Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What if?

Jeffrey Goldberg posts some depressing thoughts on the future of Israel as a non-democratic nation:
Let's just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman's government (don't laugh, it's not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let's say that Lieberman's government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won't be voting in Israel. What happens then? Do the courts come to the rescue? I hope so. Do the Israeli people come to the rescue? I'm not entirely sure. There are many Israelis who value democracy, but they might not possess the strength to fight. Does American Jewry come to the rescue? Well, most of American Jewry would be so disgusted by Israel's abandonment of democratic principles that I think the majority would simply write off Israel as a tragic, failed experiment.
Depressing, indeed. What is the US government's reaction to such a failure? How strong an alliance do we maintain with an apartheid-like Jewish state? How does the government react to pressure from various groups and citizens in the US to pressure Israel to reform or face serious economic consequences, the way we did in South Africa?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Fallacy Played Out

It's always amazed me when opponents of gay marriage have stated, "Well, if we allow gay couples to marry, the next logical will be that someone will marry an animal."

Well, here you go. You now have your little bit of proof that the next logical step has arrived.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The New Direction of the GOP

From potential 2012 candidate, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, originally from Yazoo City:
You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.

Uh, that's because, except for the cloaks and hoods, Citizens Councils were the same as the Klan. If someone called it the Klan you got your ass run out of town. If you started calling it something like Citizens Council, you got respect.

American Family Association? Focus on the Family? Family Research Council? Tea Party Patriots? All respectable names for organizations who can't manage to utter respectable words for anyone different than themselves. Organizations doing their best to cleanse America of these outsiders, these different people, these anti-Americans, these communists, these Nazis, these black people.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The New McCarthyism

New York GOP Congressman Peter King, as the new head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, will hold hearings on the "radicalization" of some American Muslims.

Here's the money quote from his Op-Ed in Sunday's Newsday:
As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, I will do all I can to break down the wall of political correctness and drive the public debate on Islamic radicalization. These hearings will be a step in that direction. It's what democracy is all about.
Next step will be to hold hearings about who does business with the American Muslim community. Then who has lunch with them, then who drives past mosques in America. Better watch out.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Prepare to Be Mad

Audubon Magazine has an infuriating look inside canned hunts. Money quote:
Often the animals have names, and you pay in advance for the one you’d like to kill, selecting your trophy from a photo or directly from its cage. For example, Rachel, Bathsheba, Paul, John, and Matthew were pet African lions that would stroll over and lick their keepers’ hands before they were shot in Texas.
My emphasis. Now, truth be told, deer and elk are far more common, but just the practice of rigging hunts for "sportsmen" on tight schedules just makes my blood boil.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Afghanistan: Worth It?

An ABC News/Washington Post poll says no:

A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth
fighting, a grim assessment -- and a politically hazardous one -- in advance of
the Obama administration's one-year review of its revised strategy.
Well, let's have at that, shall we? Sixty percent of Americans in a poll. Now, as we know, most, if not all, polls like this are conducted by contacting Americans on land lines. Cell phones are not used (for whatever reason). That means that the vast majority of respondents in the polls are older Americans, since a great number of younger Americans don't have land lines anymore (unless, like me, they have to because cell reception sucks in their neighborhoods).

Now, it's not a stretch to say that Fox News is the most popular news channel among older Americans (show of hands of those who disagree... no one? OK, moving on). Well, as a recent University of Maryland study shows, those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely to be misinformed about a great many issues, including economic and foreign policy. The poll also suggested that Fox News watchers were, in general, less intelligent than non-Fox News watchers. Therefore, what are we to make of a poll of people who might be of lesser intelligence and misinformed about many things because they watched Fox News all the time? What are we to make of a poll of Americans who, since they are land-line owners, are probably older and watch a lot of Fox News (I keep typing "Fix News" for some reason, hmmmm), probably hate our Kenyan, Muslim, schvartze President?

Okay, okay, it's a stretch, I admit. But I believe the poll is misleading because of the way the poll is conducted. If you ask Americans, "Since there has not been another terrorist attack on American soil since we invaded Afghanistan, and since the Taliban has not returned to power in that country since the US defeated them, would you say that it was worth it to invade and occupy the country?" I think the answer would be much different.

Scarborough: Drinkin' the MSNBC Kool-Aid?

Scarborough has been a consistently anti-liberal voice on MSNBC for years. But here he is coming out against Republican senators who have complained about Harry Reid possibly keeping the Senate in session through January 4:
It’s offensive that people would use Christianity for political leverage with an argument that is so baseless that I got to say, my breath is taken away. Do we want to start with the most obvious one about who else is not going to be home on Christmas day? Troops in Afghanistan. ... The Republican Party has the upper hand in so many ways; in these areas they need to just shut their mouth. They’re embarrassing themselves.
A heartening statement in support of Harry Reid, as is this one from Faith in Public Life:
[The senators'] statements suggesting Christmas is a reason to delay action on a treaty aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear war is a misuse of the Christian holiday. If anything this time of year should be an encouragement for our leaders to work harder for peace on earth in response to God who wills peace for all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The GOP: Party of Fiscal Fraud

It's been quite the spectacle to watch the Republican Party abandon nearly everything on which it campaigned this past fall regarding fiscal sanity and getting tough on the deficit. Ezra Klein muses:

This year, [the deficit frauds have] mainly been Republicans who opposed unemployment benefits because they'd add $56 billion to the deficit but demanded tax cuts that would add $4 trillion to the deficit.
Here's Tea Party advocate Hugh Hewitt trying to rationalize what the Republicans are doing in supporting the brokered tax deal:

The worst part of "the deal" is the damage it does to the Pledge to America. Speaker-designate Boehner's website prominently features the Pledge, and this Facebook page provides all the handy links to GOP rhetoric about it from September forward.

"The deal" violates five provisions of the Pledge, though hopefully one of those provisions --"Read the bill"-- will be honored before the House votes on "the deal" this week. Representative Steve King of Iowa bluntly declared what everyone knows on last night's Sean Hannity program --he hasn't read the bill yet because there is no bill to read. Thus all the GOP members declaring for the bill have been abandoning the pledge for the sake of creating a sense of momentum around "the deal."

On yesterday's program Congressmen Dan Lungren and Tom McClintock, both fiscal conservatives, declared for "the deal." Both argue that it was the best this Congress could do. Many conservatives reject that argument, but it is obviously a legitimate position to hold. But the GOP leadership needs to get out and talk about the Pledge and why it needs to be abandoned for the moment but will guide the new Congress.
My italics. Didja get that? What Hewitt is saying is, "Hey, all you rabid Tea Partiers who followed the Republican Party because of our position on the deficit: we know we said that the deficit was a BIIIIIG problem and that we'd tackle it as part of our Pledge to America, but we felt it best at this time to compromise with President Obama because all those millions of unemployed Americans really do need the government's help, despite the fact that we believe that help will compel them to avoid seeking employment. We'll gladly increase the deficit a puny $56 billion to help them (which will actually yield over $90 billion in fiscal stimulus) so long as we get those tax cuts for the top 0.3% of earners in this country, which we promised would stimulate the economy (even though they won't) and create jobs (even though they won't)."

Actually they will stimulate the economy and create jobs, but just not in America. The Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other exotic locales will get great benefit from all those billions. But those middle-class Republicans in the flyover states who really could use the money? Hike up them bootstraps, now, and get to work!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Post of the Day

Sullivan. Money quote:
Many of us supported the Iraq War because after 9/11, we became so risk-averse that the idea of Saddam's alleged WMDs was enough reason to invade and occupy a country for a decade. We were so frightened by ... future attacks, we instituted illegal torture as a mainstream US interrogation technique. We remain so terrified of loser teenage religious nuts we allow our privates to be vigorously groped at airports. ... We are so alarmed that America may not for ever be the unquestioned greatest power on earth that we spend ourselves into bankruptcy trying to occupy or dominate the entire planet.

The only things we do not seem to be scared of are fiscal default and climate change. On those we are perfectly happy to let the winds blow where they will. Because it might just mean a little sacrifice from... us -- and not from somebody else.


Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Myth Visited and Acknowledged

In typical Sunday fashion, Andrew Sullivan tackles issues of faith. My favorite quote of the week:

The Christmas stories in the Bible - and they are multiple and contradictory - are obviously myths. They are obviously not to be taken literally.... If only contemporary Christians could let go of the literalism in pursuit of the far more extraordinary fact of the Incarnation.
Now this is something I could get behind, though not as an explanation for why Jesus was the Messiah.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This Must Not Stand

Racism and xenophobia are taking hold in Israel at an alarming rate. Haaretz reports on a group of orthodox rabbis in Israel who in October signed a religious ruling which forbid Israelis from renting their property to non-Jews (a move aimed at Arabs). Money quote from the letter:

The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed.

Another quote from one of the rabbis who signed the letter:
Racism originated in the Torah. The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted.
Yikes. Luckily there has been considerable blowback from the Israeli government, including Netanyahu:
How would we feel if someone said not to sell apartments to Jews? We would protest, and we do protest when it is said among our neighbors. It is forbidden that such things are said about Jews or Arabs.

In what way are the words of these rabbis any different from the words of white supremacists or Nazis who created official rulings for forbid blacks, or Jews, from living in certain neighborhoods, from owning property or businesses?

Mega-Hypocrisy Watch

Sullivan posts about an interview by Harper's Scott Horton of C. Bradley Thompson, who authored the book Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. Thompson:

The single greatest threat to America, according to many neocons, is not communism or radical Islam but nihilism, and they see nihilism as the inevitable outcome of Enlightenment liberalism and America’s founding principles. The real problem with liberal-capitalist society for Strauss, Kristol, and Brooks is that individuals do not sacrifice themselves to anything higher than themselves and their petty self-interest. What America needs, therefore, is a two-step antidote for its cultural malaise: the inculcation of public virtue and the promotion of nationalism. The neocons seek to restore a public philosophy that promotes sacrifice as the great moral ideal and patriotism as the great political ideal.

I almost choked reading that passage. If there are any Americans who have wholeheartedly embodied a complete negation of anything other than self-interest, it has been the neocons. On the purely economic side, they successfully fought for the removal of all reasonable regulation of the financial markets, which led to the greatest global economic crisis in 78 years, one from which we're still recovering. They also successfully fought for deficit-exploding tax cuts that sunk precious little into the economy to spur increases in jobs, real wages, or American wealth (except for the top 0.1%, of course). And they did this, in large part, by convincing hard-working middle-class Americans, for whom there would be no benefit, material or otherwise, to vote against their own interests for candidates whose largest contributors were raking in record corporate profits. Plus, they paid lip service to the idea of sacrifice for a pie-in-the-sky social agenda, while during this whole time, gay marriage has become more widely recognized, abortion remains legal and safe, and God remains largely out of the public sphere. What a scam they have pulled. I want to see how Grover Norquist has sacrificed. I want to see how John McCain has sacrificed (and losing an election for president doesn't count). I want to see how Dick Cheney has sacrificed (well, he might be one of the only ones who has sacrificed. After all, he risks arrest for war crimes if he ever leaves United States soil).

On the non-economic side, neocons have done nothing to embody self-sacrifice. How many neocons in positions of power have sent their sons and daughters to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan? How many of them are buying American cars? Vacationing in Hawaii and the Florida Keys rather than on non-American-registered cruise ships? How many of them are volunteering and donating more of their incomes to charity? Sarah Palin is right about one thing: the neocons like the Bushes and Cheneys are "blue bloods," elites whose idea of sacrifice is riding in a town car instead of a double stretch limo, or foregoing memberships at toney tennis clubs to play at a local park.

In the neocon view, Leona Helmsley said it best: taxes are for the little people.

Neoconservatism stands for nothing -- no government regulation of corporations, no restrictions on American hegemony, no restrictions on Executive Power, no paying for any big government spending with corresponding increases in revenue, no acceptance of anything except American exceptionalism even in the face of America's decline in influence all over the world, no reality except that which they define, no objectivity in the corporate owned media, no net neutrality, no Fairness Doctrine, no free primary and secondary education for everyone, and no end to the party in D.C. celebrating their attachment to corporate welfare from the government they despise.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Theocracy Watch

The Texas GOP wants their next Speaker of the House to be a "true Christian." One candidate for the job says he's not anti-Jew or a racist:
My favorite person that’s [sic] ever been on this earth is a Jew. How can they possibly think that if Jesus Christ is a Jew, and he’s my favorite person that’s [sic] ever been on this earth?
Emphasis from the author of the piece. He also says he got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office. "They're the people that [sic] do the best jobs over all."

He'd better hope that no non-Jews ever serve him food, or cut his hair, or work on his car, or care for him in the hospital.

I hope he gets the job, I really do. Texas deserves him.

Stepford Lives!


Tell me it's just a bad snapshot of Gingrich's wife! No way! Can't you see the faint red glow around her eyes? Those are the LEDs signaling that the microprocessor is commanding the unit to smile.

(Photo: Newt Gingrich and Callista Gingrich pose for photos during the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 5, 2010 in Washington, DC. By Kris Connor/Getty Images.)

Roger Waters at Staples Center 12/5/2010


I used to go to big rock concerts regularly when I was young: Rush twice, Jethro Tull twice, Billy Joel, Sting three times, Genesis, ELP, Bruce Springsteen, King Crimson four times, Talking Heads twice, Peter Gabriel. But, since I hit 30 or so, and ticket prices spiraled way out of control, I went to fewer and fewer concerts. Then, about three years ago, I took my son Max to his first concert: Rush at the Hollywood Bowl. Since then, I've done a fair amount of concert-going. I didn't think I could be completely blown away at this stage of my life by a rock concert. Until last night, that is.

Roger Waters was the primary writing genius behind Pink Floyd's most successful recordings until leaving the band about 1983. In 1979, the band released The Wall and toured the world with an ambitious stage that featured animation, large-scale puppets, and a large white wall built brick by brick during the performance, separating the band from the audience.

Last night Waters performed his third of three Los Angeles shows re-creating and re-imagining his earlier work. The puppets, the wall, and the animation were still there, but the show benefited immensely by using modern technology, state of the art sound (critical in a place like Staples), and world events that have occurred since 1979. The use of images like victims of 9/11 and the Iraq War (both US military and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as dissidents from the Iranian Green Revolution, lent a currency to the music and the storyline that made it very chilling to witness. At times, I was moved to anger, sadness, despair, laughter, and awe. Sitting next to my wife, I wanted to applaud so often, but found I couldn't, as I was too engrossed in the story, in the visuals, and in the sheer theatricality of the performance. It was as if applause would cheapen the power of what Waters was communicating. My favorite moment came when Waters, with acoustic guitar in hand, played the haunting ballad "Mother" in unison with a grainy film of him performing it 30 years ago that was projected on the not-yet-completed wall. During the second verse, he sings: "Mother, should I trust the government?" as a graphic slowly materializes on the wall -- "No Fucking ... Way."

At 66 years old, Waters still has the voice of someone much younger, with that maniacal edge that shows up in so many of Floyd's work. The show was a testament to his genius, his world view, and his vision of despair that can give way to hope and acceptance. As he addressed the audience after the final number, he said that 30 years ago he was "pretty miserable" while composing the songs for The Wall, but has now been able to approach this music from a place of healing, of happiness, and of appreciation. Time can do that....

(Photo of The Teacher being assailed by children during "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)," the biggest single from the album, taken by me from about 100 or so feet away)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Those Eight Crazy Nights

Happy Hanukkah to my fellow Tribespeople!

As we celebrate the third night tonight, I wanted to share a little YouTube I came upon thanks to HuffPost. It's a spoof of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" (one of my kids' favorite songs and a mainstay on Radio Disney, by the way), performed by a cappella group The Maccabeats.

Cute, low-budget, and my kids are gonna love it! Enjoy...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks Reaction

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is, perhaps, one of the only persons whose words actually carry weight around the issue of the leaked State Department cables (Hillary Clinton and the President, being the others). Here's what he had to say about the disclosures:

But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.” . . .

