Saturday, May 07, 2011

Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District and the impact of Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare

I am not going to say that GOP rock star
Paul Ryan could be in any real trouble holding onto his Congressional seat, Wisconsin's 1st, in the 2012 election. He's been winning the thing pretty handily since he first ran in 1998. He didn't even really break a sweat in 2008 when Obama was taking the country by storm, winning against Democratic challenger Marge Krupp by a 64%-34% margin.

It is worth noting, though, that the Wisconsin 1st has been a swing district in presidential elections having gone to George W. Bush with 53% of the vote in 2004 and then to Obama in 2008 with 51.4%. From 1971 to 1995 the Democrats held the seat, most of the time with Les Aspin (1971-1993) and for a couple of years with Peter Barca (1993-1995), before Mark Neumann won and help it for the GOP from 1995 to 1999 and then came Ryan. So, a little back-and-forthing there and as recently as 2008 a narrow win by Obama for the Dems.

Everyone knows it's difficult to unseat incumbents and Mr. Ryan has made a bit of a name for himself, but, as we know, more recently, the news has not been all good. When supposedly safe members are taken down it is not uncommon for it to be the result of a specific and voter energizing issue - like privatizing Medicare. And let us remember that Paul Ryan is not just a member of a party thinking about doing that; he's the prime architect.

Just for a moment, let's turn our attention to what's going on in the special election in the New York 26th Congressional district to be held May 24th. This is the seat vacated by Republican Chris Lee in February, the man who couldn't seem to keep his shirt on (long story). This should be a safe seat for Republicans but for the fact that a Tea Party challenger, Jack Davis, is threatening to take votes away from the Republican nominee, Jane Corwin, and perhaps let the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, come up the middle. The latest poll from Sienna College has Corwin at 36%, Hochul at 31% and Davis 23% with local media reporting that the race is tightening. The interesting part is that 59% of those polled don't approve of the changes to Medicare that Ryan is spearheading.

I'm not saying there is going to be a Tea Party challenger in the Wisconsin 1st, unless something really weird happens like Ryan aggressively rejecting his own budget plan. No, I'm just saying this is a great issue for a prospective challenger and Ryan represents a district that doesn't mind voting for the Democrats every now and again, especially if there is a signature issue to motivate them and if a charismatic president is running for reelection on the Democratic line.

I am quite open to being told that there are all sorts of local reasons why this could never, ever, under any circumstances, happen. At the very least, it seems worth a conversation.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Reality bites (Rick Santorum in the ass)

At Thursday night's GOP "presidential" "debate" in South Carolina, Rick Santorum said that President Obama deserves zero credit for killing Osama bin Laden:

9/11 families and everybody else in America should be furious at this president that he's walking abound taking credit for, you know, getting Osama bin Laden. He didn't get Osama bin Laden!

Basically, Obama just gave the order, which was easy enough to do (as if there were no question at all, as if the mission weren't risky at all -- clearly Santorum has no idea what it means to be president and to have to make decisions like this). It was Bush who did all the work. 

It's predictable enough that all five Republicans went after Obama and that Santorum in particular, who is so desperate to gain traction (but who really doesn't have much of a shot of actually winning), said something so ridiculously stupid, something that goes beyond even what most other conservatives are saying in response to the mission. This isn't just denying Obama full credit, or trying to share some of the credit, this is saying that Obama did virtually nothing and is shamelessly taking undeserved credit for something he knows he didn't do.

Aside from the facts that Obama was closely involved in the planning stage of the mission and was making the key decisions all along -- and, indeed, there were other options and things could have gone differently -- what Santorum gets wrong is just how differently Obama has approached the "war" on terror compared to Bush:

[A]s Michael Hirsch writes today in the National Journal, President Obama was sucessful in catching Bin Laden precisely because he broke with Bush's terror policies. The conservative "assessment couldn't be further from the truth," Hirsch writes. "Behind Obama's takedown of the Qaida leader this week lies a profound discontinuity between administrations — a major strategic shift in how to deal with terrorists," from Bush's bombastic and overly expansive "war on terror," to Obama's "covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn."

In other words, the mission to kill Osama bin Laden was planned and succeeded not in spite of Obama, or regardless of Obama, but because of Obama. This is not to say that another president wouldn't have made the same or similar decisions and wouldn't have similarly succeeded, but it's just plain wrong to suggest that Obama deserves none of the credit or even just some of the credit.

This is politics, I know, and the truth matters little to extremist partisan ideologues like Santorum. But it's yet another example of just how reality-denying the Republicans really are.

And it's only going to get worse.


