Saturday, February 05, 2011

The economic aspects of the Egyptian protests

Guest post by Dan Fejes 

Dan Fejes is a blogger at Pruning Shears. He lives in northeast Ohio.

(Ed. note: This is Dan's second guest post at The Reaction. You can find his first, on the Arizona shooting, a response to the stupidity of Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, here. -- MJWS)


Conventional wisdom in Washington seems to have pretty quickly settled on an ideological basis for the unrest in Egypt. By doing so, it has ignored a more compelling -- and prosaic -- explanation.

There appears to be a yawning chasm between what is happening in Egypt and elite opinions in D.C. Consider this exchange between Chris Matthews and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel:

ENGEL: The Muslim Brotherhood is telling the army that it can be a reasonable, rational organization. I did an interview tonight with one of the senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was telling me to tell the American people that the Muslim Brotherhood can be reasoned with, wants to be a player, isn't a radical group. So you're trying -- you are seeing the Muslim Brotherhood legitimize itself, much in the same way you saw Hamas try and legitimize itself during the elections in Gaza.

MATTHEWS: Does that surprise you, as someone who really grew up over there as a journalist, living among the Muslim Brotherhood? Does it surprise you that they could be copacetic with the military?

ENGEL: Not at all. A lot of them are truly patriotic Egyptians. They don't necessarily want to overthrow the military regime. In the belief structure and the political structure that the Muslim Brotherhood has, which is common in Islamic moments, they believe in a strict hierarchy. There can be a ruler. There can be a military ruler. But as long as that military ruler doesn't impede on the ability of the Muslim people to worship, then they have no problem with that. So they could live very copacetically with the military. It's not that it is a Taliban kind of movement that wants to take over...

MATTHEWS: I get you.

ENGEL: ...and tell everyone what to do and how to do it. They're very patriotic. They have lot of supporters. You mentioned I lived with a lot of them. They were nice people. I mean, If you fell down in the street, they would come and help you out. If you didn't have enough money for the bus, they would give you money. There was a community feeling that a lot of people are nostalgic about in this country that is still present in the poorer, more Muslim -- more Islamic communities here.

What people are so upset about is prices have gotten so high, there's become this elite class of Egyptians that...


ENGEL: longer reflects a lot of the traditional cultural values here. And the Muslim Brotherhood still does embrace those values very close to its chest.

Matthews comes across as somewhat surprised that the Muslim Brotherhood could play a legitimate role in a new Egyptian government. The assumption, apparently widespread in Washington, is that a populist Islamic movement is necessarily violent. (In fairness, they might just be extrapolating from America's own experience with religious extremists.)

In fact, he might even be something of an outlier in his mildness. Tom Friedman, who usually -- but not always! -- hides his anti-Islamic fervor well, had this to say: "For the last 20 years, President Mubarak has had all the leverage he could ever want to truly reform Egypt's economy and build a moderate, legitimate political center to fill the void between his authoritarian state and the Muslim Brotherhood."

He simply postulates that the Muslim Brotherhood is the opposite pole of an authoritarian state. He does not appear to have done any analysis to arrive at that conclusion. He has not spoken with anyone in the organization (my God man, are there no taxis in Cairo?) (Also see this, just because.) He just assumes that everyone intuitively grasps exactly what he does.

That seems to be roughly the center of conventional wisdom. To find the far edge of fear and loathing, see this from Richard Cohen: "The next Egyptian government -- or the one after -- might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval." His entire misanthropic screed throbs with the message: these savages cannot govern themselves. It isn't even subtext at this point. It's right there on the surface.

There does not appear to be any appreciation that very ordinary concerns might be driving the protesters. What was touted as an economic miracle was disastrous for those on the lower end of the economic scale; Nomi Prins called this "the appearance of enhancement." Robust economic growth was outpaced by inflation, which lead to widespread hunger (I refuse to use the euphemism "food insecurity"). Food riots have killed people. The marvels of globalization have been decidedly less wonderful for many.

Do the anti-Islamic commentators in Washington have any sense that such workaday issues might just be front-and-center in the protester's minds? And that any party that begins to address them will thereby enjoy the consent of the governed?


As a coda, those of us in the West might want to consider the following thoughts William Gamble shared about Tunisia:

All authoritarian governments everywhere, by definition, are not limited by any legal restraints. This allows elites to become rent seekers often through state-owned companies and monopolies. Without legal limits, the percentage of the GDP that they take for themselves will constantly increase.


