz stands out is not his ideological principles — he shares common beliefs with many of his rivals — but his scorched-earth tactics in service of those principles, and his proclivity for painting fellow Republicans with tactical disagreements as capitulators.
How many of us can envision Jeb Bush saying, "I'm not a capitulator, and I'm not batshit crazy!"? Frankly, I can't imagine it, so the best Jeb can hope for, assuming he wants to cling to the rational center of conservatism, whatever that might be, is to rope-a-dope until Cruz is gone, taking those who tried to out-tea-party Cruz with him.

Adding fuel to the fire is the LA Times' chiming in on Cruz Control:
But in addition to raising his political profile, Cruz’s candidacy is certain to play a role in the GOP primaries as he becomes a spoiler and potential kingmaker, forcing establishment favorites — such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — to confront tea party preferences on immigration, same-sex marriage and social welfare programs.
Cruz's zeal for small government and a muscular national defense reflects the views of many Republicans. But GOP strategists acknowledge the divisive firebrand may drive the debate too far to the right for mainstream political tastes — just as many party leaders say he has done during his short time in Congress. He could force his 2016 opponents to embrace positions in the primary that they might regret when facing the Democratic nominee.
Ted Cruz, Specter of Political Death. Holy Decimated GOP field, Batman!

American Fissures: Conservatism Is at War with Itself

Why is conservation at odds with conservatism? Hint: Drill, baby, drill...

I've always wondered why conservatism was at war with its own core values, but I'm beginning to understand: Conservatism has been hijacked by moneyed and religious forces, as well as the defense establishment. Recall the irony that it was Republican president and war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower that warned against a "military-industrial complex." And yet, as business interests began to dominate the Republican Party, ostensibly the conservatives' home, business and its libertarian underpinnings have overwhelmed conservatism's connection to collective action: The individual must be at war with his/her community. Don't act for mutual benefit! Again, remember that it was Eisenhower who drove the development of our national interstate-highway system and Republican Teddy Roosevelt, also a war hero, who pressed for the establishment of national parks to protect our wilderness areas.

(There's a parallel on the left. Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council leanings -- and Tony Blair's rebranding of "New Labour" -- signaled Wall Street and London's equivalent, The City, that financial interests would be safe from collectivist onslaughts. But that's another, albeit worthy, story.)

Moderate -- or centrist -- conservatism is the endangered species these days as the extremism of the Tea Party overwhelmed the hitherto establishment hold on the Republican base. It's this dynamic, combined with the prior religious turn of the GOP, driven by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins' Family Research Council, that has shaped American conservatism as an authoritarian force.

There's a deep irony, or disconnect, at play here. Religion, especially Christianity, should be a communitarian force that would drive communitarian action. Members of a church would work together to spread Christian values. Unfortunately, its the authoritarian nature of religion -- God the Father as the model -- that leads it to deprive individuals of their rights. If there is a Republican war on women, for example, it's because the authoritarian father figure dictates that women do their husband's bidding, giving into sex, avoiding birth control and abortion, and having more Christian babies.

Men, then, are free to demand that their women aren't free. Is this modern conservatism? Yes, to a great extent, in the current American version. If you don't agree, consider the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, in which five Christian white men decided that the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, under the U.S. Constitution, had the authority to dictate that its employees not receive birth control under its provided insurance. Is this not authoritarians dictating reproductive policy, supported by U.S. law? And isn't this driven by American conservatism?

This authoritarian streak extends to both child-rearing and education. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming all allow corporal punishment -- the legalized beating of children. How many are red states? All, with the exception of purple Colorado, which is shaped by its mountain-west culture.

Yes, today's conservative is likely -- at least more likely -- to demand sex and babies from his woman, and then beat the children that result. Is it any wonder that it's the red states that are bolting from the Common Core standards, with its emphasis on critical thinking and the questioning of authority?

I wonder if William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and even Ronald Reagan would have welcomed this turn of events with the conservatism they espoused. Is it any wonder that the GOP's only viable candidate that can appeal to moderates, Jeb Bush, is in danger of being accused of not being conservative enough?

In the coming GOP 2016 primary season, open warfare is likely to break out, and the deep fissures in the GOP and its conservative base will be on open display. It should be interesting. And bruising.