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.


Brilliant. Move on.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tidbit That May Interest Only Me

Andrew Sullivan has been asking readers to submit their thoughts on which popular song is the most egregiously self-serving song ever, masquerading as a serious "message tune." My submission was Sting's "Russians," off his debut album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Offending lyric:

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly of common sense on either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too.
It was either this or "The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston, but she didn't write that one, and I can't fault her for being an (over) interpreter of someone else's drivel. Sting, however, did write this piece of tripe and he deserves to be skewered for it. And for what it's worth, I'm a huge Sting fan; the masthead of my blog features a Sting lyric.

However, it was Andrew's latest post on this topic that captured my attention the most, since it takes on what to me is a sacred song: John Lennon's "Imagine." Having just been to the Grammy Museum over the Thanksgiving weekend, it hit me like a fist to read one reader's take on the song:
Banal, insipid, sanctimonious and ubiquitous - is any song of this type really more nauseating? The bit when he pityingly muses, "I wonder if you can" is particularly grating. No, John, surely I cannot reach such lofty heights of intellectual vision as you
have attained.

Since the song is a favorite of my wife's, I felt it my duty to defend it. Yes, it was a multi-millionaire's voice uttering the words, "Imagine no possessions." So, only a homeless ascetic has the required credibility to discuss ideas about how the world would be better if there were no possessions? Only an atheist can write, "Imagine there's no heaven?" An anarchist is only one who can write, "Imagine there's no countries?" Well, I was once a vegetarian (a vegan, even) and I can say from experience that I felt much better physically and emotionally when I didn't consume meat, but I decided to opt for convenience over optimal health. Does that make me less credible when I say that vegetarian diets are better than the typical omnivorous human diet? Balderdash! The beauty in the song is not in the messenger who delivers it. It is in the idea that there is a vision for a world far better than the one we have created, and in the challenge for everyone to think about that for themselves and try to create it, in a microcosmic way, for themselves and those around them.

However, the part that may only interest me in Andrew's post was the last line:
Musically, [the song's] sublime. And then you hear David Archuleta's version and you're back to cleaning the puke off your laptop.

The curse of American Idol. As a fan of the show for years, I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. I have not heard a single contestant's version of a single song (except perhaps for Carrie Underwood's version of George Michael's "Praying for Time") that ever came close to the original.

Southern Culture on the Skids

No, I'm not referring to that awful band that was a minor novelty act a couple of decades ago. I'm referring to a post Monday on The Daily Dish that shows "America in One Photo." The first of what I believe will be many follow up posts is here. All of them taken in the South or in Texas. My favorite photo below:



So absolutely offensive to everything I believe. That I have to live next door to people who believe like this doesn't bother me, but it sure does when those people take to proclaiming their beliefs in such an obscene way as this.

If I had to point to one thing that troubled me about Christianity and Christians, it would be the idea that they believe it's their duty to proselytize to and convert the world. Given human nature and their desire to be the best at what they do, it makes for some very assertive and even aggressive tactics to spread "the word." Anyone who's walked the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on a Friday or Saturday night can appreciate that. No one, including me, faults believers for being passionate about their love for their faith. I love being a Jew. What I would never do, however, is tell anyone that they are on a wrong path to God, which is central to the Christian dogma that it alone is the one true way to spiritual enlightenment. In other words, enjoy and revel in your chosen path; respecting the wishes of others to pursue their own paths would include avoiding "witnessing" for anyone else.

Monday, November 29, 2010

She Who Must Be Stopped

Sarah Palin will destroy America if she is elected to the presidency at any time in her life, assuming her knowledge of the way the world works (or her curiosity about learning more about how the world works) does not improve from its current state. Just a sampling of a few things I've read today:
  • FrumForum watches and live-blogs her TLC reality show (so we don't have to). The notes suggest that the entire show is contrived to portray her as just a regular gal from Alaska and doesn't quite gel to the point of giving her any additional credibility in either the lower 48 or Alaska that she deserves serious consideration in 2012. Her kids have no first-hand experience with any of the things that the show has them doing in the most current episode, and there is a failed attempt "bonding-time" between Dad and eldest son, Track.
  • Palin's Tweet today about the WikiLeaks release of some 250,000 classified State Dept. cables, in which she claims the leak was "treasonous" AND that she was able to prevent excerpts of her book from being leaked (so Obama must be completely incompetent, nyeah nyeah!!!). Well... 1. WikiLeaks is not based in America and its owner is not American, so we couldn't charge him with treason; 2. excerpts of her book were leaked to Gawker, but Palin's attorneys successfully got them to take the excerpts off the website.
My greatest concern about this woman is that she bends the truth to suit her needs, and makes no attempt ever to acknowledge that she is doing so, or to admit mistakes even in the fact of factual evidence that she is flat-out lying. She is without tact, as if being a "mama grizzly" would be a benefit to being president. Well, perhaps, if being president meant that alienating anyone and everyone would be a benefit.

My hope is that the Republican Party as a whole rejects the idea of this woman leading them into the future, or at worst, that those who follow her create a third party to challenge the "blue-bloods" of the party. It would restore my optimistic belief that America really is a nation of people who want what's best for the greatest number of people.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What if?

I keep re-thinking what would have been different had McCain won in 2008. Would he have let GM fail, putting hundreds of thousands out of work? Hardly. Would he have been able, with a Democratically-controlled Congress, to enact more tax cuts for the wealthy? Not on your life. Would he have been successful at creating jobs with the same old Bush policies that got us into this mess? I would likely have been unemployed, renting, and with a massive failure of my good credit, had he been elected.

In my opinion, we would have seen thousands of national guard troops deployed along the Mexican border, massive deportation raids, a deeper deficit, a deeper recession (perhaps a depression), increased war in Iraq, further degradation of the security of Afghanistan, less diplomatic success, air strikes on Iran, the renewed use of torture, an angrier populace, more (Christian) religion in government, even fewer Americans with health-care due to even more massive unemployment, more foreclosures, more bank failures, and a Dow around 5,000.

But, of course, we would have had one less Fox News commentator and one less reality show on TLC. Oh, wait... I guess I'm glad for those two things.

Hey, Tea-Baggers, Dig This!

I started here: The Stimulus Worked.

Bob Cesca too liberal for you? OK, how about this report from Think Progress: CBO: Recovery Act Raised GDP And Lowered Unemployment But Effects Are ‘Expected To Wane’

Hmmm. "Progess" too liberal for you? OK, how about this from ABC's Jake Tapper? CBO: Effects of the Stimulus Spending Are Now 'Diminishing'

Ahhh, more like it, it may have worked before, but now it's starting to wear off. See? Obama's a failure!

Well, we can always go to the source (pdf):
  • They raised real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.4 percent and 4.1 percent,
  • Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.8 percentage points and 2.0 percentage points,
  • Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.6 million, and
  • Increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 million to 5.2 million compared with what would have occurred otherwise (see Table 1). (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers).
Well, the non-partisan CBO is a propaganda arm of the Obama White House, ain't it? Yeah, Obama will admit that when you Tea-Baggers admit Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are the propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

The GOP ran on the fiscal irresponsibility of deficit spending of the Obama White House, completely ignoring the deficit spending of the Bush White House. Completely ignoring the fact that Obama's deficit spending was coupled with real economic growth out of the recession (I will concede that there may not have been much lower we could have gone, but in truth, there was) while Bush took a government budget surplus and squandered it on unfettered plutocracy that did nothing to stimulate American job creation (that is, plenty of jobs were created in India and elsewhere to take advantage of lower labor costs). Completely ignoring the fact that the Obama deficit includes war budgets on Iraq and Afghanistan, while Bush's supplemental war spending conveniently held most costs off-budget.

