Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York State Republicans show Obama the way on same-sex marriage

By Richard K. Barry

I'm certainly proud of my home state of New York today, which voted yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage 33 to 29. The measure was able to pass because four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate to support the measure.

Of note were comments made by Sen. Mark Grisanti, a GOP freshman from Buffalo, who had been undecided saying that he could not deny anyone basic human rights. He continued by saying that "I apologize to those I offend. But I believe you can be wiser today than yesterday. I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protection for all its residents."

In changing his vote, GOP Sen. Stephen Saland said that "while I understand that my vote will disappoint many, I also know that my vote is a vote of conscience. I am doing the right thing to support marriage equality."

The legislation was signed last night at 11:55 p.m. by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and will go into effect in 30 days, which means that same-sex couples will be able to marry in New York by late July.

Currently five states allow same-sex marriage: Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well at the District of Columbia.

There would appear to be no greater indication of a sea change on the issue than that only two years ago the New York State Senate, then controlled by Democrats, easily rejected the measure but now a Republican controlled Senate has passed it.

The difference, of course, is that Gov. Cuomo has made this a priority and used his significant resources and political capital to help make it happen.

Of great significance as well is that public opinion is changing. As the New York Times reports:
In 2004, according to a Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of the state's residents supported allowing same-sex couples to wed. This year, 58 percent of them did.
Just in terms of the raw politics involved, New York is by far the largest state to have passed legislation to recognize same-sex marriage and, as the Times writes, "is home to a large, visible, and politically influential gay community." The implications are huge.

But dozens of other states have constitutional amendments or laws banning same-sex marriage and the issue is sure to be a part of the landscape in the culture wars that have been and will continue to define the 2012 election cycle.

Which, of course, brings us to President Obama, who addressed more than 600 donors at a fund-raiser on Thursday night of the LGBT Leadership Council Gala in New York City, many of whom probably thought they would hear something different from the President given recent reports of his "evolving stance" on marriage equality.

Alas, that was not to be, as he offered only mention of past accomplishments on same-sex equality without in fact getting close to adding marriage to the list.

I do understand politics and I understand that America is a big country with complex national political dynamics, but if Republican legislators can stand up and say that they have decided to support same-sex marriage simply because it is the right thing to do, then the man who promised to bring us hope for a better future should be able to do the same thing.

I'm getting a little tired of this act. When four GOP New York State Senators are out ahead of you, Mr. President, on issues of basic human rights, it's time to stop evolving and start acting. When Republicans decide that they must risk their own political future to do the right thing on something so fundamental, you might want to think again about your own position.

C'mon. Surprise us.

Below is a clip of Sen. Grisanti giving reasons for his changed vote.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Now that would have been some marketing meeting!


If this marketing meeting had taken place, about the only thing that could rival it would be Lenny Bruce's "Religion Inc."


Seems the former Big Cheese of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was fretting that his creation of terrorism and murder was losing its marketing punch.

Osama wanted new name for al-Qaida to repair image 

As Osama bin Laden watched his terrorist organization get picked apart, he lamented in his final writings that al-Qaida was suffering from a marketing problem. His group was killing too many Muslims and that was bad for business. The West was winning the public relations fight.


The problem with the name al-Qaida, bin Laden wrote in a letter recovered from his compound in Pakistan, was that it lacked a religious element, something to convince Muslims worldwide that they are in a holy war with America.

Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama'at I'Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.

As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group's full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word "jihad," bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to "claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam." Maybe it was time for al-Qaida to bring back its original name.

I don't know.

Coca Cola didn't get very far with its "New Coke" efforts.

Then again, how would you like to be the young ad exec handling the account? 

But wait! ... There's more! 

OBL was also getting all Jack-Lemmon-Save-The-Tiger, bemoaning the younger generation:

In one letter sent to Zawahri within the past year or so, bin Laden said al-Qaida's image was suffering because of attacks that have killed Muslims, particularly in Iraq, officials said. In other journal entries and letters, they said, bin Laden wrote that he was frustrated that many of his trusted longtime comrades, whom he'd fought alongside in Afghanistan, had been killed or captured.

Using his courier system, bin Laden could still exercise some operational control over al-Qaida. But increasingly the men he was directing were younger and inexperienced. Frequently, the generals who had vouched for these young fighters were dead or in prison. And bin Laden, unable to leave his walled compound and with no phone or Internet access, was annoyed that he did not know so many people in his own organization.