As an American liberal, I find all of this deeply disturbing and depressing, not simply because I think it's harmful to America but also because my own political party, the Democrats, have become, in recent years, a centrist party. Oh, for the days of FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter (okay, Clinton was all right). No wonder liberals long for a world in which an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie Sanders could run, and win.

Warren is NOT a conservative and IS a at war with the centrist Democratic Party. Good.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The GOP 2016 Quandary: How to Get to the Right of Ted Cruz

Fine, maybe Jindal. Go ahead, say it: President Bobby Jindal. Ewww...

That's right: The only person in the 2016 GOP clown car with a worse chance of becoming president than Ted Cruz is Bobby Jindal, one of the ones who actually could fit in that dark-matter/anti-gravity space to the right of young Ted. (Yeah, I don't include the Donald because, well, he's the Donald. Don't humor him.) (And Giuliani? He reduced himself to something stuck to the bottom of my shoe.)

Okay, I should include Santorum, but I'm trying not to include things you should never google.

The funny thing (did I say funny!?) is that we'll get to see them try. Okay, Jeb Bush has already signaled he's going to avoid an Etch-A-Sketch moment by not going "there," meaning the place from which Mitt Romney, that Severe Conservative, could not come back from. Move to the center and stay there, sez Jeb. Good luck with that. I see Jeb venturing into CruzLand just to snare the non-crazies and getting dirty with the deed. He thinks he can look reasonable and then go to CrazyLand (er, Teapartyville) without getting wet. Nice try. Shouldn't have done it.

We'll see. Anyway, in keeping with bringing out the long knives, GOPers, here's what I warned about earlier, and, yes, the press is pressing up against the IMPlications of the far-right-wing Cruz-O-Matic machine. Here's Dan Balz:
Announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination Monday at Liberty University, the first-term senator from Texas offered himself as the pure essence of conservatism and challenged the tea party and evangelical wings of the Republican Party to rise up behind one of their own and take control of the party and the country.
His candidacy is a test of a proposition, one that he has carried across the country for many months. He has argued that the party failed to win the White House not because it has become too conservative but because Republicans have nominated politicians who were not conservative enough, who could not carry the message of today’s conservatism with energy, optimism and authenticity.
Yep, Cruz done that alright, drew the line beyond lies the Lost World.

Next, same Wapo, comes the more reportage-style coverage entitled, "With Cruz in, race for White House heats up." Read it if you want, but basically the title tells it: The 2016 race heats up because Ted Cruz is white-hot, in the same way that the Sun is. Sure, it's bright, but don't stare at it for very long. You'll pay a price.

Anyway, for the thought experiment I promised, here it is: 1) A certain number of potential (and real) GOP candidates will at least attempt to get to the right of Cruz, and 2) It won't be pretty. So while you're trying on the sound of President Ted Cruz and going ewww!, remember that beyond the grift (these boys, including Cruz, are in it for the money and the racket even a faux candidacy sets up) is the ego satisfaction that a number of his rivals crapped themselves doing tea-party cartwheels, to which Ted Cruz smiled and said, "Okay, I'm going down, but so are we all!"

Heckuva job, Teddy.

The Long Knives Are Out for Ted Cruz

GOP Clown Car 2016: First in, first out?

Ted Cruz announced today that he is running for president in 2016, prompting scores of liberal bloggers to cheer "Run, Ted, Run!" with near-simultaneity. About the same time, the knives came out on the GOP side.

Example one: Ed Rogers in the WaPo:
It isn’t clear whether Cruz particularly cares about how he is viewed or whether he thinks he needs to soften his image, if not modify some of his positions, in his campaign for president. At times, it seems that Cruz wants to wear his lack of support from the Republican Party “establishment” as a badge of honor. But if he defines the “establishment” as just about anyone who has ever won an election, well, he may need to rethink his approach. One bad sign for Cruz is that he doesn’t appear to have many elected officials supporting his candidacy at this stage. That’s a red light flashing on the dashboard of any campaign. It says something when others who have “run for sheriff” are not willing to associate themselves with your campaign.
If Cruz overplays the role of a courageous, persecuted martyr, the act will grow tiresome quickly. Maybe the problem is Cruz and not the ideological backsliding of others or the wishy-washyness [sic] of the seasoned Republicans who have been around longer than him. Maybe Cruz is just too half-cocked for his own good. His vigor and volume and intensity have gotten him here, but right now he only has a narrow foothold in the party, not a firm position with a lot of growth potential.
With friends like that, who needs enemies? Rogers, BTW, is an old GOP campaign hand.