The main impact of an economy of corruption is on investment, the investments necessary to create jobs. For Tunisia and many other emerging and frontier markets, this is a major if not the issue. The unemployment rate in Tunisia is officially 13%, but it is probably twice this for younger people. Even university graduates face an unemployment rate of over 15%. This is not unusual for these markets where unemployment rates among younger workers can rise as high as 40%. According to the IMF, the Middle East needs to grow 2% faster every year to avoid its present chronic and high unemployment.

Worsening inequality, impunity for those at the top, reduced investment leading to high unemployment: a multi-party democracy in which a governing majority is persistently unresponsive to public opinion is functionally similar to a one-party state. And prone to similar expressions of dissatisfaction.

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John Kerry really wants to be secretary of state

As Joan Vennochi writes in the Globe:

The Bay State's senior senator is running an unofficial campaign to become the next secretary of state. For once, he looks artful, as well as ambitious.

His recent opinion piece in the New York Times said what President Obama couldn't or wouldn't: Mubarak must go.

Kerry's conclusion was elegant, but unequivocal: "President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure."

Of course, one has a certain freedom as a senator that one does not have as secretary of state -- or even as president -- and so Kerry can be direct in a way that Obama and Clinton cannot. Still, his strong position on the situation in Egypt is admirable, and while picking Hillary to be secretary of state made sense for Obama after the tough primary battle they waged, a "team of rivals" to unite the Democratic Party, it makes sense to turn to Kerry next, whenever Hillary leaves her post, perhaps after the 2012 election should Obama win.

I have defended Obama's handling of the situation, from the American perspective, but I agree to a certain extent with Vennochi that his administration generally "looked unprepared and off-balance when Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo." I don't necessarily fault Obama for this, as the situation and its likely outcome was unclear and he needed to walk a fine line with Mubarak, if only not to alienate him (and endanger U.S. interests) in the event he remained in power, but I do wish Obama would respond with greater moral clarity for once instead of equivocating (and, in this case it would seem, dismissing the pro-democracy movement and supporting, even if just as a "transition," yet more tyranny).

I'm not sure Kerry would bring such moral clarity to Foggy Bottom, and, even if he did, he wouldn't really be in a position to articulate it as formal U.S. policy unless authorized to do so, but he would be a smart, refreshing addition to Obama's team.

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A conflicted life ends -- Last Tango in Paris actress Maria Schneider dead at 58

It was quite a surprise to see the name of actress Maria Schneider in the obit column today.

As much for remembering the long-ago crush, as for how long she has been out of the news, the limelight dimmed for quite some time.

Maria Schneider, Brando's "Last Tango" costar

Ms. Schneider died yesterday in Paris "following a long illness," a representative of the Act 1 talent agency said, but declined to provide details.

Ms. Schneider was 19 when she starred opposite Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's racy "Last Tango in Paris." In it, she played Jeanne, a young Parisian woman who takes up with a middle-aged American businessman, played by Brando.

Full of explicit sex scenes, "Last Tango" was banned in Italy for obscenity for nearly two decades, returning to cinemas there only in 1989. In the United States, the movie still has an NC-17 rating for its sexual content, meaning it can't be seen by children under 17 years of age.

I'm quite sure anyone over the age of 18 back in 1972 either (A) flocked to the movies to see the film Last Tango in Paris, or (B) was aware of the controversy surrounding its explicit sex scenes, or (C) rushed to the record store to get the smoking soundtrack featuring the great saxophonist Gato Barbieri.

I indulged in A and C of the above.

In her youth, Maria Schneider was incredibly beautiful, which was likely the factor in getting her two big roles. Three years after Tango, she starred with Jack Nicholson in The Passenger).

All the obituaries mention "a long illness," which included drugs and, as a few referenced, "mental illness."

No doubt, Last Tango in Paris was perhaps the beginning of what seemed to be a troubled life:

In the film, Jeanne enters into a brief but torrid affair with a recently widowed American, played by Brando. Their erotically charged relationship, played out in an empty apartment near the Bir Hakeim Bridge in Paris, shocked audiences on the film's release in 1972, especially a scene in which Brando pins Ms. Schneider to the floor and, taking out a stick of butter, seems to perform anal intercourse on her. The Motion Picture Association of America gave the film an X rating.

The role fixed Ms. Schneider in the public mind as a figurehead of the sexual revolution, and she spent years trying to move beyond the role, and the public fuss surrounding it. "I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol," she told The Daily Mail of London in 2007. "I wanted to be recognized as an actress, and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown. Now, though, I can look at the film and like my work in it."

The famous butter scene, she said, was not in the script and made it into the film only at Brando's insistence. "I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci," she said. "After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take."

It still brings about a veil of sadness.

RIP Maria Schneider.


Last Tango In Paris trailer

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"Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint."

