Saturday, March 05, 2011

Elephant Dung #21: O'Reilly challenges Palin over entitlements for the poor

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

I'm not sure this was really a sign of the deeper Republican crack-up as much as it was about O'Reilly just being fed up with Palin's platitudinous right-wing bullshit:

It's hard to say why it happened, but all of a sudden Bill O'Reilly decided last night to stop tossing Sarah Palin the usual softball questions and Hannity Jobs she's become accustomed to during her tenure at Fox News. He asked her to finally get specific instead of bloviating in vague generalities about where and how she's achieve the budget cuts she's calling for.

Yes, O'Reilly actually looked compassionate and sane next to Palin, who responded to O'Reilly's comment about how there are "a lot of people on the dole" in Alaska by, predictably, blaming the federal government and calling for more irresponsible environmental misuse ("tap into energy resources").

In the meantime, you have to wonder how much longer Palin is going to enjoy her free ride at Fox. If O'Reilly is toughening up on her, that probably means Roger Ailes is getting close to throwing her to the wolves.

Well, I'm not sure we're there quite yet, but it's abundantly clear that many on the right, and within the GOP, have grown tired of Palin's idiocy, however popular she may remain with the base.

Here, watch and enjoy:

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Friday, March 04, 2011

"Human Sexuality" class at Northwestern includes after-class session on BDSM, complete with dildo penetration and orgasm

No, I'm not kidding:

More than 100 Northwestern University students watched as a naked 25-year-old woman was penetrated by a sex toy wielded by her fiancee during an after-class session of the school's popular "Human Sexuality" class.


The optional, non-credit demo followed psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey's sexuality class. Nearly 600 students are in Bailey's class this quarter, and most didn't stick around for the after-class show, which featured four members of Chicago's fetish community describing "BDSM," or bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.

Conservatives like Michelle Malkin are jumping up and down in disgust, but then they're generally opposed to both education and sexuality, so this, to them, was doubly bad. And it was indeed educational:

"I didn't expect to see a live sex show," said Justin Smith, 21, a senior economics and political science major who was in the after-class session. "We were told we were going to have some people talk to us about the fetish world and kink."

Smith said it took him awhile to process what happened, but he doesn't object to the way the material was presented.

"It was for me academic like everything else," he said.

Professor Bailey was hesitant to agree to it but couldn't really "come up with a legitimate reason why students should not be able to watch such a demonstration. Was it obscene? Only if you think such normal aspects of human sexuality are obscene -- and, yes, I mean normal, which fetishes (and female orgasm) very much are, and exhibitionism is hardly a "weird" one. Besides, everyone present was an adult and the whole situation was fully consensual. The woman, Faith Kroll, "said she was not coerced in any way and students were repeatedly warned it was going to get graphic."

I applaud the university for supporting Bailey, the course, liberal education, and academic freedom:

"Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines," said Alan K. Cubbage, vice president for University Relations. "The University supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge."

I realize that conservatives don't get that -- the advancement of knowledge, that is -- but there is so much more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in their repressive right-wing ideology.

As for me, I just wonder why I missed out. I don't remember anything like that ever occurring at Tufts. At least not in a classroom.

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Elephant Dung #20: Fox News suspends Santorum and Gingrich but not Palin and Huckabee

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

After news broke on Wednesday that Fox News was suspending former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum as a contributor to the network, it didn't take long before the potential presidential contender spoke out on the matter.

Appearing on CNN's "John King USA" the same day, Santorum said the decision to sever ties came after never being asked by anyone at Fox News about his plans for 2012.

According to the network, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who both contribute to the network and are believed to be mulling presidential campaigns, have not been suspended in their roles.

"I don't know why Fox differentiated, whether there's been conversations," he said. "They didn't talk to me and ask me whether I'm running or not. It wasn't something that we had a conversation about. I don't know whether other people have had conversations."

It's not clear why Fox News did what it did, and whether what it did involved playing favourites -- selecting Palin and Huckabee, who will continue to have the network's media platform from which to play politics -- but a wedge seems to have been driven into the potential Republican presidential field, and perhaps into the party itself.

Unless, of course, Fox News knows something we don't, namely, that Santorum and Gingrich are running and Palin and Huckabee aren't, but that seems far-fetched.

For his part, Santorum didn't take any direct shots either at Fox News or at his rivals, but he didn't really have to. He has previously gone after Palin and appears to be trying to out-Palin her (by playing aggressively to her right-wing constituency within the GOP), and in reinforcing his seriousness about (thinking about) running he was able to make his anti-Palin point (that she's in it for the money while he's in it to win) without being petty. In the end, after all, he'd need Palin's support to get anywhere in the primaries, and it hardly behooves him to criticize her more than he already has.

