Saturday, October 30, 2010

I remember

By Creature

Something to keep in mind as election day fast approaches.

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A sign of the times -- Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity

I have a couple of friends who have made the trip to Washington, D.C. for the Stewart/Colbert rally.

I just want to go on record as supporting their sentiments, which they will be displaying with this sign. We live in strange times indeed when anyone could consider this a radical perspective.

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Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, and your vote placed upon the GOP line

The U.S. likes to pride itself on having the freest and fairest elections in the world. (Cough now.) After all, whenever other countries vote -- we are always there to insure the process is valid, the count is accurate and voters can choose without intimidation.

Well, maybe we need to get the electoral boards of Somalia, North Korea, or the Third Reich to monitor the elections of this country -- specifically in Ohio (which we all know is the shining example of electoral honesty based on its 2004 performance).

From Think Progress:

Along with their recent paychecks, employees received a pamphlet from their employer on company letter head that stated "as the election season is here, we wanted you to know which candidates will help our business grow in the future." While pointing out that the vote is the employee's "personal decision," the pamphlet explicitly states, "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."

In explicitly endorsing gubernatorial candidate John Kasich (R), Senate candidate Rob Portman (R), and House candidate Jim Renacci (R), the pamphlet — which was directly inside the envelope with the paycheck — appears to directly violate Ohio Revised Code regarding elections.

Of course, a shitstorm ensued (when will people learn that NOTHING is secret anymore, especially overtly political things) and the franchise owner, Paul Siegfried, was forced to backtrack and issue a statement admitting to an "error in judgment" and "apologizing to those he offended."

McDonald's does not own the restaurant, which is a franchise, but the corporation could pull the rights. Of course, they won't -- they also want to see the end of things like the health-care bill. Siegfried apologizes for offending people -- NOT for breaking the law, threatening his employees, or practicing Gestapo tactics (like his fellow Ohioan Richard Iott) on one of the most basic American rights.

As an independent business owner, my employees are a top priority for me. I work hard to create a positive restaurant environment for everyone. I greatly value my employees and the contributions they make to my business, each and every day. Without a doubt it's my employees' right and his or her choice, if they decide to vote, and if so, for whom. I strive to comply with all laws, including state and federal election laws. Distributing this communication was an error of judgment on my part. Please know, it was never my intention to offend anyone. For those that I have offended, I sincerely apologize.

Somehow Siegfried is retaining the right to make money by treating his employees as chattel.

Well, since we all deserve a break today, I will say that I'm loving it that Paul Siegfried's McDonald's in Canton, Ohio has given us more fodder and more examples of why Republicans are nothing more than 21st-century versions of brownshirts.

Like the anti-gay rant from the guy in Arkansas and the Rand Paul stompers, the Republican brain trust has taken "there is no such thing as bad press" to a new level. And it is working like a charm. Here is their M.O. Through their chain of unsuspecting lackeys (mainly the morons known as Teabaggers):
  1. Have them say or do things so outrageous, so insane, so fearful, or so vile it is bound to get coverage.
  2. Know that the media -- especially Fox News, with its magical audience of Stepford voters, hungry to fill all their air time with entertainment to generate ratings -- will cover it to no end (even if they are being critical).
  3. Then issue half-assed, lame, and worthless apologies to cover your ass.
Voila -- the "negative" parts of the story go away, but the "good" parts (a.k.a. the underlying GOP message, like in the McDonald's case, we make jobs) becomes the narrative.

This tactic is nothing short of brilliant. It is a strategy that is helping push the GOP to victory on election day.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #75: Kids being sued for "negligence"

We all know American society is becoming increasingly litigious, with everyone seemingly suing everyone else, but I'm not sure we knew it was quite this bad:

Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued for negligence.

The ruling by the judge, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permitted a lawsuit brought against her, another boy and their parents to move forward.

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was "seriously and severely injured," suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet's lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not "engaged in an adult activity" at the time of the accident — "She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother" — and was too young to be held liable for negligence.

In legal papers, Mr. Tyrie added, "Courts have held that an infant under the age of 4 is conclusively presumed to be incapable of negligence." (Rachel and Jacob Kohn did not seek to dismiss the case against them.)

But Justice Wooten declined to stretch that rule to children over 4. On Oct. 1, he rejected a motion to dismiss the case because of Juliet's age, noting that she was three months shy of turning 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and thus old enough to be sued.


Mr. Tyrie had also argued that Juliet should not be held liable because her mother was present; Justice Wooten disagreed.

"A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street," the judge wrote. He added that any "reasonably prudent child," who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.

So this isn't about the mother being sued, this is about the child being sued. A four-year-old child. (And how is even a five-year-old capable of negligence?)

This is insane. And a sure sign that the Apocalypse is just around the bend.


Eugene Volokh, analyzing the decision, writes:

I also suspect that the whole inquiry into how reasonably prudent four-year-olds behave is unlikely to yield any meaningful result. Most four-year-olds are prudent sometimes and imprudent at other times, and I quite doubt that one can identify even in one's head what sort of care a reasonably prudent four-year-old would likely take. Naturally, this is a matter of degree, and at some age the question becomes more meaningful, even given that fourteen-year-olds and for that matter twenty-four-year-olds will often act rashly.

