Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rise against the Republican plutocratic agenda

The Republican Party is, when you get right down to it, a party of greed and cruelty wrapped up in theocratic moralizing. (It's hardly any wonder that Donald Trump is doing so well, nor that Franklin Graham, one of the party's chief theocrats, is saying such nice things about him.) And perhaps the core of the Republican agenda, more important than the social conservatism, is tax policy that benefits the rich, both individual and corporate, at the expense of everyone else, that punishes everyone else, and especially the poor and others most in need of help, for not being rich.

This has been the case for a long time, but increasingly, it seems, in these difficult economic times and with the American economy (and American hegemony) in such dire straits, likely never to recover, let alone to be what it once was, Americans are waking up to what Republicans are all about and expressing their opposition. The Tea Party expresses the rage of the right, anti-government rage that complements the Republican agenda. This new opposition, garnering less media attention, expresses not the counter-rage of the left, nor even rage at all, but a genuine concern for fairness, compassion, and fiscal sanity in American politics.

All across America, a Main Street Movement has broken out to defend the middle class against right-wing attacks on labor rights and basic public services. In recent days, this movement has turned on GOP House members who voted to effectively end Medicare and turn seniors over to private insurance companies when they approved Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) radical budget bill.

On Tuesday, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) was the latest congressman to face the ire of Main Street America during a town hall event with constituents who stopped being polite and started getting real.

First, constituents explained they were upset that Ryan's plan would cut off people under the age of 55 from Medicare. Then, others directly challenged Duffy about defending tax breaks for the wealthy for voting to effectively replace Medicare with a voucher system.

Ryan himself, supposedly a courageous advocate for fiscal sanity but really just a right-wing extremist whose focus is on tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts to programs for the poor, was challenged by his own constituents the other day. And Republicans are facing significant criticism over their support for Ryan's Medicare-slashing plan.

I suspect we'll see more and more of this. Or, at least, I hope we do. It's time for Americans to say enough is enough to the greed and cruelty of the GOP.

Here's the Duffy clip:

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

President Obama will never be American enough for Trump and the Birthers

Andrew Sullivan wrote recently about a new CBS/NYT poll which found that 47% of Republicans think Obama wasn't born in the U.S and that another 22% aren't sure. He cited Steve Kornacki, who said that this "doesn't mean they've thought things through and believe an elaborate plot has been carried out, and it doesn't mean that being told actual facts about Obama's birth will sway them."

[Donald] Trump's message may be resonating with so many Republican voters simply because it represents the most blunt and unrelenting attack on Obama's "American-ness" that they have heard from a major Republican. In other words, it may not be the specifics of Obama's birth certificate and hospital records that excite them, it's the idea that someone so prominent is willing to stand up and take so much heat for saying, essentially, "Barack Obama is not one of us."

As a non-white president with ties to places like Kenya and Indonesia, he represents, for many, the fact that the American Century is over -- finally and completely. Because even if these people believe in their heart of hearts that they are not racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or xenophobic, they have decided that a country that embraced these sentiments was at the top of its game in parts of the 20th Century and that this is the country they want back -- a country where a non-white person with a non-traditional life story could not be president, a country in which only those who can "prove" they are "like us" are allowed to be hold the highest office in the land.

When reporters hold up copies of Obama's birth certificate only to be met by non-specific counterarguments from Trump and other Birthers, it is clear that the interlocutors are arguing past each other. Needless to say, when you are having an argument with someone, it's always useful to make sure you are actually in the same discussion.

The good news is that the bigots amongst us know they cannot directly argue their case and so they need devices like the birth certificate issue to give them credibility. The bad news is that when people won't say what they mean it confuses things significantly.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 22, 2011

Scenes from Syria

The BBC reports on the outburst of violence by Assad's brutal regime:

At least 72 protesters have been killed by security forces in Syria, rights groups say -- the highest reported death toll in five weeks of unrest there.

Demonstrators were shot, witnesses say, as thousands rallied across the country, a day after a decades-long state of emergency was lifted.

Many deaths reportedly occurred in a village near Deraa in the south, and in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

US President Barack Obama called for a halt to the "outrageous" violence.

"This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now," the president said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "extremely concerned" by reports of deaths and casualties across Syria and urged restraint on the country's authorities.

"Political reforms should be brought forward and implemented without delay," he said. "The Emergency Law should be lifted in practice, not just in word."

That would be a start, but I just don't see that happening anytime soon. Syria isn't Egypt, where the military wanted Mubarak out after his position become untenable, and which in any event is more westernized than Syria.

Just consider what's happened: Assad lifted the state of emergency, essentially encouraging more protests, and then responded by murdering demonstrators critical of his regime.

Obama and Hague and other world leaders can say all they want. What are they actually going to do about the situation in Syria? Likely, nothing. Nothing beyond saying the right things, which is something but certainly not nearly enough. (Although Aljazeera reports that U.S. has been supporting/funding the Syrian opposition.)