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Friday, May 06, 2011

The plight of Olympia Snowe, revisited

The Hill has a piece up today noting that Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, long thought to be one of those most endangered of species, a moderate Republican, has actually "taken surprisingly conservative positions in the Senate this year."

Surprising? Not so much. While Snowe claims consistency, the truth is that she's not just endangered but in danger, facing the possibility of a serious Tea Party primary challenge from the right. And as she moves more and more to the right, she's even voting against her own ideas:

Snowe stunned longtime Democratic colleagues Wednesday by blocking action on a small-business bill she co-wrote because Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on an amendment they saw as a political hit job.

"Sen. Snowe actually wrote this bill," said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Small Business Committee. "She killed her own bill under the guise that she feels so strongly about reg reform."

She claims that she voted against the bill because the amendment was necessary (and because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied her the opportunity to vote on it), but the amendment, co-sponsored with right-wing Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was decidedly anti-regulatory and contrary to the spirit of the legislation. Far from being consistent, Snowe clearly sought to embrace a right-wing effort to undermine the bill in order to display her newfound conservative bona fides, all part of her disingenuous move to the right in order to ward off, or at least to try to be in better position to defeat, a Tea Party challenge.

Snowe has been a "moderate" for so long that I highly doubt that her efforts will work. Maine voters, and especially Maine Republican primary voters, are not about to take her as a Coburn-like conservative. It's just not what she's ever been, and her efforts now, like Mitt Romney's seem desperate and pathetic.

Nonetheless, I suspect that Snowe is fairly safe if only because of her long-standing incumbency in a state that is hardly as conservative as, say, Oklahoma. Still, there's an opening for the Tea Party to bring her down, and she's obviously concerned enough to forsake her past and embrace her party's mainstream extremism.

And she's hardly alone. Any Republican who in any way departs from Tea Party orthodoxy is a target. This is one of the key developments to watch as we look ahead to November 2012.

For more on this, see Richard Barry's post from Tuesday.


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This day in history - May 6, 1940: John Steinbeck is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath

For its sympathetic depiction of the plight of the poor during the Great Depression, the Associated Farmers of California branded the The Grapes of Wrath communist propaganda. It seems that any sympathetic assessment of the struggles of poorer Americans will incur the wrath of those who benefit most from the gross inequalities of wealth and power in our society.

If Steinbeck were alive today, I have no doubt that he would find himself on one of Glenn Beck's chalkboards alongside all those other leftist radicals Beck believes to be destroying the country.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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What will become of the Birthers?

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Live-blogging the South Carolina Republican presidential debate!

(No, not really. Why would I do such a thing?)

Yes, there was a debate last night...

(Is that chirping I hear?)

Seriously, there was. It was on Fox News. And it's been the lead story at, which of course celebrates the five participants for slamming Obama at every turn.

Yes, just five.

Romney wasn't there. He's too busy being invisible -- the the time being, probably to his credit so as not to have to share the stage with such idiotic extremism (and extremist idiocy).

Trump wasn't there. He's not an official candidate, after all, just a loudmouthed bully grasping for attention.

So is Gingrich, also not an official candidate and also not there.

And Bachmann... well, I'm not sure what she was doing, but she wasn't there either.

Two somewhat saner potential candidates also weren't there, Huntsman and Daniels.

And Fred Karger, openly gay, was kept out. Of course.

So who was there? Pawlenty (oddly enough, given that he's not nearly as crazy as the rest, though perhaps any press is good for this guy, who risks declining back into obscurity), Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Gary Johnson.

Good times.

(chirp... chirp... chirp...)

I don't really have anything to say about the event. It was as predictable and pointless as you might imagine. And nothing was said that was in any way remarkable. Even Santorum's ridiculous claim that Bush and not Obama deserves credit for killing Osama bin Laden was par for the right-wing course.

And no dent is made at all in terms of sorting out the GOP field. Because it's still an embarrasing, incredibly weak field, and because we're still waiting for a few potentially serious (or at least big-name) contenders to make up their minds, like Gingrich, Daniels, and, yes, one Sarah Palin.

So. Whatever. Just thought I'd mention it.


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Rashard Mendenhall clarifies controversial Twitter remarks

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, you've probably heard, posted some rather interesting tweets on the killing of Osama bin Laden. I wrote about them on Wednesday, defending Mendenhall but not excusing a couple of the more inexcusable tweets.

Presenting himself as a 9/11 Truther? Not so good.

Seeming to be an Osama apologist? Also not so good.

But saying that there's something wrong with celebrating death, with the lust for bloody vengeance, refusing to be a judge (which only his God can truly be), and encouraging thought instead of ignorance? What's so wrong with that?

