Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Myth of the Gorgons

"About her shoulders she flung the tasselled aegis, fraught with terror...and therein is the head of the dread monster, the Gorgon, dread and awful, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis."

In Amerikkkan culture, the three Gorgon (Γοργών ) sisters are terrifying female creatures who have infiltrated the media landscape. Gorgon derive from the Greek word for dreadful - gorgos. While descriptions vary across Amerikkkan mythology media, the power of these sisters is real - their horrifying visage of snakes for hair turns anyone who beholds them into teabags. The three sisters live on some sort of Rovian plane.

Sarahtheno, the eldest, is known for her inability to finish anything she starts (as a child Sarahtheno had to be home schooled for Russian literature by 5 different professors!). Sarahtheno is also sometimes known as "the levitra one" to as she also has a special power to increase "blood flow" in white males over 65. Janurale - which means "she of the prune" - made her mark by withholding organ transplants from needy peasants and arresting all nonwhites. However it is the youngest sister Michellusa that has the most vile look - a headful of poisonous King Cobra snakes.

As Aeschylus warned:
Near them their sisters three, the Gorgons, winged
With snakes for hair and love of teabag men

Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.770) wrote that Michellusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, "the jealous aspiration of many suitors," and priestess in Reagan's temple, but when she and the "Lord of the Tea" Pawlentidon lay together, this enraged her sister Sarahtheno, who transformed Medusa's beautiful hair of garden serpents to King Cobras and made her face so terrible that she would turn mere mortals into a stoned teabags.

Last month, there was pandemonium in Amerikkka when a strand of Michellusa's hair fell off and somehow landed in the Bronx, New York.

There is a male creature that is as terrifying as the Gorgon sisters: The Trumptaur

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If you don't get the joke, you might be Republican

By Capt. Fogg

Well no wonder they don't think The Daily Show is funny and don't notice when Colbert rips them to pieces.

Some scientific folks at UC San Francisco have completed a study indicating that people in the early stages of dementia have lost the snark detection system most of us were born with and can't tell when you're lying or being facetious. It explains a lot of things, actually, from why people send their life savings to Nigeria to why they can support a candidate who changes his entire philosophy from hour to hour to negate whatever his opponent says.

"Divergent Neuroanatomic Correlates of Sarcasm and Lie Comprehension in Neurodegenerative Disease," a paper presented Thursday at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Hawaii, suggests that dementia can be detected earlier by noting this telltale disability. Fans of Blade Runner will smile and those of us baffled by the thought processes of Sarah Palin disciples will say "AHAH!" Perhaps we can now begin to understand why there are no really funny conservative comedians and how John McCain can flip and flop faster than a Cray supercomputer without fostering the slightest cynicism from the right.

After all, what has been eroded by disease in some people may simply not exist in others.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Will new Republican governors be a drag on GOP chances in 2012?

A quick scan of approval ratings for new Republican governors would certainly suggest that they have not come out of the gate strongly. Here are a few headlines that appeared over the past four or five weeks.

We all know that polls come and go and it is a long time before the 2012 elections, but if the direction these governors have chosen remains unpopular, it can't help but have an impact on the federal election in a year and half.

As for the presidential election, Florida and Ohio are certainly interesting as they have gone back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in the last three election cycles. Wisconsin was a razor thin win for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 before going big for Obama in 2008. Pennsylvania and Michigan were fairly narrow Democratic wins in 2000 and 2004 before Obama took them by a more comfortable margin. Bottom line is that these are all the kinds of states Republicans would have to look at if they hope to regain the White House.

As for House races, it could make things quite volatile.

As I say, early days, but if this is about direction and the electorate's displeasure with rather dramatic ideological shifts at the state level, a lot of things could happen.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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The absurdity of the royal wedding: monarchy v. democracy

Last night Lawrence O'Donnell, on The Last Word, did what I thought was a fabulous job of questioning America's interest in the upcoming Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Frankly, I don't care what some people might want to do to pass the time. I'm sure I have hobbies and such that are of little interest to others. But O'Donnell wasn't simply talking about the fact that there are more important things to worry about. His comments were not of the more mundane nature that "some people waste their time watching the adventures of Snooki on the 'Jersey Shore,'" as much as that fact does amaze me.