Guess he didn't apply to be on Undercover Boss.

This ranks up there, before we get too derisive, with our own government labeling the killing of innocent civilians as "collateral damage."

Cue up "Que Sera Sera."


Bonus Riffs 

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Would someone please tell Chris Matthews what American exceptionalism means?

We hear a lot from the right about American exceptionalism, which they seem to think means that America is and Americans are simply better by virtue of identity. Failing to comprehend the genesis of the term they seem to understand it as a matter of common language as in, "Hey, America sure is exceptional."

I don't really care to get into a long treatise on why that is a facile understanding of the term. But in short, it's really an idea used by social and political philosophers to explain aspects of America's development as a nation that are different than, say, aspects of the development of European states. It doesn't mean better, it mean different.

Professor Louis Hartz, for example, emphasized the lack of a feudal tradition in America. He argued that this helped to explain the lack of significant left/socialist tendencies on the one hand and aristocratic tendencies on the other, which, it's been suggested, helps to explain the origins of a sort of centrist, liberal consensus in America.

Like I said, I'm not trying to get into it, only to say that it's a theory, or a set of theories, that explains difference. I'm not denying, however, that some writers have interpreted the term to suggest superiority, only that it would be giving too much credit to the current mis-users of "American exceptionalism" to believe that this is the origin of their interpretation.

The problem for me is when progressives start throwing the idea around. It's like they feel they have to do conservatives one better by agreeing that great things are only possible in the USA and other countries are second best by the simple fact of not being America.

You may have seen Chris Matthews on MSNBC doing a little segment about how Obama once commented that his story would not be possible in any other country and that America was exceptional in this way.

I can only say that for anyone who believes this, you really should get out more.

America has had more than its fair share of challenges as a leader in securing racial equality for its people and Obama's rise to the presidency should be seen as the extraordinary event we all know it to be, not an opportunity for blind self-congratulations. Obama was and is swimming against the current, not with it.

Anyway, if you haven't seen the clip to which I refer, here it is:

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Sarah Jarosz: "Run Away" and "My Muse"

I think I'm in love.

I'm generally not much of a fan of bluegrass (nor of "country," broadly speaking), but Sarah Jarosz transcends the genre and is simply amazing.

Such talent. Such a glorious voice. Unbelievable.

"Run Away," in particular, I find mesmerizing (see here for a performance with the great Shawn Colvin).


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Photo of the Day: Flooding in North Dakota

This can't be good.

Photo from The Globe and Mail: "A home breaks apart as it is engulfed by Missouri River flood waters, Wednesday, June, 22, 2011 in the Hoge Island area of Bismarck, N.D."

For more on the flooding, and on this home in particular, see The Bismarck Tribune. The USGS also has useful information here.

This photo is making the rounds. See, for example, The Washington Post's report on the flooding here.

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Apathy and loathing on the 2012 campaign trail

Barack Obama may be leading Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican presidential hopefuls in one-on-one matchups, but if the GOP finds a generic Republican without a face, a name, a history or a legislative record, Obama is toast.

A new Gallup poll shows Obama as the 5-point underdog to "a Republican," which the investigative reporters at Wonkette point out would spell trouble for the incumbent "if there were any Republicans running for president."

Previous surveys put Romney and Tim Pawlenty 6 and 11 points behind Obama, respectively. But when asked to vote for "a Republican," Obama's edge is reversed.

It seems the Republican-leaning poll respondents are making the allusive statement that they prefer no candidate to any currently being offered. That, or they're hoping that a real Republican will emerge before primary season officially kicks off in February 2012 – someone who embodies the conservative principles of the Republican Party but who needn't pander to corporations, zealots, bigots, and radicals as a prerequisite for public office. Also in a perfect world, bees wouldn't have stingers, trees would rake their own leaves, Democrats would have spines, and wannabe voters would have to pass aptitude tests in order to cast a ballot.

Understandably, nobody is quite sure how to interpret these contradictory polls. How ought the media report a series of surveys showing that grocery store shoppers preferred paper over plastic in one poll but in another poll preferred "no bags" to paper bags?

