January 31, 2010

Logical conclusion of anti-tax policies

Thanks, Republicans. Here is a City under conservative rule:
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

Who needs paved streets? If people want them, they should pave their own streets. Oh, you say that is what we do through community and government? Yeah, that is why you are communist.

When we lose empathy

We become like brain-damaged people.
Even when people have power, they remain mostly constrained by their sympathetic instincts.

However, it only takes one minor alteration for this benevolence to disappear. When the dictator cannot see the responder⎯the two players are located in separate rooms⎯the dictator lapses into unfettered greed. Instead of giving away a significant share of the profits, the despots start offering mere pennies, and pocketing the rest. Once we become socially isolated, we stop simulating the feelings of other people.* As a result, our inner Machiavelli takes over, and our sense of sympathy is squashed by selfishness. The UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found that, in many social situations, people with power act just like patients with severe brain damage. "The experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior," he writes. "You become very impulsive and insensitive, which is a bad combination."

Of course, we live in an age when our most powerful people - they tend to also have lots of money - are also the most isolated. They live in gated communities with private drivers. They eat at different restaurants and stay at different resorts. They wear different clothes and skip the security lines at airports, before sitting at the front of the plane. We shouldn't be surprised that they're also assholes.

I have often wondered if the most important thing we could teach young people is the sense of empathy. If you imagine the pain of that other person, it is harder to hit them, or push them down, or make them cry. It is harder to wish them ill if you can imagine how that will make them feel.

Here is the conundrum I have been working through. Republicans have recruited the support of the moral conservatives, yet have governed and treated others with nearly a complete absence of empathy. Who cares if people don't have insurance? Who cares of some suspected terrorist is tortured?

What is this disconnect? Or, perhaps, how do we describe it? When otherwise moral people embrace (in seeming oblivion) the politics of immorality? How do we explain the people of Christ (some of them, anyway) preferring the politics of Machiavelli?

January 30, 2010

Meaning of bi-partisanship

Seeing some reaction to Obama's Q and A with Republicans, and it is frankly annoying. Read some on FB still bitching about Obama not working well enough with Republicans. Hmm, let's see. He goes to meet with them. He acknowledges some of his and the Democrats failures. He notes some areas where they agree on energy, on tax cuts, and on even the stimulus.

He is still accused of not being "bi-partisan" enough.

I now understand the meaning of the word. It means, to Republicans, doing what they want. If they are in the majority, bipartisanship is not bitching while they pass legislation with 51 votes in the Senate. If they are in the minority, it means passing conservative legislation even when you have 59 votes in the Senate. Oh, and btw, passing legislation with 59 or 60 votes is considered unAmerican and unDemocratic in this world. It is called "ramming" legislation through.

Count me out. I am not interested in bi-partisanship.

Just another empty suit, eh?

Watch Obama at the Republican caucus meeting. Ezra Klein notes that Republicans are already saying it was a mistake to allow cameras. Because Obama is good. And knows his stuff. Imagine Bush doing this. Just try.

Obama actually knows the policies. He isn't just using talking points. And isn't afraid to challenge the Republicans when he is the only liberal in the room. I liked this in his remarks where he notes that Republicans opposed the stimulus while taking credit for the money coming into their districts.
There was an interesting headline in CNN today: "Americans disapprove of stimulus, but like every policy in it." And there was a poll that showed that if you broke it down into its component parts, 80 percent approved of the tax cuts, 80 percent approved of the infrastructure, 80 percent approved of the assistance to the unemployed.

Well, that's what the Recovery Act was. And let's face it, some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities. Now, I understand some of you had some philosophical differences perhaps on the just the concept of government spending, but, as I recall, opposition was declared before we had a chance to actually meet and exchange ideas. And I saw that as a missed opportunity.

Ice Storm/Blizzard 2010 and stuff

After a scary Thursday with freezing rain accumulating on the branches and power lines, the precip turned to sleet and left most of us here in Norman with power. Most. My friends in Lawton just got hammered. My buddy told me they had 2 inches of ice on their trees and it "looked like a tornado hit." I am teaching an online course down there and have not been able to reach their system for two days now.

Yesterday it just snowed like a bastard here.
Really unbelievable that we would have two big snow storms with light powder (well, on top of a layer of ice) in a little over a month's time. Thinking of those who don't have power, and hoping that it is restored soon. But it sure looks nice out there, as SOF's picture so nicely captures.


Catching up on news, saw the other day that the Witchita jury was not swayed by Roeder's justification defense and found him guilty of first degree murder for executing George Tiller as he sat in church. Listening to conservatives make the justification argument for torture made me fear that too many would say that it was ok to brutally murder someone as long as you believed their actions to be evil. This gives me some hope.


I missed Obama's SOTU the other night. There is a limit to how much I can take at times. I read he did well, though has turned right on some issues in a manner that annoys me a bit. It doesn't surprise me, but it annoys me. It annoys me especially since I know that such appeals to Republican ideas will not broker better relationships between the parties. Because the Republicans are really not about those ideas--they are about their opposition to the Democrats. When prominent Republicans can accuse Obama of purposefully bankrupting the country (McCain) and sound completely similar to some of the brainless trolls who drop by here--or can make the suggestion that fighting liberals like me and some of you is more important than fighting terrorism--then you can count me as dubious about the GOP.


Now for something a little more enjoyable. I lost my grandmother several years ago. She was really an amazing woman, and was the only grandmother I really ever knew. She left me some money which I used to buy my first mandolin--an f-style Michael Kelly. It was a great starter mandolin for someone who didn't know if they would pursue it further. And I though it something that my grandmother would have enjoyed.

While there have been some lulls in my progress, I have really enjoyed playing this instrument. I am not sure you could tell by listening, but I have improved even a bit. So, this year, I decided to upgrade to a better mando. After a lot of research and talking to mandolin people (the makers are mostly different than those who make guitars--with the exception of Gibson), I decided to purchase an A-style Collings.