While defending Mendenhall, to a point, I made sure to stress that he needed to clarify his remarks, to explain himself. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he appears to be thoughtful, peaceful man. I said that he should have been more careful, that Twitter isn't the best place to express such nuanced thoughts. I said that we shouldn't be too quick to judge. I admired him, in a way, but I was prepared to be more critical if he didn't 

Well, Mendenhall took to his blog (as reported by the Post-Gazette), a blog now with just a single post, for clarification. I encourage you to read his post in full. Here's some of it:

I appreciate those of you who have decided to read this letter and attain a greater understanding of my recent twitter posts. I see how they have gotten misconstrued, and wanted to use this outlet as a way to clear up all things that do not truthfully represent myself, what I stand for personally, and any organization that I am a part of.

First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA. I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the US, but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms everyday, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war.

And he responded specifically to objections to one of his two objectionable tweets, the one in which he said that people shouldn't celebrate death but also in which he wondered how people could hate a man (Osama) they'd never even heard speak:

This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don't believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics...

I wasn't questioning Bin Laden's evil acts. I believe that he will have to face God for what he has done. I was reflecting on our own hypocrisy. During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man's death.

And then he apologized for anything that might have been misconstrued:

Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I've said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name.

It was only meant to encourage anyone reading it to think.

With respect to the controversial tweet about hearing Osama's side, I think that Mendenhall wrote inartfully. In other words, he just didn't express himself well. His explanation helps, but obviously he should have been more careful with his words. Because, as it is, that tweet comes across not necessarily as pro-Osama but at least as deeply ignorant. (A lot of us heard Osama speak. A lot of us know the other side. But we still hated the man and were content, if not happy, to see him killed.)

Overall, Mendenhall's clarification, which according to the Post-Gazette he wrote himself, shows him, like his Twitter feed generally, to be an intelligent, humble, and thoughtful man. In a world full of knee-jerk jingoism, including some of what we saw in the aftermath of the killing Sunday night, such a nuanced sense both of self and of the world is truly admirable. (And, in a pro athlete, truly remarkable.) I was a fan of the athlete before. Now I'm a fan of the man.

The problem, though, is that Mendenhall did not address his 9/11 Truther tweet: "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." Does he really think that something else was going on, that, say, the U.S. government was behind it, or is he merely musing on a distantly remote possibility? I'd certainly like to know, as would his other fans, as would pretty much everyone else for that matter. He deleted that specific tweet, and so maybe he doesn't think he needs to explain it, but he must know that anything that goes public on a social networking site is likely to remain public no matter what, and that tweet remains out there regardless of whether or not it's in his feed.

So, Rashard, will you not take the time to clarify it? You seem to be a good and decent man. You say you want us all to think. Well, then, give us more than a single tweet about 9/11 and tell us what you really think. I, for one, am certainly open to having a conversation about it, and I suspect that many others are as well. I know you've encountered a lot of knee-jerk jingoism already, but not all of us are like that. And while I will disagree with you if you really are a 9/11 Truther, and while most others will too, you would do well not to let that tweet stand as your only statement on the matter. I suspect your views on that are much more nuanced. So what are they?

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Birthers, Deathers, will the madness never end?

The release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate certainly didn't silence the Birthers, but, regardless, there's room for many ridiculous conspiracy theories on the right -- not that Birtherism is a theory, it's more of a sickness of the mind -- and the killing of Osama bin Laden has produced a new one, Deatherism, with Deathers questioning the veracity of Osama's death.


Deatherism lies mainly on the right, where Obama's Republican opponents will do, say, and think anything that seems to discredit him, however insane, but it's not exclusively a right-wing phenomenon. Regardless, I doubt it will have much staying power, and certainly not nearly as much as Birtherism, largely because most of Obama's critics are criticizing him on other grounds -- a few on the left, like Michael Moore, criticizing him for acting illegally in "executing" Osama, many more on the right criticizing him for any number of ridiculous things, like being too slow to act, and/or, like David Koch, refusing to give him any credit at all.

I myself have been critical of the White House's handling of the post-killing spin, but on the basic fact of the incredibly risky, incredibly courageous action to raid Osama's hideout and, yes, kill the terrorist mastermind, Obama deserves enormous credit.

Not that the facts will do anything to convince those who prefer paranoia to reality.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

The European view of the Osama bin Laden killing

From the NYT:

No European government has condemned or criticized the killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos, but the questions raised about the changing details of his death sharpened considerably after the White House revealed that he did not fire a weapon, was not armed and did not use a woman as a protective shield.