But you can tell he's really irritated.

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Will he run or won't he? Wading into the self-aggrandizing bullshit of Newt Gingrich

Back in January, Newt Gingrich said he'd make a decision on running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination by the end of February. Well, it took him until March 3, but actually he still hasn't decided:

Newt Gingrich said on Thursday he is "seriously" considering a 2012 presidential run and unveiled a website to explore a potential bid for the White House.

"We will look at this very seriously," Gingrich said at the state Capitol as he stood between his wife, Callista, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

"We will very methodically lay out the framework of what we'll do next. And we think the key is to have citizens that understand this is going to take a lot of us, for a long time, working together."

His brief comments, part of an eight-minute news conference, were an exercise in carefully chosen words — Gingrich steered clear of the phrase “exploratory committee.”

The former House Speaker is the first major Republican candidate to open such an exploratory effort.

He has created a fundraising committee, Newt Exploratory 2012 – which is different from an “exploratory committee” - to pay for activities like polling, staff and travel as he weighs a presidential campaign and the new website seeks donations. No paperwork has yet been filed by Newt Exploratory 2012 with the Federal Election Commission. He also launched a twitter feed, NewtExplore2012.

Newt this, Newt that. When you deconstruct it all, all you end up with is "self-aggrandizing bullshit." And the joke's on anyone who takes him seriously.

Because nothing has changed, allow me to quote myself from October 2009, when he was also talking about running:

Please. This is what Gingrich always does to keep his name out there, and to maintain his quasi-celebrity status on the national political scene, more with the national media than with the party leadership or base.

He's an attention whore, you see. Whenever he's not getting enough attention, he floats the "I may run for president" bullshit, knowing that the media will lap it up and put him back in the news.

And he doesn't mean it... He won't run, and never will, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that he knows he'd lose, badly. He likely wouldn't even make it out of the Republican primaries, where his pompous, self-absorbed windbaggery would put him at a disadvantage against his sucking-up-to-the extremist-base rivals. (Sure, he'd suck up, too, and he's surely an extremist of sorts, but it's hard to see Republican primary voters trusting him.)

He also knows full well that all the old dirt would come out, and a lot more we don't know about yet -- the truth about the character and conviction of Newt Gingrich -- and it's that, one suspects, that motivates any reluctance he might have to re-enter electoral politics, perhaps even more than the fear of losing...

The fact is, Gingrich enjoys a certain status on the national scene. Simply put, he is respected. Some of us find that respect seriously misplaced -- and I wish we'd dispense with the "big thinker" label for a self-aggrandizing partisan who is "big" only relative to the smallness that rules the GOP -- but the media love him, and not just the right-wing kind. And he's not about to give that up by risking the truth coming out, which it would, nor by fighting it out in the GOP gutter only to lose, which he would.

So please. Enough.

And while I'm quoting myself, let me do so again from June 2009, when I wrote about Newt's ridiculous argument that "we are surrounded by paganism":

I'm not sure Newt was being so "Christian" when he was getting blown by his various mistresses (but not, he claimed, committing adultery, because oral sex apparently doesn't count) -- or when he demanded a divorce from his first wife Jackie in her hospital room, where she was recovering from uterine cancer surgery -- or when he refused to pay alimony and child support after their divorce -- etc., etc., etc.
All that would come out again, and more. Maybe he's convinced himself that it's his time and that he could actually beat Obama -- highly, highly unlikely -- but I'm not buying it. He can't even bring himself to form an actual exploratory committee, after all, just to set up a website, and thinking "seriously" about something isn't exactly the same as actually doing it. He's not serious about running, just about keeping his name in the news and remaining a key player in the Republican Party, and I suspect we'll learn soon enough that his "framework" is just as full of shit as he is.

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Jim DeMint thinks unions are the most powerful political group in the country. Really?

(Let's make DeMint our Craziest Republican of the Day! -- MJWS)

Though I am quite used to Republican politicians saying spectacularly stupid things, there is the occasional comment that strikes me as particularly dim. In this case, it was something recently said by South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint in reference to attempts to bust public-sector unions in Wisconsin. He stated the following: 

The unions are the most powerful political group in the country today... Their power in politics is unprecedented. And without the unions, the Democrat Party fades away. The president is completely dependent for his reelection on the unions, and so are the Democrats. 

It's hard to know which part of this statement is more absurd, that unions are the most powerful political group in the country today or that the Democratic Party would fade away without them.