It really is a beautiful instrument and I am hopeful I can improve enough to do it justice. I think my grandmother would have loved this one too--and would be glad I was playing something like this.

January 27, 2010

Argh (rant warning)

Today has already been one of those days. We are expecting another bad ice storm tomorrow, so everyone is on edge, and that certainly includes me. I spent part of the morning trying to gather supplies and prepare for the worst tomorrow. Hoping, of course, that it will be manageable.

And I am just feeling low. Annoyed with people, and annoyed with politics. Read the other day that a new poll has a majority of Americans ready to vote for Republicans in the next cycle. Because, evidently, one year is too long to give one party, but 8 years of major fuck-ups is fine. Same day, I read that Fox is one of the more respected news sources. That made me gag. Then a distant relative posted a video on my Facebook wall wanting my comments. I sent them through email. Silence. More emails inquiring if he received my emails. Silence. Yeah, that is really mature. And then finally, a friend who insists that he is opposed to torture, but also admits that if faced with a Republican candidate who supports torture, he would have to see what the opponent stands for before stating that he would possibly vote against a torturer. Meanwhile the SCOTUS ruling places us perilously close to a return to Gilded Age politics where politicians were bought and sold (practically) by corporations.

So, in my darkened state, here are my predictions:

1) The American people are impatient and ignorant, and can't stand complex policy questions. They prefer Republican simplicity and will elect them even when they are demonstrably the dumbest candidates we can find.

2) America will slide further behind on science as evolution becomes a relic of a simpler, more rational time.

3) America will torture more people and not have a clue what to do when their own people are tortured. Well, they might just bomb the offending country and torture their inhabitants. (See number 1).

4) America will do absolutely nothing about the environment, healthcare, or the poor. After all, conservatives care nothing about any of those. Sure, we will have soup kitchens to turn to when we lose our assets due to healthcare costs. And those will be funded by Christian conservatives who will assure us that they care about the poor, but they care just a little more about tax cuts and stopping the homos from marrying.

5) The divide between rich and poor will continue to grow. Anyone who mentions it will be called a Marxist/Socialist/Nazi/Hitler.

That is about all I can stand today. Take it for what it is worth.

January 25, 2010

slacktivist speaks to the Tea Partiers

And tells them "I think maybe part of the reason you're so angry is you keep demanding that you get screwed and then, not surprisingly, you keep getting screwed":
"15. Do you see the point here? You are angrily, loudly demanding that Congress make sure that you never, ever get another pay raise as long as you live. Because of you and because of your angry demands, you and your family and your kids are going to have to get by with less this year than last year. And next year you're going to have to get by with even less. And if you keep angrily demanding that no one must ever fix this problem, then you're going to have to figure out how to get by on less and less every year for the rest of your life."

You have to read the entire thing. Fred is on fire.

A defense of the Senate Bill

Which I enjoyed reading as I am tired of hearing the ridiculous Republican spin on any kind of reform. Let's remember. Republicans have told us that our healthcare system is the best in the world and accused Democrats of A) wanting to bankrupt America, B) wanting to kill old people, or C) that the reform will do nothing.


Rauch concludes:
"no guarantees. The transition would be very gradual, and political blowback could easily disrupt it. But the point is that the reform contains a pathway to sanity. No one can say that about the status quo."

Yes, the status quo is the preferred place for Republicans? Actually, I don't believe that is true. We have been rewatching the first two seasons of West Wing. There is a great scene where Ainsley Hayes accompanies one of the senior staff to meet with the Republican leadership's staff about some test ban treaty. The Republicans are insistent that they won't support it, and Ainsley says something like:
I don't think you think this is a bad bill. I don't think you think this is a good bill. I just think you want to beat the President. This President. That is all you want to do.
That describes the Republican approach to health care. If you look at this bill, (as Rauch points out) it keeps the big insurance companies and private insurance firmly in place. In a different world, this is a Republican bill. But not these Republicans. Nope.

Speaking of which, I have started reading Susan Jacoby's Age of American Unreason, which may best describe the Republicans. We shall see.

January 23, 2010

Is this Democracy?

I really don't know. But there are many who are talking about the need for some kind of "filibuster reform" or even getting rid of it in the Senate. As many have noted, the use of this tool has skyrocketed under the Republican minority.

I do, of course, remember when Republicans threatened to end the filibuster out of frustration with Democratic resistance to Bush judicial nominees. And I am very mindful of the founder's concern to protect the needs of the minority. That should never be taken lightly. And in the most practical sense, because Democrats will not always (and perhaps not long) be in the majority.

But there is certainly something very wrong with the system as it is. When Republicans can throttle any legislation they don't like with only 41 votes, then something is disproportionate. Rather than end the filibuster, perhaps there is a way to reform it to allow for filibuster's, but to limit them in some way? Or to at least give 59 some power?

None of this makes me respect the Republicans any more, mind you. And I used to be one. My first vote was for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and I voted for Bush's father in '88. My vote for Clinton in '92 was for Clinton and not because of strong antipathy to HW. But that has all ended. I can't imagine (though things can change, that is for sure) voting for any Republican in any position. I am not terribly happy with that, mind you, as I have never seen myself as a party-line kind of guy. But when the Republican party runs people like Scott Brown, who may be moderate compared to many, but who also openly defends the kinds of torture at Gitmo that may well have murdered at least three detainees, or when the Republican party chokes meaningful reform for millions of people and then gloats about it--very hard for me to respect that party.

January 22, 2010

Healthcare and tyranny?

A rebuttal from Friedersdorf: Murders at Gitmo? - The Daily Beast, and a direct challenge to the right wing idiocy that healthcare is tyranny.
"If I may address the skeptics on the right directly, it is penny wise and pound foolish to worry about creeping tyranny via government-run health care or gun control when we’re another terrorist attack away from popular support for an archipelago of secret prisons where anyone can be whisked away and tortured without any evidence against them. Look to Europe if you doubt whether government-run health care or black sites run by secret police are a more immediate threat to the liberty of innocents."

