Monday, November 30, 2009

Asshole Democrat Watch

Evan Bayh of Indiana is about as much of a Democrat and Joe Lieberman. He is by far one of the most corrupted public officials ever to serve in office (and he just hasn't been caught yet).

Check out this profile from Glenn Greenwald. My favorite part:
He is a loyal servant to the insurance and health care industries over his own constituents -- as his wife sits on the Boards of numerous health care giants, who, right when Bayh became a Senator, began paying her millions of dollars in cash and stock. And this Sermonizer of Personal Responsibility is the ultimate by-product of nepotism, following faithfully and effortlessly in the footsteps of his Daddy-Senator, whose seat he now occupies. The fact that he's a Democrat -- and was Obama's close-second choice for Vice President -- just underscores how bipartisan these afflictions are.

The rot just permeates the place. And there is no one -- not even our current president -- who aspires to join Congress or occupy the White House who isn't smeared to some degree in the excrement of corporate favor.

Republican Myopia?

Bob Cesca helps us understand why the whole news explosion about the party-crashing couple at the White House state dinner last week is much ado about nothing, and perfectly illustrative of the short-sightedness of those who hate Obama (and, in my opinion, America):
Remember when the Bush administration allowed a male prostitute from a fake newspaper into the White House press room in order to ask the president softball questions? Or when a guy managed to hurl not one, but two shoes at President Bush's melon during a so-called "secured" event, and the Secret Service did nothing to protect the president when the shoes began to fly?

Well, I remember them (my links above). And while I definitely understand the tendency of the media (and those so-called national security experts) to wax all worried-like about this breach of security, I am definitely seeing the hypocrisy on the right that this is somehow indicative of Obama's lack of national security cojones.

And, I might add -- where were the Republicans who were so keen on national security when they allowed a fake president to occupy the White House for eight years? Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Teabaggers Will Ignore...

..., but even McCain's economic adviser is saying that the stimulus package is working:
[T]he stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do — it is contributing to ending the recession. In my view, without the stimulus, G.D.P. would still be negative and unemployment would be firmly over 11 percent. And there are a little over 1.1 million more jobs out there as of October than would have been out there without the stimulus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"We saw through her quickly"

Sarah Palin has a problem with women, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted in early November. This Sullivan reader explains why:

"Sarah Palin is the peppy cheerleader in high school all the boys thought was so sweet but the girls knew was really a vicious shrew. She's the new girl in the office who wears tight shirts and three-inch heels, is super-friendly to her male superiors, ignores the other women, and gets promoted sooner than her more capable and hard working peers. She's the outgoing PTA mom all of the other women are scared to cross because they will find themselves put on the worst committees. Only a woman knows how to give another woman a sweet smile and at the same time cut her down to size with an artfully crafted 'compliment' without male observers having a clue about what just happened. It's like a dog whistle."

Right after she was first announced as McCain's VP pick, I found myself in a men's wear store owned by a very dear family friend, an old-world Italian widower. Both he and his manager, an older gay man, were both Republican, and were both completely enamored of Sarah Palin. In fact, the owner went into his office and retrieved a color print of Palin in her leather skirt and said "Whoa, boy, would you look at that?"

Well, let's face it -- she looks pretty hot in that picture, although it looks like something shot about 20 years ago. But it was clear to me then that she was going to pull in the horny man vote. But as soon as I heard that the McCain strategy in picking Palin was to attract disaffected Hillary supporters, I knew that women would not like her because she was a manipulative symbol in every possible way, from her decision to carry a Down's Syndrome baby to term, to her being a working mother of five, to her being a regular gal from the Alaskan frontier. FAIL!

Ignoramus Quote of the Day

I think it's fundamentally harmful and it shows in my mind that this is a guy, a
president, who would bow, for example, who doesn't fully understand or have the
same perception of the U.S. role in the world that I think most Americans have.
Dick Cheney, on President Obama's greeting the Japanese emperor with a customary bow.

First of all, I think Cheney calling the president "a guy, a president" instead of "THE President" who "doesn't fully understand" the role of a US president is fundamentally harmful and it shows in MY mind what a tool Cheney really is. U.S. Presidents should, of course, not disrespect the office of the presidency (e.g., don't fucking torture people, and don't cede your responsibilities to cowardly chicken-hawks like the former veep), but there is no harm done in having our elected leader use a customary greeting that respects another leader's cultural traditions.

Second: let's see now...did George W. Bush ever greet a foreign dignitary in a way that was not traditionally American?

Oh, yeah...he did. Better wipe that oil off your lip, George!

It Looks Easy, but...

This chart illustrates the number of forces arrayed against the Taliban, which, at an estimated 10,000 strong, is giving the US and NATO forces some significant pushback. When one person wearing a suicide bomb belt, or a bomb planted under a wrecked car, can take out dozens of soldiers and their equipment in seconds, one can appreciate that conventional forces are no match.

I can understand why Obama has taken a long time with his war council to find a workable solution in Afghanistan. What doesn't work, however, is saying that "victory" is our only option. In this case, there will be no victory. As soon as we leave that country, the cockroaches will re-emerge and take over. If our elected officials truly believe we can turn that barren, poppy-infested, god-forsaken hellhole into a shining example of democracy, then there isn't a politician alive who isn't totally insane.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Sullivan featured an interesting episode of bloggingheads today about Michael Specter's concept of denialism. The idea of that irrational thinking hinders scientific thinking, harms the planet and threatens our lives. This is especially true of American's distrust of science.

However, I think a case can be made that denialism informs much of our political thinking, on both sides of the aisle. There are plenty of Americans who could not be dissuaded from the belief that the Republican Party had designs to dismantle the Constitution and replace it with some Christianist version of sharia law. However, I never really saw that sense of denialism in a collective sense among Democrats. The spectrum of progressivism is pretty broad, so it follows that a guy like Dennis Kucinich had a place in the same tent as someone like, say, a former Republican like Arlen Specter.

In the GOP, denialism -- that is to say, the collective denial of factual reality -- is a virulent cancer that not only threatens to destroy the party as it elevates into leadership vacuous non-thinkers like Sarah Palin (whose reality is limited to that which is within immediate grasp and is subject to change at any moment depending on what serves her best), but also threatens to unravel civil political discourse and any semblance of the ethnic or cultural diversity that truly defines the greatness of America.

Now, the GOP has a proposed resolution, called "Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan's Unity Principle for Support of Candidates," that looks like a laundry list of with-us-or-against-us middle finger statements.