Capt. Fogg

I don't have to look for evidence that the United States of America isn't united, unless you consider enraged confusion to be a uniting factor. A Pew polling report last year showed that only 34 percent of Americans think Obama is a Christian. I have no idea how many Americans like me, don't give a damn if he's a Zoroastrian as long as he keeps his scriptures under his pillow and not under mine. His religion or lack thereof is no more significant to me than his favorite basketball team and indeed the private beliefs of most of our better presidents have rarely been a factor in their official lives.

Of course those who wish to destabilize and polarize what's left of the informed electorate for reasons of partisan gain are happy to make an issue of it and for them it's indeed a game with few rules and only one strategy: attack, attack, attack. Prominent amongst that breed of snakes is of course, Fox News, who can depend on a base of religious chauvinists and racist bigots who know less about the certainties they profess than their enthusiasm might indicate.

Take the recently manufactured "scandal" about the inaccuracy of Obama's reading of Isaiah 40:31 at the National Prayer Breakfast this week. Fox Followers can't really be expected to know much about the archaeological history of Isaiah, the variations between extant scrolls or that chapters 40 - 66 seem to have been written about two centuries after Isaiah himself, but apparently they have so little regard for the knowledge of America's scholarship that they also don't expect us to remember that there are other and better translations than the King James version, some of which have incorporated what has been found at Qumran and most of all: that the original certainly isn't in English. President Obama was simply quoting the very popular New International Version. Some scandal.

One can hope that these fragments scraped from the bottom of the GOP slime barrel, indicate that the barrel is empty. Sad to say, it's very easy to make a fool of one's self in America, but it's still difficult to get Americans to notice it amidst the sound and fury.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Tea Partier’s nude photo drama fuels TSA paranoia

Baseless Paranoia isn't a Christian folk band, but if it were Michele Bachmann would be the lead singer.

The Tea Party representative from Minnesota recently added herself to the ever-growing list of Republicans who abhor the space-bubble etiquette violators known as TSA scanners. The reason was not constitutional in nature, surprisingly. It did include a riff about airport security privatization, not surprisingly. But mainly it was personal: Bachmann will avoid TSA scanners because she fears naked pictures of her will turn up on the Internet.

We have always known that there is a vein the size of a fire hose that pumps paranoia into the organs of the Tea Party. What we didn't know, until now, is that the 54-year-old founder of the Tea Party caucus in Congress is a World Wide Web virgin who so trembles at the unknown ether world that she has proposed handing over our national security to the unregulated whims of profit-based corporations in order to thwart potential voyeurs.

It will probably not calm this Heartland harpy to know that beyond the websites and blogs that spew left-wing propaganda, advocate atheism, denounce farm subsidies, demand logic-based political discourse, and lament the intellectual decline of the conservative demographic, there is also a cache of risqué photos of Bachmann already circulating the Internet.

And yes, some of them show the milk maid farm girl of the Breadbasket in the nude. Others show her drinking cocktails with suggestive expressions on her face. Another shows her in the seductive pose of pin-up model. A few show her as the subject of the Spanish Inquisition-era painting, The Naked Maja. And at least one shows her in the least flattering light of all – as a 54-year-old woman (wrinkles, stretch marks, sagging baby feeders, and all.) For all ye who hath grappled with the curse of curiosity, rest assured that none of the photos are worth viewing.

Nor would I recommend sharing the photos with Bachmann. That would be like giving The Origin of Species as a Kwanzaa gift to your creationist Catholic mother-in-law. It would be like showing a copy of the president's birth certificate to your Fox News-addicted grandfather. It would be like returning from a hunting trip and dropping an elk fetus on the dining room table for your six-year-old daughter to dissect as practice for achieving her dream of one day becoming a veterinarian.

Such brisk exposure to the World Wide Web might cast Bachmann into the solitary confinement of a priest's confession chamber for the rest of her life.

Then again, it would be irresponsible to become an enabler of such hyper-paranoia. The truth, as they say, will set you free. So perhaps we should free Bachmann of her ignorance and open her eyes to how ridiculous it is to criticize airport security on the hypothetical basis of leaked nude photos.

The fact is, TSA scanners make us cringe not because they are an infringement on our freedoms, but because we can't accept the fact that we are imperfect beings. We are a nation of fat people living in a hypersensitive society where a blemish is akin to sin, and we will stop at nothing and invest in anything to hide this reality from ourselves.

The makeup, the girdles, the loose-fitting clothing, the attempts by "big-boned" women to draw attention to their oversized breasts – via low-cut blouses and push-up bras – in hopes of drawing attention away from their oversized arses, thighs, and midriffs – these are all zealous yet failed attempts at over-emphasized vanity.