In a post-Citizens United world where corporate interests can throw piles of money at election campaigns, does anyone think that unions are actually the most powerful player on the partisan stage. Seriously?

Maybe DeMint is just full of shit and he knows it. Or maybe, like a lot of people on the right, he reasons that corporations are just like individuals expressing legitimate and uncoordinated support for candidates. They do not, on this view, share a common interest and should not be considered a political group at all. It's only unions, apparently, whose actions can be classed as organized.

That's the only way his comment can make sense to me. It's bullshit, of course, but not an uncommon view amongst conservatives.

They are an entertaining bunch. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Elephant Dung #19: The Tea Party prefers Charlie Sheen to John Boehner

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Poor Johnny B.

Try as he might, he just can't win -- that is, win over the Tea Party that is now so much an integral part of the GOP. And the radical rightists are placing him squarely in Palin's crosshairs:

A national tea party group is in revolt against House Speaker John Boehner and wants to see him defeated in a 2012 primary, arguing that he looks "like a fool" in the debate over spending cuts and makes less sense than actor Charlie Sheen.

"You look like a fool," Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips wrote in a post on the group's website, directing his message at the Ohio Republican. "Charlie Sheen is now making more sense than John Boehner."

Ouch. That's like saying you have less musical talent than J-Lo. (Yes, American Idol reference. I went there. I'm not watching this year -- why, without Simon? -- but I did catch her new video on last night's show. "This is the worst song ever," said The Reactionette. Hyperbole, to be sure, but only slight. "That was terrible. Just awful." Agreed.)

Boehner "did not get the message" from the tea party movement demanding big cuts to federal spending, Phillips said, and "the honeymoon is over." The movement should respond, he said, by finding "a candidate to run against John Boehner in 2012 and should set as a goal, to defeat in a primary, the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives."

Right, because Boehner is all-powerful and can therefore make it all happen, even with a Democratic Senate and president. Not that I wish to defend him, but he's reasonable and sane compared to the Tea Party, which largely sits on the sidelines spouting ideological extremism, and attacking sinners while seeking to cleanse the Republican Party of the ideologically inadequate, while legislators like Boehner are forced to work within the parameters of a democratically-elected legislature, that is, to seek compromise to get anything done.

The Tea Party completely misunderstood last year's midterm election results, just as it misunderstands politics generally, and expected right-wing revolution right away. But revolution was never to be, and not just because of Boehner. It's not just extremism but delusional ignorance that drives the Tea Party.

The Republican right, the party's new mainstream, has taken over. It's pulling the party further and further to the right, away from its former establishment, and it's purging the party ranks of those who aren't sufficiently right-wing, who aren't ideologically acceptable to the new Bolsheviks. Among its many targets are some of the most reputable members of the party, including those with long careers advancing conservative causes, like Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar. We can now add Boehner to the list, a long-time loyal partisan who's been speaker for just two months.

And Democrats, of course, are salivating.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Huckabee on the carpet

By Capt. Fogg

British comedian Ricky Gervais recently put together a short TV comedy series, An Idiot Abroad -- seven episodes indulging his obvious schadenfreude by making his "friend" and reputed moron Carl Pilkington miserable despite having been being sent to visit some wonderful places. It had the effect of annoying me since Pilkington, who isn't quite the idiot Gervais says he is, seems rather to be a nice and decent sort of fellow and deserved better treatment, even if that would undermine the premise of the show.

I don't feel quite the same way about Likable Mike Huckabee, affable and avuncular and sincere though he may seem. It's as hard to feel sympathy for one whose idiocy seems more purposeful and politically founded than genetic, although that may be a factor too. I'm not just talking about his shameless promotion of Bronze age ignorance and mythology and the snickering denigration of science. I'm not just talking about promoting the invasion of Libya and thus cementing the authority of Qaddafi, making us appear imperialistic and escalating the debt and putting a strain on our military capability. I'm talking abut his attempt to enlist a far more scurrilous bit of political mythology than "creation science" to promote his grotesque candidacy by telling us our president grew up in Africa and so really doesn't either understand us or have our interests at heart.

It's not just the racism. I'm used to racism. It's that the possibility of his candidacy rests on building and arming an insurgency of idiots who neither know or care about reality. It's like inviting the Klan to use your back yard for a rally and claiming you're above that sort of thing yourself.

It's not that he's black, you see -- it's just that you can't trust someone with the troubling attribute of being dark skinned. Smiling Mike surely knows that Barack Obama lived in Indonesia as a small boy but wasn't born in and didn't live in any part of Africa. He knows he was born in the USA as surely as Bruce Springsteen was and Mike Huckabee was and grew up in the American Midwest and was raised by his white relatives. So if he does know that and chooses none the less to have you believe otherwise, he's a liar willing to use lies to get elected. If he doesn't know that, he's an idiot to the degree that he shouldn't be given a more responsible or well paid position than a men's room attendant.