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's "stimulus" bill; (well, one out of four is pretty good for them, and the stimulus bill was begun by Bush)

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare; (Obama-style? From one side of their mouth they extol the virtues of Medicare, which, although more efficient than private health insurance, was responsible for 50% of the government waste in 2008; while on the other side of their mouth, they parrot words passed to them on crib sheets by industry lobbyists currently injecting compaign money right up their sanctimonious rectums);

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation; (cap and trade isn't a perfect solution to energy reform, but it certainly has more forward thinking than "drill baby, drill")

(4) We support workers' right to secret ballot by opposing card check; (this is the Republican party speaking in tongues -- they have never supported workers' rights)

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants; (so do most Americans, progressives, conservatives, and Republicans alike; nothing revolutionary here)

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges; (while they also support endless war and endless access to their natural resources and endless torture and endless warrantless eavesdropping and endless profits for their war-mongering cronies)

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat; (duh! Except their only solution is more war and aggression)

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act; (translated: we hate fags and will always hate them)

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; (read: no death panels for Grandma and no free wombs for women!) and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; (assault rifles in every bassinett!)

My italics, of course. The point is, these planks in the Republican platform are being used as a litmus test for anyone who wants to call themselves Republican. If anyone opposes more than two of them, they don't belong. No debate there, by the way. They're all for ideological purity, per Reagan. Then again, Reagan supported diplomacy and abhorred torture.

Unintentional Photographic Genius

This photograph was taken at a Going Rogue book signing in Indiana last Thursday. I don't think the SarahPAC photographer could have known to compose the photograph such that the signs above the table arrange themselves the way they have. They represent why Palin is wrong for America, a danger to freedom, and yet so appealing to white Christianists. A sea of white faces as far back as you can see.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the Backs of Our Kids

And their kids, by the way. That's the way one Republican crowed on the House floor about the cost of the health-care reform legislation, which is coming up for a cloture vote in the Senate this weekend. Democrats believe they have the sixty votes necessary to end debate and break a Republican filibuster.

But where were the Republicans when Bush passed Medicare D? The cost of that benefit is more than the estimated Senate bill -- $900 billion vs $1 trillion. One important distinction, however, is that Medicare D, which Bush ramrodded through Congress with such force that Karl Rove actually extended debate for three hours and turned off the C-Span cameras, is that Medicare D was not paid for with any offsetting revenue increases or spending cuts. It was paid for by simply printing money and adding the cost to the budget deficit. That's what the Republicans call fiscal conservatism. President Obama's health care bill is being paid for by a combination of spending cuts, managing efficiencies in the medicare system, and tax increases on the wealthy. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Obama healthcare bill actually pays for itself, and actually will contribute $120 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade.

Of course, the Republican answer is "deficits don't matter." Well, if that's true, why cry about burdening our children with the cost of this program? Oh, wait. Deficits matter if they're bashing the Democrats, but they don't matter if they are the ones creating the deficits.

If you want to look at what is truly a burden on our children, look to Medicare D and the two Bush/Cheney wars we're now fighting. On my blog's web page you'll see the ongoing ticket showing the cost of the Iraq War. It has eclipsed $700 billion in six and a half years, plus other costs not contemplated but will push the total costs into the trillions. These are costs that had no corresponding budget cuts or revenue increases. That's what Republicans call "fiscal conservativism."


Thursday, November 19, 2009

This is Why She Fucking Pisses Me Off

Sully does it again, this time pulling comments from Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman to contrast Palin with Reagan, the patron saint of modern conservatism. Andrew's moving conclusion:
And I silently weep that the right has been reduced to this absurd fantasist know- nothing who believes her ignorance is her selling point. It is worse than a descent. It is an abyss.
See what I mean? I think that if I'd been a Republican and had a choice between Reagan and Palin, I'd have gone for Reagan all the way. What is it about American voters who think that someone who can relate to their circumstances as an ordinary person, but who lacks both the intelligence and vision to put together an actual plan to address those circumstances, can lead this entire country? The wingnuts honestly believe that this lying, reality-challenged, trailer-park, mooseburger-shitting reality show contestant can hold her own against leaders in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East when she doesn't know the first thing about the histories or complexities of their regions? Can you imagine that she would be sitting down with them, saying, "Aw, Nick -- I can call ya Nick, right? -- quit bein' such a stuffy old Frenchman and get with the program the way we do it in America!" "Well, Mr. Hu, you may have a billion or more people here in Communist China, but I'd stack a hundred of your best up against just one of my girls any day." "Aw, heck, King Abdullah your Majesty (eyes rolling), we can talk all day about the plight of the Palestinian people, but pretty soon it's all gonna be moot when Jesus comes rollin' into Jerusalem. All the Muslims around here are gonna be wishin' they'd followed Jacob instead of Ishmael." BOOM!

Palin's Reasons to Continue Settlements

Sarah Palin's interview with Barbara Walters revealed her belief system about Israeli's continued settlements into occupied territory:

"I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."

So she thinks that Jewish people will be "flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead"? From where does she get this information? Personally, I have no plans to settle in Israel at any time in my life.

Jeffrey Goldberg asks:

Who, exactly? Is this her analysis of Jewish demography? Is there a sudden upsurge in Zionist sentiment among American Jews, the only sizable Jewish community left outside of Israel? Or is this an indication that Palin buys into creepy End-Times thinking, in which the ingathering of the Jews, and their mass death, presage the return of Christ?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why They Are Dangerous

Spotted a bumper sticker this morning, which I thought looked supportive of the President:
Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8

Awww, I thought -- a religious person who believes in the President to want to pray for him.

Then I read this Bob Cesca piece. Psalm 109:8 reads:
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.

OK, OK. Christians want him out of office sooner rather than later. Hey, I wanted to buy the Bush bumper sticker that read, "Somewhere in Texas, a village has lost its idiot" and "1/20/2009: The End of an Error."

But check out the verse that follows:
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

So now Christians want him dead? I think Cesca is right to suggest that perhaps Christians (well, maybe just people who display biblical verse or those stupid fish on the backs of their cars) should be profiled the way Sarah Palin thinks we should profile people who look like Muslims.

It's So Serious

Andrew Sullivan has stopped blogging so that he and his two able assistants can fully absorb the unhinged work of fiction (and fact) that is Going Rogue. Here's his context:
When dealing with a delusional fantasist like Sarah Palin, it takes time to absorb and make sense of the various competing narratives that she tells about her life. There are so many fabrications and delusions in the book, mixed in with facts, that just making sense of it - and comparing it with objective reality as we know it, and the subjective reality she has previously provided - is a bewildering task. She is a deeply disturbed person which makes this work of fiction and fact all the more challenging to read. And the fact that she is now the leader of the Republican party and a potential presidential candidate, makes this process of deconstruction an important civil responsibility. We take this seriously as we always have. We want to be fair to her, and to her family, and to the innocent people she has brought into the spotlight. And we are not reporters. We are merely analysts trying to make sense of evidence already in the public domain, evidence that points in all sorts of directions, only one of which can be true.

I look forward to the cascade of lie debunking that will result. There are those on the left who would like her to disappear. I am one of them. At best, many would like to see the media circus surrounding her -- whether it's the corporate media's sick love affair with this desperately insecure woman, or the progressive blogosphere's inadvertent "viral-ization" of her every word and movement -- end without delay.