But I'm inclined to say that the wiser move for a state legal system would be to set the absolute bar to liability for the child (setting aside the possibility of the parent's being liable for negligent supervision) at a considerably higher age — maybe seven, or maybe even older. Otherwise, the result is more litigation with no real likelihood that we'll have any sensible jury decisions in such litigation.

Yes -- considerably higher. And certainly higher than four.

Simply put, children should allowed to be children, and not taken to court whenever they do something that, in adult terms, may be imprudent and possibly negligent.

In what kind of a sick society is this allowed to happen?

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday afternoon terror

By Peter Henne

It's been a busy week for the counter-terror community.

First came the announcement on Wednesday of a failed plot to bomb Metro stations in northern Virginia, the populous suburban area of Washington, DC. Such an attack would of course be catastrophic. That being said, the incident involved a sting operation in which the FBI convinced a man that he was working with al-Qaida. The government has used this tactic before, such as the 2006 plot against targets in Chicago.

It is good when would-be terrorists are apprehended. It's unclear, however, whether such individuals would have succeeded in contacting AQ and pulling off the attack on their own, and thus questionable how effective a use of counter-terrorism resources such operations are.

The other plot revealed this week, however, is more disturbing. Details are still emerging as I write, but apparently air cargo screeners in London detected an explosive in a package from Yemen. This prompted a search of other cargo shipments from that country. Several were intercepted -- including an Emirates Air passenger jet escorted by fighter jets to JFK airport -- and additional explosives were discovered in
a package in Dubai. The suspicious packages were addressed to US religious institutions, including a Chicago-area synagogue.

It is difficult to tell what this constitutes. Some suggest it may have been a dry run to test US security. It would be unclear, though, why actual explosives were involved. I am tempted to think this was an attempted attack, given the US reaction and the connection to Yemen (home of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula and originator of other threats against the United States). The multiple attack vectors fits with the usual AQ method, although the use of cargo planes seems to be an innovation.

If this was a real attack, it tells us a bit about the current state of the terrorist threat to the United States. After 9/11, many of us envisioned AQ as a worldwide insurgency, with cells in numerous countries connected by loose networks and able to attack targets with little warning. Instead, as I have said before, AQ has evolved into a shadowy movement that exploits potential safe havens, allies with local militant groups, recruits and transports fighters, and maintains a global propaganda machine.

In terms of what this means to the United States, the hopefully foiled attack may typify the threat we face: a persistent low-level threat that is composed of both constantly changing means of attack and ever-present possibilities for over-reaction or misplaced resources.

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Just how desperate is Meg Whitman?

Well behind in the polls in her California gubernatorial race against Jerry Brown, desperate enough to pull what my friend Joe Gandelman, a Californian, called a "Hail Meg."

Apparently trying to stir up votes on the racist, nativist right, she sunk into the gutter and called for her former housekeeper, revealed during the campaign to be an illegal immigrant, to be deported.

Here's Joe's take, and I have to agree:

In what can only be seen now as a last minute high-stakes gamble, Meg Whitman has now... suddenly... after not calling for it before... called for her former housekeeper to be deported. Note that even The Politico reporter seems a bit aghast at the transparent political motive of this days-before-the-election gambit:

California GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman says her former housekeeper should be deported.

Whitman — down 10 percentage points in the latest Field Poll after spending over $140 million of her own money on the campaign — said Nicky Diaz should be forced to leave the country for lying about her illegal status.

The following passage also gives you a perfect example of crocodile tears — or, perhaps more accurately, crock tears:

"It breaks my heart, but she should be deported because she forged documents, and she lied about her immigration status," Whitman told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday night.

"And it breaks my heart," she added. "Gloria Allred pulled off a political stunt. And you know what? On November 3rd, no one's going to care about Nicky Diaz. But the law is the law, and we live in the rule of law. It's important." 

Whitman has previously declined to say whether she thinks Diaz should remain in the country after Diaz publicly accused the former eBay CEO earlier this month of knowingly employing her despite her illegal status. 

But now — just coincidentally, mind you... the timing of the election a few days has nothing to do with it... the fact that she was booed at a forum when she refused to go along with Jerry Brown in agreeing to Matt Lauer's call for the two rivals to pull negative ads had nothing to do with it... the fact that the big buck ads she spent have not really advanced her cause and her numbers have been going down have nothing to do with it — she has called for her housekeeper to be kicked out of the country.

It'll be interesting to see if this will improve her polls. But even the most conservative voters in California may be turned off by a move as seemingly transparently, cravenly political as this one.

Who knows? Maybe conservatives will like this. They're not big on Mexicans, after all.

I would just note that this isn't just a "transparently, cravenly political" move, it's what Republicans do. When the going gets tough, they scapegoat, lashing out at the Other. Remember Bush I's Willie Horton ad in 1988? Or how about what Sharron Angle is doing in Nevada this year, targeting Mexicans as a bunch of murderers and rapists intent on invading white America?

What Whitman is doing -- to someone who was close to her for years -- may be less ugly but is certainly no less despicable, given how personal it is. She's actually trying to destroy this person's life, putting her political ambition above all else, pandering to the far right (the mainstream of the GOP) to try to claw back at all cost into a race she's losing.