Huckabee shouldn't be trusted with leading a Boy Scout troop, much less the United States. He represents, despite his smiling, self-effacing sincerity, the lower skirt of the intellectual as well as the moral decency bell curve, no matter how you measure it.

Yes, professional fixer and HuckPAC Executive Director J. Hogan Gidley says Huckabee "simply misspoke" during his book tour, which is as convincing as saying the dog didn't crap on the carpet, but simply misshit. It only means he's not toilet trained, can't be trusted and we surely don't want him on the expensive rug in the oval office.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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U.S. military fucks up in Afghanistan, killing children, strengthening Taliban

The Times:

Nine boys collecting firewood to heat their homes in the eastern Afghanistan mountains were killed by NATO helicopter gunners who mistook them for insurgents, according to a statement on Wednesday by NATO, which apologized for the mistake.

The boys, who were 9 to 15 years old, were attacked on Tuesday in what amounted to one of the war’s worst cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy survived.

The NATO statement, which included an unusual personal apology by the commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the boys had been misidentified as the attackers of a NATO base earlier in the day. News of the attack enraged Afghans and led to an anti-American demonstration on Wednesday in the village of Nanglam, where the boys were from.

Something tells me the personal apology from Petraeus isn't going to help much. As Comrade Misfit puts it, "[n]o matter how many clinics NATO sets up or how many schools are opened, the relatives of the dead children aren't going to be in a forgiving mood."

And neither, of course, will the Taliban, which only gets stronger each and every time the U.S. (and NATO) fucks up like this. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

Of course this was a mistake. But it reinforces the human toll of fighting an insurgency you often cannot see in a region you cannot fully control where insurgents and civilians are often interchangeable. At some point, the inevitability of this kind of civilian death makes one reassess the justness of this long, long war -- and the chances of "success" whatever that now means.

Can you imagine how we would feel if nine American boys were slaughtered from the air by an occupying power? Does anyone think this kind of mistake -- inevitable in such a war zone -- can do anything but help the insurgency?

Maybe it was inevitable, maybe it wasn't. But the fact that it happened, along with the inevitable anti-American response from justifiably angry Afghans, reveals a great deal about a war that has turned into a quagmire of failure.

Americans would never put up with this. Why should we expect the Afghans to?

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Buddy Roemer, baby! The incredible 2012 Republican presidential field is about to get a whole lot more incredible!

Romney... and Pawlenty... and maybe Gingrich... and maybe Santorum... and maybe, oh, uh... Barbour... and, er, oh... Huckabee possibly... and maybe Giuliani... and, um, Karger, can't forget Karger... and, well, Daniels... and Huntsman, you never know... and Paul, Ron Paul, CPAC star... and The Donald... Trump, that is... and, of course, Palin... or not.

Is that about it? For the big names (Karger excluded), yes, though I highly doubt Barbour will run and I'm highly skeptical Gingrich is serious and even Giuliani isn't that delusional, right? Karger's a gay rights activist and hardly anyone knows who he is, Huckabee's got some right-wing cred but seems less interested than four years ago, and Daniels and Huntsman, the latter Obama's ambassador to China, are just way too reasonable for the GOP, however solidly conservative they may be. Ron Paul has the crazy libertarians behind him, but he's way too anti-establishment, and Trump is a loud-mouthed buffoon who can get a lot of press but who would never win (and will never run -- this is all about generating buzz). And, as for Palin... please. She's tantalizing us, but there's no way she gives up her cushy, absolutely-no-responsibility position as brightest Republican star for what would be an utter disaster, unless she really believes in her own "god"-given greatness and decides that she's an unstoppable force. Which is possible, I admit.

Anyway, what are Republicans to do? Well, maybe they can look to Louisiana.

To Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American who's relatively sane for the GOP? Er, no.

To Ex-Gov. Buddy Roemer. Who? Exactly.

The GOP's white-bread presidential primary is about to get a dash of Tabasco.

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer will announce Thursday in Baton Rouge that he is forming an exploratory committee, he told POLITICO.

"I should be president or somebody better than I should be," Roemer said in an interview. "And the only way to make sure of that is to make [my opponents] go around me, through me or over me in the primaries."

First, through him or over him? For some reason I don't see that as a huge challenge.

Second, somebody better than him? It's a pretty crappy (potential) field, but he's not exactly a superstar. (And he was actually a Democrat until he switched during his one term as governor.)