However, like it or not, Sarah Palin is a national leader of what is fast becoming the most hateful, fearful, ignorant, obsessively religious, politically nihilistic, anti-freedom, intolerant, petulant bunch of crybabies, unfortunately masquerading as a major political party. There are many people in this group of what I will call the Atavistic Nihilists of Unbridled Sophistry (ANUS for short) who champion her ascendancy into her current celebrity. The ANUS actually believe that Sarah Palin's inability to grasp the complexities of our modern world, combined with her (perceived) ability to multi-task governing and motherhood (remember, she actually quit governing, something the ANUS haven't yet understood as a detriment) qualify her to lead the most powerful country in the world. This makes her very dangerous.

Of course, the intelligent people in the Republican Party -- and there are a few -- know what an idiot she is, but are so desperate for power that they will latch onto her mass appeal, truly put lipstick on a pig, and make up every lie they can to destroy progress in this country. Pandering to the ANUS!

It is for this reason that I look forward to the day when she is exposed and disgraced, causing her to retreat permanently to private citizenhood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote of the Day II

"If [McCain] had any sense of responsibility [for his careless pick of Sarah Palin], he would resign. And if the Washington media had any sense of responsibility, it would never invite him on TV again without demanding he take responsibility for what he nearly did to the national security of this country. No one who put this person near the nuclear button should have a future in public life." Andrew Sullivan, finally recognizing who was truly responsible for Sarah Palin's ascendancy.

Quote of the Day

"Sarah Palin is to Alaska what Velveeta is to cheese: sadly unsatisfying and empty of nutrition." Shannyn Moore, on the "oily lies" of Sarah Palin

But We're Americans, Damn It!

We should be getting our benefits all gilded and served to us on fine china -- FOR FREE!

Well, as this article at Real Clear Politics points out, if you peeled away the essentials of the 2008 national budget for defense, entitlements (like Medicare and Social Security), and debt payments, we had less than $500 billion left. And, at that time the deficit was $460 billion. Therefore, strip away all domestic discretionary spending (highways, education, the FBI) and you could pay the deficit off in one year. But of course, we can't do that. And now the deficit has tripled, thanks to the profligate spending of the Bush era and the necessary stimulus packages he initiated on his way out the door.

As Bruce Bartlett has advocated, a Value Added Tax (VAT) on consumption of goods and services could put a serious dent in the deficit. Entitlements could stand cuts (especially in wasteful ones like Medicare) and the rest could come from discretionary spending (pork projects, industrial subsidies, lower subsidies for agribusiness).

The problem here, however, is that Americans hold their ground when it comes to getting their benefits without paying for them. Which is why Republicans have repeatedly said "Deficits don't matter." Well, if we're accepting that Americans will never tighten their belts and accept fewer handouts from the federal government in exchange for lower taxes, then they're right.

But Americans, properly enrolled by real leadership, can forego quite a lot while the country recovers. Roosevelt was able to bring America together like no one else has to date. And he was a northeast liberal like nobody's business.

Why Trying KSM Is Important

I hadn't read as clear a reasoning for why it's right for the Obama administration to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an open trial in the United States until I read Andrew's piece and how he just lays out all the reasons:
It will be a civic lesson to America and the world. It will show the evil of terrorism and the futility and danger of torture. It will be a way in which Cheney's torture regime can be revealed in all its grotesque excess at the same time as KSM's vile religious extremism is exposed for its murderous nihilism. That all this will take place in New York - close to where the mass murder took place - is a particularly smart touch.

This will, then, be a Nuremberg-style event - because it will pit Qaeda barbarism against the cooling, calm and resolute nature of real Western justice in the clear light of history. But it does one more critical thing. It reveals a new confidence in ourselves and the Western way of life.

Andrew then goes onto say how 9/11 changed us:

When you listen to the Fox News right speak about this, they reveal amazing levels of fear. They have been truly spooked by these men with long beards and chilling eyes. They are so scared of them they are willing to drop any and all legal principles that the West has historically used with respect to mass murderers. Their fear brought them to institute torture, and to engage in mass brutality against prisoners of war in every theater of combat in a manner that will tragically taint the honor of the US military for a very long time. It led them to establish Gitmo, to create for the world a reverse symbol of the Statue of Liberty, and imprint it on the minds and in the consciences of an entire generation of human beings, whose view of America will never be the same.

It made speedy prosecution of any of those who allegedly plotted and planned 9/11 impossible - and will make actual prosecution of any of them extremely hard. It turns out, then, that the primary (if not the only) thing we had to fear - was fear itself. It was our fear that gave al Qaeda so many propaganda victories.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Proud Dad Moment, Part 4,357,862

Today I got to see my genes at work in a way I never had before. A couple of weeks ago, my son Max (age 7 yrs. 4 months), who all of you know is a pretty gifted musician, told my wife that he had a song to write. Off he went, pencil and paper in hand, to jot down whatever thoughts were in his head. The title of his song was "Right Outside My Window," and featured a bird, a squirrel, and his best friend, Tommy.

Now, having written and published a few decent songs in my day, and having a degree in Creative Writing, I can recognize the structure of a good lyric. And what Max had committed to paper was, frankly, astonishingly good for any kid, but for one so young it was nothing short of brilliant.

Still, I just chalked it up to the proverbial apple-tree syndrome, and pretty much left it at that. But then, a week ago Lisa went on the national PTA website in response to some flyers she'd gotten from Max's elementary school promoting the PTA Reflections Program. This year's theme is "Beauty Is..." Lisa brought it up with Max one day. He got upset, thinking she wanted him to write another song. "I just wrote one, Mommy," he said. But Lisa said she'd been thinking about his song, and the theme, saying, "What if we say, 'Beauty is...right outside my window'?" At this, Max's face lit up and he was all over this idea. He came up with an idea for a melody (keep in mind that I, a songwriter, had absolutely no idea he was doing this, so the melody that emerged was completely his idea).

Lisa mentioned to me that the song was done, and that she was going to call her cousin, Jeff. Jeff has a professional recording studio (yes, they still exist) in his garage, and she asked him if he had some time to record this song. Jeff said that of course he did, and this afternoon we drove on up to the Valley. I planned to play the guitar and bass, while Max would play the drums and sing the song. I have not owned a guitar since 1997, but after Max sang me the song I was able to sketch out in my head a basic song structure. I wasn't sure how it was going to work. I had told Max earlier that I had a few ideas for the song verses, but he wasn't interested. Once we got into the studio and we started playing together, however, I figured that he'd hear it and want to make some changes.