Next up, The Donald decides his voice is important, as he turns all birther on young Ted:
"He's got a hurdle that nobody else seems to have at this moment. It's a hurdle and somebody could certainly look at it very seriously. He was born in Canada," Trump said in an interview with myfoxny.com, adding that "you're supposed to be born in this country."
Trump, who claims to be considering a run for president himself, said he "didn't know how the courts would rule on it. It's an additional hurdle that he has that nobody else seems to have."
Trump led the charge on the debunked view that President Barack Obama wasn't actually born in the United States and had a fake birth certificate saying he was born in Hawaii.
Cruz has maintained that he is eligible to be president since he was born to an American mother, despite having been born in Calgary, Alberta. He was a dual citizen until 2014 when he renounced his Canadian citizenship.
Yes, Cruz is qualified to run for president, despite Trump's claim. But we all knew that.

So, thought experiment I'll ponder in a later post: What will the rest of the GOP contenders have trouble doing because of the Cruz candidacy? (Okay, a hint: figure out how to get to the right of Cruz! Good luck on that.)

Fun, and games. Did I say fun?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Hey, Conservatives. The Poor Don't Need Advice. They Need Money.

This moral degenerate has a TV, fer chrissake!

We've been subjected to a number of articles by conservative pundits, quoting their favorite expert on the reasons for poverty. The latest kick is same as the old kick: It's the poors' fault. The moral degenerates don't have the common sense to emulate the elites' mores.

The latest comes from Ross Douthat, who channels David Brooks and Charles Murray. His thesis can be summed up thus: The poor were ruined by the 60s and 70s. Yep, the hippies came with their sex and living together and disco and everything and now look at the poor. They should have listened to their betters, you know, the rich folks who have better values.

Douthat links to an article I'd already read by Jeff Spross in The Week, claiming it showed that conservatives views on poverty and morals "make some people on the left angry." Whaa? If we don't agree with the conservative approach to poverty -- don't give them any money, just tell them to behave better -- then we're angry? Wow, he's got us on the left all figured out!

Spross nailed the conservatives on this one. The thing they have in common is they don't want to give the poor any money. That would be too easy on them, the losers.

As I usually do, I read the comments thread, at least until I got the measure of reader response, and here's one that's pretty typical and right to the point. Here's gemli's note to Ross:
Only someone with no understanding of his fellow humans could write such a column. To think that millions of people decided to change their culture in the span of a generation is to attribute far too much malevolent intent to the powerless. If a quarter of the U.S. population suddenly twitches, it's more likely the result of a jolt from the outside rather than a coordinated upswell of anarchic behavior.
Whole swaths of society didn't decide to abandon their families, their children, stable homes and the comforts of community so they could watch Internet porn. It makes me wonder instead why sexual issues loom so large for some that they must project their fevered imaginings and religiously-motivated guilt on others.

As James Carville might say: it's the economy, stupid. The economics are devastating for the poor and middle class. A $4,000 increase in income over 30 years does not being [sic] to cover the $100,000 increase in housing prices. Of course antipoverty spending shot up over this time period, because cost increases far outstripped income for food, clothing, housing, education and medical care.

People have had sex in good times and bad, whether they could afford kids or not, even when they were likely to die in childbirth, or from starvation. They're not going to stop because the money's tight. But money promotes family stability because it ensures the future. That's what the wealthy really take from the poor, and the poor respond in the only way they can.
Ouch. You had it coming, Ross. Awhile back I Wikipediaed you, and you came from affluence and no doubt never spent a day in your life lacking for anything. No wonder you're the expert on poverty. Of course, here's what the research says, beyond proving you're a nit-wit.

But with great values! And a Christian. Suffer the little children. No, really. Suffer.

The poor have their hovels, and the wealthy have these
because they're better people! Why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Someone Corrects David Brooks So I Don't Have To

David Brooks wants poor people to adhere to the social mores of the elite he rallies behind as a matter of course. If only the poor would behave like the rich, everything would be all right.