Rather, he was making the point that America fought a revolution to toss out the British monarchy, a form of government based not on the democratic principles we profess to hold dear but on heredity. Monarchy is a form of government that expressly deems some people, by virtue of birth, better than others and thus fit to rule. This has historically justified the mistreatment of peoples all across the world simply because they were considered to be of a lower station and fodder to promote the glory of the select few.

If there is anything less consistent with the democratic political values that Americans claim to hold, I don't know what it is.

Perhaps you will say that this is no longer the case in practical terms - that the Royal Family is now just for show. But why, as O'Donnell argues, would we stand and applaud the wretched remnants of this pernicious form of government?

Unless, of course, many are not thinking about this in a critical way but simply want to enjoy a good party. I guess that's it.

Below are the comments made by O'Donnell followed by some hilarious remarks by Jerry Seinfeld. I encourage you to watch to the end.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Are mainstream GOPers going to be better prepared this time?

Veteran Republican Indiana Senator Richard Lugar said earlier in the week that he'd raised a bit less than $1 million this year for his re-election bid. Apparently, the Senator has a little more than $3 million in total socked away to help him do battle with Tea Party candidate state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the GOP primary later this year.

You may recall that Lugar, as well as Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (who, coincidentally, also says he has raised $3 million), have been targeted by the Tea Party for their willingness to work with Democrats on important issues, which appears to be a sin well beyond redemption for the hard right.

I note this only because there have been suggestions that these incumbents could be in trouble. I suppose that could be true. I don't yet have a feel for these races.

But what I would suggest is that in 2010 a number of more mainstream Republican hopefuls were seriously surprised by Tea Party challengers and may not have done the work necessary to secure their party's nomination. Sometimes in politics you don't see a tide coming until it's too late and that may have been the case in a number of nomination races.

Based on the fund-raising efforts of Senators Lugar and Hatch, I suspect they don't intend to be surprised this time and that could make a big difference in these contests and elsewhere.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

John Boehner's growing Tea Party headache

There were a
number of stories over the past few days about how disappointed various Tea Party factions were in the Republican leadership for the budget deal negotiated with the devil himself, a.k.a. the President of the United States.

Not to get into a big thing about "who won" the budget negotiations, or how much money is really being cut, because that's being covered by a lot of people - as interesting a discussion as it is.

What amazed me was the attitude of some of the Tea Party spokesmen. Not that I'm in the habit of feeling sorry for Speaker Boehner, but he does find himself riding quite the beast.

My favourite comment came from someone by the name of Doug Mainwaring, a "real estate agent and local conservative activist from Bethesda, Maryland." Mr. Mainwaring opined that "I'm not sure they (the GOP) have the political willpower to accept the mandate that was handed them by the Tea Party last November."

Elections are won for all kinds of reasons, usually with votes by majorities cobbled together from all sorts of voting blocs, so for the Tea Party to actually think they fully and completely call the tune for the Republicans is, well, just a lot of fun to watch. To put a fine point on it: successful political parties have to keep all manner of constituencies happy and pandering to the loudest to the exclusion of the others is a clear way to lose the next election.

The best part, as the Huffington Post reported, was that:
The budget deal passed the House by a comfortable margin, by a vote of 260 to 167. A total of 59 Republicans voted against the deal, but according to ABC's Jon Karl, only 27 of those no votes came from freshman House Republicans, who comprise the bulk of the conference's Tea Party component.

It seems that even those politicians most closely aligned with the Tea Party have no idea from whom they are supposed to be taking their marching orders. Mostly it seems that the Tea Party is really just a bunch of people who find themselves in front of a camera or talking to a reporter when the media need someone from the radical right to express the appropriate amount of indignation at any given moment in time.

That's hardly any way to run a political party and John Boehner knows it.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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Books by failed Republican candidates

I'm not sure any of us were waiting for this, but Christine O'Donnell, failed Delaware Republican Senate candidate, has a new book. Yes, it's called
Trouble Maker: Let's Do What it Takes to Make America Great Again.

You may recall that Ms. O'Donnell took what was supposed to be an easy GOP pickup and single handedly turned it into a Democratic win. Not only does she have the clear gratitude of Christopher Coons, the successful Democratic, but also of so many of the rest of us, who wanted desperately to keep the Senate out of Republican control. Thank you Christine.