Jeff loaned me a guitar to use (by the way, Parker Guitars rock!), and Max and I sat in the control room and he sang the song to me. As we jammed a little bit I threw in my ideas and asked if he liked them. He got so excited, and ran over to get a pencil and add a lyric to match my idea. I was beside myself! Watching him create was giving me goosebumps! We jammed a little longer and we got the song down from start to finish.

Next was the drum part. Jeff had set up the drums and Max fiddled around on them. Evidently he'd already had a few ideas, but once we got to the place where we changed the song, he needed a little help. I sounded out for him what I thought would work, and he pretty much nailed it the first time. Within an hour, we had a completed lyric, melody, guitar part and drum part. Time to record!

Working with Jeff was fantastic. I laid down a scratch (reference) guitar track and Max sang the song along with me. Done in two takes! Max got the drums down in just three takes, a couple of punch-ins, and the song was really taking shape. Laid down a bass track using a vintage Fender P-Bass (nice!), then doubled the guitar. The basics were done.

I sat with Max in the main studio while Jeff set up his vocal microphone. This kid had never even seen the inside of a recording studio, and he was as comfortable as a seasoned pro. However, his little hands were freezing and he looked very nervous with his headphones on and a very expensive microphone hanging inches from his face. He asked me to stay with him while he sang. The little champ got the whole song down in three takes! Even as I write this, I can't stop smiling. I'm so damn proud of him! I added a quick background vocal track and we were done.

Mixing took all of 30 minutes under Jeff's able ears and hands. Digital recording -- ridiculously simple! Three hours in all, and it was a completed 1:40 track -- three verses and a fade out chorus that incorporated beauty and his song title. I can't wait to post it online for everyone to hear.

When I think of me as a seven-year-old, sitting at my parents' Wurlitzer console, practicing my etudes, it just blows my mind that my little boy has such creativity and drive in him to write his own words and music. I look forward to much more creating from him and with him -- music is clearly his passion, it's what makes him come alive. I'm a cynical bastard a lot of the time, but around this I'm just a giddy fool.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Get Out of Afghanistan (With "Grace")

This truthdig piece by William Pfaff explains the seemingly insurmountable quagmire that is Afghanistan. Gee thanks, Pres. Bush, you idiot. Here's the crux of the solution as proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal:
McChrystal has suggested that his war, if fought on his terms (with troop reinforcements rising to a total of over 100,000 men at least), would take between 10 and 50 years to succeed.
My italics. Yeah, there's a solution for you. You betcha! Employ a (failed) Vietnam-era strategy of "clear and hold" and claim that if it hadn't been for the press, the fickle public, and a Congress that failed to do the right thing for fear of the loss of incumbency.

Retired Army General Karl W. Eikenberry, now the US ambassador to Afghanistan, urges in writing that we should not send one additional soldier to Afghanistan. Instead, he says, cut back to a few thousand trainers, wait to see if the Afghans get their shit together, and if not, bail.

Appealing to my anti-war outlook, but from a practical and political standpoint, not a winning strategy, either for 2010 or 2012. This would be, as the Republicans put it during the 2008 campaign, turning tail and retreating. What better way to paint the Dems as weak on national security than to point to Obama following Eikenberry's strategy.

But, in reality, he tells the truth about this country. The Karzai government has never managed to rule that country beyond the city limits of Kabul. I'm no historian, so please someone tell me: when has there ever been national rule in that that country? It's just so tribal, such a forbidding landscape, and so ungovernable. We will never manage to eliminate the Taliban so long as Pakistan fails to protect its western border. No matter how many troops we drop down in there, we will never win over enough hearts to get them to see the wisdom of the western way of life: namely, democracy and equality for all. And we will never find the political will to step up a serious attempt at building infrastructure, schools, etc., because Americans want our money for our own needs.

So really, our job there devolves into playing Terrorist Whack-A-Mole as cells pop up to pose a threat to the U.S. And we'll just have to keep dropping quarters into the coin slot, and each successive presidential administration will spend weeks trying to come up with a solution that works there and here, and each will fail.

Again, thanks Pres. Bush! Asshole!

Saturday Night Scary Monster Story

Christopher Hitchens, my favorite English atheist and a man whose wit rivals Oscar Wilde's, pens a Newsweek column on Sarah Palin's appeal to the base. His ascerbic and thoroughly droll conclusion:
The United States has to stand or fall by being the preeminent nation of science, modernity, technology, and higher education. Some of these needful phenomena, for historical reasons, will just happen to concentrate in big cities and in secular institutions and even—yes—on the dreaded East Coast. Modernity can be wrenching, as indeed can capitalism, and there will always be "out" groups who feel themselves disrespected or left behind. The task and duty of a serious politician, as Edmund Burke emphasized so well, is to reason with such people and not to act as their megaphone or ventriloquist. Sarah Palin appears to have no testable core conviction except the belief (which none of her defenders denies that she holds, or at least has held and not yet repudiated) that the end of days and the Second Coming will occur in her lifetime. This completes the already strong case for allowing her to pass the rest of her natural life span as a private citizen.
That last sentence just drips with juice, don't it?

The Right Surrenders

Greenwald has it right:
It's only America's Right that is too scared of the Terrorists -- or which exploits the fears of their followers -- to insist that no regular trials can be held and that "the safety and security of the American people" mean that we cannot even have them in our country to give them trials. As usual, it's the weakest and most frightened among us who rely on the most flamboyant, theatrical displays of "strength" and "courage" to hide what they really are. Then again, this is the same political movement whose "leaders" -- people like John Cornyn and Pat Roberts -- cowardly insisted that we must ignore the Constitution in order to stay alive: the exact antithesis of the core value on which the nation was founded.

Simply Brilliant Satire

From Current TV. Enjoy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pay As We Go

The Director of the Congressional Budget Office's blog puts it plainly and simply:
[F]iscal policy is on an unsustainable path to an extent that cannot be solved by minor tinkering. The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services. That fundamental disconnect will have to be addressed in some way if the budget is to be placed on a sustainable course.
And then we have this tidbit from Politico:
President Barack Obama plans to announce in next year's State of the Union
address that he wants to focus extensively on cutting the federal deficit in
2010 – and will downplay other new domestic spending beyond jobs programs,
according to top aides involved in the planning.
It is simply the truth that Barack Obama is more fiscally conservative than his predecessor pretended to be. The proposed spending on health-care reform (which is dwarfed by the Medicare prescription drug entitlement), plus the various stimulus packages that were begun by Bush and were necessary to keep going under Obama during this first year, have had positive effects to stimulate spending and get money flowing again. NPR reported this morning that during the last year, personal savings increased dramatically to 5% from 0%. This is largely due to uncertainty about the job market. Obama's focus on job creation and retention is the right thing to do. We'll have to do with less federal funding for the arts/humanities for a while, although it would be a mistake to forsake education spending as well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Our Goal is to Destroy Barack Obama"

One last nail in the coffin of the so-called "liberal media."