Some are questioning whether "justice" in fact was done, as President Obama portrayed the killing, and whether the American troops made any effort to capture Bin Laden alive or whether they simply executed him. And some think that the scenes of celebrating Americans — whether at the White House or at ground zero — are inappropriate responses that are indecorous at the least and at worst could incite more terrorism.

The disquiet is mostly among those on the left and among the elite in the news media, but it is reminiscent of the atmosphere during the Bush administration and the war against Iraq, when the United States was criticized for unilateralism, arrogance, disrespect for international law, triumphalism and a resort to overwhelming military force.

To be fair, there is no monolithic European view. Opinions there are divided just as they everywhere else, though I suspect there is far more nuance there than, say, on Main Street America, where fist-pumping and flag-waving were, and remain, the order of the day.

There may be some "disquiet" on the left and in some parts of the media, but the Times is generalizing to the point of near-misrepresentation. Clearly not everyone on the European left, whatever that even means, is full of "disquiet." And, indeed, I suspect that the vast majority of Europeans, including those on the left, are on the American "side." Consider the outpouring of support after 9/11. We were all Americans then, were we not?

Besides, the concern isn't so much with what happened but how it happened. Which is to say, the concern is that the U.S. acted unilaterally and applied its own brand justice. That is a legitimate concern, given American tendencies to act unilaterally and without much regard for anyone else, including Europeans, and I would also suggest that the view, which we're not hearing much of from the U.S., that the U.S. should have taken Osama alive and subjected him to due process is similarly legitimate. And I share the view that some of the reaction to Osama's killing was indeed somewhat "indecorous," even if I understand the outpouring of patriotic glee and find little fault with it. I was not in a celebratory mood Sunday night, given the gravity of war, but that is not to say that Americans shouldn't have let off a little steam.

Now, I actually don't think that taking Osama alive would have made much sense, and I generally agree with what my friend Richard Barry wrote earlier today about this. I say this with great trepidation, but Osama had to be killed. That was really the only option. A trial and everything surrounding it would have been a circus.

But it would behoove Americans, and all those celebrating what happened, to take seriously the other side. No, not Osama's side, of course, but the side of those who are understandably experiencing some "disquiet" in the wake of what was, essentially, a state-ordered execution followed by some dishonest spin from the White House and its allies (Osama was living a life of luxury in a million-dollar mansion, Osama was armed and fought back, Osama used a woman as a human shield, etc.).

I remain convinced that it had to be done, though I find that spin unnecessary and counter-productive, as it undermines not the mythology of Osama bin Laden but American credibility. But, yes, "disquiet" is a good word for the certain nagging doubt that prevents me, and so many others, from fully celebrating what was a necessary act. A sense of justice was done. True justice, as ever, continues to elude us all.

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Photo of the Day: Democracy in Singapore

I don't know, just a compelling photo for some reason.

From The Globe and Mail: "People gather for the night rally of the Singapore Democratic Party in the rain."

Somewhere in there there's a metaphor for the state of "democracy" in Singapore. (You know, because it's basically a one-party authoritarian-capitalist state.)


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The strange case of the special election in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District

This has received some coverage, but in the event that people haven't focused on it, there has been an interesting development in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District.

You may recall that this is the seat vacated by Dean Heller, who was appointed by Governor Brian Sandoval to fill out the remainder of John Ensign's Senate term. Ensign resigned in disgrace after having admitted an affair with the wife of one of his senior aids. It may come as no surprise, by the way, that Heller, Sandoval, and Ensign are all Republicans.

What makes this one interesting is that, in Nevada, state law stipulates that there can be no primary to narrow down the choices that would run under a party banner, as usually happens in other jurisdictions.

But other than the prohibition on a primary, it was not immediately clear how the law would be applied. In other words, there was ambiguity as to whether all comers would be allowed to run for the vacated seat, or whether state party committees would be allowed to pick one candidate to run as "the" Democrat and "the" Republican.

Given the fact that this is a district where the Republicans are strong, it's not surprising that Republicans were hoping that the rules would be interpreted according to the second option, that they be allowed to pick one person to run as their standard bearer so that the vote is not split. Since Democrats would be a longer shot, they likely wanted the first option that anyone be allowed to run. Clearly they are hoping that many candidates would split the vote in strange ways and perhaps allow a Democrat to sneak up the middle.

Well, last Monday, the Secretary of State for Nevada, Ross Miller, who just happens to be a Democrat, interpreted the rules to say that anyone can run. The Republicans are up in arms saying that this was a partisan decision sure to favour Democrats. So far, at least three Democrats have expressed an interest in running as have five Republicans, but there are likely to be more.