The electorate either is confused or apathetic. In either case, a more telling survey might ask the question, "Does it matter who is elected president in 2012?" It wouldn't be any more revealing than the polls we have now – one wouldn't need the experience of a legislative whip or the clairvoyance of a fortune teller to make an educated guess about how the data would turn out – but it might serve as a reminder to our elected officials that, as a wise man once said, the government isn't only "of the people and by the people," it's also supposed to be for the people.

The fact that nearly one in five Americans doesn't have a preference when it comes to electing the next president should be a clear sign to every candidate – whether an incumbent or a challenger, a Democrat or a Republican, a socialist or a teabagger – that we expect more than from our elected representatives than the options they're currently providing.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Karl Rove's delusional wishful thinking

Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove's columns in The Wall Street Journal, like his various public utterances (usually on Fox News), are for the most part a hilarious litany of shameless spin. While they often provide useful insight into mainstream Republican thinking -- and, if you read carefully (as Jon Chait regularly points out), between the lines, insight into Rove's own partisan agenda, trying to push the party this way or that, while also trying to be as optimistically pro-Republican as possible, the facts be damned -- it's awfully hard to take them seriously at face value. Because they amount basically to a huge quagmire of bullshit.

Well, Rove was at it again yesterday, arguing/"arguing" that Obama is "likely to be defeated in 2012." Why is that, you ask? (You did ask, right? No. More power to you.) Oh, well:

The reason is that he faces four serious threats. The economy is very weak and unlikely to experience a robust recovery by Election Day. Key voter groups have soured on him. He's defending unpopular policies. And he's made bad strategic decisions.

But is that all true? And will he really be brought down? Well, the economy is certainly a potential problem politically for Obama. No one denies that. But actually Obama is not nearly as unpopular as Rove suggests, and it's very likely that core Democratic (and pro-Obama) constituencies will return to the polls in 2012 after sitting out in 2010, letting (pro-Republican) older white voters dominate the midterms.

Ah, but Rove notes that Obama's support among those core Democratic constituencies -- Latinos, young voters -- has effectively collapsed since his inauguration, while blacks may not vote in the numbers they did in 2008 (potentially turning swing states like North Carolina against him) and while, overall, Obama's approval has collapsed pretty much across the board.


But not to worry. Rove is just trying to fool us with numbers. They actually mean far less than he claims. As Chait explains:

I really enjoy the use of statistics here. Rove begins by announcing that Obama's approval has dropped since his inauguration -- when it was an obviously unsustainable 67% -- to 45%. (Which puts Obama very close to an even proposition for reelection, not the likely loser Rove paints him as.) A drop from 67% to 45% is a decline of 22 percentage points. Rove adds more numbers as if these are additional revelations, each one a fresh nail in Obama's reelection coffin: He's dropped 25% among men! 24% among the elderly! 23% among independents!

This is how Rove's delusional "analysis" works (though surely he himself knows better). We're meant to think, reading Rove, that Obama's popularity is collapsing, but really his numbers have simply come down to a normal level from their Inauguration highs. That was bound to happen, not least with the economy struggling (what with the mess he inherited from Bush), the tough struggle over stimulus, the bailouts, and health-care reform, Republicans engaged in an all-out campaign of obstructionism (no to all compromise) and propaganda (Birtherism, etc.), and, yes, his own errors and missteps (because no president is perfect and everything is magnified).

So, actually, even 45 percent isn't bad. It puts him in a strong position, not least given the horribly weak Republican presidential field. (He won't be running against, say, an Eisenhower or a Reagan).

Could he lose? Of course. But is it "likely," as Rove suggests? Not even close.

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Herman Cain claims Jon Stewart criticized him because he's black. Seriously.

Earlier this month, ThinkProgress reported that GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain told an audience in Pella, Iowa that he would not sign a bill longer than three pages. (Cain later said he was "exaggerating.")

Jon Stewart picked up on the story, imitating Cain and joking that if Cain was president he would require everything to be shorter: "Treaties will have to fit on the back of a cereal box... The State of the Union Address will be delivered in the form of a fortune cookie." You can watch the segment here. (Chris Wallace later replayed the segment during Stewart's appearance on Fox News Sunday.)

Speaking Wednesday at the Iowa Falls Fire Department, Herman Cain lashed out at Jon Stewart, claiming that Stewart was only targeting him "because I'm black."

Right, because if you watch the show, and if you know anything at all about Jon Stewart, you'll certainly know that he's a racist bigot who targets blacks.

