Monday, March 31, 2014


Over in Conservistan, folks are all excited about a crowdfunding effort for a docudrama about convicted abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. Until now, the filmmakers behind this project -- Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, and Magdalena Segieda -- have specialized in "I'm rubber, you're glue" documentaries such as FrackNation (a pro-fracking answer to Gasland) and Not Evil Just Wrong (an attempted rebuttal of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth) Not Evil failed to get commercial distribution; FrackNation appeared in a couple of theaters and on Mark Cuban's little-known

The Gosnell movie seems to be aiming higher -- or at least the filmmakers seem to have succeeded in making themselves darlings of the wingnut media this time. They announced the project last week and have received coverage at The Weekly Standard, the Daily Caller, Breitbart, Hot Air, Twitchy, Townhall, Newsbusters, the Washington Examiner, and LifeSiteNews, not to mention The Hollywood Reporter and the Toronto Sun. They've got a snazzy poster:

And that "serial killer" line is a fairly clever hook, which the filmmakers back up with a lot of whining about media suppression of the truth:
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History, but almost no one knows who he is....

The mainstream media or Hollywood don't think this is a story. Even though Gosnell killed more people than Gary Ridgeway, John Wayne Gacey, The Zodiac Killer and Ted Bundy combined. In a 30 year killing spree, it is thought he killed 1000s of babies. And that wasn't a national story?

But Jodi Arias who was on trial at the same time as Gosnell, for killing her boyfriend, just one person, was national news.

Hollywood think the Jodi Arias story is so important they have already made a movie about her which has been shown multiple times on TV.

The censorship of the Gosnell story ends now.
Oh, and Breitbart says the brave truth-tellers were even censored by Kickstarter!
... their plan to raise more than $2 million via the crowd-funding website Kickstarter was thrown off course when the website objected to the description of the project and raised concerns about the political convictions behind it.

"This is unacceptable to us and it should be unacceptable to any filmmaker particularly on a platform such as Kickstarter which claims to be all about artistic freedom," McAleer said. "Kickstarter's actions are particularly odious and alarming because they are an attempt to censor factual descriptions of a serial killer's actions."

In a news release, the trio said that Kickstarter attempted "to restrict the detailing of Gosnell's crimes."

... Kickstarter has so far not responded to questions about the allegations made by McAleer.
Way to up your profile, folks! You're martyrs already!

Is there a larger plan in this? Although the filmmakers are planning to do this one as a drama rather than a documentary, they want this to be a TV movie rather than a feature film. Is this something they think might appear during an election cycle, perhaps? Maybe sometime in 2016? Are they concerned that Hillary Clinton might have a good chance at winning over socially conservative white ethnics who might have rejected Barack Obama, even though she'll run as a pro-choice candidate? Are they trying to make precisely the kind of movie/political ad that was the focus of the Citizens United case? Is it supposed to be a counterweight to any Hillary Clinton biopics that might ultimately emerge?

Or is this yet another conservative attempt to persuade African-American voters that the "Democrat Party" is the party of black genocide? (Phelim McAleer described Gosnell to The Hollywood Reporter as "a black man who is racist against blacks and Hispanics"; the Reporter story says that "white women were afforded a cleaner waiting room and medical equipment than were women of color" in Gosnell's clinic.)

I'm not sure. But righties think they have a winner here.


I see from The New York Times today that NSA- and drone-obsessed neckbeard millennials aren't the only voters in key Democratic demographics likely to stay home on Election Day 2014:
AURORA, Colo. -- As the weather warms, Lizeth Chacon is anticipating a new season of registering Latino voters -- yet dreading experiences like one late last year, when she came upon a skate park full of older teenagers.

"I thought, 'The perfect age! They're turning 18,'" said Ms. Chacon, just 26 herself, born in Mexico and now the lead organizer at Rights for All People, a local immigrant organizing group. But among the roughly 50 people she approached in this increasingly diverse city east of Denver, "not a single person" was interested in her pitch, including those already old enough to vote: "They were like, 'Why? Why would I bother to vote?'"