To thicken the plot, failed Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party "star" from 2010, Sharron Angle, is one of the Republicans determined to run. She has even suggested that the mainstream Republican establishment would have preferred to choose a candidate so they could avoid having her run on the general theory that the mainstream GOP is always trying to thwart the goals of the Tea Party movement. It could also be that Angle is crazy and that actually sane Republicans don't want Angle to do in this congressional race what she did in the Senate race - lose a sure thing. That could be it too.

That's where things stand. The election is on September 13th.

As an aside, I can't help but quote from a fundraising letter on Angle's website complaining that the Nevada Republican Party is trying to keep her out. It read in part:

The Democrats want this seat. The left-wing of the Republican Party wants it more. Instead of an open process, already they are behind closed doors, choosing one of their own to be the preferred candidate in the race.

Did any phrase jump out at you? Perhaps, "left-wing of the Republican Party." That really says something about the Tea Party. They actually think the Republican Party has a left wing. Imagine.

So the decision has been made by the State of Nevada and Angle can run along with what may be many others. It may actually turn out, as it sometimes does in wide-open races, that the one with the greatest name recognition does the best. It may not be that easy, however, as Nevada GOP chairman Mark Amodei and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki are considering entering the race.

As for the Democrats, it is true they have never held this district, but Obama lost in it in 2008 by only 89 votes, so, with crazy splits and a crazy Republican in the mix, who knows.

What we do know is that we will now be blessed with yet another campaign full of fun pronouncements from Ms. Angle. I'm sure the Nevada Republican Party is thrilled.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden

I am sitting here at my computer this morning trying to think myself through the moral issues associated with the assassination of Osama bin Laden. More to the point, am I concerned that American military personnel likely had an order to kill bin Laden and carried out that order, whether or not he would have surrendered given the opportunity?

The perhaps not-so-simple answer for me is that it is important that we think of this as a moral question, and that we weigh all factors involved and come to a considered decision. In deciding not to release the pictures of bin Laden's body to prove his death, President Obama made a statement to the effect that his body and the pictures should not be seen as a trophy and that doing things in this way is "not who we are." This then begs the question, who are we? And what criteria do we use to answer this question?

So let me get something out of the way: I think the greater good demanded that bin Laden be hunted down and summarily executed, which is probably what happened. To have taken him alive would have provided too many potential focal points for violence by extremists in the drawn out legal process associated with trying him, then likely executing him when it was over. I think it is very likely that more innocent people would have died if we had tried to do things in a more procedurally acceptable way.

To return to that question of who we are as a nation, I would like to think we are the kind of people, with the kind of leadership, able to make hard choices, perhaps sometimes ugly choices, because it will lead to a better moral outcome. I know what kind of slippery slope that is. I've spent enough time with my nose in "those books" to understand the nuances of ethical theory -- I know that the relationship between ends and means can be very thorny. Nothing brilliant here, but sometimes you make your choices, you give your reasons and you live with the results, hoping, really hoping, that you've made a better world by doing what you think had to be done.

I was among those uncomfortable with the celebratory nature of some of the reactions to bin Laden's death. I don't want to celebrate anyone's death - not even the demise of this monster. That's not who I want to be. But I do appear to be the kind of person who can justify killing, even in the absence of due process, if it means that more innocent people won't have to die.

Michael Moore has weighed in to say that, after World War II, the Allied powers captured and tried Nazis before putting them to death and that this is perhaps what we should have done here. But that was a different set of circumstances. No one else would have died as a result of the actions of radical supporters of the Nazis on trial. They were defeated. They no longer existed. These are, to my mind, differences that matter.

Anyway, that's kind of where I come down. Likely on the orders of the President of the United States, Osama bin Laden was not going to be alive at the end of this particular military operation. I hope we can all live with that.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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"We, the People" abdicate

By Carl 

Every so often, maybe every two or three years, I'm asked by at least one person why I haven't run for office. "You'd make a great Congressman/Senator/President," they'll say.

I suppose it's true: I am pretty bright, can communicate well, have a large measure of compassion, and geet the human condition without being a soppy bleeding heart. My passion in life is to make connections that other people miss, to understand why something happens, which is the first step in making sure it does or does not happen again, as the case may be. 

There are plenty of reasons why I have not. I suck at fundraising, for one thing. I never ask for money, even if I could, absent the occasional ad to sell my photographs or to hawk a book or my writing, or what have you.

But here's the real reason I haven't and probably never will run.