If her book can help other conservatives learn how to fail as she has so spectacularly done, I hope it is widely read.

My favourite line from the article promoting the book, which, by the way, appears on Sean Hannity's website, is that "[t]hough she didn't win the general election, O'Donnell did win the designation of 2010's Most Covered Candidate."

We all know the old adage about it not mattering what they say about you as long as they spell your name right. But I don't think that helps when they spell your name correctly in the same sentence that has you declaring that you are not a witch. Yes, Christine, you were the most covered candidate. How'd that work out for ya?

And, not to be outdone, I see that failed Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle is also writing a book. Adorably enough, this one is going to be called Right Angle.

Another Republican who took a "sure thing" GOP win and turned it into rat shit. More wisdom we can only hope the Tea Party and their ilk absorb in liberal doses.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April break

I'll be away on vacation for the next week. I may try to blog here and there, but generally I expect to take a much-needed break from writing (and even thinking) about politics.

But, fear not. While I may pop up from time to time, the blog will be in the capable hands of my co-bloggers, who as always will have a great deal to say, and who will say it extremely well.

So keep checking back for new posts.

See you soon.

-- Michael


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Russia's position on Libya: Trying to have it both ways

Guest post by Dmitry Gorenburg

Dmitry Gorenburg is a senior analyst at CNA's Center for Strategic Studies, the editor of the journal Russian Politics & Law, and an associate at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. From 2005 to 2010, he served as Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS). He has taught in the Department of Government at Harvard University and has served as a consultant on Russian military and security issues for various agencies of the U.S. government and on ethnic and minority issues for the European Center for Minority Issues. In addition, he writes the blog Russian Military Reform.


The Russian Government surprised many observers by going along with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized international enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia was initially expected to veto the resolution. Instead, Russia chose to abstain in order to ensure the protection of civilians, while its ambassador to the United Nations made statements expressing concern about how the resolution would be implemented.

In recent years, Russia has had close trade relations with the Libyan Government. In particular, it has signed billions of dollars worth of arms contracts with the regime of Muammar Qaddafi. This is the context that partially explains the removal of Vladimir Chamov, Russia's ambassador to Libya, after he sent a telegram to Moscow arguing that allowing the U.N. resolution to pass would represent a betrayal of Russia's state interests. Chamov has since returned to Moscow, where he has publicly spoken out against the implementation of the no-fly zone.

Soon after the vote, Russia's attitude toward the no-fly zone unexpectedly became a factor in Russian domestic politics. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's statement on March 21 criticized the U.N. for getting involved in an internal conflict. In the most controversial part of his remarks, Putin argued that the resolution allowed international forces to take virtually any measures against a sovereign state, and in this he said it resembled medieval calls to crusades, "when someone called on others to go to a certain place and liberate it."

The response from President Dmitry Medvedev was almost immediate. He argued that Russia's abstention on the resolution vote was the proper position. Furthermore, he dressed down Putin (though not by name) by saying, "[u]nder no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations, such as 'crusades' and so on. It is unacceptable. Otherwise, everything may end up much worse than what is going on now. Everyone should remember that." And he removed Chamov from his position, essentially for public insubordination. Putin came out the next day with a statement indicating that the president is responsible for foreign policy in Russia and that he backed his president's policies. A spokesman indicated that Putin's previous statement was simply an indication of his own personal views rather than an official policy statement.

It may be that this conflict was yet another example of the good cop-bad cop show that the Russian leadership tandem has been putting on for the last three years. Or it may be that this is the first serious indication that Medvedev and Putin are engaged in a serious behind-the-scenes tussle for the right to run for president in 2012.

Why do Russian politicians see this conflict the way they do? Their inconsistent positions on Libya are essentially a case of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Russian leaders decided not to veto Resolution 1973 for two reasons. First, they did not want to alienate Western leaders who were pushing for the intervention. While the rapprochement with the United States is important to them and certainly played a role here, we should also remember the importance of Russian political and economic ties with European states, and especially France and Italy, both of whom were strongly in favor of a no-fly zone because of the potential for a humanitarian and refugee disaster in the event of an attack by Qaddafi's forces on Benghazi. Second, Russian leaders did not want to be blamed for blocking the intervention if the result was a large-scale massacre of civilians.