He doesn't make funny voices for anyone else, nor does he ever joke about non-blacks. Like, you know, he never ever makes fun of Jews like himself.

The crazy thing is, Fox News viewers probably think this is true.

Then again, Fox News viewers are, oh, a tad misinformed.

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Nobody Asked Me, But...

(N.B. to The Reaction readers: Nobody Asked Me, But... is a weekly feature every Friday at my home base Simply Left Behind, where I write up a quick summary of news that will carry over into the weekend that you might have missed. What can I say? I'm lazy!)
I'm going to depart from the usual "weekly whip-around of news you missed this week."
I'm tired. I'm not sleeping all that well. I ache.
"Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion," Obama said. "But understand this ... I think of teenagers like the one who wrote me, and they remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality."
I'm impatient, too.
Not just about gay marriage, which I view as a right. About all progress.
I've reached the point in life where I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me, if longevity projections are accurate. Even if I make it to a hundred, I'm still cresting the hill.
I'm frustrated. The world in some ways is better than I imagined and in many ways, much worse.
When I was young, very young, the world was an oyster to be shucked, the flesh consumed and left a pearl. There was a real progressive movement that moved the yardsticks further down the field. The nation was awakening to the beauty of equality, the value of each person for who they are and the content of his or her character. We saw potential around every corner.
It seemed so easy. The right looked like it would go down in flames, despite Bill Buckley's vow to "stand athwart history, shouting 'Stop!'" The conservatives would be reduced to people who said "Yes, but..."
Just like in Europe. Just like in every goddamned civilized nation in the history of the fucking planet.
The past thirty years have proven me wrong. Well, maybe not wrong. Maybe "premature" is the better word.
As I sit here typing on a PC on the internet, where my words will reach thousands, and could reach millions, I'm reminded that the immediate future can change as quickly as me pushing an "Enter" key. The past thirty years appear to becoming more and more irrelevant as the challenges of today make people sit up and take notice.
No longer is greed an acceptable behavior. Slowly it's being replaced by a sense of shame.
Sooner rather than later, the abhorrent idea that a gay man who loves another gay man cannot marry him will be as repulsively quaint as separate water fountains for the races: indicative of a far greater evil in our society, and yet somehow almost laughable on its own merits.
Sooner rather than later, a palliative that has been handed down through human history for milennia will be accepted, even legalized.
Sooner rather than later, the notion that people who are worse off than you or I don't deserve anything more than a handshake and a "good luck with that" will be as common as petticoats or outhouses.
Sooner rather than later, we'll have actually health care, one where no one but my doctor can earn a profit off my body.
Sooner rather than later, Muslims will be accepted in American society as equal partners in the American dream, such as it is. It's happened before. Just look at Italians. Or Irish. Or Jews. Or Asians.
Perhaps we'll have a 20th century themed "Colonial Williamsburg," where conservatives of the future can put on goofy tri-cornered hats and stand on a soapbox and recite "Obama is a Muslim!" and then have a good laugh at themselves.
All of these are inevitable. The great march of time, the juggernaut of history, says so. It may not happen easily...history has a habit of being bloody...but these will happen.
I hope it will happen in my lifetime.
I'm just worried it won't. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm frustrated and tired this week.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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How you know Republicans aren't serious about tackling the deficit

Is it when they fall in line behind their chief budget guru, wunderkind Rep. Paul Ryan, who once said the deficit was "too small" and now supports the Bush tax cuts, and especially those for the wealthy, that are perhaps the greatest impediment to addressing the deficit problem in a meaningful way?

Yes, sure.

But it's also when they pull out of bipartisan budget talks because, really, they have no interest at all in compromise given their extremist right-wing position on taxes:

After House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) dropped out of the talks [yesterday] morning, Senator Kyl was the lone Republican in the group left. And with his withdrawal late [yesterday] morning, the group does not have a Republican negotiator left in the room.

That's right. Zero Republicans. There's what Republicans think of bipartisanship. And about tackling the deficit.

Although, I should say, a few Republicans realize that they have to be at the table and have to work constructively with Democrats to get something done -- or at least have to make it appear as if they're serious:

A Senior Democratic aide says, "Cantor and Kyl just threw Boehner and McConnell under the bus. This move is an admission that there will be a need for revenues and Cantor and Kyl don't want to be the ones to make that deal."