And third -- to Politico -- "a dash of Tabasco"? No, he's pretty darn white. Saying that he'd bring some Tabasco (i.e., flavour, or maybe even colour) to the field, because he's from Louisiana, is just plain stupid.

The only possible major contender -- so I'm not counting Tea Party fave Herman Cain -- who isn't as white as they come is Giuliani, who presumably would bring some much-needed arrabbiata to an otherwise bland and largely tasteless Republican primary.

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The chill in the air

By Carl 

Yesterday, the SCOTUS made one of the single biggest boneheaded decisions from a court full of them (Citizens United, anyone?): 

The Westboro Baptist church were sued for emotional distress by the family of Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, after members of the church picketed his funeral with signs that read: "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "You're Going to Hell".

But the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against the family and said that the church was entitled to protest under the Constitution's First Amendment, the right to free speech. 

In those two paragraphs are all you need to know to understand the dire predicament the right to privacy is facing in the United States with the Roberts court. There can be no more private moment in a person's life than the moment at which the friends and family gather together to say goodbye, to mourn the loss of a human life.

Yes, free speech is important and should be encouraged at all times, but the right of an American to be free to be where he wants, to do what he wants (within the boundaries of the law) and to be left alone trumps the sole right to shout obscenities, 3 to 1.

This ruling has implications beyond that of some rude speech by evil people. Privacy and the right to it is on shaky legal ground in a strict constuctionist court. See, it's not in the original Constitution per se. Yes, freedom from undue search and seizure, and stuff like that, all point to a Constitutional basis for a right to privacy, but the right is not delineated in the document, and according to the children on the right who act like demented fifth grade crossing guards, it cannot possibly exist.

This means sodomy laws can and will be enforced. Abortion can and will be under dire assault nationwide. It means fifty separate lawsuits defining what consenting adults may or may not do behind closed doors (the case that brought about the implied right to privacy, Griswold v. Connecticut, was about the use of contraception... contraception!... by a married couple).

The Roberts court has opened the barn door on all the horses now, guaranteeing itself a long run as arbiter of America's moral code.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Democrats push for recall of Republican state senators in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has decided to throw its weight behind a nascent grassroots drive to recall a number of GOP state senators, a move that will considerably increase the pressure on them to break with Governor Scott Walker, the Dem party chair confirms to me.

"The proposals and the policies that Republicans are pushing right now are not what they campaigned on, and they're extreme," the party chair, Mike Tate, said in an interview. "Something needs to be done about it now. We're happy to stand with citizens who are filling papers to recall these senators."

Previously, Wisconsin Dems had not publicly supported talk about recalling GOP Senators, in hopes of privately reaching a negotiated solution to the crisis. The Wisconsin Democratic Party's decision to support the recall drives represents a significant ratcheting up of hostilities and in essence signals that all bets are off.

You know what's great about this? For once, Democrats aren't putting up with Republicans' shit, with their efforts to implement an extremist right-wing agenda that voters strongly oppose (and only support when the GOP's propaganda, pushed through a willing media establishment, screws with their heads).

And also, for once, Democrats are actually winning the issue and driving the narrative, sending Republicans into fits of defensive desperation.

Feels good, doesn't it?

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Taxing the super rich like it's 1959

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labour in the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1997, has a very interesting blog on the current state of affairs that contains any number of useful observations. 

I recently came across one of his posts, which laid out some rather compelling facts about the grossly uneven distribution of wealth in America and how it is that we have come to be in a situation where we can't pay for the things that any civilized society really should be able to fund.

No great surprise, but nearly everyone in America has bought into the idea that we need to radically reduce expenditures rather than give any thought at all to increasing revenues through taxation, specifically by taxing those who can most afford it – the super rich.

We have heard this before, but the numbers, as I say, are compelling.

I do recommend that you read Reich's post in its entirety, but here are a few interesting bits:

Today's typical 30-year old male (if he has a job) is earning the same as a 30-year old male earned three decades ago, adjusted for inflation.

The bottom 90 percent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did 30 years ago. That's less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. Families are doing somewhat better but that's only because so many families have to rely on two incomes.

This may not sound catastrophic, but, and here's the rub, the American economy is more than twice as large now as it was thirty years ago. So, Reich asks, where does all the money go? And the obvious answer is: to the top:

The richest 1 percent's share of national wealth has doubled – from around 9 percent in 1977 to over 20 percent now. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent's share has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of 1 percent now earn as much as the bottom 120 million put together.

In so many ways, I have to say that I don't care what one's politics are. This is just wrong. 