On the other hand, Russian leaders also did not want to create a new norm of international intervention in internal conflicts, particularly when these conflicts were the result of a popular uprising against an authoritarian ruler. They genuinely dislike what they see as a Western predilection for imposing their values and forms of government on other parts of the world. They remember the color revolutions in Serbia, the Ukraine, and Georgia, in which friendly regimes were replaced by ones that were to a greater or lesser extent anti-Russian.

Furthermore, they believe that these popular protest movements were organized and funded by Western governments, particularly the United States. This creates a certain amount of suspicion of similar protests leading to the removal of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, even when the deposed rulers do not have particularly close ties to Russia.

So Russian leaders are understandably nervous about the coalition's rather expansive interpretation of Resolution 1973. They were willing to allow for the establishment of a no-fly zone in order to avert a likely massacre of civilians and to help their European partners avoid a flood of refugees on their soil. They are much less willing to see NATO forces provide military assistance to a popular uprising against an authoritarian ruler that it has traditionally supported.

If this conflict drags on, Russian leaders will increasingly begin to speak out against the military campaign. They will be especially concerned if it becomes increasingly clear that NATO air strikes are targeting Qaddafi's ground forces rather than limiting themselves to preventing Libyan air forces from targeting civilian areas.

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Privatized Fascism

By Carl
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in his book "Crimes Against Nature," defines fascism as "a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism."
Any good political science teacher will tell you that a democractic society with a free market economy will gravitate towards fascism.
Ironic, because fascism itself is anti-democratic. Indeed, it's anti-capitalist too, altho that distinction is much more subtle.
It works like this: because democracy is a majority rule society, winner take all, power resides within the electorate until the electorate give that power over to someone to rule over them. In a vacuum, that makes sense. You don't want society to have to make every single decision, so you select representatives to make decisions for the people. It would be too cumbersome to ask the people to vote on, say, how often garbage should be collected, and so on.
The level of that republicanism depends on the society's agreement as to what it can be arsed to chime in on.
Some societies, like America, turn into full-blown republics. Some societies maintain a level of democratization where individuals can still make decisions that affect the common good. California's ballot initiatives are a decent example of this.
Similarly, capitalism makes a lot of sense in theory, if you follow Adam Smith's warnings. No business combinations, companies should not incorporate, which forces individual owners to accept the responsibilities for their products and services, and businesses should be taxed to compensate for the use of the natural resources that belong to all of us.
It's an extremely efficient system and when it's under society's control, most people will do well enough under it to live a good life without much want. They'll get by and a little more, if they're lucky.
In a vacuum, again, it makes sense.
Here's the thing: power attracts money. Money creates power. That vacuum no longer exists, and society must be vigilant, eternally so, against that slop-over. As we see, the combination of business and government is a most dangerous one. It creates fascism.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a free society is a three-legged stool: government, the people, business. Any one of those legs gets chopped down, and the stool tips over. In fascism, the government and business carry axes. The people do not, precisely because of the regimentation and conformity that is imposed.
Naomi Wolf offers these ten signs of impending fascism. I've signaled those signs that have come to America:
  1. Create and/or wildly exaggerate an enemy of the people. (Islamists: check)
  2. Set up a secret extra judicial justice system. (sort of, with the military tribunals and the FISA court)
  3. Set up a paramilitary force, armed thugs if you will. (Blackwater/Xe, which not only "assists" the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also was involved in bringing "security" to New Orleans after Katrina, so: check)
  4. A surveillance apparatus set up to watch the people. (The Patriot Act: check)
  5. Harass citizens groups. (sort of, but this has been going on for a while now)
  6. Arbitrary detention and release. (Gitmo: check)
  7. Target key individuals. (sort of, again)
  8. Control the press. (Only five corporations own the media: check)
  9. Dissent = Treason. ("Why do you hate America so?" under Bush: semi-check)
  10. Martial law. (not yet...maybe)
Here's the downside of democracy: by allowing a majority voice to determine the policies and futre of a nation, you allow for the manipulation of public opinion to sway people from facts, analysis and truth. That means the majority opinion can be wildly wrong.
When this nation had true democracy, the majority expressed the opinion that women should not vote, blacks should be kept as slaves, and only the landed gentry should have any say in what goes on in this country. After all, they stood to lose the most.
Remember, if you define democracy as free people choosing their path, this was "freedom" at its most abstract and its most extreme. And it didn't work for everyone.
Even in Athens, the very model of "democracy," slavery existed. Hell, it thrived, since it seems likely that every free citizen had at least one slave!
In order to bring freedom to America, in order to expand democracy to all its citizens, the freedoms of those who most enjoyed the benefits of "old democracy" had to have their "rights" curtailed. Freedom had to be reapportioned amongst all people. Women had to secure the right to vote, slaves had to be freed and made full citizens.