As Obama has unfortunately retreated from the bold steps he took in the first two years to re-build the economy, the GOP momentum will very likely put Obama on his heels until 2012 with using the federal budget to stimulate job creation. No amount of supply-side tax cuts is going to create jobs; what it would do is let the rich repay themselves for what they perceived they lost under Obama (when it's under Bush that most of them lost wealth).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving

Today I give thanks for:

My family, who inspire and challenge me every day to be a better man and human being;
God, for constantly revealing the splendor and diversity of the Universe;
My employer, for respecting my talents and giving me chance after chance to add to my successes;
This blog, for being my outlet for self-expression and creativity;
My friends, for accepting me as I am;
The internet, for being an eternal source of information, inspiration, and irritation.

Oh, and THIS...

May all of you have a happy, healthy, and heartwarming Thanksgiving holiday.

Interesting Poll

TPM reports on a PPP poll (pdf) of Republican and Democrat voters in the wake of the 2010 midterms.

It reveals that a solid majority -- 58% -- of Republican voters believe that incoming congressional Republicans who ran against health-care reform in order to win the election should forgo their government health-care benefits when they reach office. Independents say the same thing at a respectable 56% majority. A 46% plurality of Democrats reached the same conclusion.

This has become an issue because incoming freshman Republican Andy Harris of Maryland, who was a very vocal critic of HCR, complained because his government-paid health-care benefits didn't kick in quickly enough.

What do you think? Do you have a problem with anti-HCR congressmen and women taking government health-care benefits after reaching office? Personally, I think they should take the benefits, realize how good the care is under their plan, and then give themselves an enema with their own anti-HCR rhetoric.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Truth About The Tax Cut Compromise

With Republicans headed into a House majority and for total denial of the Obama agenda of rebuilding this economy, it seems likely that a continued middle class tax cut will be all but impossible without compromising with the GOP on temporarily extending the Bush tax cuts.

But just so we're all on the same page about this, we need to see just how wonderful those tax cuts to the wealthiest American individuals and corporations were for our national economy. The New York Times published Thursday a blog piece showing that GDP growth during the Bush years were the slowest since the end of WWII. In an era of massive financial deregulation, outsourcing of American jobs, relocation of corporations overseas, and so-called "free trade," annual GDP growth in the first half of the last decade was a lame 2-2.5%, and in the last five years was even lamer at less than 1%.

Looking more deeply into the chart, growth during the first Clinton term was less than 2.5% during his first term (after inheriting a crappy economy from George HW Bush and Reagan), but grew to over 4% in his second term once his economic reform took hold (as in tax increases, spending cuts and a balanced budget, all foolishly squandered by George W Bush). In fact, the lowest half of the chart is dominated by Republican presidents, from Eisenhower to Nixon to Reagan and both Bushes.

Bush 43's performance on the economy was worse even than Jimmy Carter, who some call the worst president in history.

The myth that Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility is simply crippling America. No party wants America to fail more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

House GOP Fears Obama BIG TIME

TPM's Josh Marshall has some handy facts related to a Politico story about why the planned summit between House Republicans and President Obama was "postponed."

House GOP leaders claim that Obama "crashed" their caucus retreat last January and ambushed them, catching them unprepared. Really? So, when the president came to their Baltimore retreat on January 29, after the Politico ran a story about it nearly three weeks before and the GOP issued a frickin' press release about it the day after the Politico story expressing gratitude that "the President of the United States has accepted our invitation to meet with the Republican Conference later this month."

Marshall's money quote:
In other words, that's more than two weeks before these House Republicans who must have spent the month in a sensory deprivation chamber were stunned to see
the president's motorcade driving up unannounced to crash their party.

Like Marshall, I'm very angry that the media, which has just as much access to Google as any idiot with a PC, reports this crap like it's really news when it isn't. It's just more fucking lies. Lies to mask the truth that the GOP is scared to death of meeting with Obama because they have nothing substantive to say except, "We're out to get you, Mr. President. Be afraid. Be very afraid." Schoolyard bully shit.

The truth is that they do remember the trouncing Obama served them during that January summit. And no amount of posturing on Mike Pence's part, or John Boehner's part, can alter the fact that the GOP looked like daft pricks.

The president has a long game working very well. At this rate and with nothing to offer except rehashed, failed policies from the Bush era, the GOP will flame out in less than a year, when the reelection campaign will get underway.

Bring on Sarah Palin, please. We Dems need more red moose meat.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The GOP's Big Lie

Sullivan posts a chart on his blog that shows the direction of the national debt under every president since Truman. Note that under both Reagan and Bush II, the debt went up significantly. But during these two terms, Republicans were quite fond of saying, "Deficits Don't Matter." But, of course, as soon as a Democrat files a budget with a deficit, they matter "for our children and grandchildren."

Bruce Bartlett, who basically invented supply-side economics, even repudiates his own concept now, calling for big time tax increases (in the form of a VAT, of course).

But the big lie here is that OBAMA, the juvenile delinquent whose "presidency is graffiti on the walls of American history," created the entire debt himself. Even though he took office during the biggest global economic crisis in nearly 80 years. Even though he inherited two wars. Even though he inherited the TARP program created under Bush. Even though the entire financial sector was deregulated to the point of absurdity while he was still a state senator in Illinois.

No, because Obama signed legislation for health-care reform that was paid for in full and will actually reduce the deficit over time, because he signed legislation that restored rationality to our financial sector and afforded basic protections for consumers, because he signed legislation that provided fiscal stimulus to banks in order to keep them from going under, because he created loan programs to help homeowners with no equity to refinance their mortgages at prevailing, historically low rates (paying standard closing costs, by the way!), because he called for a short-term moratorium on off-shore drilling, because he stupidly pushed for the extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless in our country (about five million people), our entire financial mess is now and has always been Obama's fault. What sane, rational person with a functioning memory (or, at least, an internet connection that allows access to Google) can honestly cop to this assertion? Any takers?

GOP Hypocrisy Watch

TPM has it:

Maryland physician Andy Harris (R) just soundly defeated Frank Kratovil, one of the most endangered Democrats on Capitol Hill going into the November election. And he did it in large part by railing against 'Obamacare' and pledging to repeal Health Care Reform. But when he showed on Capitol Hill today for an orientation for incoming members of Congress and their staffs, he had a different question: Where's my government health care?

According to Glenn Thrush of Politico, Harris created a stir at the orientation meeting by demanding to know why he had to wait a month after he was sworn in in January for his government-subsidized health care to kick in. After responding in a huff, he even asked if there was some way he could buy into the government care in advance, seemingly thinking there might be a government program similar to the so-called 'public option' championed by progressive Democrats in 2009.


Why can't this guy get his own damn private insurance? I mean, this is America! Do we have to subsidize every freeloading illegal alien AND government employee?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Cantor/Bibi Meeting: What They Haven't Told Us

Politico reports on a meeting that took place Wednesday night between future House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Benjamin Netanyahu. This meeting lasted over an hour and took place before Netanyahu's meeting with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on Thursday. According to a statement released by Cantor's office, during the meeting Cantor told Netanyahu that the Republican Party would "serve as a check on the [Obama] administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington."

Uh, yeah right. Like that little filibuster thing the Republicans have wielded for the last two years wasn't already a check on unified government?

Israeli sources told Politico that the meeting was "unusual, if not unheard of." Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, writes:
I can't remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another -- building in Jerusalem, or somesuch -- lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have-a-face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House -- that sounds to me extraordinary.
Well, I can. Sullivan's take on the January meeting is here:
The man who lost the last election reacts by directly undercutting the victor's foreign policy goals, and does so abroad in the very country Obama is trying to push toward change.

Lieberman, for his part, is effectively telling the Israelis that Obama does not control US foreign policy with respect to Israel, and that he will be prevented by Congress from exerting any pressure.
While it's true that Congress controls the purse-strings of government and can stand in the way of Obama trying to exert financial pressure on Israel, it is not Congress's job to exercise foreign policy decisions or to declare to foreign leaders that they will oppose the President.