But you might think that with the economy growing so rapidly over the past 30 years, those benefiting the most would be called upon to kick in a bit more. You would be wrong. The power of the super rich has been such that they have been able to make just the opposite happen:

From the 1940s until 1980, the tax rate on the highest earners in America was 70 percent or higher. In the 1950s, it was 91 percent.

Under Ronald Reagan the top rate dropped to 28 percent. Under Bill Clinton it rose to 39 percent and then under George W. Bush dropped to 36 percent (which is, of course, where the Republicans want to keep it).

Reich goes on to talk about big slashes to estate taxes and capital gains taxes, but you get the picture.

To add insult to injury, Reich makes the point that even before the current economic downturn the middle class's share of the nation's total income had shrunk while their tax burden had grown as they paid bigger chunks of their income in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes than they did before.

A lot of right wingers want to talk about common sense. Well, it makes no sense to me that public services and programs that the middle class and poorer Americans count on are poised to get the axe while this gross, and relatively new, uneven distribution of wealth in America does incredible damage to the fabric of the country.

The obvious point that Reich makes is that we need to hike taxes on the super rich -- not that this is going to happen any time soon.

No, we are going to continue to vilify public sector employers and big government in general. We are going to let big money buy all the means of mass communication and politicians it needs to convince everyone that what we really need is smaller government, which is just another way of saying that people, a growing number of people, will simply have to do without what they need to live a decent life.

A more equitable scheme of taxation would go a long way to solving the problems we are told can only be solved by massive cuts, but that would simply seem to make too much sense.

I'll give Professor Reich the last word:

Do this and we can afford to do what we need to do as a nation. Do this and you prevent setting the middle class against itself. Do this and you restore some balance to a distribution of income and wealth that's now dangerously out of whack.


(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Will Republicans actually listen to the American people and scrap their right-wing agenda?

John Boehner, Sunday, February 13: "[I]t's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people."

Less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the country's mounting deficit, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll...

In the poll, Americans across all age groups and ideologies said by large margins that it was "unacceptable'' to make significant cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal deficit. Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security "unacceptable."

Americans strongly oppose efforts to strip unionized government workers of their rights to collectively bargain, even as they want public employees to contribute more money to their retirement and health-care benefits, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.

Eliminating collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers over health care, pensions or other benefits would be either "mostly unacceptable" or "totally unacceptable," 62% of those surveyed said. Only 33% support such limits.

It's not my job to tell you what to make of these two polls, nor what to make of Republican efforts to cut entitlement programs and eliminate collective bargaining rights, nor what to make of the Republicans' claim that, coming out of the 2010 midterm elections, they have a mandate to implement their right-wing agenda.

You can draw your own conclusions.

I'm just sayin'.

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Chris Dodd at the movies

Last August, retiring Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd said he would not become a lobbyist.

Yesterday, it was announced that former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd will be the next chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, a high-profile lobbying position that will bring in an annual salary of about $1.2 million.

It must be nice when you can cash in like that, when you can use your "public service" to make millions. But of course he was always more lobbyist than lawmaker anyway. Much to his discredit and shame.

But... the MPAA? What the hell does Chris "Big Insurance" Dodd know about the movies?

Dodd, for his part, said in a statement Tuesday he was "excited about representing the interests of the industry." He added, "Protecting this great American export will be my highest priority."

"In several important ways, taking this step represents a continuation of my work in the Senate, from advancing the interests of children and families and creating and safeguarding American jobs to the protection of intellectual property and the expansion of international trade," Dodd continued.

Like Biff Tannen, Dodd is covered in a truckload of manure -- but his own. I realize that heading the MPAA is different than, say, actually making movies (or caring about film), but does he really view American movies as exports rather than art? Sure, there are important issues like intellectual property rights, and Hollywood is very much about making money overseas (given dwindling revenues domestically), but come on. Couldn't he at least have pretended to be something other than a money-obsessed shill?

And what's with the nonsense about "advancing the interests of children and families"? Is that code for Lieberman-style censorship?

I love film, including some of what comes out of the Hollywood cesspool, but I generally dislike Hollywood, whatever its political leanings.

It just got worse.


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The straw that broke the liberal's back?

A band of liberal revolutionaries is storming the Capitol, hip-checking elderly Tea Party activists and snatching the anti-Obama protest signs right from their arthritic hands. They're chanting, screaming, wailing – "Traitor," "Vile Betrayer," "No-bama, No-bama..." – and tearing the cloth from their breasts in agony as they fall to their knees, pound the earth with clenched fists, and curse the gods of progressivism for the posturing con artist occupying the White House. American flags burn in the background. Hope and Change T-shirts burn in the foreground. Blue flames crisscross like daggers in the sky as the ominous clouds form like cyclones above the White House. The governors who have gathered with Obama inside the State Dining Room are all smiles and nods as the president explains his openness to the idea of letting individual states create their own health-care laws in lieu of the ever-unpopular "ObamaCare" legislation, while everyone outside hoists pitchforks and decries the unraveling of populism, not as they know it, but as they imagine it.