The demonstrators are largely on their own, I fear. And they likely won't get far.

Here's an Aljazeera report on the protests and crackdown:

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


As I've suspected, there's an increasing amount of evidence that one is born on one side of the fence or another, predestined to be what they call these days conservative or liberal. Yes, I'm very wary of these terms, since they mean what their enemies say they mean and have little to do with conserving anything real, or with the concept of reform, but still, there seem to be two kinds of minds and it's hard to account for it as merely the product of experience or study or intelligence.

Yes, I've joked about the far right not having a sense of humor that differs from meanness and I can think of all kinds of nominally liberal reformers who would crumble if they ever smiled, but that impression isn't unique to me and I find it compelling. Some people find their view of reality far too serious, too dangerous, and threatening to find much to laugh about, unless it's to laugh about the discomfiture and humiliation of an enemy.

That there are indeed two kinds of minds, two predispositions toward political, religious, and sociological poles, is compelling, not that I would suggest using any evidence for it to dismiss arguments from either side. Sometimes, conservative is actually conservative and liberal is just liberal and the truth may be neutral.

There may be important evidence for physical differences between those who feel threatened, respond to perceived threats with more aggression, more disgust and less tolerance for uncertainty. A taste for strongly held credos about morality and politics almost defines such people and we usually call them conservatives. A distaste for absolute moral judgments, for saying something is "just wrong" without considering the results, defines those we want to call liberals.

"Liberal Brains" seem more tolerant of uncertainty than conservatives according to a study of brain scans of 90 volunteers at University College London. Brain scans revealed, or so it's claimed, physical differences: 

Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation... Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure,

says researcher Ryota Kanai. 

People with a large amygdala are "more sensitive to disgust" and tend to "respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions," the study said.

Liberals are linked to larger anterior cingulate cortexes, a region that "monitor(s) uncertainty and conflicts," it said.

So is this cause or effect? Are these findings real? Maybe it's too soon to tell and I can certainly identify some traits that would make me more conservative than the stereotypical liberal. What I am is for others to say, but I certainly find fault in many standard liberal shibboleths, even if I'm intolerant of certainty, and that includes being certain that the study means anything. 

Our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty,

says the report, and that feels right, even if many wrong things feel right. I'm just not afraid of the conservative bogeymen like net neutrality, graduated income tax, single-payer health programs or Social Security. I am, however, concerned about the danger of inflexible creeds that seem to need a great deal of misplaced faith to follow and a government that follows such things without regard to the will of the electorate, the lessons of history, or even the demands of common decency. I believe in uncertainty.

So is my anterior cingulate cortex bigger or smaller and does size matter? It's not as though I'm free of fear, I just fear the fearful and the things they do.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

David Simon's Treme is back for another season on HBO

The 11-episode season two of Treme starts on Sunday, April 24th on HBO. Those of you who had the pleasure of watching season one will know that Treme is a brilliant drama based on life in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Not only does it hit all the hot button issues one would expect like race, the anthropology of a city close to collapse and the politics surrounding efforts to revive her, but it is done with a New Orleans musical soundtrack that is beyond fabulous.

By the way, someone not at all associated with the series went to the trouble of setting up a website to provide information about all the great music featured on the show. You can find that here.

David Simon is the creator of Treme and was also responsible for The Wire, which was another HBO drama with, in this case, each season focused on a different facet of life in Baltimore (the illegal drug trade; the seaport system; city government and bureaucracy; the school system; and the print news media). Another amazing effort, which would appeal to political junkies everywhere.

In fact, both Treme and The Wire are largely political statements about who matters in our society and who does not and how the system conspires to make those distinctions as clear as possible at every turn. Truly brilliant.

As mentioned, in Treme, the music, and the professional life of musicians depicted, is not so much background as another way of telling stories about how people do what they have to do to survive. And then you get to listen to them sing and play -- people like Allen Toussaint and John Boutte.

If you are in a position to watch, I suggest you do.

Here's a clip of the opening scene with theme song and credits from Season 1:

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

God control

I've said quite a bit about gun control; pretty much all I'm going to say, actually. There is something far more pernicious, more dangerous and more in need of control however and that's God. It's hard to deny, although that doesn't prevent most people from denying it, God has been on the wrong side of things as often as the right side: slavery, conquest, persecutions, genocide. You name it, God has been the universal justification as often as the universal opponent.

So it isn't surprising that God now seems to be against Net Neutrality. Sure he is -- and our founding fathers who don't seem to have believed in the kind of god who gets involved in such matters as free markets thought so too. That's the thing about God's likes and dislikes and mysterious plans: people just make them up as they go along.