Our failed prison system

I have always argued that our prisons and schools fail for the same reason--we don't agree on their purpose. Should schools prepare the next generation of workers? Critical thinkers? Patriots? Should the prisons rehabilitate or punish? Protect the public?

Of course most of us what these institutions to do all of the above in some form, anyway. But I think our prison system is the most messed up, and I think that is because the desire to punish people is stronger than the desire to make them better people. I thought of this while listening to this story in my driveway last night. Turns out lots of people in jail are there, not because they are dangerous people or unwilling to change their behavior, but simply because they can't afford bail. And those who can't afford bail, end up doing more time.
According to the Justice Department, two-thirds of the people in the nation's jails are petty, nonviolent offenders who are there for only one reason: They can't afford their bail.
And because they can't get out, they can't demonstrate their willingness to turn their life around by going to rehab, or taking care of their responsibilities, and are instead left to take whatever deal the prosecutors offer them.
Defendants who make bail do less time. Several defense lawyers in Lubbock said that in their experience, if Currington could get out, go to rehab and pay restitution, he would very likely get probation. Prosecutors are offering him five years in prison.
And while these guys sit in jail, the cost to the taxpayer is very high--one guy has been in there for 6 months at a cost of over $7,000 for stealing $120 in blankets. No doubt that is a crime and no doubt he needs to not only pay for that crime, but stop doing that. But one has to wonder if this is the best way to A) rehabilitate someone and B) manage the public's resources? During the local public radio news break, they discussed the budget crisis here in Oklahoma that will result in furlough's for our prison staff. Yet, it is my experience that those bitching about taxes are often those who have no sympathy for anyone in our criminal justice system and usually want more prisons and jails built, and harsher penalties.
a process almost unique to the United States that rewards the wealthy and punishes the poor. And, NPR has found, it exists almost solely to protect the interests of a powerful bail bonding industry.

The result is that people with money get out. They go back to their jobs and their families, pay their bills and fight their cases. And according to the Justice Department and national studies, those with money face far fewer consequences for their crimes.

People without money stay in jail and are left to take whatever offer prosecutors feel like giving them.
This is bad policy, and bad governance. And this is the product of a society who wants to punish people more than it wants a better society.

January 21, 2010

The Aggrieved and Persecuted Christian

A very interesting blog post on this idea of Christians under siege in a culture where they hold tremendous power. Some interesting issues here, including far right involvement in the horrific Ugandan proposal to execute homosexuals for being gay. Also interesting that some of the numbers floated about Christians killed around the world for "being Christian" appear to no be well founded.
I've never understood the ability of the Christian right to turn Christians into victims, despite their overwhelming majority in the nation and in running its powerful institutions. Maybe it's because the other choice -- realizing their role as both powerful and sometimes oppressive -- would put them on the wrong side of a biblical tale.

And that is my take too. Christians in this country dominate much. Not all, for sure, but they are certainly well represented. One can't get elected to national office before assuring America that you are a dedicated Christian. Christian conservatives are well represented in the national media, and over-represented (IMO) in national politics, yet they play the victim card with ease. Perhaps, as this blogger notes, their power has put them in the situation where they have supported and encouraged the absolute worst and unChristian acts imaginable. They have cheered crusade-like war, have abetted and defended torture (that still stuns me beyond belief) and now are cheering and mocking those who want to extend healthcare to the uninsured.

January 20, 2010

More on self v. others

Leighton left an interesting comment on Irving Kristol's take on social justice in my last post. I started to leave a followup comment but realized I might want it as a post.

I am really torn here, thinking about the sense that the GOP seems to approach this issue of healthcare in a very callous sense. A friend (actually, a jerk I used to know) from Facebook was direct--he said we couldn't afford to help those without health insurance. I know too many Republicans who are good people, who are concerned about their world around them, and those who are in need. But why is it that the party at large appears to be so apathetic to those needs? And further that the aforementioned Republicans with compassion still fall behind those GOP leaders? Saying that we "can't afford" helping them in a world where even with a recession so many of us live very well--well, it sounds hollow, and very far from the supposed model of Christian compassion.

Is this an issue of authoritarianism? Or something more simple?

Speaking to a conservative friend today, he noted that he didn't think that healthcare was a "right." I understand (sort of) but wonder how that compares to those ideals enshrined in the Declaration--and, I might add, so often noted by the very same conservatives as some kind of American Scripture?

I guess I am full of questions tonight.

One more thing about the healthcare issue. My friend said it wasn't a right, or that many conservatives didn't see it as a right, but a privilege. But even those conservatives tacitly approve of hospitals and clinics serving the destitute and the homeless if they collapse on a public sidewalk. Someone pays for that, just as someone pays for the middle class family forced into bankruptcy by healthcare costs. Do conservatives somehow think they don't pay for that?

Why do we say that someone in need of life-saving care can be attended to, but that same person cannot be assisted, or subsidized in getting preventative care (which is ten times--at least--more efficient than emergency care). This sounds more like a punitive approach which suggests that conservatives believe that those without insurance deserve their fate. And even though it costs them (the conservative) more to care for those in emergency care, they will not help those who have not deserved it. A friend of mine as much said that--that he didn't want to help those who were too lazy to work for their insurance. The Good Samaritan comes to mind as a counter story, but then again, I am unsure where American Christians incorporated the idea that people need to earn their right to life.

Needless to say, I am confused (and tired tonight). I don't understand where Christianity fits into this punitive style of conservatism. I don't understand why any pragmatic or fiscally responsible conservative would choose paying for emergency care when preventative care is better for everyone.

I don't understand much right now.

I have approached life all wrong

And now realize, thanks to Republicans, that I need to simply worry about myself. For right now, I have decent healthcare insurance. Sure, we could lose it, and be uninsurable, but for now, we are ok. So screw everyone else.

I think I am getting the hang of it.