But really, what the Cantor/Bibi meeting was about was Cantor urging Netanyahu to stand his ground, to bide his time until the Republicans can re-take the White House. So now, Israel's government is an extension of the GOP, and the spread of GOP insanity (that is to say, a departure from the reality on the ground about the U.S.'s changing role in the world) has penetrated (for now) its chief ally in the Middle East.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

All Republicans Should Follow Rush

Particularly when he talks about diet:
What have I told you about diet and exercise? Exercise is irrelevant. ... "How do you know all this?" One of the reasons I know what I know is that I know liberals, and I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama's gonna be out there ripping into "food desserts" and saying, "This is why people are fat," I know it's not true. "Rush, do you really believe that? It's that simple to you, liberals lie?" Yes, it is, folks. Once you learn that, once you come to grips with that, once you accept that, the rest is easy. Very, very simple. Now, my doctor has never told me to restrict any intake of salt, but if he did, I wouldn't. I'd just spend more time in the steam or the sauna sweating it out.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sharia Law Banned in Oklahoma

A ballot measure widely approved in Oklahoma on Nov. 2 amends the state constitution and "forbids courts from considering or using international law [and] forbids courts from using or considering Sharia Law."

The director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has filed suit in federal court, alleging that the new law violates the First Amendment and impairs his family's ability to carry out his will after he dies.

Muneer Awad argues that in his will he directs that his possessions be "divided in accordance with" Islamic law. Therefore, courts in Oklahoma will be allowed to override his express wishes because they're not allowed to consider Sharia in any adjudication.

So, I wondered: what if a Hasidic Jew dies in Oklahoma? If his will expressly states that his estate is to be adminstered in accordance with the teachings of the Torah, is the court forbidden to consider that? What if an Evangelical Christian cites some New Testament gobbledygook in directing his estate's executor? Can a court consider those biblical/Halakhic teachings?

This loan will be struck down as unconstitutional, not only because it is discriminates against a particular religion, but also because the state constitution cannot override the federal constitution. Any international treaties to which the U.S. is a party, which has been ratified by the Senate, is therefore the law of the land as much as if it were written into the Constitution, so it cannot be selectively disobeyed in a state court, as the federal Constitution has supremacy.

Clearly the measure was put on the ballot to get the base out to vote for GOP candidates. Great strategy. If a similar liberal cause can be found that would bring out the progressive faithful, perhaps it should be put on a ballot. Maybe a state measure to prohibit corporations who do business with state or local governments from contributing funds to political campaigns or political action committees? It'd probably pass in California and anywhere there is a concentration of Dems. Who cares if it ever gets enacted? Got the people to the polls right?

The Hero Falls. Ugh.

Olbermann suspended from MSNBC for making contributions to three democratic congressional candidates, a total of $7,200, without prior approval from NBC, a violation of the network's ethics policy. The suspension, per the Huffington Post, is "indefinite."

Meanwhile, over at Fox:
News Corp made multiple undisclosed donations to the Republican Governors Association, totaling at least $1.25 million, in addition to a $1 million contribution to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its pro-Republican election-year activities. Fox News has helped GOP candidates raise money on the air; Fox News personalities are featured guests at Republican fundraisers; while other Fox News personalities continue to help generate financial support for Republican candidates now, even after the elections.
Olbermann's stupidity at not getting prior approval (or, at the very worst, creating a blind trust or some other vehicle for making political contributions that is not tied to him personally) notwithstanding, the hypocrisy at Fox is staggering.

My, How Things Have Changed

Sarah Palin absolutely did go there about Ronald Reagan. This from Peggy Noonan in the WSJ:

Electable means mature, accomplished, stable—and able to persuade.

Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide.All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, "an actor." She was defending her form of policical celebrity—reality show, "Dancing With the Stars," etc. This is how she did it: "Wasn't Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn't he in 'Bedtime for Bonzo,' Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor."

Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped
their lids, but I'll voice their consternation to make a larger point.

...

Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

The point is not "He was a great man and you are a nincompoop," though that is true. The point is that Reagan's career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him.


Since I've never been a Reagan fan, I'll simply register my two cents by stating that he did do all of these things, but badly. Palin, on the other hand, has done absolutely nothing except brand herself. An artist friend of mine lamented on Facebook not long ago that he was seeing branding as someting everyone did, and that no one just did the work for the sake of the work. Well, in this hyper-communicative and hyper-connected world, it's so easy to slip into oblivion as one of a billion, but it's also much easier to get noticed. Branding has the power to accomplish both. That Sarah Palin uses TV, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else she can get her megalomaniacal hands on should surprise no one.

Still, she has completely fucked up her brand, probably for life, except for those who revere her. As Ross Douthat wrote in Thursday's NYT:
[G]iven the choice between saying the thing that broadens her appeal and the thing that plays best with the narrower group that already loves her, Palin always, always seems choose the latter. Conservative writers have been giving her advice on how to break out of this box for more than two years now (this week it was Kevin Williamson, imagining how she might boost her credibility as a presidential candidate), and I think at a certain point we all just need to stop playing make-believe and acknowledge that she isn’t interested. The politician ... on Fox News on Tuesday, never giving an inch and blaming everything on the media, is the politician Sarah Palin has become, and wants to be, and seems likely to remain.
Douthat's headline refers to her brand of politics as "Palinism." Oh, Brave New World that has such people in it, who can turn complete idiocy into an "ism."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why I Have Not Thrown Up (Yet)


Last night's election results were predictable: a wave of partisanship and anti-incumbent fever were going to hand the House to the GOP, and the Democratic majority in the Senate would narrow significantly. Governorships would be handed to the GOP, allowing for re-districting to affect state politics for a decade. On top of that, Democrats were able to beat back Tea Party-backed challenges in Delaware, Nevada, and California, and this was largely expected. The political landscape is altered and the balance of power tips to the right, but there's no reason to believe that nothing will get done until 2012. Yet.

For the GOP, their reasons for voting the way they did were, to a large extent, divorced from reality. The problem was, as Michael Kinsley put it, that the voters on both sides wanted either "calorie-free chocolate cake" or "fat-free ice cream," neither of which was actually available. But, at least with the GOP voters, sometimes when you're dealing with irrationality, there isn't much that can be done to stop it except let the results of the insanity play themselves out. We couldn't force the anti-Kenyan Muslim voters to stay home, and we certainly couldn't talk sense into them. We couldn't discuss rational reasons why the solidly middle-class, wage-earning voters (who joined forces with millionaires and billionaires to return to fiscal policies that would only benefit the millionaires and billionaires) had completely failed to recognize that their circumstances had actually improved. So we were left with a tsunami of crazy -- or better, a tornado of insanity that wreaked havoc in some places and left others unscathed -- and now begins the period of clean-up and the fight to return to reality.

I can feel proud that billionaires in California are a little lighter in the wallet and will be staying home instead of assuming positions of power. Jerry Brown may still have the "Governor Moonbeam" persona to live down, but I have never encountered a more rational politician in California than him. That every statewide office was handed to a Democrat, while at the same time voters are allowing a simple majority to pass state budgets, the GOP has effectively been castrated. (One strange mixed message, however, was that voters also required a 2/3 majority to approve the imposition of "fees," so there will need to be some slick maneuvering by the Dems to increase state revenues as needed.)

The chart below provides yet one more reason why the results were so lopsided:


The portion of voters under 30 decreased by more than a third, while seniors (mostly Republican) voted in greater numbers. This is the traditional pattern in mid-terms: younger voters sit out the mid-terms and get more fired up every four years.

So while I'm not ready to hurl at the results, I have grave concerns about the level of obstruction the House will provide. First, I believe that the new committee chairs will begin investigating the Obama healthcare reform plan and look for things on which to indict the Obama presidency, or perhaps impeach the President. To hear Mitch McConnell put it, it is the GOP's top priority to unseat Obama in 2012, so whatever they have to do to create enough noise to tarnish an otherwise stellar reputation will be done. I believe the effort will be well-coordinated, using the FNC propaganda network, the WSJ editorial page, the Limbaugh radio network, and the Palin Facebook page and Twitter feed. It will be relentless, unhinged from the truth, and -- to my chagrin -- unchallenged by anyone in the Serious Media.