I don't think any rational human being alive today would disagree this was a good thing for America. I don't think any rational human being alive today would argue that hogging rights is a good thing.
American society worked to extend freedom and rights to all its people for all its existence, the feeling that freedom was owed to everyone in the nation. This meant reinterpreting and amending our Constitution to reflect this enlightenment, to codify what we believed the Founders would have said if they could see the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries in a crystal ball.
Somewhere along the way, some idiot realized this was the perfect opportunity to secure "rights" for the corporatocracy. Rather than limit freedom to the people, the natural born citizenry who would fight and die for this nation's freedoms, some moron decided that if there was just SOMEway to make a corporation a person, business could really take off, because it would get a say in what goes on around it.
And there's a certain logic to this: business makes money which pays the people who pay taxes which support the government, so why not give corporations the right to shape the future? To do otherwise is to enslave business under society's rule.
Remember how money creates power and power attracts money? Here's where the line between business and government began to blur. Money flowed from businesses to politicians who held or could hold power, who in turn washed the backs of their corporate masters as much as possible.
After all, no business is going to make an unprofitable investment. If I am IBM, and I give you a million bucks, I expect a return for that money, or else I'm going to invest it where I can make a return. It's really that simple a decision. And that dangerous. It amounts to extortion.
"Nice office you got here, Congressman. Sure would be a shame if someone else took it from you."
None of this is in any way antithetical to human nature, which is the scary part. None of this is psychopathy. Sociopathic, perhaps, but our society is gamed such that the individual human natures will collectively "benefit" society at large. Sociopathy is us.
When fascism has been imposed in the past, in nations like Italy (where it was born) and Nazi Germany, it came from the government.
Here in America, it's been creeping in through the corporatocracy, aided and abetted by the government and the Brownshirt thugs who support the cause.
This is why the signs of fascism, as plain as day, are ignored by many people, who have been indoctrinated that free enterprise is their ally and government is the enemy, when in fact government is the sole bulwark against the encroaching fascist state.
Why? Because nominally it's still responsible to the voter. Nominally, and that erodes daily, especially as stories flow out of Wisconsin about voting fraud and rigged counts.
Getting back to the Quislings of America, it's people like Jonah Goldberg who are the tools of the corporatocracy and when fascism in America is recounted in history books, perhaps they'll devote a few paragraphs to Goldberg, who attempted to smear liberal thought as "fascist".
Fascism comes from power. Liberals most assuredly do not have that power in America. Fascism is the centralization of power. Liberals would prefer to liberate that power and return it to the people themselves, understanding that there must be a firewall between government and the corporate sector.
In tandem with this extension of rights to corporate America that has endangered the nation, we started to see the contraction of rights for the individual, but not to the benefit of groups of disenfranchised Americans (who ended up being scapegoated anyway) but a contraction of all our rights.
The first real notice I had of it was under the Clinton administration, when it was determined that the Fourth Amendment no longer mattered when it came to cases where a drug dealer was involved: his property could be seized and held as material evidence in any criminal case, then disposed of by the state as they saw fit.
But in truth, the contraction of rights occured earlier than this. One can point to Reagan disbanding PATCO, thus eliminating a right to form a more perfect union to protect individuals from bureaucracy and politicization. Or Nixon and his "enemies list," aided by both the FBI and CIA. Or McCarthy. Or...
You see, it blurs. The "good" contraction of rights for some blurred in with the bad contraction that affects and impacts us all.
And that's the scary part, because it requires intellect and insight to discern between the two.
It's inefficient. And inefficiencies are what capitalism exploits. The second the business sector was allowed to participate fully in the political process, America was doomed to fascism.
Again, not because the government is fascistic. Some administrations are more fascistic than others, to be sure, but all administrations now have to use the tools of fascism to run the country. This is what the corporatocracy has extorted from government.
If the government was imposing fascism, if it was American troops sitting on the border of Mexico instead of Blackwater/Xe, we'd all be shouting in unison "posse comitatus" and the troops would disappear. But Xe doesn't have to abide by that law.
If it was the federal government who owned NBC/Universal and all its myriad subnetworks, or Fox and those outlets, or Viacom or ABC/Disney, we'd all be screaming about state-run radio. But it's not.
If it was the Federal government who was on our TVs day and night hyperventilating about this threat or that, we'd all be looking around for someone else to take the reins. But it's not.
And it is. None of this is going on without some tacit assistance from the government, which is being extorted and exhorted to participate. Why else the bailouts of banks that turned almost immediately wildly profitable again?
We live in a fascist state and history will write us as a lesson for the future.
And the lesson will not be learned.
(ed note: all this was generated from watching fifteen minutes of "The Warning" on LinkTV this morning. Go read up on it, and then donate to Link. They've earned your assistance.)
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Romney vs. Trump