This kind of talk from Brooks brings out my daggers, but I don't have to lift a finger this week. Other folks abound that will do the work. My fave is this article in The Week by Jeff Spross. I liked that he took on fellow Brooks travelers Ross Douthat and Charles Murray at the same time.

Key here is that if we take money and jobs away from a class of Americans -- say, the working poor and the middle class -- we shouldn't be surprised if their lives go to shit. Spross makes all the right connections. Kudos.

Another slap to Brooks' notions comes from Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig of the New Republic. She gets it, and the last line states it best (I've placed it in bold):
Morality should teach us how to live a good life. But to impose the easy virtue of the well-to-do on the poor is to request the most stressed and vulnerable members of society to display impossible moral heroism. To abstain from relationships, sex, and childbirth until financially secure enough to raise a child without assistance would mean, for many, a life of celibacy; to pour limited resources into education in order to score a respectable job would mean failing to make rent. If the problems plaguing poor communities persist after poverty is drastically reduced, that would seem an appropriate time to pursue the matter of a better "moral vocabulary," as Brooks calls itand even then, the participation of low-income communities would be essential. But before that conversation can happen, the obvious solution to the “chaos” Brooks observes among poor communities is to reduce poverty, and let its moral quandaries resolve on their own.
Thought experiment: Figure out how to square the contradiction that conservatives -- who in the Brooks-Murray-Douthat world hold truest to their lofty values -- are the ones who could give a damn about climate change, petroleum-based pollution, death, injury and destruction from wars, and all the mayhem that results from our burgeoning culture of guns, death penalty, and law-and-order mentality with the values the poor are supposed to emulate. Neat trick if you can do it.

Square all that and plug it into you round hole, Brooks.

Soldiers lining up for jobs after following the conservatives' advice to be good patriots.

Update. Meant to include a link to this article on how sticking to American values while the world  falls apart around you hasn't served the people of Appalachia who have nowhere to go, with nothing left but to leave the homes they grew up in and believed in. I guess this world doesn't count for much to moralizing bastards like Brooks.

#47SenatorsFail: The Iranian Response!

I don't always like William Saletan's stuff in Slate -- he goes way too far in his contrarian mode, turning sometimes into a reactionary -- but he nailed it with this "letter" from the Iranian Council of Guardians' in response to the Tom Cotton debacle. Read it for a monster giggle.

Puts the #47SenatorsFail in perspective.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

GOP Senators Iran Letter: A Form of Government Shutdown?

Here's what a great country does: Let a first-time senator craft a treasonous
letter to a foreign country during critical negotiations. Then have the vast
majority of GOP senators -- and 2016 GOP contenders -- sign on.

(Updated below!)

The uproar over Tom Cotton's nefarious letter has boiled over into a kind of government shutdown. Foreign countries wonder who's in charge of the chicken coop. Boneheads from Arkansas, majority leaders from Kentucky, or the president of the U.S., AKA Leader of the Free World?

Note in the growing number of comments in the above linked WaPo article that 99% are disgusted by the Senate majority's action. And this in a major newspaper whose comment flow usually runs tea-partyish. Sheesh.

It's tantamount to a government shutdown and just as embarrassing for the party that allowed it. What are they thinking if not just one more attempt to prevent Barack Obama from being effective, effective on behalf of the American people?

Horrifying, yet in a startling development, it appears the GOP tactic is backfiring in an unexpected way. And, adding fuel to the growing fire, it turns out that an elite cadre of GOP/pro-Israeli donors are anti-Iran-deal allies. Eeeck.

More reaction here, here, here, and here. Excerpt from McClatchy:
But Congress has perhaps never so openly disrespected the president on a foreign stage as now. Or intervened more actively to disrupt an international negotiation.
Like the Federalists of 1814, today’s Republican leaders are wading into deep, swift waters.
Whatever happened to the Federalist Party? When Madison’s negotiators forged a peace treaty with Britain, and General Andrew Jackson defeated British troops in the epic Battle of New Orleans a week later, delegates to the Hartford Convention looked like fools and traitors.
The nation’s first political party died swiftly. Reviled by the patriotic electorate, the Federalists never again won the Oval Office. The United States had a one-party system for the next two decades, until the Whig Party arose in 1833.
Modern Republicans have a much longer history than the Federalists. Cotton’s party is made of a sterner fabric than the party of Washington.
But the junior senator from Arkansas ought to beware. The American people have never cottoned to treason — or the implication of it.