I'm human.

I'm no better than you or you or him or her, at the end of the day. That immediately disqualifies me from public office. It shouldn't, but it does. And I think you can trace the roots of many of the problems that beset this nation to that inarguable fact.

We the people insist our politicians be better than we are. Under all the glue-huffing about Teabaggers and elitists and egghead liberals, we want our politicians to be smarter, handsomer, richer, better hung (or have bigger breasts), more articulate, and -- goshdarnit! -- more moral than we could ever hope to be.

We've created a fantasy class. In exchange, under the assumption of superiority, we've handed these people the keys to the bar and told them to lock up after we've gone to sleep.

We're asleep. The bar's still open.

Politicians are human, but we expect them to be superhuman. Do you see a disconnect here? If a politician betrays even the slightest humanity, we ridicule him or her.

I'm not talking about morons like Bachmann or Palin or Trump (who claims to be different from politicians, but I perceive that difference in the same way that malaria is different from a bad cold). Or even George W. Bush, who's reach exceeded his grasp and we all paid a heavy price for it.

I'm talking about how anytime anyone pokes his or her head above the foxhole, shots get fired, yet we expect them to leap up and take more ground, to lead us.

Take any presidential candidate of the past twenty years, including the ones who won (absenting Bush). John Kerry by all rights could have won (and in many lights did win) the 2004 election: a decorated war veteran, long-serving senator, a brilliant policy man, but brought down hard by a smear campaign that any American in his or her right mind would have laughed off as ridiculous if they had read it in a novel.

Clinton won, twice, but only because he had a core of support that anybody but Bush had to win, and Ross Perot was too scary to conceive of voting for (yet, tell me you didn't think some of what Perot espoused had some interest).

In all these elections, the issues favored Democrats: in 1992, we were in a mild recession and had twelve years of Reagan/Bush scandals. In 1996, Clinton was beseiged by know-nothing Gingrichites hellbent on destroying liberal America and jerking the country rightward. In 2004, Bush hadn't created a single job during his administration, had allowed 9/11 to take place and had the lowest approval rating of any President running for re-election, ever.

Look at what happens: Candidates can't win on issues, because those issues get swamped in the muck of the campaign. Money is flung, and after the Citizens United decision, more money will be flung at candidates, smearing them personally and ignoring the issues in favor of scare tactical talking points.

All because a guy is human.

And we the people have allowed this to happen, because we eat up Clinton's affairs or Obama's birth certificate or Palin's pregnancies.

No. Worse. We allow a small but loud minority to dominate the discussion. We presume that, because they're so loud and so "grass-rootsy" that somehow they've earned their say.

Notice that there's a corollary, an unwelcome development about this: because issues stop mattering, politicians stop caring about issues. This creates a vacuum, into which other, very human desires, rush.

Power. Greed. Politics no longer becomes about who does the best job of governing but about who can grab hold of and control power the longest.

In 1964 and 1965, when the Civil Rights, Economic Opportunity , and Social Security Acts were passed, they were passed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, mostly liberals, who wanted to do good. They saw injustice across this land. They saw that 12% of the populace was suffering mercilessly at the hands of people who wanted nothing to do with them for no other reason than they were different. They worked together to change that.

Could that happen now? No. Not because there are no longer any mountains to climb and conquer, but because it's not about governance, it's about power.

And neither side is winning.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Osama lives

By Capt. Fogg

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,

alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

I've read that Mormonism is the fastest growing religion, but I doubt it. I think it's Denialism, at least in the USA; and yes, it's a religion. Like other religions, it offers peace and a feeling of importance, enlightenment, inclusion and a chance to be part of something bigger than oneself. You don't need to read any long and boring scriptures either and for ADD America, that's a major selling point. There aren't even a lot of commandments. "Whatever they say is a lie" covers most of it and almost anything can be denied: that the Apollo program ever landed anyone on the moon, that high bracket tax cuts boost the economy in a healthy way (or at all,) whether smallpox and Polio went away because of vaccines, and that oil reserves are finite -- and a long list of things.

It only takes a rare overthrow of scientific opinion or historical interpretation or the discovery of any actual conspiracy to cast a warm blanket of approval over all the tenets of Denialism. 30% of Republicans still believe the president, like John McCain, was born abroad. That's not going to change and any release of DNA tests or gory photos of bin Laden with the top left quadrant of his skull blown off and his homogenized brain oozing out isn't going to do more than put a bigger sneer on the face of Denialism.