How very desperate. And how very Republican of her.

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Much ado about Crist, Rubio, Meek, and Clinton

There was much ado yesterday about reports that Bill Clinton had tried to get Democrat Kendrick Meek to withdraw from the Florida Senate race and throw his support behind Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist in an effort to beat Republican Marco Rubio. Crist is even saying that he talked to Meek and "several people" at the White House about it. Clinton has confirmed that he did urge Meek to withdraw. What is not clear, though, is whether Meek did in fact agree to drop out, twice, as has been reported. Meek's campaign manager has denied the story altogether. And Meek is staying in.

Two things:

First, the math doesn't add up. Crist + Meek is not necessarily > Rubio. And that is because it is unlikely that enough Meek supporters would switch to Crist. Many, presumably, just wouldn't vote at all. Like it or not, it has been Rubio's race to lose for some time. For this to have worked, Meek would have had to drop out and endorse Crist a long time ago. Or, of course, Crist should have switched parties and run as a Democrat. That, perhaps, would have put him ahead of Rubio.

Second, let's say Meek did drop out. Perhaps Crist would win, perhaps not. But what about Meek's fellow Florida Democrats who would presumably suffer from not having a Democrat in the high-profile Senate race. The Atlantic's Chris Good makes the point:

But, aside from finishing what one started, aside from the fact that Florida Democrats actually believe Kendrick Meek is the best choice for them, and aside from the fact that he has been telling people for years at this point that they should vote for him for actual reasons that have to do with policies he believes in, Meek's decision to stay in this race will help Democrats across the state of Florida, even if he doesn't win the Senate seat.

Florida is home to some significant, competitive races this year. The tight governor's race pits Democratic state CFO Alex Sink against millionaire Tea Party health care businessman Rick Scott, and the Cook Political Report rates five House races as competitive, including the re-election bids of Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson and Ron Klein. Four of those races are tilting the GOP's way, and Democrats can use all the help they can get.

Meek is now running a big, statewide campaign, with advertising and a get-out-the-vote operation that will turn out his supporters, many of whom will vote for the Democratic ticket, even if they've come to the polling place to support him.

The congressman's constituency through four terms in the House -- a constituency that was represented by his mother, Congresswoman Carrie Meek, immediately before Kendrick -- happen to reside in Miami's largest black community in a district that incorporates the northern part of the city.

If Meek dropped out, potentially thousands of black voters in Miami would have less of a reason to vote on Tuesday -- and that's on top of all the Meek supporters across the state of Florida -- which would almost certainly hurt Sink's campaign, in addition to the Democrat engaged in tough House races across the state.

Maybe I'm wrong about this (and maybe Good is wrong). Maybe Meek really could put Crist over the top by dropping out and endorsing him. But, with Rubio poised to win, I'm just not sure it's worth the risk, and I'm just not sure it's what's best for the Democratic Party, which has to look beyond a likely loss to Rubio. And isn't that what Democrats, including Bill Clinton, should be most concerned about?

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sarah Palin is running for president! -- Or not. Probably not.

I continue to believe that Sarah Palin will not run for president in 2012. I explained my reasoning last month and followed up two weeks later.

Short version: She'd lose, quite possibly by a wide margin, and much of her highly profitable appeal would burst. Instead of running, she'll continue on her quest for ever more fame and fortune by remaining visible on Facebook and at Fox News and by being, or by attempting to be, a kingmaker in the GOP -- and by being, as I have put it before, a "shadchan of the right, a link between the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

Were she to run, and likely lose, her celebrity balloon would be punctured, the air let out of her ticket to fame and fortune. She'd be probed and exposed much more than she was in '08, when she embarrassed herself as much as anything, and I'm sure she doesn't want to go through that -- surely there are things in her closet that would knock her off her pedestal.

Even in hinting that she might run, though, she has given herself a clear way out. Last month, for example, she told her pal Greta Van Susteren on Fox News that she'd run "if nobody else were to step up," that she would run "in the name of service to the public." And now she tells ET's Mary Hart that she'll run "if there's nobody else to do it."

Of course, there will be others, perhaps many others, stepping up, such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Haley "Boss Hogg" Barbour, and maybe even Jeb Bush. And who knows who else.

Now, by "nobody else," Palin likely means "nobody else" she approves of, nobody to her liking, nobody of her ilk. So just as this is a way out, it's also a way in. But surely there will someone of the Teabagger variety who jumps into the race, someone who appeals to Palin, someone who will seek Palin's approval. Given the current state of the GOP, it's not like the field will be dominated by northeastern moderates. The entire party is moving to the right, including those who in other, more sober times might have been content to remain closer to the center, like Pawlenty and Jindal. But it's very much Palin's party now, and she'll no doubt find much to like in the crop of candidates who seek the nomination -- and who, to win, will have to run to right and, as Romney has learned, prove their hardcore conservative bona fides with as much fervor as they can muster.

And Palin will be there to annoint one of them. It just won't be herself. Getting richer and basking in the glow of her influence, she'll be too busy stroking her ego and playing it safe on the sidelines.

