Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, October 4, 2015

LBJ's Legacy

When LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he was rumored to say, "We've lost the South for a generation."

Of course, it was more like a permanent loss, as the white South has moved en masse to the Republican party.  However, his legacy goes deeper, because the Obama Coalition has it's roots in another LBJ act: the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1964.  The reason why Trump and his copy cats are harping on immigration is because the people allowed into America under this act have grown into the voters who have delivered the White House to the Democrats in the last two elections.  And smart Republicans know that they have to change this dynamic, yet they are powerless to do so.
You can't embrace white conservatives and ethnic minorities at the same time.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Would This Work?

A former classmate of mine posted on Facebook that all of us who oppose the gun culture in this country should join the NRA and vote Jon Stewart in as its president.  I heard something similar back around the time of Columbine (or was it Stockton, or was it Oklahoma City, or was it...).

It's an interesting idea.  I'd worry about giving the NRA a temporary cash infusion from new members, but exactly how could they be any stronger than they are now?  Most of their money comes from arms manufacturers, and that money would dry up as soon as the coup was detected.  And even if you could orchestrate a swift and decisive coup against Wayne LaPierre, the gun makers would just shift their resources elsewhere.

Absent a Democratic Congress and a fifth Democratic Supreme Court Justice, we are going to continue to drown in the blood of innocents.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I'm Going To Miss This Guy

Obama's remarks on yet another fucking mass shooting in this sick, sick land.

Days like this are why Joe Biden is wise not to run for President.  Who wants to govern a country whose bloodlust exceeds its common sense?

This Is A Winner, Run With This

Wall Street is crying and stamping their feet over new rules championed by Elizabeth Warren and implemented by Barack Obama.  The rules apply to financial advisors and basically says that they have to put their clients interest ahead of their own.  It is being vociferously opposed, as you can imagine.

Every few years, the Missus used to invite a financial advisor over to sit at our table and explain the multitudinous benefits of working with his company.  I'd sit through those meetings patiently, but they were basically the same as those guys who want to sell you new windows: long on charm, short on sound financial footing.

It's not that the advisors didn't have correct things to say, it's that they don't work for you and never have.  They work for themselves and their companies.  They push people into stocks that benefit them and their companies.  When they push their clients into Acme Manufacturing, that may help your bottom line, but you can be damned sure that it helps theirs.

While these reforms will no doubt ignite the caterwauling from wealthy lobbyists that we saw with Dodd-Frank, we can also be sure that - like with Dodd-Frank - this will result not in the collapse of capitalism, but in a ever so slightly more even playing field between Wall Street and the rest of us.

Politically, this is precisely the sort of thing for Democrats to win with.  By all means, let Republicans defend the idea that financial advisors can sit around your kitchen table and lie to you about investments.  Let's see them try.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

You Take Your Friends Where You Can Get Them

Figures on both the Left and Right have been chortling with the news that Pope Francis met with God bothering serial marriage enthusiast Kim Davis.  "Ha!" they say, "How's your new idol now?"

Except I don't idolize Francis.  I admire him on many things.  I think he cares about people who are traditionally forgotten by those in positions of power.  I think he understands the costs of poverty better than any pope I can think of.  I think he is trying to place morality and kindness over dogma and rules in the life of his Church.

I just don't need to take lessons in sexual morality from a celibate.  While Francis has been an improvement over his woeful predecessors when it comes to clerical sexual abuse, he has been far from a breath of fresh air.  While he has demonstrated more compassion towards the victims, he has not cleansed the Catholic church of its sins, some of which are on going.

I do not agree with the Pope on the issue of female ordination, marriage equality, abortion or contraception.  But I applaud him for beginning to understand that women make up a majority of his parishioners.  I applaud him for understanding that almost all of his congregants have used contraception.  I applaud him for removing the judgment of celibate old men about the sexual lives of Catholics less central to the church.

But he's still a retrograde fossil on issues of human sexuality.  I disagree with him.

That does not, however, somehow negate the areas where we agree.  The idea that I have to agree with someone down the line is preposterous and a symptom of our badly divided politics.  The idea that I idolize him suggests that I need a hero to save the day.

What I need, politically speaking, is allies who can advance causes of economic and racial justice and who can help save this planet from cooking in its own gasses.  I need those allies.  If we disagree in other areas, so be it.  The idea of lockstep conformity is incredibly dangerous to both politics and civil life.