When I saw the headline from The Hill, "Obama backtracks on health mandate, wants to allow earlier opt-out," this was the fantasy my conscious mind created as it envisioned the reaction of the news from left-wing diehards, bleeding hearts, and feverish bloggers.

The already fine line between fantasy and political reality draws paper thin the more time President Obama spends in the White House. The details don't matter to the extremists on the left who envisioned Obama during the campaign as a messiah of modern American leadership. Politics today is less about policy than it is about perceptions, and the president's admission that his health-care law could be altered or amended if such adjustments helped the country implement across-the-board reforms serves only to ignite the flames of doubt and fuel the fires of intra-party betrayal in the eyes of uncompromising liberals.

He's already guilty of compromise, negotiation and capitulation – the trifecta of evil that is embodied, historically, by those whose souls are either sold to the powerful deal-makers within Washington or bought by the corporate lobbyists without. We saw it first when he gave up on the single-payer health care option. We saw it a second time in his deal with Republicans to cut taxes for the rich. We're seeing it again with this appeal to bipartisanship over implementation of what is arguably the most historic piece of social legislation enacted in Congress since civil rights.

For the lefties who voted for, campaigned for, and prayed to their Wiccan goddesses for a progressive panacea to the Bush era, this may prove to be the straw that broke the liberal's back.

And yet it means nothing to the pragmatists who understand that consensus is key to any law and that popularity is paramount to any successful legislation.

Twenty-five governors – representing half the country – have filed suit against the series of reforms included in the 2010 legislation that conservatives refer to as "ObamaCare." Polls consistently show an equal division of opinion on whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is good or bad for America. And minds are still unmade as to whether repeal of "ObamaCare" is better than the health insurance company abuses that plagued the country before such protections were put in place.

If it is disappointing to a certain faction of the American public that Obama has decided to continue his efforts to improve the law that will most likely define his presidency, then that in itself is disappointing. It is, after all, the liberal class in America that boasts of top placement on the intellectual hierarchy of the political – and social – ladder. They should be the first not only to understand but to appropriately analyze the limitations of bureaucracy, the stalwart opposition to change, and the restraints of progressivism. They are not only its advocates but its victims.

The president's abandonment of the single-payer option nearly split the Democratic Party in two, even if it was consistent with his campaign promise to lead by consensus, not with an iron fist. His capitulation on tax cuts nearly severed his ties not only to liberals but to fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, and he accepted that blowback as a consequence of his suddenly treasonous promise to reach out, whenever possible, to his opponents in Washington. It's worth mentioning that all of his alleged "capitulations" polled well for him, as the general public seemed to appreciate that a national leader tried to unite the country with a willingness to compromise rather than to divide the country by refusing to listen to the opposition.

It seems not every Democrat in America is liberal. (Somewhere in the world, a bird of idealism dropped dead from surprise.) 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Union-busting and the Koch brothers' plans for our future

As we consider attempts by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin to bust public sector unions, not to mention New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's constant rants against these unions in his own state, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is a plan afoot – a concerted effort by Republican politicians to do something that they always wanted to do but may not have previously seen a clear path to accomplish.

And, although former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been widely credited with saying that one should never let a good crisis go to waste, it seems his best students have been Republican governors.

Yes, the economy went to rat shit because of the malfeasance of Wall Street types, leaving everyone feeling vulnerable to personal economic collapse, which, in turn, has given Republican politicians the excuse they have longed for to get rid of public sector unions.

It's pretty simple. Point to people who have bargained their salaries and working conditions in good faith, have come to agreement with their employers as part of a legitimate negotiating process, and make them a target for others who are in precarious employment situations, or perhaps unemployed.

Feed on the worst aspects of human nature, which is to say that if some people are not doing well, others, with whom they may generally occupy the same economic class, should not be doing well either. Make it sound like everyone in a public sector union is driving a luxury car and vacationing in the Riviera. Divide working people so they cannot be a threat to the power of wealth and privilege in American. Make then forget who got us into this mess in the first place and stop them from asking annoying questions. Brilliant.