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Rand Paul: Head-stomping and the tyranny of virtue

The tyranny of virtue is a concept usually associated with the behaviour of certain figures in the French Revolution who were so convinced of the moral rectitude of their mission that they could justify any atrocity in its defence -- hence The Terror, and its most effective tool, the guillotine. 

The violence that we have seen exacted on political opponents from associates of Republican Senate nominees Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Joe Miller (Alaska) may not be prelude to a bloodbath, but it is very disturbing.

Absolute certainty has always frightened me. It doesn't mean I'm not principled; I'd like to think I am. It's only that I'm open to the possibility that I could be wrong about certain things or, more gently put, my perspective could be improved by new information or the force of a better argument.

I'm just not seeing a lot of openness on the part of conservatives that they might occasionally be wrong or that, if evidence were provided, they could modify their views. 

In fact, they don't seem much interested at all in rational argumentation or providing reasons for the opinions they hold. What seems to motivate them instead is the strongly held belief in the moral rectitude of their mission -- a mission that is mostly about embracing a set of values that are impervious to reason. It's about constructing a world in which they would feel more comfortable -- as unconnected to reality as that might be. As we know, it's about "taking their country back." 

I am reminded of the infamous comment made by Indiana state senator Earl Fredrick Landgrebe, who, in defence of Richard Nixon during the Watergate hearings, said, "Don't confuse me with the facts."

What we are living through in America today is most emphatically not about the facts. 

Sam Tanenhaus, in his book The Death of Conservatism, makes the by-now-familiar argument that conservatives feel that their "culture has been taken away from them, that America has been robbed of its values by liberals or they would say socialists like Barack Obama."

It's a politics of resentment, anger and revenge... We're seeing a politics of vengeance now from the right. When Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Barack Obama to fail, he was not just spitting out a provocative line, he was actually handing out a kind of marching orders to the right, which they now seem to be following.

As in the French Revolution, it is the need to punish enemies and traitors that leads to the tyranny of virtue. It is the view that there are those who are right and those who are wrong and heads are going to have to roll to protect the purity of the message. There can be no middle ground.

So we are left with a pretty odd dynamic: progressives want to talk policy, while conservatives want to crush, quite literally, progressives.

When it is pointed out that Republican Senate nominees Christine O'Donnell and Sharon Angle, along with Sarah Palin (among others), are after all not very bright, conservatives come close to responding by saying, "what's your point?" For conservative true believers, it's not about how much their standard bearers know or how well they debate; it's about the values they represent.

This is not about policy discussions or building consensus or having solid facts or making good arguments. This is about being right. And when you think you're right, and are unshakable in that faith, there is no space left to engage the other side who probably only want to confuse you with the facts in an attempt to move you off your version of the truth.

Politics at its best is about negotiation and compromise, but you cannot negotiate with those who believe they are completely right and you are completely wrong. Witness the wholesale rejection by Republicans of Obama's legislative agenda, and the willingness of conservative voters to reject Republican politicians who can be shown to have supported any small part it.

The current conservative dynamic is not about politics at all; it is about absolute moral certainty. In its mildest form, it is the kind of certainty that leads to a poorly functioning political system. In its most extreme form, it leads to Republican supporters and campaign workers in places like Kentucky and Alaska resorting to violence to thwart those who threaten their crusade, however these Republicans define it.

It would have been better if Democrats had figured this out a while ago.

In any case, Robespierre would be proud.

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By Carl 

Florida Democrat Alex Sink leads Republican Rick Scott in the race for governor of the fourth- most-populous U.S. state for the first time in a Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters.

Sink, the state’s chief financial officer, was supported by 45 percent of respondents to 41 percent for Scott, a former health-care executive, in the survey taken Oct. 18-24, the Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University Polling Institute said today. The poll of 784 people has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Why interesting? Two reasons.

First, Sink had been lagging behind in the polls since, well, since the race shaped up during the primaries way back in the spring. Indeed, as late as October 1, she lagged six points behind Scott, who has Teabagger support (which is weird because he was founder of Columbia Healthcare, which went on to become the largest private healthcare provider in America...y ou'd hardly think of him as rabble).

Second, Scott has spent enormous sums of money. (Here's a trivia bit for you: Between Scott, Linda McMahon, and Meg Whitman, a quarter of a billion... billion with a "b"... has been spent. All three are now losing their races).

All summer and fall, we'd heard about the massacre the Republicans would pull off in November at the polls. It seems that was premature talk, which summer boasting usually is. People don't pay attention to the races until September, until after Labor Day, when our attention span snaps into place.

And of course, as Christine O'Donnell, Rand Paul, and Carl Paladino prove, in the emotion of battle, "warriors" become stupid. The Teabaggers believed anger would put them over the top, but as many smarter people than I will point out, you can only fool some of the people all of the time, and the fools are still fooled. The rest of us woke up.

Perhaps none too late. We'll see come Tuesday.

One side note: The parallels between Ronald Reagan's first term and President Obama's first term are remarkable. Reagan's polling at this moment in his first term (just before midterms) was worse than Obama's. Reagan lost 26 seats in the 1982 election. If this election is a mandate on Obama's first two years, he'll have to come in under that number for this election to be deemed a success.