Still annoyed this morning

And trying to avoid the news. I know it will all be about how Obama is failing and the Democrats suck. I understand the symbolism of Kennedy's seat going to a tea-bagging Republican. I get that. This was a bad day for Democrats, no doubt. And part of this is purely the Democrats fault, but like so many times, I wonder if they will not learn the absolutely wrong lesson, and assume that it means they are supposed to turn right. As if, of course, so many Democrats aren't already right of center. I think those who suggest that we already have a Republican party, and need to offer a real alternative.

I also think that the media stupidity does not help us. It helps the Republicans, even though they have nothing to offer right now. The media favors an overly simplistic view of the world, and that is exactly what the Republicans are selling. I read somewhere that Scott Brown (that is his first name, right?) wrote an op-ed in Boston where he laid out his policies, and they were all simplistic right wing claptrap. Tax cuts? Seriously? No serious economist thinks that is a good thing for our current situation. They may disagree about how we raise revenue and jump start the economy, but they all agree that tax cuts are not some magical talisman that heals whatever economic reality you see.

But that sells to people, as I noted before, who have no real deep thoughts about policy. Tax cuts are simple--and they ostensibly mean that individuals will have more money. Except when they result in reduced services and more pressure on local infrastructure. I have argued, and will continue to argue, that most middle and working class Americans have lost far more in services, tuition costs, healthcare costs, and in real wages than they have ever come close to gaining in tax cuts. It is a net loss, and a substantial one.

But it is genius for the right wing. Those losses are hidden, while the tax cut is visible. When you think about it, it is an amazing sleight of hand. You tell people you are giving them back their money, while you rob them with the other hand. They thank you for the tax cut and ignore the losses elsewhere. Same sleight of hand procedure, I suspect, that the right uses on Christians--giving them fake piety and language on the front, and then enacting unchristian policies in back. Tell them you follow Jesus and he is the most important person in your life, and then turn around and enact torture policies. And the Christian right turns out to vote for you.


January 19, 2010

Evidently 59 votes is not a majority

And a conservative friend told me that the current proposal was a "feel good" measure rather than real reform. Which, of course is why the conservative right went ape-shit over the healthcare proposal.


I will believe that Republicans are honorable people when they denounce the "death panel" bullshit of their party and actually produce something that helps average Americans. Until then, they can take their Tea Parties and shove them.

Word of the day: shit weasel

I know, I know. It is actually two words. But that is the phrase running through my head the last few days contemplating a Republican victory in Massachusetts. Yeah, the Democrats have lost a lot of energy in the last year. Some of that is explainable, and some of it isn't. And by all accounts, they put up a bad candidate in Mass to succeed Teddy.

But what do you say about a party that would gloat for weeks and months if they were successful in killing healthcare? It isn't as if they have an alternative in the wings that will actually provide coverage, or end the pre-existing condition. After 6 years of complete control of the Senate, House and White House, they did absolutely nothing to reform healthcare. And their objections now? I am sure there are many who have principled objections, but most of them simply want to defeat Obama. That's it. That is the sum total of their "principle."

They have told us the last several months that our healthcare system is the best in the world. Perhaps I am extra annoyed today because I found out yesterday I have a case of the shingles. Not a bad case, thankfully. I had these in junior high and they ruined several months of my life. This one is just an annoyance. And I have relatively good healthcare.

My doctor prescribed an anti-viral for me, and I was stunned to get the bill for $70, and that was with a substantial pickup by my insurance. Holy crap. One week's meds and it would have been over $250 if we didn't have decent coverage. Yeah, our healthcare system is in great shape.

Shit weasels.

The guy running for the seat pledges to be the "41st vote" against healthcare. That is his goal--to stop the best chance of reform since the New Deal.

Perhaps my anger is heightened by what seems like a complete lack of historical memory or even philosophical thought from so many conservatives. Don't get me wrong. I know there are many conservatives--and some who oppose healthcare--who have thought through their philosophy of government, and have read their history. And there are many liberals who have no clue why they are liberal. But, as our recent troll demonstrated, so many have only a superficial thought about government and taxes and governing. Talking to them about something as complicated as governing reminds me of the quote from Billy Madison:
what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
And yet that incoherent approach to governing is reflected in their stars, from Glenn Beck to Sarah Palin. Is it too much to ask that we have a conversation about what our government means without a kneejerk "government is evil and the enemy of freedom?" How the hell are we both the greatest country on earth and given a government that is our enemy?


January 18, 2010

This is very troubling to me

And perhaps there is something I am missing? TPMMuckraker notes that American soldiers are using rifle scopes inscribed with abbreviated references to bible verses
including lines like "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

That verse is rendered on tiny letters on the the scopes, made by Wixom, Michigan-based Trijicon, as "2COR4:6" referring to chapter 4, verse 6 of the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
So help me out. An American soldier, someplace in country, is lining up an insurgent in their scope, ready to pull the trigger and kill this person, and doing so with a verse suggesting that they do this "for the Glory of God?" Am I the only one who finds that troubling?

Heh. A good flowchart for finding your religion

Assessing Obama

I obviously like reading Sullivan, though understand not everyone likes him. But on assessing Obama, I think this is a particularly good post.
"Obama is a liberal pragmatist in politics and a traditional conservative in his understanding of the presidency. Once you grasp this, his first year makes much more sense."
I am continually amazed, as is Sullivan, how both the left and right misunderstand Obama. The escalation in Afghanistan, for example. I am still not convinced that it is a good idea, but it is very hard to be surprised by this given how Obama spoke of this conflict from the beginning of his campaign. In fact, he continually echoed a foreign policy reminiscent of HW Bush.

I have a friend who voted for Obama primarily because he thought he would be best at bridging the partisan divide, and that he would make that his chief priority. I think Obama has done a lot to work with the right, but it is very hard to work with people who think that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck make sense.
He has also failed to end the cultural and partisan polarization in America. But he has not empowered it. The energy for this polarization has come from the hard left (which is angry at him) and the hard right, which, to a great extent, has gone completely bonkers in the wake of their defeat in 2008. This rabid conservatism - one that seeks more tax cuts as debt spirals, that thinks Gitmo is an asset in the war on terror, that wants no extension of health insurance, no bailouts, no stimulus - may well ride some populist anger to short term success at the ballot box (watch Massachusetts' by-election next Tuesday). But under Obama, the Republicans have become whiter, more extreme, more religious, and synonymous in the public mind with polarizing fugures like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn beck. This may be a good ratings strategy for a cable network like Fox News, but it's a highly risky one for a party attempting to win back the center.
"Bonkers" may be the kindest word for the thugs on the right who have lost their freaking minds. As I said, Rush Limbaugh just told his Dittoheads not to contribute to Haiti, and there are a lot of the Republican base who think he makes sense.