And if you're a man with a complex about having TSA workers mock your less than Herculean genitalia, do what others in your position have done: overcompensate with intelligence. With a million bucks in your pocket, you can hire your own airport security. With a trophy wife on your arm, self-esteem won't matter.

If you fear a grainy x-ray image of your figure being leaked to the web, stop eating at McDonald's, begin an exercise program more vigorous than lifting your fat ass out of the sofa for a second serving of Häagen-Dazs every night, and, most importantly, stop worrying about what you aren't.

As for Bachmann, she's a 54-year-old woman who has brought five beautiful children into the world. A lifetime supply of Victoria's Secret lingerie, Cover Girl, and Mary Kay will not turn you into a pencil-thin supermodel. So get over it. Web surfing voyeurs jacking off to ultrasound images of your pixilated silhouette should not be a source of paranoia.

Especially not when there are Kenyan colonialists turning this country into a socialist state populated by pot-smoking liberals bent on upending the Constitution and stomping on the graves of our Founding Fathers. Get your fucking priorities straight.

There's no need to start calling for Israeli interrogation-style airport security just because our body parts don't point in the same direction they did as vestal maidens and strapping young lads.

I can promise that a TSA image of Michele Bachmann wouldn't go viral. Most of us already know what a middle-aged woman looks like nude (we can all thank Kathy Bates for the hot tub scene in About Schmidt for that revelation).

We expect more from our elected representatives in the United States Congress than this.

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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McCain slaps Rumsfeld

McCain takes a swipe at Rumsfeld:

Sen. John McCain said he "thank[s] God" that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stepped down from the post in 2006 and didn't lead the Pentagon's strategy in Iraq during the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency.

"I respect Secretary Rumsfeld," McCain said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America," before quickly changing his tone. "He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy he was employing in Iraq, which I predicted was doomed to failure. Thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in. Otherwise, we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq."

A swipe of retaliation:

McCain's comments came in response to a question about the depiction of the Arizona senator in Rumsfeld's memoir, "Known and Unknown," in which he's described as having a "hair-trigger temper" and "a propensity to shift his positions to appeal to the media."

Not terribly juicy -- besides, does anyone really care what either of these two has to say these days?

Regardless, it's hard to disagree with Rummy on this one, and I suppose McCain's quite right as well that it was better not to have Rummy at the Pentagon anymore, even if he overstates the "success" of the surge.

Why, oh why, can't all the warmongers just get along?

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From Mubarak to Suleiman, one tyrant to another, with America's blessing

I've been praising President Obama's careful handling of the situation in Egypt, making the case that he deserves enormous credit for trying to push Mubarak out while remaining generally non-interventionist.

I stand by that, even if I don't think Obama has shown nearly enough direct support for the pro-democracy movement that has the support of the people, but this -- even as I would like to give Obama, Clinton, et al. the benefit of the doubt -- is rather troubling:

The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday. 

What this means is that the U.S. -- and Obama in particular -- is looking to replace one tyrant with another, as Omar Suleiman is just the sort of dictatorial type the U.S. has preferred to deal with not just in the Middle East but around the world -- Pinochet, Noriega, the Saudi royal family, etc., ad nauseam. He's now the new VP, but he was the country's intelligence chief, involved in rather messy business (to say the least), including America's rendition program. In a way, you could call him Egypt's torturer-in-chief.

The key, I suppose, is that Suleiman would only head up a transitional government. But transitional to what? And what assurances do we have that he wouldn't just be another Mubarak?

And what about those brave people in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, those who have risen up against oppression and who are demanding meaningful change, those who want to be free and who want their country to be a democracy? Screw them, it would appear.

So much for the Lotus Revolution.

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The self-aggrandizing bullshit of Hosni Mubarak

ABC News's Christiane Amanpour sat down yesterday with the Tyrant of Cairo, Hosni Mubarak. Here were some of the highlights of the interview:

He told me, "I was very unhappy about yesterday. I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other." 

Then stop sending your thugs out into the streets to attack the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators, as well as journalists. We get what you're trying to do. You're creating "chaos" so as to be able to justify a crackdown -- or at least to secure your position for the time being, until you leave on your own terms. And perhaps you're also trying to goad the pro-democracy protesters into committing retaliatory violence so as to discredit them in the eyes of the rest of the world.

But it's you, Mubarak, who has no credibility.

When I asked him what he thought seeing the people shouting insults about him and wanting him gone, he said, "I don't care what people say about me. Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt." 

Sure you don't. Which is why you have a history of silencing your critics.
Sure you do. Which is why you have a history of oppressing its people.

He told me that he is fed up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot, he says, for fear that the country would sink into chaos.