There you go. If only future generations of Americans could express their disgust. They're the ones, after all, who will be left with this mess.

Way to put your country before your partisan agenda, Republicans.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

This day in history - June 23, 1926: The College Board Administers the first Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

I go back and forth in my own mind about the value of standardized tests. Mostly I end up being pretty traditional about the whole thing, thinking that some kind of national benchmark is necessary if not desirable, but I could easily be convinced otherwise.

What I do remember from high school is the potential for damage to a student's sense of self-worth based on that number, two numbers actually (verbal and math), that seemed to have far too much significance in determining how each us thought about ourselves and each other.

Were you a 1220 or a 940 or even a 1540? The highest score, if I remember correctly, was a combined 1600 (800 math, 800 verbal).

[The highest possible score was 1600 when I took it back in the early '90s, but changes in 2005, specifically the addition of a writing section, made it 2400. For more on the SAT, in my view a thoroughly ridiculous and wildly overvalued "test," see here -- MJWS]

Yes, it's true. Life is about winners and losers and there is always someone standing there with a clipboard to tell you which camp you're in.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Top Ten Cloves: Possible reasons Sarah Palin cancelled her bus tour

10.  Looking to get in line early for the new iPhone

9.  Believed, since trademark of her name came through, if continued tour, would have to sue herself

8.  Just following history - didn't Paul Revere take a break during his ride?

6.  The GPS in Palin's bus is on the same system as the one used by United Airlines

5.  Already quit the Governor's job - what else was left to quit?

4.  Took advice from LeGone James to just sit out the last quarter of the tour

3.  Wanted to get off the road in time to catch Keith Olbermann's debut on CurrentTV

2.  Has a new idea, to do, kind of, a "Winning" tour, like Charlie Sheen

1.  Lost the bus to Tobey Maguire in a poker game


Bonus Riffs 

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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What to make of Obama's Afghan pullout


President Obama declared Wednesday that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, setting in motion a substantial withdrawal of American troops in an acknowledgement of the shifting threat in the region and fast-changing political and economic landscape in a war-weary America.

Umm... what goals? Isn't that the problem? They were never clearly articulated. The Taliban was removed from power, yes, but that was before Obama became president.

So what was the point?

A stable, democratic Afghanistan? Well, that's not the case?

Just stable? Again, not so much -- not with most of the country largely lawless and with Karzai being little more than mayor of Kabul.

The destruction of al Qaeda and the Taliban? Well, Osama may be dead, but America's enemies linger still. They may not be able to use Afghanistan the way they used to, but, again, that was achieved long before 2008.

Ah, Obama says, the "tide of war is receding," and Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat. But it hasn't for some time.

Look, I'm not saying that the war needs to continue. I've been against it for a long time now. But it's pretty ridiculous essentially to declare victory and to say that the goals have been achieved. The president can only say that because the goals were never clear in the first place, nor when he ramped up the war with more troops, with an Iraq-like "surge."

So we need to ask again: What was it all for?

Or does it not matter anymore, what with the 2012 campaign underway and domestic political considerations weighing even more heavily than before?

Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 "surge" of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the troop reductions would continue "at a steady pace" until the United States handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014. 

Well, that's fine, even if it means three more years of war. But let's see what actually happens, and whether he sticks to the plan. Because, as Think Progress notes, the withdrawal of about 30,000 troops by 2012 would still leave more troops in Afghgnistan than were there when he took over the presidency. 

So what should we make of Obama's Afghan pullout? Not much. Yet.

(For more, see Carl's fine post from yesterday.)

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What's wrong with Jon Huntsman?

I've described the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China as "formidable," as the one Republican Obama should truly be worried about.

Not that Republicans will ever nominate him, mind you. They're too stupid to know what's good for them, and Huntsman just isn't the right sort of Republican for 2012, what with the party getting ever more extreme, particularly with the rise of the Tea Party, and old-school establishment figures, not to mention moderates, or those who just aren't conservative enough for the extremists, even those with a single questionable mark on their record, being purged from its ranks by the right-wing Bolsheviks who run the show.

And Huntsman... well, he's got way too many marks on his record. For example:

2) He accepts the reality of climate change and has worked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

3) He proposes substantial engagement with China.

4) He ignores the GOP's partisan ideologues on Capitol Hill. (He's not anti-Washington, but this could be perceived as such and so would attract some support on the right.)