Appearing yesterday on CNBC, Mitt Romney took a firmly anti-Birther line:

I think the citizenship test has been passed. I believe the president was born in the United States.

The use of the word "believe" is a bit of a hedge. It's a fact, not a matter of belief/faith, that Obama was born in the U.S. Still, it's a long way off from the insanity not just of the far right of the GOP but of so much of the party mainstream these days, which however non-Birther is careful not to alienate/enrage the Birther base.

Speaking of insanity, a new CNN poll finds Donald Trump leading the Republican field in a tie with Mike Huckabee. It's mostly about name recognition and media presence at this point and so it makes sense -- to the extent that anything involving him ever makes sense -- that Trump is doing fairly well.

Back to Romney, though. He's evidently trying to capture the "sane" wing of the GOP, positioning his apparent sanity (non-Birther) against the insanity of so much of the rest of the party (including Trump and the Birthers). Will that get him anywhere? Not with his RomneyCare record, not with his flip-flopping over the years, and not with the general lack of credibility he has with the hardcore conservatives/extremists who make up the Republican grassroots and who, in a year without a leading establishment candidate (e.g., Dole, Bush II, McCain), will very likely determine the winner. (Pawlenty is trying to be the establishment candidate, but he has a lot to overcome, not least his lack of broad national appeal. The establishment, such as there is one anymore, is so desperate that the party could end up with an embarrassingly unelectable nominee like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann that draft-X campaigns are springing up around potential "sane" candidates like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush.)

There's another reason Trump is doing well in the polls (even if he ends up not running, which is highly likely). Insanity, including Birtherism, plays incredibly well in today's GOP. Romney can try with all his might. For all his faults, he just isn't insane enough to win.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quote of the Day: Alan Simpson on homophobes and hypocrites in the GOP

And, oh, is this quotable. Here's the former Republican senator from Wyoming on Hardball yesterday:

Who the hell is for abortion? I don't know anybody running around with a sign that says, "Have an abortion! They're wonderful!" They're hideous, but they're a deeply intimate and personal decision, and I don't think men legislators should even vote on the issue.

Then you've got homosexuality, you've got Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We have homophobes on our party. That's disgusting to me. We're all human beings. We're all God’s children. Now if they're going to get off on that stuff -- Santorum has said some cruel things -- cruel, cruel things -- about homosexuals. Ask him about it; see if he attributes the cruelness of his remarks years ago. Foul.

Now if that's the kind of guys that are going to be on my ticket, you know, it makes you sort out hard what Reagan said, you know, "Stick with your folks." But, I'm not sticking with people who are homophobic, anti-women, moral values -- while you're diddling your secretary while you're giving a speech on moral values? Come on, get off of it.

No one ever accused Simpson of being verbally delicate, and while he doesn't really have anything to lose, he deserves a lot of credit for telling it like it is. It's just a wonder he still calls himself a Republican. Because, let's face it, there's an awful lot more he could have said.

Here's the clip:

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A failure of leadership: Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman on Obama, the budget, and the government shutdown that never was

I haven't written much on the budget/shutdown, mainly because I just haven't had much to say. I never thought a shutdown was likely. Boehner was certainly facing enormous pressure from the right, but most Republicans understood that a shutdown would hurt them politically (if not the country generally), and it was inevitable that a Democratic Party that fears confrontation and that is, for better or worse, all about compromise, would give in. And that's just what happened.