January 17, 2010

CW and Obama

SOF and I made a Starbucks run this morning, our usual Sunday morning ritual. This particular one was a little different because we had to get up and give one of our cats an insulin shot with his breakfast. Eh. The cost, as I noted in an email, of an aging pet population in our house. He is doing fine, and we are getting used to giving shots--something I have not done since my youth on our small ranch.

Anyway, at Starbucks, I noticed the NYTimes in the corner and read the headlines. One was on how the Democrats are cratering and the election in Massachusetts is proof of that cratering. Opening the WaPo website on my return, and more of this doom and gloom.

Before Christmas, Anglican sent me this from Esquire: Whaddaya Mean Obama Hasn't Done Anything?, which I had not gotten around to reading until this morning. Obama has been anything but a failed President during his first year. But if you turn on the Cable news or read the papers, all you hear is the bs that he has been ineffective and that the public is losing faith in the Democrats.

Of course, if you look at the polling data, you do see that Obama and the Democrats have sagged in the polls. No doubt about that. I have two explanations for that. 1) Obama and the Democrats have sagged, not because they have been to liberal and too adventurous, but because they have not been liberal enough. The stimulus package, while important, was too small and too loaded with tax cuts and other spending that did very little to stimulate the economy. Obama should have pumped billions into infrastructure spending as he first suggested, and put more people to work across the country. Likewise, on healthcare, as Greg Sargent notes, more people are unhappy with the current proposal because it doesn't go far enough, than those who say it goes too far.

2), and this is certainly related to the last point, but the media is still quite conservative. Sargent's interpretation of the polling data may be flawed, but it is an arguable case. But you won't hear that line on the supposedly liberal mainstream media. Yet, throughout the entire Obama administration, you can always count on the fact that the most conservative voices will be heard on just about every outlet. As The Atlantic noted, this is not a new phenomenon. In the 19th century, newspapers were commonly so associated with their political bias that they were named after their party affiliation: for example Wherearewe Republican, or the Whatever Democrat. For me this is new because we have a good segment of the population who has completely bought the myth of the "liberal media" which makes the conservative nature of our media nearly invisible. You can call that a hat trick for the Republicans. Even though their polling is even lower than Democrats or Obama, they have successfully controlled the message and Conventional Wisdom.

Not to say that Obama has not made some missteps. He certainly has. But I am increasingly tired of our media listening to people who have a track record of always being wrong.

January 15, 2010

TNC and Chris Matthews on Sarah Palin

So You Ignant Voters Hear Me... - Ta-Nehisi Coates

David Axelrod suggests that Karl Rove needs to check his figures

David Axelrod - What Karl Rove got wrong on the U.S. deficit - washingtonpost.com:
"So, let's review a little history:

The day the Bush administration took over from President Bill Clinton in 2001, America enjoyed a $236 billion budget surplus -- with a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. When the Bush administration left office, it handed President Obama a $1.3 trillion deficit -- and projected shortfalls of $8 trillion for the next decade. During eight years in office, the Bush administration passed two major tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest Americans, enacted a costly Medicare prescription-drug benefit and waged two wars, without paying for any of it.

To put the breathtaking scope of this irresponsibility in perspective, the Bush administration's swing from surpluses to deficits added more debt in its eight years than all the previous administrations in the history of our republic combined. And its spending spree is the unwelcome gift that keeps on giving: Going forward, these unpaid-for policies will continue to add trillions to our deficit."

This was the easiest prediction from 2008--that once Bush was out of power, conservatives would suddenly remember the words "fiscal responsibility." But I am not sure I even anticipated the unbelievable gall of odious men like Karl Rove--people who worked closely with Bush on some of the worst policies with no transparency or oversight--now criticizing Obama on those same issues. Oh, and making up the facts as he goes.

If Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the best representation of the conservative base--anti-intellectual and fundamentalist, then Rove is the best representation of the cynical and openly dishonest and unethical wing of the party that actually made decisions during Bush's term. These are the people who actively worked to disenfranchise people of color, or created fraudulent vote fraud cases to present around election time, or who worked on science panels to undermine science.

It has to be one of the most glaring contradictions in history that the people most draped in Biblical conservatism and "moral values" have instituted some of the least Biblical and least moral policies in American history. All, I might reiterate, at the cheering of the evangelical right.

Sarah Palin Debuts as Fox News Contributor

And gives us her great insight into the race story with Harry Reid. Sarah Palin Debuts as Fox News Contributor - Bill O'Reilly | The O'Reilly Factor - FOXNews.com:
"PALIN: I know. And that double standard is — and that hypocrisy is another reason why so many Americans are quite disgusted with the political games that are played, not only on both sides of the aisle, but in this case, on the left wing, what they are playing with this game of racism and kind of letting Harry Reid's comments slide, but having crucified Trent Lott for essentially along the same lines (inaudible)."

Yes, again, we have one politician lamenting the end of segregation and one saying that an African American man can be President, but using a poor choice of words. Of course, in Sarah Palin's world, that is the same thing. Because she is dumber than we think. We should never over-estimate her ability to be stupid.

January 14, 2010

Doctors without Borders link

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

Um, this is part of the right's race problem

I know, I know. Conservatives with brains just hate that Rush is considered conservative. Most of the conservatives I know no longer listen to him, and consider him a problem. But he is still very much associated with the base, and adored by the Tea Party types. And when you listen to him say that Obama will use Haiti to boost credibility with "light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country" and accusing Obama of speaking out earlier on this issue than he did the underwear bomber--well, you realize the level of hatred on the far right.