The Ayatollah Khamenei waves to his many fans in the GOP caucus.

Update. National funny bone Charles P. Pierce of Esquire unloads on Tom Cotton here, here, and here. Let the healing begin!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Degrading of America: GOP's Iran Ploy Blows Up in Their Faces

Oh, I wish was in the mind of Cotton...!

(Updated below)

The absurd ploy by the Tom-Cotton-led GOP -- who lets first-term junior senators from Arkansas take the lead on something this gargantuan? -- is blowing up. Not only has the "open letter" to "the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran" been rejected as farcical by Iran's American-educated foreign minister, but it also is gets low marks from journalists across the spectrum, even the Wall St. Journal.

Read Fred Kaplan's take in Slate:
The letter—which encourages Iran’s leaders to dismiss the ongoing nuclear talks with the United States and five other nations—is as brazen, gratuitous, and plainly stupid an act as any committed by the Senate in recent times, and that says a lot. It may also be illegal.
The banalities begin with the greeting: “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” By custom, a serious letter to foreign leaders would address them by name. Who is it that the senators are seeking to influence: the supreme leader, the Parliament, the Revolutionary Guards? Clearly none of the above, otherwise it wouldn’t be an open letter. Nor, if this were a serious attempt of some sort, would Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who was among the missive’s signatories) leave the task of organizing it to the likes of Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, an otherwise unknown freshman. As usual, the Republicans’ goal is simple: to embarrass and undermine President Barack Obama.
The idiocies begin with the first sentence: “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”
First, I’m curious: How has this come to their attention? Second, the letter writers reveal that they don’t understand our constitutional system either. They point out to the Iranians, in the tone of a teacher addressing third-graders, that treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, agreements need majority approval by both houses of Congress, and executive agreements can be overturned by Obama’s successor “with the stroke of a pen.”
Cotton and the signatories are wrong on so many levels it isn't funny. I mean it would be funny if the letter weren't so against America's self-interests.

NPR points out today that this egregious act of near-treason is clearly coupled with House Speaker John Boehner's unprecedented invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress against any agreement with the Iranians just last week.

Not to be outdone, NBC expressed shock about the letter as well.

Even GOP Congressman Peter King of New York didn't feel good about it.

It's one of the lowest blows I've ever seen issued by a politician or politicians in my lifetime, although I admit to living -- as a young boy more into spiders and snakes than politics -- through the McCarthy era. McCarthy would be proud of this Republican bunch.

Joesph McCarthy, left, with Roy Cohn: Tom Cotton would fit in nicely.

Update. Plum Line's Greg Sargent has a nice summary of the mostly cold reactions to the GOPer letter to Iran, noting that the key backfire may be that enough Dems can't no longer be corralled into any veto-proof vote to scuttle the deal. That's a pretty big fail indeed.

The Degrading of America: The GOP Takes Politics "Beyond the Water's Edge"

"What do you mean, 'Did we think about this before we wrote the letter?'"

In response to the NY Times' report of the GOP open letter to the Iranian government -- in which the esteemed 47 Republican senators schooled the Iranian government on constitutional matters and how they, or future GOP presidents, might renege on any Obama agreement on Iran's nuclear program -- the Iranian foreign minister simply schooled them back

A good summation of the extraordinary event, by which the Republican Party decided to violate the longstanding, fundamental practice that "politics stops at the water's edge," is to be found among the comments to the aforementioned Times' report:
“In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy,” Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said in a written statement. “It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”

One is hard pressed to read a better analysis of this strange act by the GOP. What it does better than any outraged screams of "Treason!" or "Sedition!" is how simply and calmly dismissive it is, pointing out the immaturity, ignorance, and ineptness for office this party demonstrates on an almost daily basis. The GOP schooled as if they were naughty schoolboys. This isn't treason. It's just embarrassing! A once great nation reduced to this.
Well said. The degradation of America continues, almost hourly. Uh, no hyperbole.

Veep Joe Biden, president of the Senate, chimes in, and, boy, is he (rightfully) pissed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Degrading of America: Media Outlets Are Bogged Down by False (Trumped-Up) Narratives While Real Reporting Goes Wanting

Edward Snowden must want to come home, Right? Do his 30
years and get right with this stuff, get it behind him. Right.