Well, maybe you're tired, sure, but the rest is pretty much what all authoritarian dictators say, isn't it? And of course it might only descend into chaos because of those thugs of yours. (Do you really think so little of your fellow Egyptians that it would be chaos and not peaceful democratic governance?)

Let me repeat: You have no credibility. Period.

Good riddance -- whenever you do finally leave office. Or are forceably removed.

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Rumsfeld goes with the lies he wishes he had

Who knew? 

Lenny Bruce used to do a bit where he offered this advice:

Whatever happens, deny it. Flat-out deny it! If you really love your wife, deny it. If they walk in on you, deny it. Even if they got pictures, deny it. Even if she catches you with a chicken, deny it.

 I just can't picture Old Snowflakes being into Bruce, so he must have just taken his own advice and said, "You go to write a book with the lies you have, not the lies you might want or wish to have at a later time."

Yes, yet another of the Bush Grindhouse, one of their most prolific warmongers, has penned a "Not Me, Not My Fault" book, hitting the streets this week.


From the NYT: 

“Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’"


His biggest mistake, Mr. Rumsfeld writes, was in not forcing Mr. Bush to accept his offers to resign after the abuse of Iraqi detainees by American military jailers came to light in early 2004. Mr. Rumsfeld insists that the abuses were the actions of rogue soldiers and that they did not reflect any approved policies, but nevertheless he offered to step down.


While generally defending the Bush administration’s counterterrorism legal policies, Mr. Rumsfeld expresses some regrets. He suggests several times that some criticism and setbacks could have been avoided if the administration had gone to Congress for legislation authorizing the policies instead of relying on the president’s war powers. 

"Oh, if we only didn't didn't have contempt and scorn for our critics (you know, the "appeasers... the morally and intellectually confused" ), and only if we didn't piss on the Constitution and make up our own laws, maybe things would have turned out better."

Will Bunch over at Attytood doesn't mince words: 

Heh, that's funny. Of course, since there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and in fact there apparentrly had not been any for a number of years, the reason that Rumsfeld would like to take "that one" back is because he was lying. Maybe someday someone will free the Washington Post from the tyranny of the inverted pyramid and they can actually say that. 

Donald Rumsfeld lied.

Jack Stuef at Wonkette weighed in as well: 

America’s Grandpa of Death Donald Rumsfeld is having his memoir published on Tuesday, serving as an addendum to George W. Bush’s book in that it has actual, alleged facts, opinions, and memories in it. So: Abu Ghraib? Not his fault, but he really wanted to resign over it and feels very emo that big meanie Bush wouldn’t let him. Initial troop levels? Not his fault, nobody in the military ever asked him for more troops. Guantanamo? Not his fault the jail existed, and actually he made sure there was less torture and fewer prisoners. Hmm, anything we’re forgetting here? Oh, that one war. What was it called again? Anyway, not his fault, Bush came to him about Iraq before the U.S. even invaded Afghanistan, but at the same meeting, he also talked about Rummy’s son’s drug addiction, so all Rummy could do was cry about that. Whoops! 

And this: 

Ah, there you have it. Rumsfeld could have said, “What the fuck are you talking about going to war with Iraq for? Our country was just attacked by a foreign terrorist organization we need to go try to destroy. Iraq has nothing to do with this. Aren’t you more concerned with winning this war we haven’t even begun yet?” But instead, his son had done some drugs. Sure thing, Rumsfeld. Perfectly good excuse. You should drop some leaflets on the families of people, American and Iraqi, whose children have died in that war. “Sorry, my son was doing drugs. I was emotional at the time. Not my fault.” 

Stuef also had a suggestion for those plans to invade and occupy Iraq to be "creative" that "Rummy says Defense was preparing for offense on Afghanistan at the time, but Bush asked him to be “creative.” Creative! Perhaps the military could stage a production of Grease for the people of Iraq before taking a bow and dropping a bomb on them?

No, instead we just got greasy lies at the time and more polished greasy lies now, with the book.

I wonder if his Lie Tour will interfere with his and his former Shadow President's Armageddon weekends?

Like we said above, Ugh!

Bonus Rummy Riffs

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Think of the children

The perennial campaign from the "traditional marriage" crowd is that gays and lesbians are out to destroy families. They shouldn't be allowed to get married because they can't have children in the old-fashioned way, or raising kids in a home with two mommies or two daddies is not the best environment for children.