Take David Barton, for instance, allegedly one of the country's most influential Evangelicals. He thinks that government should stay out of the lives of selected people and should, in the name of freedom and less intrusive government, regulate the most private and personal consensual sexual behavior. That's nothing new, of course, but it may surprise you that according to the Gospel as invented by Barton, God hates net neutrality and wants the internet dominated by the powerful and rich. God and the Puritans brought us prosperity because we're not socialists. The rest of the world got their prosperity from the Devil apparently and Jesus was just joking about rich men and heaven. How can we question that?

God wills it -- just like God willed the Crusades and the extermination of European Jews: just like he willed the divine right of kings and the right of the Church to approve their power. He demanded a secular Democracy in the Colonies, some of them, while simultaneously mandating the power of George III, Rex Dei Gratia.

Face it, it's long since been far out of hand and the will of god has become indistinguishable from the background noise of commerce. Did God have an interest in boosting tobacco sales. He obviously, if we're to believe this radio troll, has an interest in the rights of corporations which exceeds his concern for the poor. Does God like free markets, or does he like kings? Does the Bible speak against Net Neutrality or call it Socialism. Does God hate Socialism or does he like you to share everything you have with the poor and sick? Depends on whom you ask and of course I won't be asking the Religious Right, which I can't tell from the Religious Wrong of late.

One thing our constitution does uphold, is the free exercise of religion, so lunatics and tyrants and even evil men like Barton get to rave on unmolested. The government can't really exercise God control and more than God can control the evil spewed out by Barton's forked tongue. It's up to me and you to be aware that whether or not it was God, Guns and Guts that made America "great" those things will serve any master with equal ferocity. Mention God and nobody can shut you up, nobody can really contradict you and millions will follow you through the gates of hell, raging and bellowing, cheering and jeering like the lost souls we are.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Birtherism, bullshit, and Donald Trump

The leader of the Birthers, judging simply by celebrity status and media attention, isn't Jerome Corsi or Orly Taitz but rather, as you probably know, Donald Trump, who in his quest for ever more self-aggrandizing publicity, if not for the Republican presidential nomination, has been pushing the Birther lie with extreme prejudice in recent weeks.

In a way, it's become his political claim to fame, or rather his claim to political credibility on the right and with the Republican base, and with the 45 percent of Republicans who don't think Obama was born in the U.S. despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Needless to say, Trump doesn't have any evidence, but he's nonetheless continuing to tantalize not just Republicans but the media with his assertions of some terribly sinister conspiracy. He was at it again on Thursday:

Possibly-serious Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is giving few details about the investigation he claims to have launched in Hawaii to get to the bottom of where President Obama was born, but the business mogul told CNN Thursday Americans will be "very surprised" by what he has found.

"We're looking into it very, very strongly. At a certain point in time I'll be revealing some interesting things," Trump said on CNN's American Morning.

Trump first claimed earlier this month he had sent investigators to Obama's home state in an effort to find out if the president was indeed born there, as he says he was and several media organization's independent investigations have confirmed.

"I have people that have been studying it and they cannot believe what they're finding," Trump told NBC then.

But Trump has since offered few details about the on-the-ground investigation and, in the interview with CNN Thursday, wouldn't specifically say if it had uncovered new details.

"You'll be very surprised," he said when asked by CNN's Ali Velshi if his investigators have found anything.

It's rather amusing that CNN describes him as "possibly-serious." I think that's actually giving him too much credibility, and too much legitimacy. But what's key here is that Trump isn't providing any details because there just aren't any details to provide. Saying he has investigators on the job is like O.J. saying he's trying to find the "real" killers. Sure, Trump may come up with something, something to advance a Birther conspiracy theory or another, but the way to keep the story going, the way to bring himself even more publicity and to please/appease the GOP's Birther base, is not to provide any new facts, let alone to bring closure to the story, but to keep the media guessing. Whatever you think of Trump, he's a savvy guy and he knows how to play the media. And that's just what he's doing.

At No More Mister Nice Blog, Steve M. explains what's going on:

This is what's going to happen to birtherism, I think: It's going to mutate. It's going to stop being just about whether the birth story is accurate; it's going to morph into a narrative in which an inaccessible document or two in Hawaii get lumped together with (I assume) a larger number of inaccessible documents in Indonesia and Kenya to create an impression (at least to wingnuts) of a president hiding secrets that are too horrible and evil to comprehend.


Trump says, "I'll be revealing some interesting things." Drudge's "source close to the publisher" says, "Obama may learn things he didn't even know about himself!" I'll say it again: the plan is to turn this into A Conspiracy So Vast, an attempt to hide aspects of Obama's youth, in which the birth certificate plays a relatively small part. I'm not saying it'll work -- I'm just saying that's the scheme to keep this fresh and continue gulling the rubes (and, if they play it flawlessly, the mainstream media).