It appears he just might do that.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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When independents turn stupid (and vote for Republican extremists)

There are a number of reasons why Republicans will win next Tuesday, likely taking back the House (if not the Senate) and doing very well at the state level. The so-called "enthusiasm gap" is a big reason, with anti-government yet also theocratic Tea Party-led Republicans frothing at the mouth, as is the general and thoroughly irrational anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping the country. But it seems that "independents," that ever-so-important group, are also pushing this election to the GOP.

As Time is reporting, new polls show independents helping Republicans to the lead in four key Senate races:

-- In Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey is leading Joe Sestak 49-45.

-- In Kentucky, Rand Paul is leading Jack Conway 50-43.

-- In Colorado, Ken Buck is leading Michael Bennet 47-46.

-- In Nevada, Sharron Angle is leading Harry Reid 49-45.

Of course, independents are not the only group, or demographic, pushing these Republicans over the top. In Nevada, for example, Angle maintains "sizable margins among males, white voters and voters over 50." And, of course, these are four somewhat purple states where state-wide Republicans wins aren't at all surprising. It makes some sense, even if their specific policies/views do not, that Paul's libertarianism is popular, that Angle is ahead of a deeply unpopular incumbent (and Democratic leader), and that Buck may pull out a victory in a flip-flopping state that can usually go either way. Even Toomey's lead is understandable. Pennsylvania can be described as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. It's a purple state that is Democratic only because of its two metropolises. When the urban vote isn't there, Republicans can win.

I say that it "makes some sense," but at least three of these four are ideological extremists who shouldn't win, ever. I'll leave Toomey off that list, though he too has embraced the far right, such as on climate change. And, poor economy and anti-incumbent sentiment aside, it makes absolutely no sense that these three are leading, solidly, among independents -- most of whom, presumably, are more or less in the wishy-washy center, and who should be swayed against such Republican extremism even if they don't much care for what Democrats have to offer either.

Take Buck, for example, who is an anti-gay bigot and a theocrat who objects to the separation of church and state. Or Angle, whose sheer craziness, as she has proven throughout this campaign, is enormous. In this year of collective voter ignorance and insanity, of fear, anger, and bitterness dominating the political landscape and motivating voters to make terrible choices, it's almost surprising that independents aren't putting the supremely unqualified Christine O'Donnell over the top in Delaware. In some states, like Delaware and New York, where the anti-gay bigot and wealthy teabagger Carl Paladino will get crushed in the gubernatorial race, I suppose not even delusional independents are enough.

This, of course, would not be the first time that voters turned stupid. But while we can expect Republicans to embrace the most partisan and most ideologically extreme of their kind, independents are supposed to know better, are they not? Well, no. Some may suppose that they do, but they don't. The David Broder-influenced media drool all over independents, giving them a place of prominence they don't deserve, as if they are by far the most important voters in America, but, really, they often don't much of a clue and are easily manipulated, this year by Republican propaganda.

Call me a cynic, but I think this Family Guy clip about undecided (and hence more or less independent) voters (which I found here), with Lois running for mayor against incumbent Adam West and, on Brian's advice, resorting to GOP-style appeals to idiocy ("Jesus," "9/11" -- you might as well put "tax cuts" in there, too), says it all:

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sharp as a pistol

By now everyone has heard about the Rand Paul supporter who stomped all over the protester. In keeping with their Brownshirt tactics, this teabagger (and Republican) wants an apology from the woman he stomped on.

Luckily for the teabaggers, Rand Paul found a way to make a buck on this -- by turning it into a Broadway Show and releasing a soundtrack.

The t'bags from Bluegrass
Sure do have a bad ass
When they do the Rand Paul Stomp
They're really somethin
As they do their thumpin
All over dem lib'rals
When they do the Rand Paul Stomp

Whoa, whoa they start a baggin' near election night
They kick and shove those that are not right
Well, it's the latest show for the media to see

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Airline security, international diplomacy, and you

By Peter Henne

It's not often that European debates over airline security get much attention, but two articles on this topic have come out in the past two days. One, in The Washington Post, discusses the European Parliament's authority under the Lisbon treaty to handle issues such as airline passenger information-sharing deals. With this power, European officials are pushing back on US efforts to track possible terrorist threats through such information. The other, from the BBC, discusses calls by the British airline industry to simplify security checks in the country, especially for flights involving the United States; they want to get rid of the extra security measures placed on flights going to America.

These stories touch on several issues. The first is the perennial debate over the appropriate level of counter-terrorism preparedness. US officials believe that extra security checks for people traveling to the United States and sharing passenger information are the best way to prevent terrorist attacks. Many others disagree, and argue that these represent half-thought out reactions that serve mainly to inconvenience passengers and increase costs to the airlines. There are also concerns about the level of privacy passengers are allowed.

The second has to do with broader relations between Europe and the United States. Not all of the justifications given for Europe's potential blocking of information-sharing measures had to do with privacy concerns. Some argued that US security demands were forcing Europe to tacitly adopt US tactics to counter terrorist threats, which some find morally-questionable. There was also a concern about the United States imposing power over Europe through domestic airline standards, which Europe must follow. So the controversy does not only involve ethical concerns about counter-terror strategies, it is also an issue of Europe asserting itself in the face of US hegemony.