This is a nice bookend to the Harry Reid comment thread, actually. WIV pointed out the power of words and also the constant mantra of hiding behind "political correctness." I have always hated that phrase, I guess, because I have distrusted it. It was not "politically incorrect" for Trent Lott to lament the end of segregation. It was racist. What Reid did was, actually, politically incorrect, in that he pointed to the issue of skin color and speech patterns, and used a 1950s word for black people. This, I might add, from a conversation in that book that details how Reid was encouraging Obama to run for office and even to go against the vaunted Clinton machine. Bad choice of words, but the underlying meaning was not overtly racist.

And here we have Limbaugh and exactly what is wrong with the base of the Republican party. As TNC and others have noted, those in the far right don't hate racism, they hate it when they perceive that there is racism against whites (even when it isn't there). But they have no problem with racism against blacks. No problem suggesting to the white racists in the base that Obama is responding to this immense catastrophe simply because there are blacks in trouble, and black votes to woo. No problem expressing a complete lack of compassion for the thousands and thousands dead.

Unbelievable. And yet, I will wait to see if any elected Republicans will excoriate Rush in public and denounce his racism. I bet not.

January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson responds to Haiti

And you won't believe it. Oh hell yes, you will. He says that Haiti made a pact with the devil to get freedom from the French, and that pact with the devil has cursed them since. This, according to the big giant head, is a true story.

H/t to Leighton for this story, and he notes the particular self-centered approach this kind of thing seems to elicit--as if this disaster in Haiti is somehow remotely about us. For Robertson is it affirming that we are better because we didn't make a pact with the devil. For others, it is, in the back of the reptilian part of their brain, proof that those poor Haitians have somehow deserved this fate. It hasn't been about colonialism, or race relations, or global economics. It is about their spirituality v. ours.

I hope we can all find some way to help the Haitians today. It is not easy to do, when we live as far away as we do. Perhaps starting by donating to one of those excellent organizations that is doing the hard work. It isn't much, but it is something.

Donate | Doctors Without Borders

Donate — Oxfam America

January 12, 2010

An obvious point about terrorism

That unfortunately, most in Washington, and everyone in the Republican ranks of Congress seem to not understand. Terrorists wants us to freak out:
"At least one person in the United States, Barack Obama, seemed to recognize that the objective of terrorism is to promote terror and sought to defuse that effort by handling the threat with the proportionality and common sense that has long been missing from U.S. counterterrorism strategy."

Instead, Republicans (especially, but not exclusively) decide to respond to terrorism by screaming bloody murder that we are "all going to die." Which is exactly what the terrorist wants, right? Reminds me of the Republican freak-out over moving Gitmo detainees to American jails. Listening to them, you would think these guys are 7 feet tall with super-powers.

When we lose our values, or our minds in response to terrorism, they win. That seems rather obvious, but not to those wanting to make political hay.

On Harry Reid--and one on small government

As just about everyone knows by now, the new book on the 2008 campaign includes a quote of Harry Reid commenting on Obama's chances, which, he thought were favorable because Obama is both light skinned and doesn't use a "Negro dialect." Predictably, the right wing has erupted with anger. How dare, they argue, the Democrats allow Reid to hold his seat after they hounded poor Senator Trent Lott out of office.

Personally, I find Reid's language cringe-inducing, and am glad to see him apologize for using 1950s era language to describe then candidate Obama. But the comparison to Lott is about as ridiculous as it gets. One commented on the issues of skin color in American politics as well as the issues surrounding what is called "Black english" in some circles, while the other expressed deep nostalgia for segregation. The same? I don't think so.

TNC weighs in here, and Serwer here. For a bit of context, TNC notes that the guy who lost to Michael Steele for RNC chair continues to play golf at a segregated club.

And one other note, caught by the capable people at The American Prospect which taps into what I think is the biggest problem for the anti-government crowd--selectivity and self interest. Turns out that even the Tea Party people often defend government largesse when it is in their economic self-interest.
.. As the Messenger reported, [ex-GM employee Joan] Fabiano, like most tea partiers, is opposed to the government bailouts of banks and the so-called "out of control spending" in D.C.. But when it comes to General Motors and Chrysler -- two companies bought out by the government in the depths of the economic downturn -- Fabiano said the protest could hurt the business climate in the one of the worst states for unemployment in the country.
Reminds me of the Town Hall criers saying things like "keep your government out of my Medicare."


More on morality--updated

I have been mulling over that NAE poll from the other day. I think Leighton hit the nail when he noted that for the conservative evangelicals, the problem is external to them--all those non-evangelicals who don't listen to the Word of God and understand the absolute truth. Hence the concern that moral relativism is one of the major moral issues facing the nation.

Sully is watching the Alabama governor's race and the amount of fundamentalist angst in that race is amazing. One candidate waffled on the entire literal truth of the Bible and was jumped by his opponents. Alabama has one of the most punitive and ridiculous tax systems in the country, but the big concern is someone who reads the bible literally and absolutely.

SOF and I talked about this over coffee this morning, as we have numerous times over the last decade. I have argued that the difference is between a more Catholic Seven Deadly Sins and the evangelical obsession with the Ten Commandments. The deadly sins are internal and part of everyone. The 10Cs, for many people, are those sins that other people do. After all, "I don't murder, steal, or lie (mostly). I attend church on Sundays (right before the football game) and never take the Lord's name in vain (unless that doesn't mean swear)." That, I think, explains the obsession with Judge Roy Moore's Ten Commandment statue, and every other fundy effort to have those posted in public places. "We aren't worried about our morality. We are worried about yours."

Update: I forgot the central point of our conversation this morning. SOF made the very critical point that Jesus himself was a caution on that mentality, as witnessed by his discussion during the Sermon on the Mount:
"21'You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment."
It seems that Jesus was pretty concerned with the sins that all men do, and less impressed with those pointing fingers at others.