5) He was Obama's ambassador to China.

6) He took stimulus money as governor of Utah.

7) He didn't do enough to cut spending (particularly the social programs conservatives would like to destroy.)

8) He's admirably civil, refusing to join the Republican assault on Obama.

Oh, and:

9) His family has given a lot of money to... Harry Reid. (That would be, the detested leader of the Democrats in the Senate. And not, that means, Tea Party darling Sharron Angle.)

There are nine irrefutable strikes against him. (Three up, three down, as they say. Inning over.)

It hardly matters that he worked for Reagan and both Bushes, or that he gave a speech nominating Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention, or that he's a devout tax cutter and legitimate fiscal conservative, or that he has solid executive experience (and was extremely popular), or that he's an incredibly bright guy, or that... he's actually electable.

No, no, he's a sinner, you see, and the Bolsheviks will have none of it.

Much to the discredit of the Republican Party.


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The Koch funded echo chamber

By Creature

If I was still blogging, I'd so post this video. Well, since I still have the keys here at The Reaction, what the hell.

[Via Digby]

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Lessons from Turkey's elections: The AKP is dominant, but the Kurdish question is central

By Ali Ezzatyar

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the recent elections, as expected. But that's not the most important election news coming out of Turkey. With a record number of seats being won by PKK-sympathizing Kurds running as independents, Turkey's oppressed Kurdish minority sent a chilling message to the AKP government: deal with our problems, once and for all, or face unrest. In a new Turkey for which the world can't seem to contain its praise, the world had better encourage Turkey to take heed.

Its reelection on Sunday the 12th was a further reminder of how the widely popular AKP continues to dominate Turkey's political landscape, and for good reason. It has managed a spectacular rise. Through a global economic downturn, Turkish unemployment was reduced and per capita GDP has doubled since the AKP took power. The Turkish economy grew at a staggering 9% last year; that is more than twice the rate of growth of the rest of the world. The AKP supervised this economic upturn all while making Turkey more democratic and influential internationally.

But if today's unbounded optimism for Turkey demonstrates anything, it is that the world's memory is terribly short. Turkey's Kurds, who make up about a fifth of the country and much of Istanbul and the south-east, are still denied basic human rights. Admitting the mere existence of the Kurds was taboo in Turkey until recently.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), lead by its militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, resorted to separatist violence in the '80s and '90s to combat these failures. 40,000 deaths (mostly Kurdish), as well as the arrest or murder of hundreds of journalists and politicians, followed. During this period, foreign investment and tourism dwindled, the Turkish economy was in shambles, and military intervention in politics loomed on multiple occasions.

In the aftermath of Ocalan's arrest in 1999, the Kurdish rebellion stalled. With every Kurdish political party banned, the AKP played on Kurdish frustration in its election campaign. The AKP's perceived message of Islamic unity was attractive to Kurds; they saw it as a slap in the face to Turkey's extreme secular, nationalist tradition. The combination of promises from Prime Minister Erdogan, minor concessions, and growing prosperity has mostly calmed violence throughout the last decade.

But Kurds, partially bolstered by the success and freedom of Kurds in Northern Iraq, are still unhappy. Erdogan's "Kurdish Initiative" of two years ago never materialized, and is widely perceived as an election stunt in south-east Turkey. Meanwhile, the PKK, still widely popular in the Kurdish region, is making ominous threats of war. Abdullah Ocalan has recently stated from prison that armed rebellion will resume if Turkey does not negotiate with the PKK.

Kurds running as independents won 36 seats in Sunday's elections, including seats in Istanbul. Most of these Kurds ran on a pro-PKK platform, and will go to parliament with strict demands.

Far from an encouraging show of Kurdish participation in a new democratic Turkey, Sunday's elections are a warning to the Turkish state that Kurdish dissatisfaction is widespread. With countless pronouncements from newly elected Kurdish MPs about the need for drastic change, as well as the PKK's military arm threatening a renewed civil war, the handwriting is on the wall. An Arab Spring type uprising by Turkey's Kurds could devolve, and any armed conflict would undo the new and fragile and in many ways superficial gains the AKP has made in the last ten years. The West, likewise, will no longer have a model Middle Eastern democracy to point to.