(Updated below)

Our distrust of the media is likely nothing new. Still, in my lifetime, I've been provided many reasons to respect and trust the media (think Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow), but that's been waning in recent years. Now, for instance, I watch the network evening news not to be informed but to see A) how badly they succeed in choosing what's relevant, B) what's missing or inaccurate in what they're reporting, and C) what slant, however preposterous, they choose to take in their reporting.

Yes, I also watch it because network news still has some quality reporters covering key stories. But I'm regularly disappointed by shoddy work on irrelevant stories, which often gobbles up much of the 22 minutes per show. 

Case in point: Hillary Clinton's private email server was illegal. Wait, no, it isn't illegal, it's just against the rules. Uh, wait, it wasn't against the rules then, but it is now, several years later. None of that matters because what's really important is that it reinforces our feeling that the Clintons are above the law. Wait, they're not above the law, but we in the media are obsessed with them and how well they've done, and they don't kowtow to us, so... They must be doing something wrong even though we don't know what's in the emails, probably nothing, but still, it's unseemly. That's a perfect word for the media, unseemly. It's a word that, oh, I don't know, David Brooks would use. By the way, in a month or two only a few crazed congressmen and Rush Limbaugh will give a shit.

But to a more profound example. Glenn Greenwald flags a recent effort by the American media to paint Edward Snowden as really, really wanting to come home. He doesn't because he believes he can't get a fair trial, full stop:
His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.
Seems pretty clear to me. Remember, Glenn Greenwald, before he chose to report on egregious acts against whistleblowers, was a constitutional lawyer, so his reporting carries a bit more weight than, say, Chuck Todd.

Read the rest of Greenwald's article. It's a study in media's desire to create and run with narratives they like and they want to control, right up to the point at which it's clearly bullshit, when, hopefully, another story has been formed for the press corps to follow. It's a pretty dismal undertaking staying informed, at least if you limit yourself to traditional news networks and newspapers.

Take your news cautiously, with a good amount of cross-checking. You may get a decent version of the truth.

One final example of how this degrades America: Donald Trump is considering a run in 2016!

How is that news?? Because Politico thinks so. Sheesh.

Note. I didn't mention Fox News or the Wall Street Journal in this piece because they're a case study all to themselves. They're not sloppy, self-serving journalists. They're out-and-out propagandists. There is a difference.

Update. Here's a classic example of the media's obsession with "the Clintons just don't do it right" by Josh Voorhees in Slate. There's no there there, just as I described in my above paragraph on the "scandal." It's full of buzzwords and phrases like "skirted the law." She didn't break the law, she skirted it. Colin Powell while Secretary of State under W. did the same thing, but it's different. Jeb Bush went so far while governor as to set up his own email server, but it's different because Hillary!

Update to the Update. Okay, now this is just silly. I found another Josh Voorhees article in Slate three days before the one I linked to above in which he questions whether Hillary Clinton broke the law when she set up and used her own private email account while in office. He couldn't find any law at all or anyone else who had found one either. Then he proceeds to explain how she probably didn't break any rules either. He goes as far as to say that she at least broke the "spirit of the law." How? By being Hillary? Well, probably. Let him explain it:
Here’s what I can say: Clinton’s penchant for private email would indeed run afoul of the current law on the books—but likely not the rules that were in place while she served as President Obama’s secretary of state between 2009 and 2013. Under a law passed this past November, a government official can use private email accounts to conduct government business—but only if that official copies or forwards the email to his or her government account within 20 days. Violating that law can result in disciplinary action but carries with it no criminal penalties. But Clinton’s private emailing occurred well before that law went into effect. According to the National Archives, the official definition of what constitutes a federal record did not “clearly include electronic records” until Obama signed the 2014 law, which represented “the first change to the definition of a Federal record” since the Federal Records Act was passed in 1950. Similarly, it wasn’t until August 2013—six months after Clinton had left office—that the National Archives and Records Administration issued guidance making it clear that email records of some senior officials are permanent federal records.
Clinton’s camp, as you might expect, maintains its boss did nothing wrong. “Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved," Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told the Associated Press.
While Merrill appears to be correct on the first count, the case for the second—the spirit of the law—is less than convincing. At best, Clinton failed to go the extra mile to make sure her emails were part of the official record; at worst, she intentionally sought out a legal gray area from which to do her business.
Like I said, just silly. Josh Voorhees wrote an article with apparent due diligence proving Clinton violated no laws or even rules, then three days later wrote another one that claims she's "wrong."