I agree with Bernie Sanders on quite a lot.  But I disagree with some of his foreign policy stances.  Does that mean I can't support him should he win the nomination?  Of course not.  Same goes with Francis.

If my neighbor can help me raise a barn, I don't condemn him because he can't help me paint it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How's That Outreach Going?

Sixty percent of Americans believe that the government should keep funding Planned Parenthood.  Probably because even those NASCAR voters have had a visit to PP at some point.  Maybe PP caught their sister's breast cancer at a screening.  Maybe they helped fill a birth control prescription.  Whatever the reason, it's pretty clear that people have a much more favorable opinion of the Planned Parenthood than the 35% who want to shut down the government over federal funding for the organization.

Meanwhile, human herpes sore Jason Chaffetz (R-Utahstan) is being a total douchecanoe to Cecile Richards.

2014 was obviously a big win for the GOP.  But it allowed them to forget what happened in 2012.  A president who took over at the beginning of a financial panic was re-elected quite comfortably for the first time since 1820.  The GOP is losing the following groups:

City dwellers
African Americans
Single Women
The college educated

That leaves rural, exurban and some suburban whites as their demographic.  And Cubans.  That can win you the House, and maybe give you control of the Senate from time to time.

But having claimed Boehner's scalp, the crazies - to quote Pete King (R-Ireland) have taken over and I would expect them to horrify those people who are still capable of being horrified.

Are there any of those people left?

It's Never About Race

Read this.  Consider this quote:
She also suggested there were white southerners who probably wouldn't support Carson because of his race.
"As much as people try to sound like they don't care, some people think a black president will look out for the black lifestyle," said Lopp, who worked in Lexington Barbecue for the last 36 years, adding that women like Fiorina would likely face discrimination from some voters as well.
Carson dismissed such comments with a shrug: "Racism exists everywhere," he said.

Now read this.  Consider this quote.
"We still have to convince Republicans racism is real. That's like we have to convince people global warming is real," contributor Rory Albanese said. "Now we can't even fix it because we have to convince you that it exists. That's a huge waste of time."

How in the world can we function as a democracy if half the populace is willfully ignorant of basic facts?  And how can we function if we simply shrug our shoulders at problems the way Carson does?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Indeed?

Jon Chait noticed something interesting: the GOP is the only major political party among the advanced democracies that is invested in climate change denialism.

The breadth and scope of this denialism is impressive.

Some argue that the science is flawed.  It's not.  It's solid.  It's measurable.

Others argue that they aren't scientists, but they heard a scientist somewhere said it was bunk, so who can tell?

Finally, you have some who say, "Yeah, it may be happening, but what are you gonna do?"

This is perhaps best encapsulated by this cartoon:

In the end, one of our political parties has gone insane.  They have divorced themselves from reality.

And THAT is what John Boehner's retirement is all about.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Will This Matter?

In the year of the Trumpenproletariat, it is safe to say that all the usual rules of politics have flown out the window.

So what are we to make out of Ben Carson bailing from an interview because Jake Tapper (of all people) forcefully pursued a line of questioning that the candidate's own words opened up?

Some of this is, no doubt, a product of the Foxification of the RW Echo Chamber.  Within the precincts of the right wing movement, Carson is a hero.  As I've written previously, he allows them to embrace a black man as a potential president, because he in turn embraces some of their more lunatic positions.

But how can you be president if you can't handle some grilling by Jake Tapper?  We are told time and again that Obama is a feckless weakling who can't withstand Putin's steely tiger-gaze.  Ben Carson can't survive a sit down with Jake Tapper.  THIS is presidential material?

Meanwhile, Carly Fiorina is doubling down on her lies about the Planned Parenthood videos.  Unable to corroborate her story, she has simply kept repeating it.

These are the sort of fundamental errors that novice candidates who have never successfully run for office can be expected to make.  Is their learning curve steep enough to overcome what would be campaign killing gaffes for most candidates?  I mean Hillary Clinton has seen her poll numbers collapse real reason that I can discern except that there might possibly, kind of be, maybe something wrong with her emails.

But Carson's a marshmallow and Fiorina is a liar.  Even Trump seems to be losing steam.  I can't help  but think that the person most primed to pick up these voters is Ted Cruz.

Suck on that for a minute.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Party Of Bigotry

First of all, let's acknowledge that Kim Davis is a bigot.  She doesn't like gay people and doesn't want them marrying.  If the sanctity of marriage was so important to her, she wouldn't be on her fourth.  She finds gay people icky and doesn't want them being all gay married and stuff.