Across the country, immigrant-rights advocates report mounting disillusionment with both parties among Latinos, enough to threaten recent gains in voting participation that have reshaped politics to Democrats' advantage nationally, and in states like Colorado with significant Latino populations. High hopes -- kindled by President Obama's elections and stoked in June by Senate passage of the most significant overhaul of immigration law in a generation, with a path to citizenship for about 11 million people here unlawfully -- have been all but dashed.
To some extent, this is mission accomplished for the GOP. It's widely assumed that blocking immigration reform is an act of party suicide for Republicans, but if it leads Hispanics to the conclusion that voting is futile, then the demographic shift that's supposed to kill Republicans just gets delayed. Oh, sure, the Democratic coalition will probably go to the polls to vote for a new president in 2016, but, after Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Republicans have the process of bottling up Democratic presidents down to a science, so they'll be fine. If Republicans stonewall President Hillary Clinton, the Democratic base's disillusionment will reemerge after 2016. This could go on for some time.

Not that Republicans get all the blame for demotivating Hispanic voters. Far from it, as the Times story notes:
Latinos mainly blame Republicans, who control the House and have buried the Senate bill, but they also have soured on Mr. Obama. The federal government has so aggressively enforced existing immigration laws that one national Hispanic leader recently nicknamed the president "deporter in chief" for allowing nearly two million people to be deported.
There are steps the president could take:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has now written a letter to the Obama administration urging action to ease deportations.... [T]he Conference ... lays out a number of ways it says DHS could act legally to mitigate its impact.

Among them: Expand prosecutorial discretion to factor in people's family ties in de-prioritizing deportation. Make more aggressive efforts to prioritize those undocumented immigrants who are top offenders over lower-level ones. Reform deportation policies so they are safer, such as ending night-time deportations. Improve procedures for notifying those detained of their rights.
But The Times story describes what it calls "Mr. Obama's bind":
If he suspends more deportations, he could mend relations with Latinos and perhaps motivate more of them to vote. But he could lose what chance remains for new immigration law, his second-term domestic priority, since House Republicans have signaled they would cite such executive action as proof that he cannot be trusted to enforce any law.
STOP. JUST STOP. If that's what the president's thinking -- that an effort on his part to show Republicans that he understands their concerns will be met by comprise on their part -- then he's as naive on immigration as he has been in the past on the budget and health care.

Republicans are not going to yield on this in the run-up to 2016 -- I don't care what the conventional wisdom says. If they were to try, the GOP base would scream and throw fits. Any Establishment candidate who wants the Republican presidential nomination will have to stake out a hardcore position on immigration just to stay in the race. That may be suicidal in the general election, but Republicans can handle that.

Republicans are not going to yield, so Obama should give up on trying to mollify them, just as he gave up on trying to negotiate his way out of budget shutdown fights. But will he?

The Hill reported this yesterday:
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Sunday that his new radio gig will give him the chance to stand up to "celebrity politicians" with dangerous ideas on national security.

Rogers ... announced he would not seek reelection on Friday...

"There's a lot of celebrity politicians that are using issues, candidly, in Washington, D.C., today that are detrimental to the national security of the United States, and the politics in Washington has gotten as small as I've ever seen it," Rogers said, declining to name the politicians to which he was referring.
I think he's referring primarily to Rand Paul-- not, say, to Hillary Clinton. He was not a fan of Paul's drone filibuster:
One of Paul's fellow Republicans from across the Capitol, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, called the day's discussion in the Senate "irresponsible."

"It would be unconstitutional for the U.S. military or intelligence services to conduct lethal counterterrorism operations in the United States against U.S. citizens," Rogers said. "I would never allow such operations to occur on my watch. I urge the administration to clarify this point immediately so Congress can return to its pressing oversight responsibilities."
Fear of Rand Paul, as The Washington Post noted over the weekend, is also fueling "Draft Jeb" talk. It's a huge motivator on the Establishment right. (Quiz question: If it's Hillary vs. Rand, will some Republican foreign policy hard-liners decide not to endorse the party's nominee, on the assumption that Hillary is a better choice from their perspective? I could imagine Bill Kristol doing that.)