What is not being talked about enough, I believe, is that the assault on public sector unions is an assault on the idea that government is an effective force for good in our society. But, in this case, it's a two-for-one sale. Attacking public sector unions is an attack on the idea of an expanded role of government but also on the idea of unions: two forces that have always been a major impediment to massive private wealth in the United States doing whatever it chooses to do (while admittedly playing that role imperfectly).

Two things that wealth and privilege hate in America: government regulating their activities and working people having their own independent base of power. Take away collective bargaining for public sector unions and you clear the way for making government smaller and destroy yet another potential oppositional force. 

The rhetoric of someone like Governor Christie is priceless. In his world, gold-plated public sector contracts are paid for by working people who don't happen to be on the gravy train. This creates the potential of working people at each other’s throats with the goal of reducing the size of government and its ability to regulate the economy while destroying unions all at the same time. Who would have thought that an economic crisis could be so useful for the power elite?

How any working people can believe that smaller government and fewer effective unions will mean that they will have more freedom and autonomy to do the things they want to do is beyond me.

Whether one wants to go back and look at John Kenneth Gailbraith's theory of countervailing power or some variant of Robert Dahl's theory of pluralism, whatever else their defects, it's pretty obvious that there is real and concentrated economic power in America and those who hope to have real freedom and autonomy had better consider how they will come together, and organize, to challenge that power. Government at times can be helpful, unions as well, as can many different kinds of social movements.

Working people who fail to organize in their own interests or fail to support others who do will wonder how it is that their piece of the pie got so small.

Reduce the size and effectiveness of government, destroy the right of people to bargain collectively, to organize politically, and you will have ceded the entire playing field to the same Wall Street hacks and their cheerleaders in the Republican Party who have grown pretty comfortable with the growing inequalities of wealth in America.

The genius of the right is that they have always been able to find ways to get working people to fight amongst themselves.

Tea Partiers may think that reducing the size of government and the power of public sector unions will lead to a utopia where everyone, even the least among us, is free to realize his or her own version of the American Dream.

The Koch brothers sincerely thank you for being so naive.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Woodward slams Rumsfeld

For writing a memoir that is essentially one big steaming pile of dishonesty:

Rumsfeld's memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others -- including President Bush -- distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won't wash.

The Iraq War is essential to the understanding of the Bush presidency and the Rumsfeld era at the Pentagon. In the book, Rumsfeld tries to push so much off on Bush. That is fair because Bush made the ultimate decisions. But the record shows that it was Rumsfeld stoking the Iraq fires -- facts he has completely left out of his memoir.


When all the records are available, the other memoirs written and the history complete, this failure to accept responsibility will likely be his legacy.

Woodward has his own failings -- he too often trusts his sources unthinkingly, his analysis is often lacking, or non-existent, and he rarely connects the dots in any satisfactory way -- but he is undeniably a well-respected and generally non-partisan reporter of the historical record. There is still much blame to go around -- Cheney deserves his fair share, too, along with the various other warmongers in and around Bush's bubble, as well as those pushing for war generally -- but clearly Rumsfeld was a key architect of the disaster that was (and to a certain extent still is) the Iraq War and Woodward should be applauded for holding him to account.

One just wonders if this isn't part of some anti-Rumsfeld smear campaign conducted by those on the right -- those in or around Bush's bubble -- who see him as an easy scapegoat, a convenient fall guy for all that went wrong. You wouldn't think it could be Rumsfeld's pal Cheney, but what about someone else?

Okay, maybe not. Maybe Woodward just had to respond to Rumsfeld's blatant dishonesty? Maybe. (It is, after all, at the estimable Tom Ricks's blog.)

Either way, he makes some excellent points. Read the whole thing.

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Republicans, organized labor, and political suicide

Go ahead, Republicans, in Ohio and elsewhere, keep on attacking public-sector unions and proposing/passing legislation to weaken collective bargaining and workers' rights generally.

We'll win.

Especially when your anti-union efforts go after police officers and firefighters. They're organized, too, you know.

Bring. It. On.

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OK, Then....

By Carl
Two fetuses will be presented as witnesses before an Ohio legislative committee that is hearing a bill to outlaw abortions after the first heartbeat can be detected inside a woman's womb.

The fetuses will appear live and in color before the committee on a video screen projecting ultrasound images taken from their pregnant mothers' bodies. Janet Folger Porter, head of Faith2Action, an anti-abortion group, said the fetuses will be the youngest witnesses to ever testify when they come in front of the House Health and Aging Committee Wednesday morning.

Really, is there no level these asshats will NOT stoop to? Is exploiting an unborn fetus any worse than aborting him or her, if you believe that's wrong? Is there not some moral equivalent that in effect makes this slavery?



(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)


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