Up until yesterday, Kim Davis was a Democrat.  She was one of those vestigial Yellow Dog Democrats that still hang on in some parts of the South.  Her experience - not surprisingly - has led her to become a Republican, because it's Republicans who are supporting her and cheering her on.

This is because the Republican party caters to bigots.

I read a Ben Carson quote on my Facebook page:
"What I have noticed as a Black Republican is that Republicans tend to look more at the character of people.  Democrats tend to look more at the color of their skin."

This is a really revealing statement, about Carson, about Republicans and about Carson's poll standings.  Republicans like Carson because he's a religious extremist, sure, but they also like that he agrees with them that THEY are the true inheritors of MLK's dream.  The sheer, monumental historical illiteracy of this position is as irrelevant as the fact that Carson believes that evolution was prompted by Satan.  And Carson's remarkable life story means that his "character" has triumphed whereas other blacks - presumably addicted to free stuff, says Jeb! - are mired in poverty.

In Carson's mind, he isn't lucky, he's blessed.  And that blessing is his character, which is superior to others who didn't escape poverty.  And conservatives agree with him.  For them, success is entirely dependent on individual will.

Democrats don't "tend to look more at the color of their skin", they tend to look at their economic and social circumstances.  Democrats don't look at poverty as a flaw of character, necessarily, but as a circumstance that you are largely born into.  And race and poverty are really tightly linked.  Not because blacks suffer a character flaw, but because there are systems in place to keep them poor.  Red-lining, poor schools, police practices, mass incarceration, lack of historical equity, last hired/first fired, and just plain old racist attitudes.

Democrats wish to change the structures of poverty, a poverty that disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics.

Republicans like to laud individuals like Carson - or Clarence Thomas - who have transcended that poverty.  They can point to outliers and say that the entire Democratic argument about structural poverty is bullshit, because Ben Carson.

But if you think that Ben Carson shows that you are the real heir of Martin Luther King, because you're looking at the content of his character, you're ignoring the unstated corollary that every black person who doesn't transcend institutional poverty is lacking that same character.  This justifies slashing their benefits, because they lack "character."  Some GOP mayor in Maine wants to publish the names of food stamps recipients as a form of public shaming.  The idea being that this shame will reform their wayward morals and they will reform their character.

I guess that's the thinking.

But if you assume that people use food stamps out of a failure of character, and if you assume (wrongly) that most recipients of food stamps are African American, then you are saying that African Americans have a shared lack of character that makes them disproportionately poor.

Which is, you know, racist.

And this is exactly at the root of Carson's appeal.  His policy ideas are nuts.  His religious ideas are...strange.  But he is living proof that Republicans aren't racist, but Democrats are.

Kim Davis will tell you that she's a Republican because of religious liberty.  But she's a Republican because Republicans share her religious bigotry.  Ben Carson will tell you he's a Republicans, because Democrats are the real racists, but he's a Republican because their mythology of success and failure agrees with his own sense of his specialness.  He's a Republican because they both share this bigotry against the poor.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bomb. Dropped.

Boehner's decision to step down is really, really monumental.  My guess is that he will cram through a continuing resolution to keep the government open (maybe longer than December) and then drop the mic.  Maybe he lets a few more bills move through his chamber towards the Senate.  Some form of watered down immigration reform that could also pass the Senate would do small wonders for his party.

But the bigger question is who the next Speaker will be.  Boehner rode an uneasy herd over a fractious, rebellious caucus.  The fact is that there are about 50 legislative nihilists in the House for whom nothing will suffice except an overturn of the New Deal.  They have the potential to hold the Speakership hostage.  Or they could force a coalition of Democrats and moderates to elect a Speaker like Charlie Dent (I ain't holding my breath).

In some ways the fault lines exposed by Donald Trump are the same issue that's playing out here.  The 30% of the Trumpenproletariat are the same 30% of the House GOP caucus who are just batshit insane or mind-numbingly stupid.  Or in the case of Louis Goehmert, both.

I always had a glimmer of sympathy for Boehner, sometimes more than a glimmer.  I still believe he wanted to be a deal-making macher who wielded enormous influence and left behind a conservative legislative legacy.  Instead, he was assigned the unenviable task to presiding over the lunafication of the GOP.

I'm sure the millions he is about to earn on K Street will keep him in Pappy Van Winkle though.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Il Papa

I've read the remarks from Pope Francis to Congress.