It's not really clear to me what Trump's endgame is. He surely isn't running, and wouldn't win if he did. Is he stupid enough to believe otherwise? And would he really want to open himself up to such scrutiny? Is is just about publicity? Maybe, but how is it beneficial to him as a celebrity businessman to be so blatantly partisan, not to mention to embrace the conspiracy theories of the crazy wing of the GOP?

I'm just not sure, but there seems to be little doubt that his massive ego is driving him, and something else he said on CNN reveals a lot about how he views himself in relation to everyone else. Discussing his net worth, and refuting Forbes magazine's claim that it's $2.7 billion, Trump said this:

I can tell you that's a very low number," Trump said of the Forbes estimate. "It's much more than that. And if I decide to run, which I very well may surprise people, but if I decide to run, I will give a net worth statement essentially. As you know, we have to fill out very detailed forms for the federal government. And I think people will be extremely impressed."

Yes, it's the money, stupid. Trump thinks that it's his wealth that impresses people, that what truly sets him apart from most everyone else is his money. It's like he thinks he can do no wrong because he has so much money. Forget how many times he's been bailed out, or how many of his enterprises have failed. He's a rich man, a richer man than you think, and that, he thinks, makes him better than you -- and it's what apparently gives him automatic political credibility and a shot at the presidency. In other words, he apparently thinks he's invulnerable, that nothing can bring him down, that anything he touches, including crazy conspiracy theories, turns to gold.

In this respect, he's like any of those disgraced CEOs who stole from shareholders and destroyed their companies, except that he's got a lust for the spotlight that far surpasses most and that the media, and especially the right-leaning business media, think he can do no wrong.

I'm not sure even this explains pushing Birtherism, but obviously Trump has made some sort of calculation that being, or at least presenting himself as, the driving force behind a lie advances his personal agenda. I'm sure his "investigation" will continue to excite the rubes in the GOP and the gullible fools in the media, but anything he says, like everything he has said so far, will be thick with bullshit.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ayn Rand devotee Paul Ryan gets booed by his own constituents

To Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is a superstar. To many in the media, he's a towering oracle of economic wisdom. To many in the Democratic Party, he's a political giant far too formidable even to question.

And so Ryan, a worshipper of Ayn Rand, gets away with spinning his right-wing extremism without much of a challenge, except from a few lone liberal voices like Jon Chait and Paul Krugman and from some of us outside the media/political establishment on the left of the political blogosphere.

He is widely touted as one of the true heroes of the moment, if not of our time, a courageous campaigner for fiscal responsibility, for balanced budgets and getting America's economic house in order at long last. And yet what he really is is a campaigner for the same old right-wing Republican economic policies, just with a pretty face and broad media appeal. His version of fiscal responsibility, a pretty standard conservative one, involves cutting programs for the poor and cutting taxes for the rich.

To their and their country's shame, most people don't much care about the poor, who barely have a voice in Washington. Most people also oppose cuts to major entitlement programs like Social Security, and so Ryan, like the rest of his party, doesn't want to go there. Nor, of course, does he support significant cuts to military spending, which would certainly help balance the budget. But the key is that Ryan wants to do everything he can to give the rich as much as possible at the expense of everyone else, not just the poor but everyone who isn't rich, including the middle class, or what's left of it. And in supporting tax cuts for the rich, Ryan exposes himself not as a crusader for fiscal responsibility but as your typical Republican, a party of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, a party that suckers the non-rich into voting for it by playing to deep-rooted fears about race or terrorism or whatever other Other it identifies as a vote-winner.

But you know what? Tax cuts for the rich aren't popular. At all. Republicans generally try to hide their support for such cuts, but they just can't do that anymore, or at least it's more difficult for them to do so, and more and more their real agenda, their plutocratic political agenda, is being exposed. People just need to pay attention.

Which is precisely what some of them are doing, including in Ryan's own district, where this week he was actually booed at a town hall for advocating tax cuts for the wealthy:

In a video posted by ThinkProgress, an attendee at the event this week told Ryan that he believes the rich should pay higher taxes to help close the deficit and strengthen Social Security.

"The middle class is disappearing right now," he said. "During this time of prosperity, the top 1 percent was taking about 10 percent of the total annual income, but yet today we are fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire?"

Ryan protested that "We do tax the top," before being drowned out by the audience's jeers.

Here's the clip. Hopefully it's just the start of what Ryan and the GOP deserve, which is the disapproval of voters and, come next November, votes for the other side.

(And instead of cowering in fear before Ryan and his media-enhanced stardom, Democrats should learn from this, as from all the polls showing public opposition to tax cuts for the rich, and counter the Republican agenda with a fair, sensible, and compassionate alternative that doesn't crush the poor, punish the middle class, and let the rich rape and pillage at will.)

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

The Arab Spring midterm

Guest post by Ali Ezzatyar 

Ali Ezzatyar is a journalist and American attorney practising in Paris, France.