Item #73 of the complaint reads as follows:
Indeed, Charles Hurt, the Post's Washington D.C. Bureau Chief and a high ranking journalist at the newspaper, had confirmed to Ms. Guzman that the Post had such a policy in place, telling her that the Post's "goal is to destroy Barack Obama. We don't want him to succeed."

This lawsuit doesn't look like just a disgruntled former employee to me.

Obama's a Fort Hood Truther

It didn't take long for someone on the right to accuse Obama of somehow letting the Fort Hood tragedy happen.

Cesca's pretty clear about it: after 9/11, there were no parties. Everyone supported President Bush.

The L.A. Times reports that the shooter had ties with a cleric who'd also had ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers, but intelligence indicated that "the shooting suspect did not pose a threat."

When I started surfing the net looking for right-wing bloggers to condemn the president for somehow knowing about and failing to do something about the shooter's supposed ties to radical Islamists, I expected to find a lot of stuff, but so far Malkin, Hewitt, et al haven't said anything. But still, the idea of Republicans' reflexively questioning the President on all manner of things and suggesting that he hates America (a typical favorite right wing barb) makes me think of the West Wing episode when Ainsley Hayes (played wonderfully by Emily Procter), a Republican working in the White House of Democratic President Jed Bartlett, is sitting in a cafe with some of her Republican colleagues who are just ripping into the people with whom she works. Video of her "they are patriots" speech here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Will the U.S. Become Ungovernable Like California?

Krugman worries.

In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
This is the one weapon the GOP has -- shutting down the country and rendering it impotent as an economic power. Right about the time that China's and India's economies -- to say nothing of the European Union -- are on an upward trajectory. If this would happen on Obama's watch, the Dems could be put out to pasture for a very long time, particularly if they are unable to accomplish anything without them. They may have passed healthcare reform in the House, but in the Senate they have a major battle ahead of them. Obama's coattails may not look attractive enough for Dems who seek reelection in 2010 or 2012. Without support from Blue Dogs, the bill looks to be seriously weakened.

At some point, Obama needs to start thinking: "Why did I want to become president? Was it power, for me or for my party? Or was it because people in this country needed help that wasn't being provided by either party?" If the former, we can expect more compromise and less benefit for Americans on healthcare. In other words, get something passed that we can all agree on. If the latter, however, look for Obama to take greater risks, to have the true "audacity [to] hope" that he can enroll enough Americans in his vision of healthcare and fiscal conservatism to take on the Washington establishment and overcome its inertia. He would have a lot of followers among Democrats, almost none among Republicans, and, I think, a surprising amount of support from independents, whose main beef is that nothing ever gets done at the federal level. Someone showing some real cajones would really be change we could all believe in.

Chinese Racism

I wonder how my good friend, Dr. D. Titus Levi, is faring as a "dark-skinned foreigner" in the People's Republic of China.

Fringe of the Fringe

Westboro Baptist Church, which is neither Baptist nor a church, protests in front of the school attended by Obama's two daughters. Satanic spawn?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Italy's Courage, cont.

Greenwald weighs in, mostly railing against the media's coverage of the Italian court's actions. Here he comments on an exchange between Jeffrey Toobin and Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
Toobin added that "one of the things you do when you are a CIA agent, at least in part, is break the law of other countries" -- Toobin says that as though they have the right to do that without accountability, and without mentioning that causing people to be tortured is also a violation of U.S. law (after Nasr's kidnapping, the chief of the CIA's Milan office traveled to Egypt for three weeks to participate in his "interrogation").
Now, of course, if a CIA agent were caught in Russia or North Korea or China conducting espionage, he would of course be arrested, jailed, and -- I would bet -- tortured. But if a CIA agent is caught in another country breaking that country's laws -- let's say the agent is caught in London, where police arrest him after he shoots someone he thought was a radical Muslim cleric who was targeted for assassination but who turned out to be a devoutly religious retired insurance broker -- he ought to get a Get Out of Jail Free card? Insane!

So these 23 CIA agents -- who kidnapped a man in Italy and had him whisked off to a rendition site in Egypt where he was tortured, when there was no evidence whatsoever to support their contention that he was a terrorist -- these guys are just doing their jobs for the greater good of the nation and should not face any consequences?

Now that they've been convicted, these 23 agents are pretty much restricted from travelling anywhere Interpol has jurisdiction, because if anyone is caught he'll be sent to Italy to begin serving an eight-year prison sentence.

One can only hope that there is a court like this that will prosecute Bush or Cheney for war crimes...

GOP Schism Watch

Rush Limbaugh blames Newt Gingrich for Doug Hoffman's loss in NY-23.

It should be noted: NY-23 hasn't had a Democratic representative in Congress since before the Civil War. Not surprising: back then, the Democratic Party was pro-slavery and the Republican Party had Abe Lincoln as their candidate. It's so funny that now, it's those who claim to be true Republicans, "True Conservatives," who want to treat women and gays as second-class citizens, not worthy of choice over their bodies, or barred from marrying the people they love.

"They Just Marry Someone of the Same Sex"

I usually don't air private family matters on Uh, Yeah Right, but recent events in the news and in my personal life have collided and I feel it's a great learning opportunity for me and my family.

I am the middle of three brothers, and we all have wives and children. Last month, with a couple of sets of parents in town, the 14 of us got together for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

Now, the political opinions in our family range from far right to far left, and it always makes for interesting table talk.

On this particular night -- and I was not a witness to this conversation, so I'm relating it second-hand -- one of the adults at the table mentioned to my seven-year-old son that the rabbi at our synagogue, a man who is very dear to us and whom my children love, was married to another man. My wife and I had not yet had a conversation with our children about same-sex relationships, and so there was a bit of an awkward moment when my wife revealed that fact and expressed some dismay that it was brought up in this way. Fortunately, at the time, we were able to redirect the conversation and the topic didn't come up again.

Flash forward to earlier this week, when my four-year-old son told his brother, my wife, and me at the dinner table that he wanted to marry a boy in his class. Not wanting to re-open that topic, I fell back on the more common form of marriage and said, "Boys marry girls, honey." That's when my older son chimed in: "But Rabbi is married to a man." D'oh!!! I told him yes, that was right, and then struggled mightily for some words to help him understand. God, where my head went! Thankfully, my wife interjected, "That's a subject we'll discuss when you're a little older." Dinner continued with no further discussion on the topic of any type of marriage.

Seven years old. Good grief! I have to contend with helping my son understand same-sex relationships at his tender age? I just am not too sure of how to start.

But, today I read this piece from The Daily Dish:
Homosexuality is now unavoidable as a public issue. Explaining homosexuality to your kids is much more salubrious and PG if you can place it in the rubric of straight life - "they just marry someone of the same sex" - rather than in the rubric of dark and unmentionable sexual acts. In my experience, children get this instantly. Certainly my own nieces and nephews do. The younger generation sees it clearly. But adult fears and phobias keep getting in the way.
Of course, Andrew's right. Our reluctance to discuss this with our son is based in fear. Keeping it simple is the best policy. There's no need to get into actual human sexuality when discussing this with our children. It just is a fact of life in parts of America that people of the same sex marry each other. One day, hopefully, it will be a fact of life everywhere in the world.