If the Democrats are to survive in 2012 -- and I believe they will as the economic recovery continues -- their campaign to communicate their agenda has to start now. Starting with President Obama, work needs to be done to set very clear battle lines while working behind the scenes to forge alliances and make deals. And I think that, eventually, Obama needs to use the media to engage directly with the GOP and show them that he is the President, instead of doing the political rope-a-dope.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Kind of Theocon

Hat tip to Andrew for posting his readers' comments, particularly from this one.
[T]o me, the greater threat to the family and to the integrity and flourishing of this society is an economy (and a political economy) devoted to the interests of the very rich.

I have been to this rodeo before. At the end of the day, what the Republicans really care about is Wall Street; my kind are useful idiots. I wish the GOP had learned the lessons of the catastrophic Bush years, but I see no evidence that they have.
Would that the careful sensitivity of this one social conservative spread like fire among the Republican faithful. But, I sense, the only fire that we'll be seeing in the next two years is the burning down of our democratic ideals in favor of big business, racism, and anti-immigrant bigotry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Painful Truth

I wouldn't have put it the way Stephen Fry puts it, but this is spot-on:

If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas,’ he said.

‘Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking, “God, I’ve got to get my ******* rocks off”, or they’d go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush. It doesn’t happen. Why? Because the only women you can have sex with like that wish to be paid for it.’

Fry, who hosts BBC quiz QI, added: ‘I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want.

‘Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, “Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!” But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?'


I don't deny that there are exceptions to this generalization. But, no matter how much women deny it, there is always a price straight men must pay for having sex with them. I had a friend long ago who'd figured that he could have had sex with a different $500 hooker every day of his marriage and he would have spent less (and had about 100 times more sex) than he did for his divorce. Says a lot about the man and possibly explains the divorce, but it's no less true.

I would agree with the idea that women have plenty of opportunity to source out sex without having to resort to "cruising" the way gay men do, but in a way, going to a bar or nightclub, or joining an online dating site, is basically the same thing, just a bit cleaner and a bit less public.

A No-Win Situation

Stan Collender laments that TARP was a public relations failure despite its monumental success.
Part of the reason [TARP is viewed as a bad idea] may be that voters think the 8.2 percent is coming out of their rather than the financial institutions' pockets. At least that's what I heard at several focus groups I observed earlier in the year. The participants in the focus groups bristled when they were asked about the profits the government was making on TARP. Rather than be happy about it, they insisted that the banks were repaying the TARP funds and interest with higher fees that customers were being charged rather than by reducing other costs or lowering dividends.

As someone whose employer received TARP money in 2008 and paid it all back with interest, I can say that fees for certain consumer and business accounts did increase here. Those increases were put into place over the past summer, not in 2009 and not 2008, as a response to the Financial Reform Act which restricted the ability of banks to charge overdraft fees that netted them billions a year in revenue.

Interest rates have never been lower for loans, so it's not like customers got gouged with high rates. Interest rates on deposits have also been low, but a lot of that was in response to having to maintain the "net interest margin" between loan rates and deposit rates, which is where a compnay like my employer makes a lot of money. And the last, biggest portion of the TARP payoff came from the sale of stock.

So I agree that it was a failure, but what failed was the banks' and government's work in trying to educate consumers. They did not do enough with the press to get the word out about what was going on with that TARP money, and the press really only wanted to report on the huge bonuses executives were getting. But it's not as if the public would have believed the banks and government anyway, but it was an effort that should have been made.

What would they have wanted to do with that $309 billion? I guess a lot would have wanted direct bailouts of consumers who were losing their homes to foreclosure, or direct investments in small businesses, but neither option would have been practical. The administrative costs alone in keeping track of all of that would have eaten up billions of dollars. Bailing out the banks was the most sensible thing the government could have done. Allowing them to collapse would have been so totally catastrophic to the world economy, the Tea Party would look like a real tea party in comparison to the torches-and-pitchforks chaos that would have ensued otherwise. Think about the end of the excellent David Fincher film Fight Club and you'll get just a hint.

The TARP bailout and the resulting PR nightmare that followed is just a perfect illustration for me at how embedded corporate interests are in our everyday lives. If your bank accounts are with a bank that has failed, FDIC insurance should cover you, but think about what could have happened without TARP and giant banks holding trillions of dollars in deposits had been allowed to fail. FDIC would not have been able to meet the demand. And if banks would have been allowed to fail, do you think that the federal government would have authorized the printing of enough money to meet the demand? Think about the inflationary rocket that would have been. I believe the resulting collapse of the banking sector would have resulted in a global depression. It would not be overy hyperbolic of me to suggest that such a collapse could have precipitated World War III.

But today, we have relative calm in the financial markets, peace in the world for the most part, and relative stability in our everday lives. The only panic seems to be among the right-wing element of our society.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Citizens United Case At Work

In this Crooks and Liars piece, the owner of a Canton, OH McDonalds franchise is handing out voter information pamphlets to its employees along with their paychecks, instructing them on how to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. And, of course, that would be Republicans, if you know what's good for you.

The pamphlet, in part, reads:
"if the right people are elected we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.”
You like getting raises and stuff? Vote Republican. You want to continue making minimum wage and getting no raises or benefit bumps? Vote Democratic.

In an update, the franchisee did apologize for an "error in judgment." Of course he's still sticking to his guns on whom to vote for.

The blogger at Crooks and Liars does not attribute her claim that the practice is illegal in Ohio, so I won't comment on that. But this certainly is free speech that is protected under the Citizens United case. As I wrote back in January:
I [don't] disagree with the argument that the corrupting influence of money does have an impact on the outcomes of elections. I agree with that. But the law does not allow the state to restrict speech because we think it will create an undesirable result (with some narrow exceptions for violence or even narrower ones for obscenity). I think this should embolden individuals to coalesce more tightly around their common causes and to vote with their wallets. If, for example, a corporation openly argues a political point you abhor, don't patronize that product, organize boycotts against it, write op-eds, post on blogs and other websites, organize rallies in front of their corporate headquarters and invite the media, etc. That's right: the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case should get us off our asses to fight for the causes we champion.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Painted Into a Corner

Jonathan Chait nails the Republicans on their self-delusion:

The "endless loop [of failure]" begins with Republicans gaining power on the basis of promising to cut unspecified programs, or perhaps programs accounting for a tiny proportion of the federal budget. That is the stage of the cycle we are currently in. Then Republicans obtain power and have to confront the fact that most spending programs are popular, and so they must choose between destroying their own popularity by taking on programs like Medicare, or failing to materially cut spending. So they settle on tax cuts instead of spending cuts. Then eventually their supporters conclude that they have been betrayed by their leaders, and cast about for new leaders with the willpower to really cut spending this time.

As I've been saying over and over, there is a way around this. Republicans can make a bipartisan deal and obtain Democratic cover for cuts in popular spending programs. But the price of this deal is to impose shared sacrifice on the rich and violate the fundamental republican taboo against ever allowing revenue increases. Since the party cannot violate that taboo, it's back to the cycle of failure, recrimination, and
self-delusion. Right now, conservatives are in the hopeful self-delusion phase. Look, these new leaders have learned their lesson! They sound serious!


Exactly. I can't find a single Republican who can articulate a solid vision for righting our listing fiscal ship. Anytime they propose spending cuts, they paint themselves into a corner because they can't touch very popular entitlement programs without sacrificing themselves. They can't increase taxes because their rich supporters would draw and quarter them. And they can't compromise with Democrats to give themselves the political cover against backlash from their supporters because they have promised not to compromise with tax and spend liberals. They are trapped in their own twisted ideas of what fiscal responsibility looks like. So they pay lip service to the idea of limited government while pigging out at the trough of earmarks, defense contracts, infrastructure projects, and corporate welfare.

A good friend and Uh, Yeah Right reader believes that this is what the corporations who essentially run our government want. I completely agree.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Mea Culpa I'd Like to See

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason has the right idea.
Will anybody point to the failure of [Meg Whitman's] record-busting campaign splurge and revisit their commitment to getting private money out of politics?

Hear, hear!

Edmund G. Brown, Jr. -- Supah Genius!!