(Ed. note: This is Ali's fifth guest post at The Reaction. Last month, he wrote on Obama's foreign policy and the secular uprisings in the Middle East. In February, he wrote on dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt and on the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. In January 2010, he co-wrote a post on Iran with Bryan Tollin. -- MJWS)


It's test-time. The durability of an unpopular dictator, Arab or otherwise, has been called into question since January. Fair enough. But each bud of the Arab Spring has taught us another thing or two.

Tunisia taught us that an aura of inevitability bolstered by rhetoric from abroad could do little to help against galvanized, anti-governmental will. Egypt confirmed that Tunisia was not a fluke, with the additional lesson that years of foreign support and patronage can do little to hold a dictator and his system in place. On the flip side, Algeria is showing us how years of civil war can make a population complacent to revolution. They all demonstrate how the information age has changed politics forever. So if precedental value is important, how do we interpret Libya and Syria?

First, tribal and sectarian allegiances are obstinate, even in the face of destiny.

In February, it looked inevitable that Qaddafi would be the third dictator deposed in so many months. As the so-called Libyan rebels swallowed up government territory on their way to Tripoli, few could have predicted the stalemate that has set in today. The reality is that Qaddafi's counter-punch was engineered through a consolidation of tribal loyalties in and around Tripoli, not a regrouping of government arms. With the rebels faltering, many of Libya's tribal leaders (who have long had a "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" relationship with Qaddafi) rallied around the colonel. They have now succeeded in keeping him in power. Similarly, what we are seeing in Syria is the hardening of the core of Alavi patrons that make up the regime, with the Assad family as their figurehead. The Alavi minority, since coming to power in the mid 1960s, has been the primary power broker in that country. It stands to lose significantly more than any one group in Tunisia or Egypt ever could.

Second, an absence of meaningful diplomatic ties to world's most powerful countries actually hardens regimes and their power.

One could as easily conclude that pariah-status endangers dictators, alienating their populations and driving them to resentment. In Egypt and Tunisia, however, it was the relationships the dictatorial regimes had with democratic countries that allowed the world to exercise influence when it counted. Libya and Syria are regimes that are accountable to almost no one, whose dictators (and respective entourages) are not welcome anywhere. There is nobody to apply pressure or give incentives; the regime is left to fend for its life in the wake of rebellion. What's more, populations in isolated countries probably resent the rest of the world almost as much as they do their own regimes, which has implications for intervention of any kind.

Still, if the world had reacted to help the rebels when even the most loyal to Qaddafi would have bet against him, things could be different there today. Similarly, in countries like Syria (and Iran for that matter), there is probably much less today to the argument that isolation, with tools like sanctions and fiery rhetoric, makes for productive long-term foreign policy. A more rigorous diplomatic project in these places could have set the stage for regime change. Alas, what's done is done.

Partially on account of these lessons, one would imagine that if the regime does fall in Syria, its implications would have a particular thrust. It is the most entrenched, perhaps the most brutal, and almost certainly the most domestically popular of the large Arab dictatorships. Regime change there would usher in a certain inevitability that would echo from Riyadh to Rabat; it could mean the death knell of the Arab dictator as we know it.

Sure, this is conjecture for now. But, hey, this is just the midterm.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Elephant Dung #26: Glenn Beck calls Huckabee the worst thing possible... a progressive

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By R.K. Barry 

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

In Glenn Beck's vocabulary, there is no dirtier word than "progressive." All the villains in his warped understanding of history can be shown to carry this particular banner: Wilson, FDR, TR, LBJ, WJC, and, of course, the current occupant of the White House. Their shared sin is some variant of the claim that they use government to devise schemes that ultimately oppress the people. Nazis, Communists, New Dealers, Great Society advocates -- progressives each and every one. It's not very clear how it all works, and it usually involves a chalk board and diagrams, but that's the charm that is Mr. Glenn Beck.

Fascinatingly enough, he has recently taken to calling Mike Huckabee a progressive.

Judging from the audio clip you can access here, it seems that Huck started his slide when he supported Michelle's Obama's anti-obesity campaign. Go figure.

Many of us have been saying for some time that the radical right will get tired of simply going after liberals. At some point, which seems to be happening now, they will go after those putatively within their own ranks who they deem not pure enough -- not conservative enough.

Huckabee has a show on the Fox network, as had Beck until recently, so maybe this is a sort of parting shot at his old company. The truth is that for ideological purists like Beck and Tea Partiers no one is truly safe and everyone must be scrutinized, even as their own circle becomes smaller and smaller.

As I have said before, this is what has been called the tyranny of virtue.

Any willingness to believe that one's opponents might just have something to offer, that they might have something reasonable to say, that they might be of value as human beings, is proof of one's own unworthiness to continue on in the ranks of the anointed. You will recall that former Republican Florida Governor Charlie Crist was thrown overboard as a potential Senate nominee for having once hugged President Obama. Tough crowd.