The NAE says that "moral relativism" is one of the top three moral problems facing America, yet I have to believe that those answering the poll didn't think it was their own. Having heard about this most of my adult life, I know that moral relativism refers to liberals and their morality. It most certainly does not apply to those who cheered Bush's torture policy, without realizing they were arguing that torture was ok in this situation because of who we fight. Moral relativism. Bush's arrogance was fine because he was right, and he was listening to God. Obama's arrogance is wrong because he is a liberal.

Need more? How about the Scott Roeder trial. The man who walked into a church and gunned an abortion doctor down in fucking church has received permission from the judge to argue that he believed, however mistakenly, that killing Dr. Tiller was justified because it would save the pre-born. Thou shall not kill, but it is ok when you have a good reason.

The problem isn't our morality. It is all those unchurched and unsaved souls out there who are the problem.


January 11, 2010

David Frum reviews Steele's book

Steele’s 12-Step Plan for Self-Destruction. Includes parroting Sarah Palin on bureaucrats and your health, and cheering the Survivor approach to moderates in the party (get rid of them).

The far right wing is still driving this party. Part of me cheers that because I think that will help the Democrats win. But most of me laments the continued insanity of a major party in a two-party system. Our Republic works better with engaged, and intelligent disagreement. The Dems let us down on that all the time, but the Republicans now give us Tea Parties and Sarah Palin. And now John McCain accusing the President of purposefully bankrupting America. Or Liz Cheney cheering on torture.

Surely the GOP can do better than this?

More proof that McCain would have been a colossal mistake

Turns out that Obama has more problems on his Israeli policy than just dealing with a right wing leader like Netanyahu. Turns out that two Senators from his own country (McCain and Lieberman) traveled to Israel and backed Netanyahu and undermined Obama.

Lieberman has long been a horses ass. And hell, so has McCain, when it comes right down to it. But this seems like more of the sharp right turn from McCain to hold onto his seat. And this is Israel, where the right wing will support just about anything. But it also seems that there is no limit to the kinds of anti-American activity that only conservatives get to do.

I am reminded that this action will get much support from the conservative evangelical community. Just after we learned that moral relativism is a huge problem.


January 10, 2010

Evangelicals and Torture revisited

And this is rather stunning. Via slacktivist, I read of the National Association of Evangelicals'year-end survey on the top moral issues facing America. No one will be surprised to read that abortion made the top moral outrage, but the other two are really ironic, yet clear that the evangelicals are completely irony impaired.

Number 3 is "misstreatment of others" which includes "our blindness and silence to injustices here and around the world. Social ills like poverty, malnutrition, homelessness, human trafficking, and so many other..." Kudos to evangelicals (seriously) for mentioning poverty and malnutrition, as well as homelessness. I am reminded that their favorite President BW (before W), Ronald Reagan dismissed the homeless in the 1980s as being mentally ill. I will hope that these evangelicals chided President Reagan, but I doubt it.

No, the irony is that "misstreatment of others" does not appear to include torture. And that is highlighted by moral issue number 2: moral relativism. When I read that I had to close my mouth manually. Moral relativism? You mean like deciding that something is ok because the other people are worse? Or deciding that torture is acceptable for us because we are in a vicious fight with people lacking morals or Christ?

I just searched the NAE website for the word torture. "Total: 0 results found."


Speaking of John McCain, here he is sounding like a right wing troll

John McCain, facing a strong primary challenge, has turned right and is now "accusing President Obama of ‘leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America'."

That's right. The guy who named Sarah Palin as his Veep, is accusing the sitting President of purposefully trying to ruin America. It is amazing what latitude conservatives get. And it is absolutely disgusting how ruthless they are in seeking their goals.

Shame on you, John. Shame. Heh. Who am I kidding. The guy who still defends choosing a moron as his Veep has no shame.

The campaign that will not die

Yet another book is out on the 2008 Presidential race. I am not sure I can read the thing, but there are some interesting tidbits coming out, and not all of them concern Palinisms.

For example, we learn that Harry Reid uses language like "Negro dialect," and that Bill Clinton remarked to Teddy Kennedy about Obama: "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee." I think we knew that the Clintons were ruthless, but it is rather shocking to read of this kind of racial language coming from our side. Well, not shocking. Disturbing.

But there are some wonderful tidbits on Palin, and this is my favorite (from the caucus blog):
"* In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001."
Speaking of Palin, btw, even the McCain campaign recognizes now that Palin creates her own reality. As Mudflats notes, they caught one of the more bizarre "up is down" moments in the Palin campaign when the Branchflower report came out on Troopergate. Here is what the report said:
“For the reasons explained in section IV of the report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.11(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.

But here is a transcript of Palin speaking to Alaska reporters, and referencing the report.
Palin: Hey, thank you so, Meg. Thank you so much. Thank you also to our local reporters up there in Alaska. Even hearing your names make me feel like I’m right there with you at home. It’s good to get to speak with you. Let me talk a little bit about the Tasergate issue if you guys would let me and, Meg, you want me to just jump right on in there?

Stapleton: Sure governor, go ahead.

Palin: OK cool.

Well, I’m very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing … any hint of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any of that.
Perhaps Palin did nothing wrong in that situation. And perhaps it was a politically motivated investigation. But how do you read "Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statue" and say that you are "cleared of any legal wrongdoing...any hint of any kind of unethical activity?" How do you do that?

Mudflats ends with the bigger picture of how Palin demonstrated a threat to our democracy. Hell, she still does. But her idiocy and lack of honesty is just one part of the problem. Others, supposedly responsible adults, are culpable for making her a national star in the Republican party.
The thing that Steve Schmidt and others have failed to acknowledge so far is John McCain’s culpability in this near disaster. Regardless of who supposedly vetted her, the buck stopped with him, and he chose a woman to be his potential Vice President – OUR potential Vice President – who is not only incompetent by his campaign’s own admission, but who does not tell the truth. His decision was irresponsible, and absolutely reckless. As much as we chuckle at Sarah Palin, his judgment put our country, and the rest of the world at risk in the name of his own political ambition. History will not judge him kindly.
Agreed. John McCain has squandered what might have been a favorable legacy.