The international community has an important role to play in encouraging the AKP to exercise its leverage with respect to the Kurdish question. First, Europe and the United States must use the 'K' word in their public relations with Turkey, signifying their belief that a serious human rights problem continues to exist. Second, as the AKP drafts a new constitution that can finally put the Turkish state's discriminatory structural impediments behind it, the world needs to its apply diplomatic pressure to ensure a conciliatory approach with Turkey's Kurds.

With particular encouragement from a Europe that is perceived as being increasingly friendly and dependent on Turkey, Erdogan has a powerful argument to advance to his citizens that Kurds must be accepted as equals at this pivotal juncture. Confrontation is brimming beneath the surface in Turkey, and without genuine regard for the Kurdish question, calamity could ensue.

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Is Jon Huntsman too civil to be the GOP nominee?

By Richard K. Barry 

A lot of people are going to weigh in on Jon Huntsman's announcement this week that he will seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. Many of them will say exactly what I'm saying, which is that, at least on the face of things, Huntsman is a very impressive candidate.

The fact that he has absolutely no chance of securing the GOP nomination may say all there is to say about the current state of the Republican Party.

And why does he have no chance of winning the nomination? Is it because he supports civil unions? Is it because he took stimulus money as the governor of Utah? Is it because he thought the stimulus spending bill could have been even bigger? Is it because he took an appointment from President Obama?

Yes, all of those things might well hurt him with the Republican base, but the biggest mark against him has to be his unwillingness to attack the president as un-American, as a socialist, as a person at heart committed to destroying the country.

Huntsman is a conservative, make no mistake. And I have no interest in his politics, but you have to appreciate political talent when you see it. Still, just having him say an apparently benign thing like: "I don't want to run down someone's reputation in order to run for the office of president," makes him toxic to a significant percentage of Republican voters. Worse yet, it seems that a letter exists from Huntsman to Obama, handwritten in August of 2009, while he was Ambassador to China, in which Huntsman calls the President a "remarkable leader" adding that "it has been a great honor getting to know you."

The GOP nomination has become a contest based on who can show the most contempt for the current President of the United States. Judging by early notices, Huntsman seems to have tied his own shoelaces together while standing at the starting line. Makes you wonder why he's bothering at all.

Maybe none of this matters. Maybe he really is just an empty suit with some social skills, but when basic civility is the thing that makes a candidate unelectable, it could be time for the conservative movement as currently constituted in America to fold its tent and start from scratch.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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A Blueprint

By Carl
Ahead of the debt ceiling debate fomenting between Congress and the President, we have a more immediate, smaller-scale confrontation brewing in Minnesota:

Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday proposed a broad government shutdown that would touch every corner of the state and reach deep into Minnesotans' homes.

The governor's proposal -- which must still be ruled on by a judge -- would maintain critical services but close all state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, the state lottery and most state road projects by July 1, when the current state budget runs out. K-12 schools, local governments and health providers would no longer receive state payments.

Despite what he said would be the vast and enormous impact of such a shutdown, Dayton said Wednesday that a short government closure "still pales in comparison" to the impact of a Republican "all cuts" budget.

Eyeball to eyeball confrontations rarely work out well for anyone, and here's a situation that is jampacked with peril for both sides, but particularly for Dayton. Shutting down a government is a difficult thing to pull off. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

What's interesting to me is the involvement of the state judiciary in the process. Not only does a judge have to affirm the closings, but both houses of the Republican-run legislature have asked for a "referee" from the judiciary. Dayton has countered with a request for mediation.

I can't imagine any judge with half a brain wants to be the one to decide "Your school closes, your street gets cleaned."

Right now, this is an issue of brinksmanship: they have an entire week still to hammer out a budget compromise to close a $5 billion budget gap. Dayton wants to raise taxes modestly. Republicans Kurt Zellers and Amy Koch want savage budget cuts. 

Sound familiar? Borrowing money is an option, but Dayton seems determined not to have to kick the can down the road too far.

Dayton has a few images he can trot out, such as the fact that 600,000 elderly residents would lose health care, but the state's bison herds would all be tended to. 

Right? I'm not sure that Zellers and Koch would be able to live down that kind of reputation in the re-election campaign. I'm fairly certain Dayton would not.

The backdrop to all this, of course, is the constitutional dilemma the state courts would find themselves in. It's clearly unconstitutional for a judge to decide which programs should be funded and which should be starved. And yet, both sides are turning to the courts to save them from themselves.

Keep an eye on this, folks. 

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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