We see this with the Tea Party v. the Republican leadership. And now Glenn Beck, the high priest of the conservative revolution, has just banished one who the rest of us thought was among the elect.

The only question now is, who's next?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Remember 2008?

By Carl 

After eight years of Bush, you may recall, there were Democrats chomping at the bit to get a Democrat in the White House. There were three main candidates -- John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama -- and all three had fervent, passionate partisans. We battled and threw muck and eventually the field winnowed down to one, and the passion the rest of us had went to supporting Barack Obama.

Anybody but Bush('s successor). We had seen the terrible toll he had taken on the nation, and realized that we had to step in and clean up after the children.

Obama, like Bill Clinton before him only writ larger, has tried his best and perhaps has done the best job that anyone could have done given the circumstances. History will have to determine that (and hopefully history will have a way to measure a Hillary presidency and an Edwards presidency, too).

Even the fiercest progressive have to acknowledge the man was dealt a shitty hand. We can argue about how well he played the hand, and even the degree of crapitude he had versus what assets he held as his hole card, but he certainly didn't walk into the same comparatively rosy scenario that Bush did in 2001 or Clinton did in 1993.

Obama will inspire some of the passion he did in 2008, and no doubt many of the progressives who find deep flaws in his administration (like me: I'm still pissed about Gitmo and the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed) will rally around him. Indeed, he's already started to mend those fences. 

The Republicans, however... 

Only those possible contenders who regularly appear on television — or have made bids before — are well known enough to elicit significant views from their fellow Republicans. And of that group, only one, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, is viewed favorably by more than half of the Republican electorate.

The poll would seem to reflect the late start to the Republican primary season, with many of the major likely candidates seeking to hoard their money and avoid making any missteps that they might have to live with later, when voters go to polls or caucus rooms.

While it may not be unusual for voters' attention to be focused elsewhere at this stage of a campaign, the survey at the very least provides a reality check for a race that has received frenetic coverage at times on cable news and the Internet even though nearly 60 percent of Republicans cannot point to a single candidate about whom they are enthusiastic, according to the Times/CBS poll. 

In case anyone still has doubts about Obama's chances in 2012.

Indeed, John McCain may have picked precisely the wrong election to run in. He could easily have kept his "heir apparent" crown into this election cycle, and probably picked up the nomination with far less difficulty from the likes of Huckabee and Romney (who either would have been the defeated candidate in 2008 or exhausted their personal resources trying), and Sarah Palin (and, by extension, Michele Bachmann) would have been kept off the radar completely. In my opinion, McCain would have been the only viable contender to unseat Obama, à la Reagan in 1980.

This is frankly an astounding poll, when you think about it: Anger at Obama should be at an all-time high, what with the agenda he managed to pass (or shove down the throats of Teabaggers), and as we saw in 2008, that usually means at least one candidate gets the coalescence of that backlash.

Here, we see....nothing.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

From Disney to normal


I'm back from vacation. I was at Disney World with my family for the past week.

Cynical though I may be, it was wonderful. It's a world without irony, a world of consumerism masquerading as hopes and dreams, a world that is certainly too "good" to be true, a world that is undeniably rigid and not a little fascist in its own way, but... you know what? I loved it. More for my children than for me, but I still had a great time. We stayed at a really nice Disney resort, ate at some super restaurants, and enjoyed ourselves far more than I expected going in.

But it was exhausting. An early-morning flight from Orlando brought us back to Toronto yesterday, and from 93 sunny degrees on Tuesday to darn near freezing here, and I need to readjust. It's awfully tiring, particularly when it's so hot, making your way around the different parks, with a lot of waiting in lines as well, trying to get on the big rides and make sure the kids get to meet as many characters as possible.

I hope to get back to blogging later today.

In the meantime, we've got some new posts going up for your reading pleasure today -- and I'd like to thank my great co-bloggers for keeping us going during my absence.

Oh, one more thing...

Have a magical day!


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gai kakhen afenyam

It is bad enough my peeps have to deal with complete and total douchebags like Eric Cantor and Bill Kristol, but now...

Miss Blood Libel herself -- donning a very prominent Star of David.  Doesn't it look like she is completely stoned on LSD-laced matzoh balls or Xanax-filled haroses. 

On the Sarahnews Network, Miss Blood Libel rushed to the defense of the Trumptaur himself today:

"Well, I appreciate that the Donald wants to spend his resources in getting to the bottom of something that so interests him and many Americans, you know, more power to him," she said presumably referring to an indication by Trump last week that he has investigators on the ground in Hawaii searching for information on the president's birthplace.

Maybe Donald can investigate whether Sarah had a mikvah. Or if she eats cheeseburgers.

Cherem (חרם), is the highest censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. It is a form of shunning, and is similar to excommunication in the Catholic Church.