Aside from the fact that these people never really define what "traditional marriage" is, are they speaking of marriage from biblical times where a man could have as many wives as he could afford, or where a father sold his daughter to the guy in the next county as part of a land swap and slaves, or the arranged marriages between royal households to keep European nations from going to war? The same-sex marriage opponents deal in abstracts. They cannot point to any reliable scientific studies to prove their point that same-sex households are any less nurturing than straight ones. Their research is based on watching the Leave It to Beaver marathon on TV Land.

That seemed to be the mindset in Iowa as the state legislature voted this week to try to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. This is in knee-jerk response to the state supreme court ruling in April 2009 that overturned the state laws against same-sex marriage. However, the amendment still needs to go to the state Senate, and then get passed again by both houses in the legislative session next year to go into effect.

The legal maneuvering is one thing. What is often left out is the actual people who live and form the families that this amendment is targeting. It's one thing to talk about family values in the abstract -- "oh, think of the children" -- but it's quite another thing when you hear from the children themselves, as the Iowa representatives did from 19-year-old Zach Wahls:

It takes an enormous amount of distance and lack of compassion to watch this young man talk about his family and not be moved.

But in another way, this battle is empowering. As GDad noted over at his place Cranial Hyperossification:

Maybe I should try to enjoy being so incredibly powerful that a state legislature goes into full panic mode to stop my destructive rampage through the fabric of society. Or maybe it just makes me f^(&!ng tired that my family and my life are used as political fodder for ignorant dumb@$$3$ who beat their chests and rant on about how they need to stomp on the heads of good and honest people just to protect themselves from having to acknowledge that the world is not and never will be the way they want it to be. 

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Breaking News! ... Groundhog hoax -- Famous Phil balked, joined Egypt protest

Controversy has erupted in Gobblers Knob, as sources have come forward charging that the groundhog that predicted an early spring was not the famous and well-known Punxsutawney Phil.

"Phil notified his handlers days before the event," a source close to the event at Gobblers Knob offered, "that he was not going to come out, that he was sympathetic to the protesters in Egypt and wouldn't come out until President Hosni Mubarak left office."

This caused a whirlwind of activity, running up to just hours before the big, public event, of the groundhog's handlers searching feverishly for another groundhog that could stand in, and look like, the famous prognosticator.

Officials at Gobblers Knob refused to comment on the charges.

When reached, protesters in Cairo were pleased that they have the support of an American icon.

"The day we have a free Egypt, we'll bring him over here to celebrate with us." gushed one protester.

This isn't the first time questions have been raised, as in 2005 charges were brought up that Punxsutawney Phil lied about seeing his shadow.

More as this story develops.

Bonus Riffs

Bonus Bonus Riffs

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Reasons for concern

By Carl 

It really looks like the entire South Asia/Middle East/Northern Africa is about to go up in flames:

1) King of Jordan Dismisses His Cabinet 

2) Poland warns Belarus: Change or risk overthrow 

3) Turkey: Mubarak Should Leave Now 

4) India: Raja's arrest does not affect credibility of PM, govt: Congress 

5) Pakistani soldier killed in border clash with Afghanistan (Roundup) 

6) Report: Russia to retaliate against Ireland over spy claim 

7) ANALYSIS-Palestinians expect a boost from new Egypt 

8) Qatar men linked to terrorism attacks 

9) Tunisian Interior Minister Says Security Services Spark Unrest 

10) UPDATE 1-W.African currency zone worried about Ivorian fall-out 

11) Sudan's protests triggered by long-term economic, political frustrations 

12) Mubarak Fails to Quell Protests as Turmoil Spreads to Yemen 

13) How leaders of Bahrain, Jordan, Syria and Yemen plan to keep control 

14) Unrest in Egypt Risks Spreading Into Algeria, Standard and Poors Forecasts 

15) African Unrest Puts Europe's Gas at Risk as Oil Gains 

And then there's Egypt...

Look, a few of these, and I think with a little diplomacy and a lot of patience, we might see a peaceful resolution that enhances stability, in the short-term at any rate. What this kind of instability does is makes US foreign policy become a hodgepodge, because not only are these nations troublesome, but any tinpot dictator worth his salt, like Muammar Qaddafi, is going to start rattling sabres, looking to cut a deal with the US that will blow up in our faces eventually like Saddam Hussein did.

In the meantime, it only takes a spark...

This. Is. Scary.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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A breather

By Carl 

Look, with all the shitty news that's out there today... from the economy to Egypt to the woes of the New York Mets ownership... I thought I'd give you and more important, me, a break and post something truly amusing.

Apparently, a Chinese foreign ministry (former) official is claiming that extraterrestrials now live among us.

Um, yeah. You read that correctly.