So who won? -- a question Jon Stewart amusingly looked into last night. Well, the Republicans, perhaps, as they came away with fairly significant concessions from the Democrats (even if this was just about domestic discretionary spending), but many on the right aren't happy, whether over the continued funding for Planned Parenthood or over the fact that spending wasn't cut even more -- and while Boehner emerges intact, it's not clear how long he'll be able to hold off the Tea Party. But I'm not really sure the Democrats lost. A shutdown would have been bad for everyone, and so avoiding a shutdown without giving up too much is a sort of "win" for them, as long as they can take the fight to the budget battle still to come and thence into 2012.

And Obama? For a president who is all about compromise, yet another compromise is also a win, and he'll now be able to position himself to secure even greater support from independents when the time comes. He stepped in when he needed to, acted like the mature adult in a world of petulant children, and, however this may irritate progressives (myself included), accepted a deal that will benefit him politically at the expense of fighting the Republicans' disastrous agenda.

That's just the way I see it. I'm not saying I like it.

And the big political problem, it seems to me, is that, once again, Democrats just caved without much of a fight at all, even a symbolic one, except over Planned Parenthood (which, to be fair, is worth fighting for, but it's not the be-all and end-all of federal budget issues), allowing Republicans to secure the upper hand, and a fairly significant "win," despite the fact (forgotten by the media, it seems) that they're still the minority party (controlling the House but not the Senate or the White House) -- even after last November's "shellacking." At TNR yesterday, Jon Chait offered a number of reasons for why this happened. Yes, Democrats are generally more conciliatory (to their credit, perhaps, if not so much in the crucible of legislative politics), and, yes, the issue generally favours Republicans (who can spin their economic and fiscal agenda as "small government" (and who likes taxes? who likes government (until you realize what it does for you)?). But this, to me, is the most convincing explanation:

Republicans were able to credibly threaten a shutdown of the government. That willingness to impose harm on the entire country if they didn’t get a sufficiently friendly outcome proved to be powerful bargaining leverage, moving the goalposts progressively closer to them.

In other words, Republicans are just tougher negotiators, willing to push the country to the brink, or at least to bluff that way, to get their way. It's a game of chicken, and Republicans know that Democrats swerve first. Of course, Democrats should have known better. They should have called that bluff and challenged Republicans to shut down the government. Sure, the government may then have been shut down, but wouldn't Democrats then have "won" politically? At the very least, they would have had a strong case to take to the American people.

But, no. Not this time. Not ever, it seems.

And it doesn't help that Obama himself wasn't really up for a fight. As Paul Krugman writes:

What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn't seem to stand for anything in particular?

I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there's not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn't even using that -- or, rather, he's using it to reinforce his enemies' narrative.

His remarks after last week's budget deal were a case in point.

Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve -- although it looks from here as if the president's idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.

And bear in mind that this was just the first of several chances for Republicans to hold the budget hostage and threaten a government shutdown; by caving in so completely on the first round, Mr. Obama set a baseline for even bigger concessions over the next few months. 

I still think Obama succeeded politically, continuing to set himself up nicely for re-election next year. But Krugman is right that he weakened himself and his party over the long run, essentially giving Republicans still more confidence that they can they way, or at least a great deal of their way, just by controlling the House.

It will take more time to sort out who "won" and who "lost" this shutdown battle, but with an absence of principled, determined leadership in the White House, the losers ultimately are the American people, who need something other than the Republican agenda and who have a president who is apparently unwilling to fight for anything at all.

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IKEA sucks

I used to shop there, I admit, back in my grad school days. But at some point you come to realize that it's all crap. And that's hardly the worst of it, at least in Danville, Virginia:

[T]hree years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.

Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it's common to find out on Friday evening that they'll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can't or don't show up.


On a related note, I saw Made in Dagenham the other night, the true story (with the characters fictionalized for the sake of the movie) of women machinists at Ford's Dagenham plant in England going on strike in 1968 over being reclassified as "unskilled" and being paid significantly less than men. It wasn't just about their appallingly poor treatment at Ford, though, it was about the fight for equal pay generally, and it was a remarkable milestone in the history of labour.