Sarah -- have a glass of Cherem on humanity.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Picture of the day: Barack Obama and his mom

By R.K. Barry

The New York Times ran a story today about President Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. It's a well-meaning attempt to better understand the woman who, by any measure, raised a remarkable child. After working through the very lengthy piece, I'm not really sure I know her much better, but it's worth a look.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)


Bookmark and Share

Restoring a bit of faith in genuine goodness

With the amount of mischief, malfeasance and worse that goes on in the world, such as that conducted by the companies, our government and regulatory agencies which led to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico one year ago today, it's hard not to be cynical. Then you watch the documentary short Saving Pelican 895, which debuts on HBO tonight, and see all the people devoted to cleaning, rehabilitating and saving the birds coated by oil by the spill, and your hardened heart reminds your brain that there still are good people in the world. As one of the workers at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Louisiana says in the film, "How can people question that we shouldn't care for these animals?"

Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, who was nominated for the 2008 Oscar for documentary short subject for The Final Inch, Saving Pelican 895 focuses on the plight of the brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, whose history in the state has been one hard struggle. What makes the brown pelican unique among pelicans is that it's the only pelican that dives from the air for its fish. When there began to be a massive use of pesticides along the Mississippi River, it began to kill off the birds, placing them on the endangered species list for 45 years until 1963, when there were none left in the state.

A massive immigration effort imported brown pelicans from Florida to Louisiana and the program proved so successful at repopulating the bird in the state that it was removed from the endangered list in November 2009. Five months later, BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded. Some species just can't catch a break, but this old bird proved sturdier than others. Conservationists, government agencies and activists joined forces to rescue the oil-soaked pelicans and take them to the Fort Jackson facility to be cleaned and rehabilitated before their release to a new pelican colony far removed from the spill site.

In the first three months after the spill, this effort rescued 894 brown pelicans. The film specifically focuses on the pelican given the moniker LA 895. As one of the staff veterinarians explains, an absolute rule they must follow is to never name any of the birds they are treating to prevent becoming too attached should a bad outcome happen.

One of the main interview subjects is the man who leads most of the rescue efforts along the coast itself, state biologist Michael Carloss, who admits that at the beginning of the operation his "dreams are almost nightly of oiled pelicans." LA 895 was thought to be about 10 weeks old, meaning he didn't even know how to fly yet. It was assumed his parents were rescued separately and wondered where he was since in the early weeks of a brown pelican's life, both sexes keep close watch over the fledglings, or that they may have died. The rig explosion happened right in the middle of the species' breeding season, so many of the rescued pelicans were much younger than the birds the rehabilitation center usually sees, meaning the workers and volunteers had to be much more involved than usual. They try to hand-feed the birds only when absolutely necessary because part of the program is to ensure that by the time the pelicans get released, they still fear humans and retain their wildness and won't approach people outside expecting to be fed.

Watching the entire process that these birds go through and how dedicated these people are to saving them truly is moving. The film also has nice original music by Joel Goodman. The documentary makes the point that the U.S. is the only country that requires oil companies to foot the bill for saving wildlife they've inadvertently harmed, a law passed after the Exxon Valdez wreck in Alaska. I do have to ask if that's accurate considering that with the record profits the oil companies make, they still get subsidies from our corrupt Congress, so doesn't that mean it's ultimately taxpayers who are paying? Not that I mind since it's more than a worthy cause, but seeing the reports of how BP has skirted much of its financial responsibilities for the environmental and economic disaster it created along the Gulf Coast, I hated hearing it sound as if they were being forced into good corporate citizenship. (Just this morning, there were more tales of how BP is STILL dragging its feet to avoid paying people's individual claims and, just to make you angrier, even though former BP CEO Tony "I want my life back" Hayward is no longer an active executive, he will retire next year at age 55 with an annual pension of nearly $1 million.)

The heroes in Saving Pelican 895 are the men and women who devote themselves to saving these creatures. It restores part of my faith in humanity. It also shows the strength of these birds, who had to be evacuated during part of the rehab process when a hurricane threatened. As Carloss says near the end, "With all they've been through, they really are survivors. These pelicans are tough."

Saving Pelican 895 airs tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT and 8 p.m. CDT.

(Cross-posted at Edward Copeland on Film.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

I'm glad he does, cuz I don't!

By Carl 

President Obama sees common ground on debt reduction and the budget: 

Democrats and Republicans agree that $4 trillion needs to be slashed over roughly a decade, Obama told a town hall-style event in Virginia. But the two parties disagree on what to cut to get there.

"The big question that is going to have to be resolved is: how do we do it?" Obama told students at a community college. "I don't want to lie to you, there is a big philosophical divide right now."

The president was promoting his plan for cutting the deficit a day after Standard & Poor's threatened to strip America of its prized triple-A credit rating. The Wall Street ratings agency cited concern that Washington's polarized politics would make it difficult to reach a debt deal before the 2012 presidential election.