On the other hand, I do understand how some same-sex marriage opponents use the hateful meme that gay marriage will be taught in schools as a way to prevent laws from passing that would enshrine it in our state constitutions. Even though I have a lot of respect for many of the teachers my children have, gay marriage is to some extent something I want to teach to my children in my home. And even though I will do that, I'm not sure I want also to have to deal with the potential confusion my young children might encounter if/when they hear different ways to understand gay marriage from teachers and other students with different belief systems. Is this just another example of my fear? Do I just have to trust that my children will "get it," as Andrew says?

I remember years ago when my older son was in preschool. We sent him to a racially diverse preschool, where many of the kids were black and/or Latino. He used to refer to some of his mates and teachers, without any guile whatsoever, as having "brown skin." My wife and I would recoil a little when he'd say those words, especially if we were in public and he'd be referring to someone he saw in, say, the grocery store. We would quickly reinforce the fact that it was impolite to talk about a person's skin color, because skin color didn't matter. "We're all humans," we would say.

After thinking about it for a bit, however, I realized that his "brown skin" comment was simply how he tried to differentiate himself from others, like he would with a girl, or a grown-up, or someone with brown eyes or dark hair. I was, I realized, projecting my own insecurities and guilt about the prejudices and racism I witnessed as a child, not to mention the anti-Semitism I experienced. When I see him with his second-grade friends now, many of whom are black, I have no fear that he is feeling any of those same prejudices that were so common in my upbringing.

Perhaps this is the crux of Andrew's argument. Children don't differentiate between straight and gay like we do because -- REALLY -- we're all just people. "They just marry someone of the same sex."

Sigh. Growing Up Dad, indeed.

How the GOP Helped the Dems Win the Health Care Debate

Sullivan shows why. A key problem in the Dem plan, other than the fact that it doesn't go far enough to rein in greedy insurers, is that, according to the CBO, the Dem plan will cost nearly $1 trillion and shave only $104 billion off the deficit over 10 years, while the GOP plan, at a price tag of $61 billion, will completely pay for itself over the same period. In that case, if we're discussing fiscal responsibility, wouldn't the GOP plan be a better option?

Yes, if the GOP plan also could manage to extend insurance coverage for the same amount of people to be covered in the Dem plan. But it doesn't. And, even though we're in this terrible fiscal crisis, the moral imperative of protecting the health of tens of millions of Americans trumps the need to "live within our means."

That said, Sullivan is right that Obama needs to couple this massive spending increase with meaningful offsets in entitlements to corporations, increasing Medicare premiums for the wealthy, and winding down two wars. And Obama should not be seen as letting up on any effort along these lines. This would be a sincere attempt to provide the public option on a "pay as you go" basis.

Your Part in $680 Billion

Without much national discussion, a new $680 billion annual military spending bill was just signed by President Obama. This, all while we're screaming about spending $96 billion, equal to 14% of the military budget, on healthcare reform. Priorities, people!

Anyway, Mike Konczal has a Nudge of the Day where he proposes breaking each taxpayer's portion of the defense budget in his/her paycheck. A person making $60,000 a year, for instance, would contribute about $97 every two weeks toward our national defense. Each year. Which could ostensibly keep going up every year. Contrast that to the $14 each two weeks this taxpayer would be spending on healthcare reform.

Let's see: $2,521 a year on wasteful defense contracting, like Blackwater, and KBR, and Halliburton, or $356 a year on helping more Americans get affordable health care insurance. Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

"Popular Sovereignty"

A Sullivan reader finds historical irony that the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, is today embracing the ideas of his opponent, Stephen Douglass, when it denies marriage equality to same-sex couples. Money quote from Lincoln himself:
I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
Interesting aside in the Wiki entry for the Know-Nothing Party. In 2006, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol penned an editorial in which he blasted those in the Republican Party that embraced anti-immigrant populism without recognizing the danger of "turning the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know-Nothing party." Funny how Kristol, who later embraced a "know-nothing" like Sarah Palin in 2008, forgot to go back and read his own writing.

Establishment Republicans "Pale-in" Comparison to True Conservatives, Cont.

A reader writes:
I don't know what I was thinking, but last Thursday evening I attended an event hosted by our homeowners association featuring Chuck Devore. He said the Republican Party was backing Carly, not him. While he was charming, intelligent and articulate, I found myself glued to my chair with my hands in my lap as everyone else in the room broke out into standing ovations all evening. Although I found his views frightening, it was the positive reaction from the crowd that scared me most. All in all, I'm glad I went, because I think it's good to see a different perspective now and again.
Ah, the charms of Orange County, CA. As I'm a died-in-the-wool progressive (life-long), I would never have the stomach for an event like that. The scariest part, as this reader wrote, was witnessing the collection of radical right-wing conservatives all in one place, feeding off each other and raising the roof with their fringe ideology. And to think that these people are all around us, serving us coffee, examining our children, repairing our leaky faucets, investing our retirement funds, sitting on our school boards, etc.

It's why this wing of American politics is so dangerous and why it must be exposed as a fraud, and its followers stopped at every turn.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Dark Side of Mortgage Lending

This HuffPost article about a Virginia couple who got roped into an unaffordable mortgage just makes my stomach churn. So much of what this article describes could have been avoided if people had just used their brains. If you want to read it as a cautionary tale against entering into financial deals you don't understand, it's compelling.

Lenders have, for years, made loans to borrowers who were not asked to verify the income that they stated on their applications. At one time, these loans made sense. There are numerous borrowers who have very complicated income stories that tax returns and W-2s do not adequately explain. I am working with someone who is like that today. He is an international investor and manages a hedge fund. His income is well sheltered and accounting practices allow him to report only a minimum amount of income as capital gains. Most lenders do not have the sophistication to analyze tax returns to the point where they understand capital gains, and many of them simply exclude such income. And yet, he regularly carries five figure debts on his American Express card, has a car loan and rented an expensive apartment near the beach. Someone with his lifestyle is either a crook living off of other people's money or really makes that money. Two plus years ago, he would have been a perfect candidate for a "Stated Income" loan. If he had very good credit, and was putting down enough on the purchase or had enough equity for the refinance, it would make sense to grant that loan.

The problem is that those who originated those loans figured out quickly that, if lenders aren't going to bother with verifying income, they could put whatever they wanted on the application so long as the amount resulted in an adequate ratio of debt to income. Therefore, you saw lots of teachers or police officers (or janitors, or ditchdiggers) applying for loans stating that they made double or triple what they actually made. Couple this with the fact that lenders made it OK to qualify applicants on the low-interest-rate "teaser" payments instead of the full payment after the teaser rate expires (or, worse still, on just the interest portion of the payment, ignoring the portion devoted to reducing principal).