Now I don't mean to say that all Republicans are Denialists or that all Denialists are Republicans by any means, but the biggest clamor for releasing the gruesome pictures and videos is from the right side of the aisle and from thence comes the argument that there's a huge worldwide "debate" about whether the bogey man is dead. Claiming that there is a "debate" that involves any participants outside the faith is, by its own right, is an act -- a typical act -- of Denialism. I'd be amazed to see evidence that any large part of humanity questions the demise of Osama as a fact but I'd be more amazed if the media doesn't continue to milk the manufactured controversy and politicians don't attempt to cash in on it.

To be sure, there were debates about whether Hitler was dead for many decades; whether Josef Mengele was dead or Martin Bormann. We had no pictures, no tissue samples and no credible witnesses, but although one of those men did indeed survive the war, the belief never really was about the evidence, but about sustaining the holy state of denial and the profitable state of fear. After all we still have substantial belief that Jesus didn't really die or the Hidden Imam or Elvis. The Princess Anastasia cult may still have some hangers on. Denial after all, is faith and to be human is to have faith and the maintenance of faith often forces a choice between pain and denial; forces us to create other forms of reality where our heroes and loved ones live -- and sometimes our bogeymen. The loss of bin Laden is, like the loss of the Soviet Union, a setback for fearmongers, after all. Profiteers who even now are assuring us that revenge will be swift.

But Osama bin Laden is dead and time will only confirm that Osama bin Laden is dead and, as the president said, he's not coming back, ever. Which is another way of saying that like Elvis, Jesus, Satan, and the Buddha, he's always going to be with us.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

This day in history - May 4, 1776: Rhode Island becomes the first American colony to renounce allegiance to King George III

Seems appropriate that we remind ourselves this week that we fought a war for the express purpose of rejecting the rule of kings and queens and the privileges of monarchy based on nothing other than the luck associated with heredity. Why anyone would exalt such a concept more than two centuries after we marched it off our shores is beyond me.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Photo of the Day: Osama martyr march in Pakistan

Photo from The New York Times: "Hundreds offered prayers for Bin Laden on a street in Karachi, declaring him a martyr."

Just a reminder, if we needed one, that killing Osama bin Laden does not mean killing "Osama bin Laden," or what he stood for, and fought for, and killed for. And while this means that the so-called "war on terror" isn't over (even if it doesn't make sense to think of it as a war in any conventional sense, or even as a war), what it really means, or should mean, is that there are still so many hearts and minds to win -- not to turn them into us but to turn them away from Osama (and "Osama").

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Obama conspires against conspirators in Osama conspiracy

The right-wing radicals and conspiracy theorists of the Tea Party fringe revolution didn't embrace reality when President Obama released his long-form birth certificate last week, a move that, by all legitimate accounts, was a redundant nail in the coffin on the "birther" issue. As we saw with the immediate demands for the president's college records, the duplicitous truth did little to convince the boisterous bigots in this great nation that a man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama could ever be a legitimate leader of the free world.

And so it is without surprise that America is forced to accept the emergence of another great conspiracy movement: the Deathers.

This is not a joke. No, the paranoid skeptics of all things Obama are not demanding a long-form death certificate – yet – but they are doling out conspiracy after conspiracy as evidence that the president's announcement of the assassination of Osama bin Laden was a hoax at best and a bald-faced lie at worst.

Surprisingly, the explanations for how and why, though exhaustive, are quite compelling.

The timing is too coincidental to go unnoticed, and the sharp minds of our deep-thinking conspirators didn't miss a beat when it was pointed out that President Obama announced bin Laden's assassination eight years to the day from when President Bush infamously declared the end of combat operations in Iraq under the banner "Mission Accomplished."

If that's not enough, the announcement also "happened" to interrupt the Sunday night episode of Donald Trump's reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice, which some cognitively elevated theorists interpreted as the president's way of getting even with Trump for escalating the controversy over Obama's birth certificate in recent weeks.

Of course, Obama already landed quite a few heavy blows against Trump at the Saturday evening White House correspondents' dinner, but that too is now up for debate as a possible reason for the timely announcement of bin Laden's death. The president is consistently harassed by the right-wing media every time he steps out for a round of golf or a few laps up and down the basketball court – because obviously more pressing matters are being ignored if the president has time for leisure – and so it is possible too that Obama was preempting the expected criticisms of his "night of laughs" by delivering bin Laden's head on a platter the very next night.

Except bin Laden's head wasn’t delivered on a platter, which brings us to the other conspiracies.