Finally, there are the complications over authority within Europe itself. The United States has made information-sharing agreements with individual European countries, agreements whose validity may now be in question. European Parliament members believe a panoply of separate agreements would greatly complicate Europe-wide information-sharing standards. It is likely European officials also worry about their authority being undermined if state-level agreements stand. Debates over counter-terrorism tactics are thus caught up in broader struggles between parties in Europe desiring a stronger European Union, and parties preferring states maintain control of certain issue-areas.

So what is the point of all this, besides semi-academic musing? It shows the complicated nature of any element of international relations. If this was just a question of divergent views on privacy standards, we could negotiate an agreement or the United States could proceed as it wishes and trust that its market power will force Europeans to go along. But because this also involves European attempts at self-assertion, the harder the United States pushes the more the Europeans will push back. Add in the complexities of intra-European power struggles, and the situation becomes even more unpredictable.

Something like airline security may seem trivial or boring, but it makes up a significant element of the US counter-terrorism strategy. And this strategy will be undermined without careful, intelligent diplomacy on this and numerous other issues. The Obama Administration seems well suited to such diplomacy, but any international accords must also meet the approval of Congress, and Congressional intransigence or ignorance has sunk important international agreements before.

Just something to think about as we go to the polls next week.

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The tolerance backlash writ toddler

By Carl 

Like you, I've been fairly dismayed by the recent spate of homophobia-fueled hate mongering by folks who in a less correct era would parade around in Nazi uniforms. 

Oh. Wait... 

Not that hate-crimes against GLBT people have ever gone away, but it seems now, especially with a right-wing mainstream media dominating the news coverage, that there's many more of them and they are more and more vicious and tragic from younger and younger people. I filed this development away for later consideration. Why, in a society that has more and more valued tolerance, where being gay in many places has become not only acceptable but unnoticeable, are these crimes popping up?

Yesterday, I noticed a meme that got my wheels turning. Is Sesame Street the problem? 

Put aside your immediate visceral reaction for a second, and come along this wynd with me. Admittedly, there's a leap of logic involved across a chasm of muddled thinking, but if I'm right, it would explain a lot of young adult America.

I'm a little too old to have "grown up" with Sesame Street. If I recall correctly, I was something like ten or eleven when it first popped up on public television. I remember it came on just after Yoga For Life with Richard Hittleman, so I would end up catching snippets of it as I came out of my yogic relaxation that ended every one of his shows, and started getting ready for school.

As a father to a young daughter two decades ago, I was delighted to see that it was still on, and was still teaching kids the alphabet and numbers. Yes, things had changed on the show, and in a good way. Somewhere along the way, and under my radar, Sesame Street decided that along with book learnin' there was a crying need for lessons in civics: how to share, how to be polite, and how to accept yourself and others.

Twenty-odd years later, I worry that maybe that wasn't as purely good as I believed it to be.

I worry about the conflict teaching tolerance creates in kids. I blame the parents.

There is no doubt that Sesame Street is a powerful influence on children. Quick, finish this phrase: "On my way to where the air is sweet..."

The show has been around so long because it flat out works. Children learn. They enter school a step ahead of children for a hundred year before them, knowing the alphabet and the numbers. They're able to distinguish colours and do some basic math. Many of them already know how to read, thanks to those fuzzy little puppets and the humans, adult and children, that inhabit this mythical little street.

They've dealt with some pretty heavy topics on the show: death, divorce, change. In each, they've encouraged children to share feelings, to seek comfort and support, and to offer a shoulder or a hand to friends who need them.

And yes, this has also encapsulated under the banner of "difference," gaiety. The show has taken great pains to keep sexuality out of the equation, to be sure, because that's simply too complicated a topic to cover in a few minutes on TV and really deserves a dialogue.

But accepting who you are, that's part of being gay in the 21st century. We've seen the crash and burn of many public figures who swear they are not gay as they get dragged away in handcuffs for solicitation in men's rooms. The friendly acceptance of who you are is imperative in a nation that is maturing past adolescence, particularly in a world where privacy is no longer a given, where webcams can secretly broadcast your innermost desires to the world.

If you don't know and accept who you are, you simply won't survive.

That doesn't make the sentiment universal, however. There are powerful forces at work that want us to deny our differences, to accept a homogenous society where we all agree with each other, and that differences are to be feared and hated. Those influences can come home every night at five with the adults in the household. They can come into the home with each Fox News view, or conversation between parents after the child's bedtime that drifts into the ear of the boy or girl.

Here's the part that troubles me: if you force a child to choose between beloved furry characters and splashy colourful graphics and his or her parents, you create a terrible division in that child's soul. That might be fine if both sides of the issue have equal opportunity to address the problem in a calm and colelcted fashion.

But being a parent, I can tell you, is hard stressful work. You won't always be able to keep your cool, particularly when it comes to emotional issues like sexuality, issues that raise panics in things as simple as accidentally brushing up against another naked man in the locker room at the golf course, or the glimpse of another woman's panties in a shoe store.