Before stated-income loans were eliminated as a product line, a test was developed whereby lenders determined if the stated income was reasonable in light of the applicant's profession and length of time on the job. Trouble was that there wasn't much data available, and the test was flawed at best.

In the case described in this article, add the fact that the applicants were illiterate and had no idea what they were signing. If a couple like this is working with a broker or lender who does not take seriously the notion that they are acting as "financial advisers" to this couple, the result is a disaster. In my business, I regularly advise customers who are interested in an adjustable rate mortgage that their payment at the end of their fixed rate period may be more than they can afford -- we simply have no way of knowing where interest rates will go. It is for this reason that I advise customers to opt for a more expensive fixed-rate loan if they can afford it, or to count on a double payment once the rate adjusts.

Further, the article states that the creditworthiness of the couple was suspect. This was another thing that lenders ended up doing. When I worked at Indymac Bank, I regularly saw stated income loans fund that represented up to 95% of the value of a home that hadn't even been built, with borrowers who had what I would call marginal credit (it would be credit that would exclude an applicant today). And, in August 2007, when the shit hit the fan in the mortgage industry, it was these loans -- high loan to value, low credit, stated income -- that blew up and went into default most often.

The broker described in this article, and the lender who approved and funded the loan, simply held their noses (and, in the broker's case, broke the law) and funded the loan to add to their funding volume and their incomes. But the couple bear some responsibility as well. Simply telling someone "I'm illiterate, and you have to tell me what it is I'm signing" doesn't mean that's going to happen. A consumer like that needs someone he trusts in his corner, who understands the lending process and can adequately explain what the documents say. It can be as simple as reading the heading on the Promissory Note, which will usually read "Adjustable Rate Note" if the loan is an adjustable rate mortgage. This Virginia couple were too trusting of the people around them, did not understand the transaction, and should have simply refused to sign anything until someone they knew and trusted could explain it to them. Putting their signature on an inaccurate or misleading application is a commission of fraud, and even if they were duped into signing the document, at least they exposed themselves to prosecution for fraud.

Today's lending environment is the most cautious one in which I've ever worked. We require so much documentation that it's almost impossible to commit fraud. In fact, those who do the income/credit analysis put their jobs on the line if they make even as few as two mistakes in a month. When one is reviewing 5-10 files a day that contain up to hundreds of pages of documentation, the odds are good that one will make a mistake. But, as they say, the lock on the door will only keep out the honest man, so a way will be found to get around the rules.

I feel for the couple in this article. I also sympathize with the broker and the employees who worked on the loan. It's tempting to look the other way when thousands of dollars in income are on the line. I've left a lot of money on the table because I won't go there.

One day, these types of loans will return, and there will be enough controls to make them a lot safer. Only self-employed people will be allowed to apply, and the loan will not exceed 60-70% of the home's value, and the applicant will need a minimum of a year's payments in the bank. Either that, or self-employed people will have to report their incomes differently (and pay the taxes they so eagerly try to avoid paying) if they wish to qualify for mortgages that exceed what their tax returns currently will allow. Either way, it kinda sucks.

Establishment Republicans "Pale-in" Comparison to True Conservatives

Interesting development today: The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced today that it will not fund Republican candidates in disputed primaries. Seems to me like the Republican establishment has genuflected before the wingnut base and agreed to not stand in their way as they attempt to re-define the Republican Party -- not to mention Conservatism.

Once again, the GOP is on its way to becoming the Christianist Party, which bodes very well for the vast majority of Americans who do not subscribe to their radical theocratic ideology.

It bodes badly for establishment Republican candidates in tough races, like Charlie Crist who is running for Senate in Florida and has a serious challenge on his right from Marc Rubio, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Also, it means newly announced Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard and a member of John McCain's economic advisory board, will get no Party support as she battles ultra-conservative Irvine assemblyman Chuck Devore in the primary. With her millions, she doesn't need the money from the Party. Whether having Michael Steele or Arnold Schwarzenegger or John McCain or (name any other Republican politician who lacks as much star power as Sarah Palin -- yeah, pretty hard, right?) stumping for her by email or direct mail or in TV buys (on her dime, of course) will be a benefit is anyone's guess.

Look for Senator Boxer to step up her environmental credentials, her close relationship with a president who is still very popular in California, and I predict Carly Fiorina will have lost more than just her hair (to chemo, just a joke here, OK?).

Italy's Courage

A big event. Italy convicts 23 former CIA agents in absentia for abducting a Muslim cleric in Italy and rendering him to a black site (where he claims he was tortured). They were also all sentenced to eight years in prison.

No commentary from Greenwald or Sullivan (yet). I'm sure there will be at some point. The US State Department expressed "disappointment" in the verdict. That's about as far as they can go with Italy.

An important human rights victory today. At least there is one place in the world where basic human rights are honored.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Cult of Ayn Rand

I read The Fountainhead in college and loved it immensely. Not because I bought into Rand's idea of the Superman who were destined to rule over the pitiful masses. I actually detested the character of Ellsworth Toohey, who was Rand's mouthpiece throughout the novel. I didn't much like Howard Roark either, since he seemed to be self-destructive to the point of absurdity. to me, it was always better to reshape a system while being part of the system. Being apart from the system meant being small potatoes, unheralded, and basically art-for-art's-sake. I liked the book because it taught me about compromise and the fine line one must walk in life to preserve one's core terms as a human being while actually getting along with others.

Well, here come two new Rand biographies -- Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns and Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Heller -- to figure out where her "philosophy" of objectivism fits into today's world.

A profile of Rand on Slate by Johann Hari tackles this "damaged woman" thusly:

We all live every day with the victory of this fifth-rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls. Alan Greenspan was one of her strongest cult followers and even invited her to the Oval Office to witness his swearing-in when he joined the Ford administration. You can see how he carried this philosophy into the 1990s: Why should the Supermen of Wall Street be regulated to protected the lice of Main Street?

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand's cult isn't confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America's major political parties.

Curious Parallel

Ezra Klein at The Washington Post draws a parallel between what's happening in the NY-23 contest to the Barry Goldwater nomination:

It's not so much that Republicans are mistaking the enthusiasm of a rump faction for the preferences of the electorate -- the Republican Party tried to back Scozzafava, after all -- as they're powerless to resist.

All of which suggests that the right historical analogue may not be Ronald Reagan but Barry Goldwater. And though Goldwater's campaign led to Reagan's later rise, it also led to a historic pickup for the Democrats and the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, PBS, food stamps, welfare ...