She didn't break any law, she just "sought out a legal gray area," which, likely, isn't true, either. What she did do was secure her communications the way Colin Powell and Jeb Bush did before new laws took effect. Maureen Dowd should weigh in on this. She's good at demonizing the Clintons. I'd look for a link for you, but I don't have the stomach for it just now. Josh Voorhees was a more than adequate stand-in for Mo. Slate must not be good enough for Josh. He's Politico-bound!

In the end, we have the anatomy of two scandals wrapped in an enigma. The email scandal couldn't really exist without something to find in the emails, which is provided by the Benghazi scandal. Benghazi depends on a false narrative, just as the email scandal is based on a false narrative. Meanwhile, actual policy considerations for an improving path forward for America goes wanting. Good job, media!

Hands up, don't shoot!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Degrading of America

America, 2015: still the greatest nation the world has ever known?

I have a problem with America. It's odd because I had a problem with America in 1967, too. The year before, I was a 17-year-old going off to college touting the party line -- "Vietnam is the cost of fighting communism, a tough job but somebody's got to do it" -- and by the next June I was solidly against the war, as were most of the San Francisco Bay Area college students around me.

Those of us who lived through those years of cultural upheaval spent the next ten years in an alternate USA, as we fought against wars, "pigs," and The Establishment. I was so dead-set against becoming "the man" that I forewent law school and became a musician instead.

And like a lot of counter-cultural warriors, I eventually found my way back into the mainstream and settled into a semblance of a middle-class life. I remain profoundly changed by those early years, but it cannot be stated loudly enough that I was always and still am an American, in spite of those ubiquitous "America: Love It or Leave It" bumper stickers that conservatives sported to relay their contempt for those against the war.

Born a couple years after the end of World War II, I was witness to the great growth and development of the world's greatest middle class, and my family was a classic example. I came out of a highly educated household that built itself up through education without the help of an affluent background. I watched my mother and father build a decent life driven by ordinary American energy and ordinary imaginations. We were supposed to get educated, find good jobs, buy a decent house, and settle down into a life of decency and normalcy. We were given opportunity and were expected to do well by it. And in spite of my counter-cultural detour, I essentially did just that.

I may have taken a more entrepreneurial path to build my American life, but so have many. I don't think that explains or underwrites my current views of America, except that my disappointment in the current state of America isn't based on an obsession that "America sucks hard" but rather based on how much I believed in the American model. I lived the development of that American model, so as that typical or atypical baby boomer who didn't squander the legacy of the "Greatest Generation" but rather build a decent, respectable life, I am perfectly positioned to critique the America that I find today.

I take no joy in witnessing a widespread degrading of the country I came to identify with so completely. I'm terrifically pained by what I see happening.

I've laid the foundation of an extended discussion on the state of America, and I'll break here and finish over a series of posts. But I'll preview it just a bit: Yes, I'm going to make the claim that what has driven the degradation of America has been, so far, a rather successful conservative movement that has crafted a popular narrative, which is a smokescreen for a set of goals that favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the rubes who are somehow convinced that the pols they put into office have their best interests at heart.

That conservative narrative isn't true, and we're beginning to see how the actual policy goals touted by conservatives have been slowly and methodically undermining the very country and people they purport to love. It's shocking and disgusting.

A final point: It's often repeated that we get the government we want, but that's a lie. We get the government we're deceived into believing we want. That our government is not what we think it is or not doing what we think we asked them to do is the great crime of our time. Let's look at it over the next several posts.

Note. From my point of view, it's clear the liberal-progressive side of the political spectrum has had no choice but to ally itself with the Democratic Party, in spite of the fact that the Dems are only marginally more in favor of policy prescriptions progressive prefer. But I'll take the protection of the social safety net that the Dems marginally stand for over the Armageddon that conservatives seem almost preternaturally obsessed with ushering in.

No hyperbole there, by the way.

These people just need to buck up and take personal responsibility.