The movie itself is rather trite and formulaic, both plot and characters, but it's really enjoyable, with a fantastic performance by Sally Hawkins as the shy, unassuming heroine who leads her sisters not just against Ford but against the male-dominated union establishment. (I hated Black Swan and Natalie Portman's showy, largely one-note performance. Either the wonderful Hawkins (see Happy-Go-Lucky for more wonder) or Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence should have won the Best Actress Oscar.)

In many ways, we have come a long way since 1968. Equal pay across the board is still an unrealized ideal, but at least there is less discrimination in the workforce, against women or otherwise. But what's going on at IKEA, not to mention at Wal-Mart and other companies big and small, shows that there's still an awfully long way to go.

Some things are still worth fighting for.

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Massive military spending is bringing America down

ThinkProgress cites a remarkable report showing the enormous cost of the U.S. military:

A new report released today by SIPRI, a Swedish-based think tank, reveals that U.S. military spending has almost doubled since 2001. The U.S. spent an astounding $698 billion on the military last year, an 81% increase over the last decade.

U.S. spending on the military last year far exceeded any other country. We spent six times more than China -- the second largest spender. Overall, the world expended $1.6 trillion on the military, with the United States accounting for the lion's share:

As a percentage of GDP, U.S. military spending has increased from 3.1% in 2001 to 4.8% last year. 

For all the bluster from so-called deficit hawks like Paul Ryan, who isn't really a deficit hawk (let alone a "courageous" one) but rather a media-hyped anti-government Ayn Rand disciple, the real burden on the U.S. budget isn't Social Security or Medicare, nor spending on public broadcasting, nor "waste," but rather the military, which has grown to meet the hegemonic demands of two terrible wars and the maintenance of an empire that is declining and falling.

This just isn't sustainable. As Matthew Yglesias writes, "given that the US share of global economic output is extremely likely to shrink over the next 15 years, we're not going to be able to sustain this kind of hegemonic posture without really crippling the domestic economy."

But of course you can't cut the military, can you? If you do, you're apparently not tough enough on America's enemies, and you may even want the terrorists to win. So instead we get Republicans, who claim to be fiscally conservative deficit hawks but who are really just plutocrats seeking to make life even cushier for the wealthy. And so Paul Ryan's much-ballyhooed and media-applauded "The Path to Prosperity" includes regressive tax cuts and attacks on programs for the poor. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

As for military spending, yes, sure, the argument can be made that the U.S. bears the burden of policing the world in a way no other country does. (And, yes, I support the intervention in Libya, too.) But choices have to be made, and if the U.S. is to recover a sense of fiscal sanity it will need to reduce its military spending and to make do with less. And, of course, to decide what sort of global military power it wishes to be -- and can afford to be. Americans may wish to cling to a sense of unchallenged superiority, with a military able to wield enormous power, but the reality is that, considerations of the dubious justice of overwhelming military might notwithstanding, their country's future requires significantly more constrained objectives.

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Cowards Of The Country

It's intriguing whenever the legislative process works late into the night, especially unexpectedly:

CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes reports that legislation that reflects the deal made between Republicans and Democrats was posted online at 1:30 this morning.

Members of Congress are going to be getting their first real look of the deal Tuesday, and Republicans in particular are sure to express frustration that so many of the cuts in the deal aren't exactly cuts at all.

In other words, rather than face the music over the weekend from the Teabaggers, Boener decided that he would slink off into this week and marshall some sort of defensible position, spinning over the 72 hours or so what the GOP got out of the deal.

Among the cuts:

  • $700 million from clean and safe drinking water programs;
  • $390 million from heating subsidies;
  • $276 million from pandemic flu prevention programs; and
  • $1.5 billion from the president's new $8 billion initiative to spur high-speed rail development.

Many of the cuts appear to have been cuts in name only, because they came from programs that had unspent funds.

Now, admittedly, it's a continuing resolution and the first place you're going to look for immediate cuts is in money that hasn't been spent. By definition, since the resolution is not binding, you can't cut money already spent (say by pushing the cuts into the following year, thus advancing that budget to this year).

On the whole, the cuts seem to hurt both sides, which is the very definition of a consensus compromise. And yet, ol' Boener has said that he is married to the Teabaggers.

He couldn't be that cynical....could he?

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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