This campaign ad has Meg Whitman herself endorsing Jerry Brown's record as governor in the '70s. Ooops!

h/t Andrew

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Separation of Church and State

Weighty issue, that one!

Colorado Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck thinks that the Constitution does not mandate a separation between church and state. He does, however, strongly believe that the government should not sanction a specific religion. So, if he believes that, what would he say if a government institution, like a county courthouse in Alabama, decided to display a sculpture that prominently featured the Ten Commandments? Is this not an expression of religious belief sanctioned by a government entity?

What about a local school board, populated 100% by Evangelical Christians, decided that all public high schools in its district would offer high school students courses in Bible study, under the guise of studying its "literature" or as a way to promote the concept of "intelligent design" as an equally valid alternative to evolution? Would not this be an example of a government entity promoting the teachings of a particular religion?

Our nation's founders, who descended from folks that escaped religious persecution and wanted freedom to express themselves as they saw fit, deliberately amended the Constitution to prohibit Congress from making any laws that established an official religion. This "establishment clause" has been interpreted, and supported, dozens of times to mean that there is no place for specific or non-specific religious expression in any government act. Government is secular; the alternative is Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or the Dark Ages in Europe. Enlightened societies all over the world want their governments to be religion-neutral, and we have enshrined that neutrality in our own Constitution. We have tolerated certain expressions -- such as on our currency or in our Pledge of Allegiance -- but even these can be interpreted as intrusions by the government in religion.

So, Ken Buck, be concerned all you want. But take one more step toward injecting religious expression in a government and find yourself in a heap of trouble.

Fifteen-year-old Child Soldier Pleads "Guilty"

Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was the lone survivor pulled from the rubble of an Afghan compound that housed al Qaeda operatives, pleaded guilty to various crimes in a military trial. He has already been held for seven years at Bagram and Gitmo, where he was brutally tortured. Andrew Sullivan has compiled a harrowing and graphic account of Khadr's treatment at the hands of U.S. torturers/interrogators (warning: graphic photos).

He was sentenced to eight years in prison, one of which will be at Guantanamo. After that he will be repatriated to Canada, where the Canadian government will decide what to do with him.

This boy was not innocent of involvement in al Qaeda. And in America, 15-year-olds can be tried as adults for particularly heinous crimes. But he was a boy, for God's sake. And all of his so-called "confessions" were made while being tortured. This is where the similarities to the U.S. criminal justice system ends. Exactly how many of those "confessions" could be called legitimate? The U.S. government has a lot to be ashamed about in the handling of this boy's case. Sullivan puts it best:
I don't know how anyone who cares about the integrity and moral standing of the United States can absorb the full details of this case and not be profoundly ashamed. To prosecute a child soldier, already nearly killed in battle, tortured and abused in custody, and to imprison him for this length of time and even now, convict him of charges for which there is next to no proof but his own coerced confessions ... well, words fail.

Indeed.

Republicans Want to Curb-Stomp Free Speech

Here's what happened outside a Rand Paul-Jack Conway debate site last night:



Whatever the intentions of the woman victim in this video, she carried nothing more than a sign. And she was wrested to the ground, her wig pulled off, and her head stomped on by supporters of Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.

Paul will definitely need to repudiate this reprehensible action today. If he doesn't he will be tacitly supporting the right of individuals to violently oppose speech they don't like.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back of the Hand...

Fallows writes what I would have liked to write about the Juan Williams firing at NPR. First this:
The worst aspect of the Williams-NPR imbroglio is that it has allowed Fox and its political allies to position NPR as something it is not, and in the process to jeopardize a part of American journalism we can't afford to lose.
Then this:
In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]
Now, for some factual background about Williams and his interview with former President Dubya in 2007:
It is general political-world knowledge that the White House's condition of the interview was that Williams conduct it. The full transcript is here,...
...Apparently later in 2007 the White House offered NPR another interview with Bush, but only if Juan Williams would again do it. NPR said No, we won't take it on those terms; we want to choose the interviewer. Williams did it instead for Fox.
The gist I get here is that Fox News, which just gave Williams a $2 million contract, is more concerned with filtering news for its audience -- spinning it in a way that satisfies a niche market that wants a Republican slant on facts -- than in actually reporting the facts and letting the audience decide for itself. As a 20+ year listener of NPR, I can say that it is an information-gathering and reporting organization. The reporting itself does not spin stories, but audiences can detect bias in their selection of stories. For example, they frequently focus on the plight of Palestinians being victimized by the Israeli government's policies, but rarely do they go into the neighborhoods of Israelis near Gaza or in the West Bank to hear about civilians injured or killed by Palestinians (maybe because that is much rarer, perhaps?). Such a slant can lead one to believe that NPR is anti-Israel or liberal. However, they also frequently interview as many Republican members of Congress who get softball questions as do the Democrats. Politicians, in general, like to answer questions their own way, and get annoyed when they're pressed to answer the question the reporter is asking if the answer makes them look bad. In any event, NPR leaves the door open to interpretation, while Fox throws a leash on its viewers and leads them right to the "right" answer about how to perceive a given circumstance. Fox viewers, prove me wrong. I have seen real journalism on that station, almost exclusively in the persons of Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. But they are second-tier players to Beck/O'Reilly/Hannity elite, who could make Goldwater blush and Buckley piss himself from laughing so hard.

Williams' cries of foul against NPR for being fired -- and I'll admit NPR overreacted and now they lack a pretty solid and reliable voice for the right, losing some balance in the process -- could have been seen as someone who was done wrong. But since he was given this fat contract so soon after being fired, the truth becomes clearer. He wanted to turn himself into a news story -- a huge no-no in journalism -- and generate sympathy among his future Fox News audience. Another media whore, sorta like, You Betcha!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Senate CANDIDATE's "Guards" Were Active Duty Military

A quick aside before diving in: While it's true that there are Democrats whose recent actions have been simply beyond the pale, in my opinion the vast majority of major fuck-ups, gaffes, and egregious acts have been perpetrated/committed by Republicans.

In the latest installment of "What the Hell Has He Done Now?", at a campaign event last Sunday night, security "guards" hired by Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller forcibly handcuffed and detained a journalist who deigned to ask Miller a question that Miller didn't want to answer. The journalist was told he was "under arrest" by these guards, who were not police officers. When the actual police arrived, the journalist was released. Two other reporters from the Anchorage Daily News were aggressively threatened by these same guards for trying to investigate the matter while at the same Sunday night event.

As it turns out, the ADN now reports, the two guards detaining the journalist were active duty soldiers with the U.S. military, moonlighting for a security contractor hired by Miller's campaign.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there are two Department of Defense directives that prohibit active duty members of the Armed Forces from performing "clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign." Greenwald asks:
If it's not completely intolerable to have active-duty soldiers handcuffing American journalists on U.S. soil while acting as private "guards" for Senate candidates, what would be?

These events are part of a two-year continuum regarding the crumbling relationship between the press and politicians. It began with the vice presidential candidate from the Republican Party in 2008, who refused to hold a single open press conference during the campaign, and whose horribly bungled interviews with mainstream journalists resulted in a total press blackout other than Fox News from this point forward (as well as the coined term "lamestream media"). It has continued with this once (and future) candidate and now-reality show personality retreating to Twitter and Facebook for nearly all communication with voters, other than heavily scripted events with filtered audiences and no press coverage. And, during this midterm election season, it has culminated in: a senate candidate who walks out of a press conference she herself organized without taking a single question, and who explained to Fox News that she will not do any interview where she could not plug her website and solicit donations for her campaign, and that the press should only ask questions that she wants to answer; a senate candidate who is following the former VP candidate's advice to speak only "through" Fox News to get her message out; a gubernatorial candidate who told a reporter, "I'll take you out, buddy!" for asking questions about his out-of-wedlock daughter; and the actions of Joe Miller's "guards" that are the subject of this piece.