His body was dumped in the ocean out of respect for Islamic burial customs, which the government conveniently cited as its reason for getting rid of the body within 24 hours. The alleged DNA testing and facial recognition scans that allegedly confirmed the alleged identity of the alleged 9/11 mastermind are all that America has to go on as proof that bin Laden didn't die seven years ago – as some claim; or that he never existed at all; or that he was a fake enemy created to justify the government's own role in hijacking planes on 9/11 and crashing them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon; or that he was frozen several years ago and kept in a secret (probably underground and heavily-guarded) location until the political atmosphere in the United States demanded a public announcement of his death.

And where are the photographs of bin Laden's dead corpse? And where is the video footage of the raid on his compound? And how could the Pakistani government somehow not know that he was holed up in a million-dollar fortress in a city full of retired and active-duty military officers? And isn't it interesting that the announcement coincided with the kickoff of Zombie Awareness Month?

In all seriousness, the conspiracy theorists may not be far off the mark when they question the truth and timing of Obama's announcement.

Capturing and killing the most loathed and feared terrorist on the planet provides an embattled president with a much-needed boost in the popularity polls. It buries the argument, prominent among the right-wing punditry, that Obama is weak and inexperienced not only as a commander of the military but as a diplomat of a mostly undefined foreign policy doctrine. Killing the mastermind behind 9/11 will not only boost the popularity of the president himself; it will also bolster the president's foreign policy agenda, which most recently added Libya to the list of Middle Eastern interventions.

Most importantly, it's approaching an election year, and as we all know, politicians will do anything to maintain power. That is the real conspiracy.

Obama isn't lying. He didn't thaw bin Laden's frozen zombie corpse only to throw it in the ocean after an alleged DNA test in order to get a boost in the polls. Obama's more complex than that. He, too, is a big-picture kind of guy – a long-term thinker. He ordered the raid and killed the terrorist and announced the assassination and dumped the body all in one day because it's too coincidental not to conjure conspiracy theories. It was conspiracy theories he wanted. He held onto the photos and the videos not because he hoped to thwart a backlash from al Qaeda radicals – who would surely try to avenge bin Laden's murder if images of their bloodied leader were published around the globe – but because doing so would encourage the already hyper-active, dot-connecting, big-picture puzzling lunatics of the extreme right to continue chasing invisible fairies on the South Lawn as the news cameras document the revolution.

In that sense, it is a conspiracy. It's a conspiracy to induce conspiracies so that sane Americans will identify the Republican Party as the responsible guardian of these idiots – first "birthers," now "deathers" – in the upcoming election.

The Democratic Party's bumper stickers are being shipped out of the press shop now: "Vote Sanity in 2012."

This isn't a conspiracy to trump Trump or get a bump in the polls. It's a conspiracy to get the conspirators conspiring.

Or it's not...

Chew on that a while.
(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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An update and a question about New York's 23rd congressional district

By Richard K. Barry 

I wrote a few day ago about where things stand in New York's 23rd congressional district. This is where a split on the right helped a Democrat take the seat in a 2009 special election and hold it in the 2010 general.

Specifically, in 2010, running as a Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman appears to have allowed a split that gave the race to Democrat Bill Owens. Despite the fact that Hoffman dropped out late, he still got 6%, which was enough to lose the seat for the GOP.

On the basis of this, I suggested that Hoffman might now disappear into political oblivion. A helpful reader indicated that I could be wrong about that, suggesting that Hoffman is raising money and continues to maintain some degree of election readiness.

What I see is that Hoffman is continuing to solicit funds to pay down his campaign debt, and that he has a live website with all the bells and whistles calling for volunteers and other kinds of help, which could be for a renewed effort in 2012. I do note very little post-2010 news on the site, but the text of the fundraising letter says, and I quote, "we need our influence to prevail in 2012," whatever that means.

We could assume that this is to again seek the Republican nomination for NY-23, which he lost in 2010 before running as a third party candidate. That could be true.

This does beg the question, though, as to whether or not Mr. Hoffman would run on the Conservative Party line should he again fail to get the GOP nod.

It would be interesting for some enterprising reporter from a local media outlet, should he or she run into Mr. Hoffman on the street, to ask not only if he is running for the GOP nomination but if another third party run is possible should he not get that nomination. (The standard answer for a question like this is, "I am not going to deal in hypotheticals." I've always loved that one.)

So, I know it's unlikely that a straightforward answer would be forthcoming, but sometimes a non-answer can say a lot.

On a personal note, it's been a long time since I lived in the NY-23rd, having gone to school at Oswego State, even working for a time at WRVO radio in the news department, so I can't claim to have my ear to the ground. I'd be happy to hear from anyone who might be in that position. Has Hoffman already been more explicit than this?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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