Obama, who is traveling around the country this week to advocate his deficit proposals, did not show any greater flexibility over his demands that taxes go up for the wealthiest Americans. 

Unless by common ground, he means that the two sides agree on the $4 trillion, I don't see how there's common ground here. Republicans are between Iraq and a hard place, needing to make their Teabagger constituency happy without cutting defense spending, Medicare entitlements or raising taxes.

Democrats have the luxury of standing around, tapping their watches and sighing imaptiently.

Lest you think this is another political kabuki, this year's budget is it. This is the whole enchilada for the progressive movement in this nation. If we allow the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts, then we have no business being a movement.

Sure, there's some posturing involved: I don't think the Republicans can let this budget go without some attempt at face-saving for their centerpiece platform plank of lower taxes, which has proven over the past thirty years to neither create jobs nor improve the economy much. I think even they know it, and that they're shamelessly pandering to the corporatocracy and the orc minions who somehow believe if they're fervent enough, their overlords will shower gelt upon them.

Likewise, much of the "senior scarifying" that the Dems have been doing is a mask to the very real growth of Medicare and what that bodes for the future of the budget.

I'm not suggesting that we have to have entitlement cuts immediately (frankly, I haven't studied the problem enough to have an opinion) but what I am suggesting is, given the current anti-tax climate, it's going to be hard to justify the kinds of benefits we have to pay out in a few years. When does it become enough? At fifty percent of the budget? We're tracking perilously close to that, which means we're sopping up funds for other critical progressive programs like energy reform and infrastructure repair. I would like this not to have to come down to clean air for our children and grandchildren versus keeping me alive on a ventilator.

All that said, this is an urgently important budget coming upon us, because what grows out of it will impact the next decade's worth of budget proposals and likely the economic growth for the next century, and along with it, the income and well-being of every American.

As Ben Bradlee said during Watergate, "Nothing's riding on this except the... future of the country.

So if you've been holding onto someone's balls for a rainy day, well, the clouds have gathered.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Slow train coming

One of the most frequently recurring themes echoing inside the bubble of Obamahate culture is that the President, although handily elected, was somehow thrust upon us by mistake and is an unelected tyrant.

It takes a special kind of person to believe that. It takes a special kind of person to attempt to profit by that belief and it takes a special kind of specialness not to be able to smell the boot polish and Cordite when reading about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's plan to take over municipal governments (duly elected) as part of his plan for prosperity through penury.

Forbes' Rick Ungar calls it Financial Martial Law. The Walker plan: 

would empower the governor to insert a financial manager of his choosing into local government with the ability to cancel union contracts, push aside duly elected local government officials and school board members and take control of Wisconsin cities and towns whenever he sees fit to do so.

I have no doubt that's just what the Tea-Shirts would like and little doubt that they will be able to reconcile that with their flimsy facade of Constitutional reverence. 

Such a law would additionally give Walker unchallenged power to end municipal services of which he disapproves, including safety net assistance to those in need.

That's not tyranny, that's not the kind constitution shredding the baggery would love to attribute to the President: at least it's not to the Tea-drunk masses longing to break free of any remaining bonds of civilization.

It'll never happen? It's liberal hyperbole? Think a state government can't simply strip a municipality's elected government of all power by gubernatorial fiat? You say this isn't possible in America? It's already happened in Michigan. Perhaps it's coming soon, to a state near you.

I'll spare you a rant about Fascism and Mussolini, the perils of "special emergency powers" and Orwell's eternal boot heel, I suspect you've read enough 20th-Century history to know what I'm talking about, but I suspect too that the years I have left to me will be years of counting up the mounting victories of barbarism, and the steady descent of our empire. Perhaps it's high time that I got back to studying Chinese.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Karl Rove doesn't like Donald Trump -- imagine that

Need any more proof that Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats?

All you need to know is that a Donald Trump candidacy, with its whack job birther nonsense, scares the crap out of Karl Rove.

As ThinkProgress put it: 

By firmly planting his flag on the right-wing birther conspiracy, real estate mogul Donald Trump is single-handedly driving a deep wedge into the Republican party. His improbable popularity in the polls has motivated some high-profile Republicans to jump on the birther bandwagon while leaving others fighting to deny him any future relevance. President Bush's former adviser Karl Rove let Fox News' On the Record host Greta Van Susteren know that he falls squarely in the second camp. Utterly aghast at his full-time peddling of the birther conspiracy, Rove labeled him a "joke candidate" of the "nutty right" who will never be elected by Republicans or the American people.

The only thing I can say about this is: who among us would have thought that it would be Donald Trump, of all people, who would drive the wedge between crazy right-wingers and the more pragmatic, effective and campaign savvy elements of the GOP? Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann? Sure. Donald Trump? Wow.

It's actually kind of fun to watch Rove's disgust as he talks about Trump.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share