January 8, 2010

Normalizing torture

I keep thinking about that Rasmussen poll that had 58% of Americans calling for us to waterboard the Christmas day bomber. Perhaps it is a bad poll, I don't know. I read that he has worked as a Republican pollster. But even that is disturbing.

Just on a whim, I googled the phrase "Republicans against torture." My Safari browser found a lot of things that Republicans oppose, or at least common search phrases. They included Obama, healthcare, Obamacare, and even Sarah Palin. But no torture.

But I did find stories on torture and Republicans. Stories like this one where a retired Lt. Colonel named Alan West is running for Congress in Florida. He very nearly went to prison for staging a mock execution on a suspected Iraqi insurgent. West now says that he might have been wrong about that Iraqi, but he would do that all again. Further, he says that no one was even tortured at Abu Ghraib. He often jokes about his own torture to Republican audiences, telling them that wasn't torture, "seeing Rosie O'Donnell naked would be torture." Turns out he isn't just a open torturer, but also an ass. Those Republican crowds love him, though.

To be fair, his initial run for Congress included no support from the RNC who wanted nothing to do with him during the 2006 election. But I wonder what his fundraising efforts are now. During the 2008 primary season, John McCain (to his credit) was booed by Republican audiences when he called waterboarding both torture and wrong. Booed. Liz Cheney still says that waterboarding isn't torture, and that sentiment is echoed by the Republican candidate in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy. Or watch here as Republican Congressman Aaron Schock openly defends what he calls "alternative torture" techniques, as long as they save American lives.

I recall so vividly when conservative evangelicals wrung their hands over their concern that Bill Clinton's sexual misdeeds would somehow teach the children bad morals. And remember, Clinton may be a lot of things, but he never said that what he did was right or ok. He may have lied about it in the beginning (actually he did) but I never recall that moment where he justfied his actions as moral or appropriate. On the contrary, Republicans commonly defend these techniques. And the people most likely to say they vote their "moral values" are at best, silent. At worst, they cheer the torturer against those they see as foes in a spiritual war.

I should not be shocked by any of this. As I told SOF this afternoon, I fully expect the next GOP candidate for President to be a torture apologist. The fact that so many Republicans consider themselves Christian makes that all the more troubling. The fact that Dick Cheney's warped morality may be seeping into the American culture is simply appalling.

I do know that the next time I hear a Republican talk about moral values, I just might puke.

January 6, 2010

on Brit Hume

If you haven't seen Jon Stewart's take on Brit Hume and his comments for Tiger Woods, you can now. Pretty smart stuff. As I told a friend this evening, Hume has every right to speak his mind, but I seriously wonder today if conservative Christians even care how non Christians (or non Conservatives) see them. They don't seem to act as if they care at all. They seem to act as if they are yelling in our face about their faith, and then wondering why we are looking the other direction. In fact, if we object, we are part of the "war on Christianity."

One of our Christmas letters was exactly like that. This from a relative, btw, who dropped me like a bad habit when he found out I was not as concerned about the Boy Scouts and the Gay agenda as he was. Fine. Drop me for my political ideology. But then don't get in my face about your faith when I am pretty damn sure that wasn't exactly in the WWJD territory.

I am again reminded of the Thomas of Assisi quote about always preaching the gospel, "if necessary, use words." Hume and his type seem to reverse that and never demonstrate anything approaching grace. Then he gets mad at me when I object to him lecturing Tiger Woods about a religion that Brit Hume knows nothing about.


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2010 blogging

It has been a while. Christmas was a blur (as it always is) and here in Oklahoma we experienced a blizzard for the ages on Christmas Eve. It was beautiful, fun and scary and infuriating--all at the same time. My parents visited and I was so glad their drive avoided the bad storms on both legs.

Christmas was good. But then on New Years Eve, as SOF and I attended an Oklahoma City Thunder game, I realized that my congestion was more than that. I woke up New Years Day with a fever and grinding headache. That cold (or whatever) has persisted and hit me hard again yesterday. This morning, I feel like I might have pushed through toward the good side, or can see it in sight.


So, what else is going on? During Christmas, I heard second-hand about the Christmas bomber on the flight headed to Detroit. I heard that security would make travel much harder on flyers and thought that the terrorists got just about exactly what they wanted. We often seem to forget that terrorism is not intended to destroy us in some kind of violent military strike, but to undermine our ability to function. In that vein, it has worked quite well.

But then, after Christmas, I read about the number of Republicans and conservatives calling for the bomber to be waterboarded or otherwise tortured to find out what else he knew. Rasmussen (a questionable pollster, btw) reports that some 58% of Americans support that view.

Everyone reading here knows that I consider the Bush administration one of the worst in American history--shockingly incompetent and destructive. And this is one of the by-products of that administration that shocks me to my core--that so many Americans embrace torture. And not just the bigoted and stupid--but the supposedly moral and churched--those most likely to report their political decisions based on "morality."

It still boggles that mind that people who rant about the torture of Christ, or even (as I noted before Christmas) will raise the specter of tortured Christian dissidents, see no disconnect between that sense of outrage and their endorsement of the torture of terrorists. That is how they see it, of course, that all of the people we tortured were actual terrorists. Never mind that the torture of terrorists is still immoral and counter to the teachings of Christ. Never mind that it is ineffective. (Never mind that we have tortured people to produce false confessions: see Andy Worthington: A Truly Shocking Guantanamo Story: Judge Confirms That an Innocent Man Was Tortured to Make False Confessions).

Terrorism may have won after all. It has turned our moral compass so much that we now make the same kind of moral judgements as the terrorists themselves--that it is ok to do evil things to people you consider to be evil.

This is not a new observation, but one that shows up in such amazing clarity when we watch our political discourse. When you see people who embrace torture and wiretapping then calling healthcare a form of "tyranny," then you see that our moral compass has had the indicator ripped off the base and thrown away.