I'm with Sullivan a bit on this. I'm not sure that this little contest is indicative of a nationwide trend just yet. But if it does indeed smell like one, it's not about the redefining of the Republican Party. Remember, the candidate endorsed by Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck is running as a third party candidate. This is indicative of what I predicted not long after the presidential election last year:
Attempting to turn New Testament theology into political power will further marginalize the Christianists and result in the eventual splintering of the Republican Party into at least two, perhaps three distinct segments: the radical theocons, the socially moderate low-tax corporate class, and perhaps a group that tries to take the best from both worlds.
I've amended that prediction once or twice, but essentially the splintering is underway, starting with this little congressional contest. Whether Hoffman wins or Owens does, the movement to define Republicanism as intolerant Christianism combined with neoconservative war-mongering and cults of personality has begun. May they be successful beyond their wildest imaginings!
Glenn Greenwald appeared last Friday on an online interview with Bill Moyers. I strongly recommend that you watch the entire clip, viewable here. Glenn is an extremely articulate and persuasive man who, with lawyerly precision (duh, he's a former constitutional lawyer), argues how both the Bush and Obama administrations have circumvented the rule of law as it pertains to detainee abuse.

On the heels of that interview, Greenwald today presents the rulings of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the Arar v. Ashcroft case. In a stunning 7-4 decision, the court upheld a lower court ruling dismissing in its entirety a lawsuit brought by Maher Arar, a dual Canadian/Syrian citizen, against the US government. In 2002, Arar was returning home to Canada from a vacation when he was detained during a stopover at JFK. He was accused of being a terrorist, held for two weeks without charge or any communication with counsel or even family, and then rendered to Syria where he was imprisoned for 10 months and brutally tortured. The Greenwald piece contains a dissenting judge's recounting of Arar's ordeal.

The Canadian Prime Minister, the conservative Brian Harper, publicly apologized to Arar for the role Canada played in these events, and the government awarded him $9 million in compensation. On top of that the Canadian government publicly disclosed what happened to Arar and concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that Arar had been involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever.

Contrast that with the utter refusal of the US government even to acknowledge publicly what it did or admit any wrongdoing. In its arguments the government, under the jurisdiction of Attorney General Eric Holder (this is not John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzalez, mind you, but Obama's AG), argued that "state secrets" prevented the courts from having any jurisdiction over the events of the case. The appeals court agreed, saying that essentially Arar had no right to sue the federal government over what happened to him. Read the whole Greenwald piece to get a flavor of just what kind of legal hoops Arar was told to jump through.

Excuse me, is this the same Barack Obama for whom I voted last year? Is this same Barack Obama arguing that he, as president, should be above the law when it comes to national security? What, did Dick Cheney give him a DVD box-set of the first three seasons of 24 as a goodbye gift?

Greenwald asserts that this decision reflects the character of this country. Appeals court judge Guido Calabresi, in his dissent, wrote, "When the history of this distinguished court is written, today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay." Harper's Scott Horton suggests that this decision will go down in history with as much impact as the Dred Scott decision in the 19th century which got the ball rolling to end slavery in America.

Friends, welcome to 21st century American justice. This is a place where powerful people have made sure that our laws are reserved for ordinary people only. A place where a president who campaigned on the idea of transparency holds fast to the idea that secrecy as defined by the most legally corrupt regime in US history somehow has solid legal footing, even if it isn't expressed in the Constitution. A place where judges renders themselves supine to the executive branch instead of acting as a vigorous check against executive overreach (and, in the case of Bush/Cheney, outright criminal acts).

However, my greatest disgust is reserved for the American public, who, in the pursuit of material comforts and stress-free lifestyles, has turned "of the people, by the people, for the people" into an abstraction -- a farce, even. We are the laziest citizens of the most powerful country on earth. And our power grew because of hands-on citizenship, shared sacrifice, and a firm belief in the Constitution. Today, people speak about "my rights," "my health care," as if the very idea of togetherness is reserved only for political campaigns (or worse, churches).

Sad to say that the generation of baby boomers to which I belong is a mass of self-centered, petulant children.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Convert or Die

The media are paying close attention to the NY-23 congressional race there, in particular because the incumbent, a pro-choice Republican woman, has dropped out of the race and thrown her support behind the Democratic challenger. The more moderate elements in that district are trying to avoid the wingnuts from establishing a beachhead in this district, to serve as the model for other races around the country as they try to define, once and for all, the Republican Party as the Christian(ist) God/Tea Party Party.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich opines thusly:
Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it
is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.

Well, while I would agree that purges are most definitely on the minds of these wingnuts, they are not Stalinist to any degree. I would liken them more to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and al Qaeda than Stalin. Stalin's atheistic purges were designed to kill off political enemies. The wingnuts's desire to redefine the GOP comes from a deeply-held conviction that 1) the United States is a Christian nation, that her founders were devout Believers in the modern Evangelical mold, and that for the sake of their twisted political narrative the Constitution's roots are in the New Testament; and 2) those who claim to be Republicans/Conservatives who do not rigidly adhere to this worldview are neither Republican nor Conservative, and have no place at their table, at least when it comes to defining their political platform (they certainly will take their money and their votes, however).

This movement is based in hatred: hatred for gays, hatred for non-Christians, and hatred for non-whites, in that order. Their views on governmental fiscal management are irrelevant, as they lionized Obama's predecessor, whose irresponsible spending nearly triggered a global depression. Sensible Americans (read, those who do not watch Fox News or listen to right wing talk radio except to laugh) does and will continue to see through this nonsense.

As for political victories, they will be few and far between, no more consequential than a potential freshman Congressman from a district in New York that elected him with votes that numbered in the low four figures. They will marginalize themselves even more, find themselves unwelcome on college campuses across the country and unwelcome at military academies, anywhere where their overtly theocratic tactics are in full court press.

Why NY-23 is Important, Cont.

Per Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, the race for the seat in this very sparsely populated district is all about how the hard-right wingnuts of the GOP are laying out their strategy to take the country back in 2010 and 2012.

Other than the occasional win in provincial contests, it will fail utterly. To stake a national campaign on social and moral issues, all the while trying to demonize the Democratic Party and the President as Marxists, Stalinists, Nazis, and un-American (literally in the case of Obama) to a voting public that already knows otherwise and is growing tired of that argument, will mean more disappointment for the GOP.

If the election of Obama in 2008 meant that the GOP would stay out of the White House for a generation, following the leads of the Limbaughs, Palins, Becks, and Hannitys of the entertainment world will create a GOP that is closer to a Jerry Springer audience than a political party.

Why NY-23 is Important

For some Democrats, the race for the congressional seat in New York's 23rd District means that the Republican Party gets to dig themselves deeper into their ideological, theocratic hole.

As for me, I agree that further polarization is needed if Americans (remember, I think collectively we're a pretty stupid bunch of people) are going to understand what Republicans truly value. It has everything to do with money, power, the fulfillment of biblican prophecy, and to a lesser extent, the legislation of morals.