If something as neutral as those encounters can embarass and stress an adult out, how does that adult handle a TV show where gay is okay? He or she probably rails long and loud (which explains the backlash to things from the recent "True Blood" parody to Katie Perry's appearance).

The message the child takes is that gay is okay, except that Dad/Mom says its not.

And Dad/Mom hold that child's life in their hands. Their future, the peace of the household, and remember that young children think magically. If Daddy gets angry because Bert and Ernie share an apartment, what's he going to do if I kiss another boy/girl? Or marry one?

Hate becomes easier than love and tolerance. And the same panic that mommy and daddy grew up with infests yet another generation of that family, and possibly worse because the filter of knowing and being friends with gay men and lesbians hasn't been installed yet as they reach the difficult adolescent years, a time when hormones make logical thinking impossible, even if the brain is quite ready to handle it.

One can only hope the backlash to the backlash will dampen this recent spate down, and that tolerance will eventually win out. It would be nice if it happened in this generation, and maybe it will. After all, we elected a black man president, and if you asked me even ten years ago, I would have said it would never happen in my lifetime. 

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why does Ken Buck hate America? Republican Talibanism and the conservative effort to destroy the separation of church and state

Ken Buck, the Colorado Republican who thinks that gays are like alcoholics, said last year that he objected to a fundamental principle of American constitutional democracy:

I disagree strongly with the concept of separation of church and state. It was not written into the Constitution.

Now, he rightly noted that the Constitution bars "a religion that's sanctioned by the government," but, in his view, that "doesn't mean that we need to have a separation between government and religion." He specifically criticized President Obama for (supposedly) calling it a "holiday tree" instead of a Christmas tree.

But that's exactly the point, albeit on a minor scale. Government shouldn't, and isn't allowed to, support one religion before or against all others. Now, I actually don't have a problem with calling it a Christmas tree. It's true, of the course, that the "Christmas" season has become more of a generic "holiday" season, a season that American can celebrate in different ways, some secular, some not. But a tree at that time of year is historically a Christmas tree, just as a Menorah is Jewish, though, of course, non-Christians can still celebrate the holiday with a tree, and that was Obama's point, the point of the separation of church and state. If you want to call it a Christmas tree and celebrate (the myth of) Jesus of Nazareth's birth, fine, that's up to you. But if you want to call it a holiday tree, spend time with your family, exchange gifts, and enjoy the season according to your own values, however non-Christian or vaguely Christian, that's fine too. Welcome to America. Welcome to a free society that puts liberty before government promoting a specific faith.

All of this, though, is beside the point -- or, rather, an obfuscation of the point. Think Progress gets to the heart of the matter:

Needless to say, while the Constitution doesn't contain the exact words "separation of church and state," legal scholars and the courts agree it does prohibit the establishment or endorsement of religion, and that the involvement Buck wants is dangerous. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a concurring opinion in 1984, the government is prohibited from "making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community." In 1801, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God," and argued the Constitution required "building a wall of separation between Church & State."

Also, Buck's charge about Obama and the White House Christmas tree doesn't rise above the level of a crude viral e-mail hoax: or in the words of, "hooey."

That's right, it's all a lie, one that Buck, ignorant or not, was obviously more than willing to spread. While Obama would have been justified to call it a holiday tree, he didn't. It was a traditional Christmas tree.

And that's Sandra Day O'Connor who wrote that opinion -- a Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court.

And that's Thomas Jefferson, a rather more impressive authority than Ken Buck, who interpreted the Constitution as requiring a clear separation of church and state.

But Buck is hardly alone in seeking to undermine one of the foundations of America, as Steve Benen, an expert on this issue, reminds us:

Of course, if this sounds familiar, it's because we've seen and heard quite a few attacks these First Amendment principles lately. Delaware's Christine O'Donnell recently humiliated herself during a debate by rejecting the separation of church state as a constitutional principle, and Nevada's Sharron Angle recently made very similar remarks. Last week, Rush Limbaugh denounced the very idea of church-state separation, and in April, former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state."

I just wrote up a lengthy item on the history here a few days ago, so I won't re-hash it again. Needless to say, the separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of the American system of government, and the foundation for the greatest experiment in religious liberty the world has ever known.

And he asks an important question:

But putting aside the fact that these unhinged Republicans simply have no idea what they're talking about, I have a related concern: what is it, exactly, they'd replace church-state separation with?

What we're seeing is, to a certain extent, the rise of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party -- the Taliban rails against secularism, and insists that the law must mirror and be based on their interpretation of a religious text. Buck, O'Donnell, Angle, Limbaugh, and Palin have all argued something eerily similar. Thomas Jefferson said the First Amendment built "a wall of separation between church and state," and these Republicans are anxious to tear it down.

Let's say, for the sake of conversation, they succeed. What then? Once the foundation for religious liberty in America is gone, what does Ken Buck suggest we replace it with? There are some countries that endorse Buck's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

So what do Buck and his ilk have in store for us? A European-style official church? A theocracy along the lines of Saudi Arabia? Are conservatives who want the government to shrink also telling us they want the state to play a larger role in promoting and "helping" religious institutions?

When the right denounces American the principles that have made us great, they stop being merely wrong, and start becoming even more dangerous.