What has been most striking about Francis has been most simply this: He has placed morality rather than rules at the center of the Catholic Church.  Reading his remarks, he does talk about dogma or restrictions.  He speaks eloquently about our moral responsibilities to each other.  He lays out a clear case for why we should be our brother's and sister's keeper.

Booman made an argument a few days ago that progressives should be wary about allying themselves with this Pope, because the next one could be much more anathema to causes that liberals believe in.  This is laudable if you think anyone pays a price for being mildly hypocritical in American politics.  But it misses this key point about Francis.  What he is arguing is not a doctrine but a morality based in love of one another.

In the early part of his speech, he repeatedly notes the necessity of community in building strong individuals.  As someone once said, "It takes a village."  And when Hillary wrote that, or when Obama said, "You didn't build that" in reference to roads and schools and institutions, both were articulating a creed that focused on the "pluribus" and not the "unum."  The modern GOP, infused as it is with the spirit of Ayn Rand, simply doesn't care about the "us", it cares about the "me."  It's appeal to is harp upon the differences - Mexicans, gays, blacks - that can tear our country apart.

In so many ways, America is a fragile nation.  We have attempted to include so many different cultures - indigenous and imported - and so many different of visions of what America should be, that it might not take too much to tear us apart.  Aren't we in fact, tearing each other apart verbally?

The policy examples that Francis focused on were striking.  He did not explicitly mention abortion, despite the fact that this would have earned him applause from the Right.  Instead, he tackled the death penalty, immigration reform, poverty and climate change.  If he implicitly criticized gay marriage and abortion in his remarks on family, he also implicitly endorsed the Iran nuclear deal.  If the speech was partisan, it was partisan in the direction of the Left of American politics and must have been discomfiting as hell to those who would further wealth inequality, deny climate change, build a wall on the Mexican border and apologize for the extreme discrepancies in the number of African Americans who die by the hands of the police.

Pope Francis just gave Bernie Sanders' inaugural address.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What A Moment It Might Have Been

Vox plays a subtle Slate-type game by anointing Martin Shkreli a hero for being a truly world class asshole.  Shkreli is such a perfect, world class asshole that he becomes impossible for anyone to defend.  A failed hedge fund guy who's trying to turn a buck to cover losses off an AIDS drug?  What, he couldn't make a buck off illegal organ harvesting of puppies?

The assumption is that Shkreli's perfect odiousness will galvanize Congress into action...Stop laughing.  Look, that's the argument!  Stop laughing!  I didn't make it, I'm just...

Yeah, Congress won't do jack.  However, it has become a potential issue for Democrats to pound on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I'm Not One To Defend Jeb!, But...

This really is stupid.

If anything this is not an example of him being...Trumpish.  This is Andover and Yale peeking through the pork rinds.

People Are Fearful and Stupid

There as a great line in Fear the Walking Dead last Sunday.  The character had grown up in death squad era El Salvador and told a story about them.  He then says the following (I'm paraphrasing):

"My father said, 'Don't hate these men.  People aren't evil. They do evil things because they are afraid.'  And I knew then that my father was a fool, because he thought there was a difference."

Most of the stupid and evil things that Americans do, like supporting Donald Trump or thinking Muslim kids deserve to be arrested for building clocks, is based on being afraid.  And so much of being afraid is tied to ignorance and stupidity.  From a caveman who freaks out during an eclipse to a Roman mariner who feared dragons and the edge of the earth to an elderly housewife who thinks the local mosque is a terrorist training camp, so much of the evil that we do to ourselves is based on being stupid and ignorant.

This is never more true than our discussions of crime.

The simple truth is that crime is falling and has been falling for some time.  As the Vox piece demonstrates it's not just perceptions of crime that is warped.  We think there are more teen pregnancies, when they are actually declining.  We think ISIS is growing when it's actually shrinking.  We think the budget deficit is increasing, when it's getting smaller.

In a climate of mass ignorance, it's no surprise that people like Donald Trump or Ben Carson have some political appeal.  How could they not?  They are feeding our irrational fears, which simply make those fears grow larger and stronger.  Trump in particular is so mind-boggingly vague about his plans that it's comical.  "I'm going to get a better deal." is pretty much his entire answer on foreign policy.  But his supporters don't care about policy, they care that Trump A) validates their fears and B) promises to end them.

He's not a presidential candidate, he's a bedtime story.

Needless to say, as someone whose adult life has been spent trying to learn and teach about how the world actually works, this is all very depressing.  But I'm hopeful that a message of pants-wetting cowardice is not the road to the White House.