And here is one of those ETs: 

Jerry Wills is an accomplished healer, explorer, and musician with the band UFAUX who recently participated in a world webcast in which Mr. Wills discussed his identity as an extraterrestrial from the Tau Ceti star system (12 light years from Earth) left here as an infant as part of a project of the Council of Worlds for the betterment of Earth.  Mr. Wills has consented to an in-depth exopolitical interview with ExopoliticsTV and Alfred Lambremont Webre.

In this 4-part video interview, Mr. Wills, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, talks about how he was adopted by a human family, how he dealt with his unusual abilities growing up, how he was visited regularly by an extraterrestrial delegation that briefed him on his extraterrestrial identity and his mission, how during these visits he was told to watch for specific signs during the 18-year period preceding 2012 as to whether the earth and the human population would veer toward peace or war, and how these visits stopped on the day of September 11, 2001, Mr. Wills’ birthday and the date a regularly scheduled visit was of the extraterrestrial delegation to occur.

I'll let you click thru to watch the interview, but, um, it's a doozy...

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)


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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Senate rejects Republican health-care repeal effort

Not much drama here. The GOP-controlled House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it was clear that the repeal effort wasn't going anywhere, what with Democrats still in control in the Senate and, of course, with Obama prepared to use the veto if necessary.

So today the Senate voted along party lines, 51-57, against repeal.

And that, as they say, is that, at least as far as Congress is concerned. The issue will continue to play out in the courts, where Republicans are trying to use the law's individual mandate to bring the whole thing down. And it will ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to rule on it.


There's nothing funny about what the Republicans are doing, even if their effort is pathetically misguided and without merit.

But this -- this is funny:

Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth

WASHINGTON—In a strong rebuke of President Obama and his domestic agenda, all 242 House Republicans voted Wednesday to repeal the Asteroid Destruction and American Preservation Act, which was signed into law last year to destroy the immense asteroid currently hurtling toward Earth.

The $440 billion legislation, which would send a dozen high-thrust plasma impactor probes to shatter the massive asteroid before it strikes the planet, would affect more than 300 million Americans and is strongly opposed by the GOP.

"The voters sent us to Washington to stand up for individual liberty, not big government," Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said at a press conference. "Obama's plan would take away citizens' fundamental freedoms, forcing each of us into hastily built concrete bunkers and empowering the federal government to ration our access to food, water, and potassium iodide tablets while underground."

"We believe that the decisions of how to deal with the massive asteroid are best left to the individual," King added.

Repealing the act, which opponents have branded 'Obamastroid,' has been the cornerstone of the GOP agenda since the law's passage last August. Throughout the 2010 elections, Republican candidates claimed that the Democrats' plan to smash the space rock and shield citizens from its fragments was "a classic example of the federal government needlessly interfering in the lives of everyday Americans."

"This law is a job killer," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who argued the tax increases required to save the human species from annihilation would impose unbearably high costs on businesses. "If we sit back and do nothing, Obamastroid will result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, which we simply can't afford in this economy."

"And consider how much money this program will add to our already bloated deficit," Foxx continued. "Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?"

Very funny -- especially so because it could very well be true. It gets the Republicans perfectly.

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Activist judge Roger Vinson's ruling makes George Washington unconstitutional

I'm not an ambulance chaser, nor am I a judge. I can't even claim sidekick status to a comic book superhero who rights the wrongs of America with his doctorate in constitutional law.

But riddle me this, Batman: If the president signed a law forcing every American to purchase a rifle and ammunition in preparation for a possible call to active military duty, but the Constitution specifically forbade forcing Americans to purchase ammunition, could a federal judge then overturn the entire law – including the rifle mandate – on the basis that only the ammunition portion of the law was illegal?

A judge in Florida has ruled against President Obama's health-care reform law, saying that the provision that forces Americans to buy health insurance is a breach of Congress' constitutional authority. He did not argue the illegality of the law's other provisions. He said only that the mandate (the ammunition provision, in this seemingly left-field metaphor) was unconstitutional.

It would be easy to brand this 70-year-old, bachelor's degree-educated wannabe Tea Partier as a kook who admitted to relying on the legally insignificant analyses of a known hate group to craft his ruling. Rest assured, his education, his age, and his apparent bias do not play into my critique. Calling Vinson a geriatric Frankenstein pig fucker with shit for brains would not be a merit-based evaluation of his mental capacity, his overall intelligence, and his cognitive ability to perform the duties expected of a judge, which is why I'm not arguing that he's a pig fucker. I'm merely asking how a man tasked with interpreting the legality of public policy can denounce every aspect of a law on the basis that one aspect of it is, in his opinion, unconstitutional.