I think that's exactly right. The Ken Bucks and Christine O'Donnells and Sharron Angles of the Republican Party, the "Taliban wing" of the GOP that more and more is taking over the party, are profoundly dangerous and deeply anti-American, and it's not enough just to laugh at them for being stupid. They pose a threat to American democracy, and to America itself, and to the very idea of "America," that, in a way, far exceeds, is far more nefarious than, and is far more likely to succeed than the threat posed by Islamic jihadism.

For while jihadism seeks to destroy America, or at least to cause significant physical damage to America (and to kill Americans), it comes from outside and can be opposed with actions and policies that seek to destroy it first. Republican Talibanism, in contrast, seeks to undermine America from within, removing enough bricks so that the entire wall comes crumbling down. Jihadists can cause immense damage, but Americans can collectively stand firm and resolute in their conviction that the terrorists will not win (even as they disagree over how best to defeat them). But these Republicans can win elected office, as many of them have already, and inject their virus into the body politic. There may not be an equivalent of 9/11 for these anti-Americans, but that makes what they are doing all the more difficult to detect, and to fight back against. You can have a war on terror, however misguided, but what do you do about the Republican Taliban?

Well, you have to vote against them, of course, and you have to see through their propaganda (or, in some cases, just pay attention to them, given how open about their goals some of them are) to see what they're really all about. If you needed another reason to oppose them when you go to the polls next Tuesday, here you go.

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Debunking conservative lies and propaganda

Mustang Bobby posted this -- from Dave Johnson at -- at his place yesterday. It's a valuable reminder of the way things really are:

There are a number things the public "knows" as we head into the election that are just false. If people elect leaders based on false information, the things those leaders do in office will not be what the public expects or needs.

Here are eight of the biggest myths that are out there:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush's last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama's first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the "stimulus" was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the "stimulus" with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be "non-reviewable by any court or any agency.") The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn't work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is "going broke," people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on "welfare" and "foreign aid" when that is only a small part of the government's budget.

This stuff really matters.

If the public votes in a new Congress because a majority of voters think this one tripled the deficit, and as a result the new people follow the policies that actually tripled the deficit, the country could go broke.

If the public votes in a new Congress that rejects the idea of helping to create demand in the economy because they think it didn't work, then the new Congress could do things that cause a depression.

If the public votes in a new Congress because they think the health care reform will increase the deficit when it is actually projected to reduce the deficit, then the new Congress could repeal health care reform and thereby make the deficit worse. And on it goes.

Speak the truth. Make it prevail.

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Sharron Angle targets Mexicans, ramping up her campaign of racism and extremism

Remember -- it was just last week -- when GOP extremist Sharron Angle said, incredibly, that her notorious anti-immigrant ad didn't target Mexicans specifically and that "the real problem is the northern border" (that is, Canadians or otherwise those coming into the U.S. from Canada), and when she told a group of Hispanic children that some of them looked Asian to her?


It was clear she was either full of shit (and lying her face off) or completely stupid (and, in the case of the Hispanic children, completely ignorant and insensitive) -- or, more likely, some combination of the two.

Because she's back at it, as Greg Sargent reports:

Here's Sharron Angle's latest ad attacking Harry Reid over illegal immigration. It's a doozy -- it sounds the alarm about "waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border joining violent gangs." And it features the now-familiar imagery of young swarthy men looking generally menacing.

But please note in particular the momentary glimpse we're given at the three second mark of the United States Border Inspection Station at El Paso, Texas:


Does she really have no clue what's going on? Does she really have no clue what's in her own TV ads? That may very well be the case. She doesn't seem to have much of a clue about anything.

But check out the look on her face at the beginning of the ad. She attempts a smile, but that's the look of the self-righteous, true-believing extremist, staring off into space, oblivious but also -- dare I use this word? why not, if it applies? -- evil.

Angle can smile, and try to look benign, all she wants. She's proven herself repeatedly to be an ideological fundamentalist of the far right, although well within the current mainstream of the Republican Party. And this ad, presenting bigoted views we've come to expect from her, is just plain ugly. It specifically targets -- and vilifies -- Mexicans, not Canadians (nor others coming from Canada), as the scary Other, as the great threat to Angle's (predominantly and domineeringly white) America:

Waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border, joining violent gangs, forcing families to live in fear.

Note: our "border" -- singular -- not borders. A white family "living in fear." Angle might as well have shown some hulking Mexican man raping a helpless white woman. Just as the black man was once the threat, so, to Angle, is now the Latino (though perhaps also still the black man). There isn't even a racist subtext here. The racism is right on the surface. The ad isn't even really about immigration at all. It's about race, about one race, a dark, ugly race, invading and terrorizing another race, a clean, pure race, Angle's race.

This has been the thrust of Angle's campaign all along, ideological extremism on issues like taxes mixed with racist appeals to voters' racism, latent or otherwise, but it's now front and center.

No wonder prominent state Republicans are lining up behind Harry Reid. No wonder she continues to avoid the press. No wonder the race is... neck-and-neck?

What's crazier, Angle herself or the fact that she might actually win? Surely there are enough Nevadans who see her for what she is and who object to her campaign of racism and extremism?

Or am I wrong about that?

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