I've seen this type of blame-everyone-else-and-take-no-responsibility behavior before: addicts. People who are addicts tend to think everyone else is responsible for their behavior and actions, and that they are totally justified in doing what they are doing because they've been so put upon by everyone harping on them to change their behavior. Republicans are totally, undeniably addicted to the acquisition of power (and of power itself) that they will circumvent a free and open press that is one of the basic components of a free society. They are so afraid of dealing with reality that they just cannot accept being questioned for their beliefs or policy positions or their actions. They have so totally immersed themselves in this victim mentality that literally everyone is out to get them and destroy them, while all they want to do is what's right, so the flow of information has to be tightly controlled (actually this all also sounds a little like the actions of a dictator to me). God forbids this descends into state-owned press, but the building blocks are being stacked. Anyone who thinks that this strategy isn't highly organized and only coincidental must really want California's Prop 19 to pass (in other words, I'd like a hit of what you're smokin', dude!).

Getting back to the matter at hand -- I think these soldiers should face charges for what they've done, I think Miller should, at a minimum, apologize to the blogger, to the Alaska press, and to the Alaska voters, for his actions and fully open future events to the press. Absent that, he should be disqualified from holding elected office in the United States of America.

Amen


Adam Ozimek on negative political ads, like this one:
I know campaign ads shouldn’t affect us. We should vote based on policies and expected welfare impacts of those policies. But at some level these political ads become pollution, a pure negative externality. And I can’t look past it when a party or politician is willing to spew pollution to get elected. If you’ve got to denigrate a whole nation of people and one of the greatest economic miracles of the last 50 years, and stir up a hornets nest of ugly xenophobia in order convince people you’re the man for the job, then you’re demonstrably not the man for the job.

Progressives Must Wake Up, Cont.

Oh. My. God.

O'Donnell told ABC News "her line of questioning to Coons was not because she didn't know the First Amendment, but to the make the point the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear anywhere in the Constitution."
So her reason for asking Coons the question about the appearance of separation of church and state in the Constitution was to point out that those exact words do not appear? And she and her handlers were high-fiving each other backstage with a "see? we got him!" sense of victory, believing they'd really showed Coons and others that he doesn't understand the Constitution? Well, I guess I'm a moron too.

As a long-ago ex used to say, "That person has the IQ of a soapdish."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

See? I Told He Was a Muslim!

ABC reports that President Obama is not going to visit a Sikh house of worship in India because he fears that being seen wearing the requisite headcover might prompt calls from the wingnut-o-sphere that he's a Muslim. Sikhs aren't Muslims, but you get the idea.

And if he walked into an Orthodox or Conservative synagogue and had to put on a kipah/yarmulke, would there be cries that he was a closet Jew?

Muslims and Sikhs have to cover their heads inside a mosque; guests are strongly encouraged to do so. Orthodox and Conservative Jews also cover their heads, and visitors are encouraged to blend in. At St. Peters in Vatican City, women cannot enter the cathedral if they have bare shoulders. What's the big problem here if Obama covers his head? The temple in question is a prominent one in India, and skipping a visit there could be diplomatically clumsy. Let WorldNet Daily and Fox News spin and spin this like crazy. Any ordinary American citizen who walked into that site would be encouraged to cover up and could be seen as insulting their hosts if they didn't comply. You think they'd say, "Hey, bud, I'm an American and a Christian. No one tells me what to wear in any house of worship"? No, they'd gladly comply and be gracious and respectful. Why should the president not behave the same way? Isn't it a big thing on the right that the president should be like one of us?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Obama's Deficit, cont.

My reader has responded to my follow up post:
[Obama] has done nothing but celebrate all that his legislation has done for the country. What do you think he's been talking about during his two years of nothing but campaigning? Democrats run both houses so it's bullshit to say Republicans stopped anything they wanted to pass.
It sickens me looking at all those TV adds [sic], not so much about the adds [sic] but all the money that is spent on the campaigns. I shutter [sic] to thi[nk] how much money is spent. Think about how much good that money could do for this country. I wish there was a leader out there who has the balls to state honorable priorities and back them up with meaningful action. Instead we got somebody who talked the talk and was an empty shirt. Because all he did was give us business as usual. His promises sounded wonderful and America now doesn't buy it. Wonderful promises have different meaning to different people. Many voted because he sounded like he had all the answers. They are now disenchanted.
He is not exciting his base. Good. We made a mistake and lets hope we can get to a better place.
Again, my response:

I only wish Obama had been campaigning non-stop. He has, unfortunately, frequently been in the weeds, getting deeply involved in the wonky parts of governing while not spending enough time enrolling his supporters in what he was doing. Remember the decision to send more troops into Afghanistan? He didn't talk to the people for a long time, and when he went on TV he delivered a mostly flat speech that contained no real attempt to get all of us on both sides to understand the true magnitude of the problem, or to address the fact that he was doing something his supporters didn't really want him to do. Consequently, support for his actions in Afghanistan is flat. On other matters, he spent too much time courting Republican cooperation without doing enough to reassure progressives that he still had their backs. It looked like business as usual, but it wasn't; he just didn't do enough to show us that it wasn't.

Republicans did everything, everything, everything they could to stop Obama from passing any legislation. Filibuster after filibuster. Procedural delay after procedural delay. One Senator put holds on every single judicial appointment until he got his way on one pet project. And so much is still on hold as a result of enough stalling to wait for this election to return the GOP to power so that they can kill the Obama agenda. I'm sure there were some things that they let slide, simply so they could pick their battles for maximum effect in the press and on TV. But for the most part they have truly been the party of nothing.

I definitely agree on the money wasted in campaign ads. It's disgusting to think that Meg Whitman has spent $120 million of her own money to get elected, and she is probably going to lose to someone who has spent a tenth of what she has spent. But in America during election years, nothing matters more than winning, so both sides have done all they could to get their messages out. And what they offer is so light on specifics that any sane person would see through it as their way to baffle us with enough bullshit to win our votes. Republicans, though, have offered no single credible idea to tackle our problems. No one Republican can honestly state what spending they would cut to reduce the deficit. They just want to go back to the last decade, which, in case you hadn't noticed, was a fucking disaster for most of the country! My investment portfolio was worth the same in 2009 as it was in 2000, and only in the last two years has it recovered to where it was after losing nearly 40% in 2007 and 2008. And I also lost tens of thousands in the real estate market and as the result of a short sale on my record, now have to contend with a protracted inability to obtain a new mortgage, costing me thousands more. I blame Bush and his failed economic policy for a lot of that.

But, since the Supreme Court held that corporations were afforded the same free speech protections as natural persons (a position I happen to agree with), corporations -- mostly headed by Republicans -- have poured billions into races across the country (anonymously, too, as the law does not require them to disclose who they are). They have tipped races in their favor and have victimized millions of Americans who lack the resources to make their voices heard. But, forced equality means a lack of freedom, so I consider inequality to be the price we pay to live in a free country. I know some will say that we don't really live in a free country given the enormous influence the powerful exerts on us ordinary citizens, but I think that in order to have quality, high-paying jobs and economic prosperity for those who don't have the entrepreneurial spirit or the means to create wealth, one has to acknowledge and allow that influence to be wielded. We voters simply have to become better educated on our own and to build strong and powerful coalitions of our own to resist that power when it is wielded in unethical or illegal ways.

Obama has disappointed many, including me, in many areas. But I believe so strongly that McCain and his fucking idiot running mate were so god-awful that Obama was the only sane choice. A McCain presidency would have meant endless war in Iraq, an invasion of Iran, and precious little done in Afghanistan (all adding up to a more dangerous national security picture). It would have meant the resumption of unchecked torture and extraordinary renditions. It would have meant the permanence of the unpaid-for Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. It would have meant a far deeper and longer-lasting recession or even a Depression. And, God help us, it would have meant putting a certifiable lunatic within one heartbeat of a mentally unstable, 73-year-old cancer survivor of becoming leader of the free world. That just was too frightening a prospect for me, and you must understand that I and many others will vote for Obama and EVERY OTHER DEMOCRAT who ever runs for president so long as that dim-witted, pathologically lying, end-times-obsessed, Evangelical Christianist beast has an opportunity to run for president.