Rather than rule only against the mandate portion of the law, as was the expectation and the precedent set in a mirror ruling made by a federal judge in Virginia, Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee, instead threw out the entire law on the basis that all the reforms will fail without the mandate. Granted, President Obama's health-care law doesn't include a "severability clause" that would allow the judge to strike down a portion of the law without invalidating the entire law, but if Vinson believes the entire law is illegal, then why didn't he issue an injunction against the policy and immediately halt its implementation?

First of all, we must ask if the health-care law itself would be invalidated without the mandate, as that is the basis for Vinson's ruling. It turns out several states have created laws banning insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Also, Vinson did not rule that the provision in the law that allows children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26 was unconstitutional. These provisions would still be in place without the mandate. They would still be legal.

It doesn't require a magnifying glass to read between the lines of Vinson's ruling. He's saying what even the president has said – that without the mandate, the bill would fail. But failure, in this sense, means it wouldn't generate the revenue predicted, it wouldn't achieve the coverage rates predicted, and it wouldn't lower costs for individual insurance consumers as predicted.

The question, however, is not whether or not the bill is effective. It is the job of Congress, of lawmakers, policy experts, and legislative analysts to determine the effectiveness of a bill. The question is, when did it become the job of a judge, of an interpreter of the law, to decide effectiveness?

We talk often, and we often talk vehemently, about "activist" judges. Any leftist who angers the right is an activist judge. Any right-winger who pisses off the left is an activist judge. In most cases, these are ideological critiques, not merit-based evaluations.

This, I think, is one of the few cases where the "judicial activism" argument holds water. It would not be inappropriate for a federal judge to air his personal views that health-care reform would be cheapened without a mandate. We wouldn't balk at the observation, as the president and nearly every Democrat in Congress has already admitted as much. But is it appropriate that a judge has shot down an entire law based on the personal evaluation of how effective a law would be without the one portion he has deemed unconstitutional?

That's the question. I'm open to critiques.

As for my seemingly unrelated metaphor of the rifle and ammunition mandates, that actually happened. It was, in fact, one of the framers of the Constitution, George Washington, who forced every American to arm himself. In a way, this was health-care insurance, 1770s-style. No judge ruled it unconstitutional. Probably few citizens deemed the mandates unjust. It was logical to protect oneself. And in that sense, its no different than modern health-care reform.

(Cross-posted from Muddy Politics.)

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South Dakota legislators introduce bill requiring all adults to buy a gun

Five Republican lawmakers in South Dakota have introduced a bill that, if passed, would require all adults over the age of 21 to purchase a firearm "sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense":

The measure is known as an act "to provide for an individual mandate to adult citizens to provide for the self defense of themselves and others."

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, is sponsoring the bill and knows it will be killed. But he said he is introducing it to prove a point that the federal health care reform mandate passed last year is unconstitutional.

"Do I or the other co-sponsors believe that the State of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance," he said.

First, being armed is not the same as having health insurance. We're living in a society, as George Costanza said, not in some Hobbesian state of nature.

Second, the conservative argument that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is unconstitutional is deeply flawed. (And the two activist rulings, in Virginia and Florida, against the mandate were both deeply partisan.)

Third... well, here's Jack Balkin:

The irony, of course, is that this is an example of what the federal government could require citizens to do at the founding. All able bodied male citizens were part of the militia, and therefore were required to bear arms in defense of the state. In fact, the federal government passed a militia act in 1792 that required that every citizen purchase a weapon and ammunition.

Oops. Nice try, idiotic South Dakota Republicans.

Balkin again, utterly and brilliantly destroying conservative opposition to the mandate: 

What is lost in the debate over the individual mandate is that the point of the individual mandate is also civic republican in nature. It requires citizens to make a far less significant but also public-spirited sacrifice on behalf of other Americans who cannot afford health insurance. Individuals must join health insurance risk pools to make health care affordable for more of their fellow citizens. This is a very modest request that individuals not be entirely selfish and that they contribute to the public good in a small way by helping to make health care accessible and affordable for all Americans. Indeed, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, one doesn't even have to purchase insurance; one can simply pay a small tax instead. And one doesn't have to pay at all if one is too poor to do so or has a religious objection.

The notion that being asked to either buy health insurance and make health care accessible for one's fellow citizens--or to pay a small tax-- is a form of tyranny akin to George III's regime is simply bizarre: it shows how perverted and twisted public discourse has become in the United States. The assault on the individual mandate is really an assault on the public duty to assist other Americans in need, and in particular, an assault on the legal obligation to pay taxes to contribute to the general welfare. The assault on the health care bill is not a defense of liberty. It is a defense of selfishness. 

Which is pretty much what the Republican Party is all about, along with a complete lack of regard both for American history and for the Constitution they claim to love so dearly.

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