But if Mike Rogers thinks a radio gig could lead to a successful bid of his own for the 2016 presidential nomination, I'd say he's being naive. He's talking as if that's what's on his mind:
On "Fox News Sunday," Rogers said the quality of the current debate on national security and foreign policy made him worried "for the future of this country."

"So when someone walked in and said, 'Hey, we're going to give you the opportunity to have a discussion in people's cars, living rooms and kitchens, every single day, from California to Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina. We think you can change the needle on this debate,' I thought long and hard about it and thought, 'You know, I think they're right.'"

The states Rogers named aren't just a random assortment: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are the first three states on the presidential primary calendar.
The GOP base really doesn't like him. Go to Free Republic and you find headlines like "Joe diGenova tells WMAL GOP Congressman Mike Rogers (MI-8) is trying to kill Benghazi Investigation." (DiGenova is a veteran GOP operative who's been spreading Benghazi cover-up claims lately.) Rogers's handling of Benghazi came up over the weekend in a Washington Post interview:
We've heard in the past few hours from some of your colleagues in the House Republican conference, who've expressed concerns with how your committee investigated the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya. There's some suggestion from them privately that the committee might not have been as aggressive with some administration officials as they would have liked. Care to respond?

I find that interesting. We have been the most aggressive committee, we've had the most hearings, the most investigative time from my investigators. I'm having the third hearing with the deputy and then acting CIA director Mike Morrell, and it's going to be open. Part of the problem has been that there are conspiracy theorists who wanted us to find conspiracy A, B, and C, and I ran a very aggressive fact-based investigation. I didn't go into it -- as an old FBI agent you don’t get into it with a conclusion, but a premise.

And by the way, all the reports that you saw, all the interim reports, that all came from our investigation off the Intel Committee. I take that with a grain of salt, it’s been the most aggressive investigation. I'll keep going with it until we get to the logical conclusion.
If he's actually bragging about not working backward from the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is an anti-American Antichrist, no wonder the base hates him.

The base doesn't even trust Rogers's new employer, Cumulus, which, after all, let Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity go last year. Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey acknowledged that the Sandra Fluke siuation lost Limbaugh advertisers, which was regarded on the right as a heretical statement.

Rogers may be thinking he'll run for president with an eye toward being the vice presidential nominee, given the fact that the nominee could be a governor with no foreign policy experience (Jeb, Walker, or Kasich, if not Christie). Or maybe he thinks he could be the running mate picked to reassure neocons that it's safe to vote for Rand Paul. (That would be the running-mates-as-erstwhile-opponents scenario -- Kennedy/LBJ, Reagan/Bush.) But the base may not approve, unless he becomes a Benghazi attack dog on the radio.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I generally quote from the articles I blog about, but Ross Douthat's prose is so dense today that I won't even bother. I'll summarize his arguments instead: First he says that while religion is really really great for people, the most religious part of the country, the South, has all sorts of social pathology -- high rates of poverty, lousy health, and so on. Aha, but Douthat says that this only seems to be a paradox: the South is full of people who say they're really religious, but only the ones who go to church a lot get all the terrestrial benefits, while the rest just wallow in squalor and despair.

Douthat is a tiny bit to the left of most contemporary righties, so he doesn't say this is completely the non-attenders' own damn fault: the churches, he says, should be helping these folks, and doing enough good works to turn everyone else into better people.

I'll stop him and say that I think he's got this ass-backwards. He thinks regular church attendance makes people happy, healthy, and prosperous, but it never occurs to him that maybe, at least in religious communities, it's the happy, healthy, and prosperous who feel motivated to spruce themselves up on Sundays to go to church, and maybe engage with religion at other times as well. Their lives are good, therefore God seems good.

Douthat concludes his column by noting that we're in a war between believers and evil secular liberals who want a godless social safety net. Religion needs to bring its "A" game to the task of helping the downtrodden, otherwise the godless liberals will expand the relentlessly secular welfare state and squash religion like a bug. (Douthat's concern about religion's failure to reach the downtrodden seems more to do with his fear that religion might lose the war with secularism than with the fact that the downtrodden continue to be downtrodden.)

Um, Ross?

Maybe it's just impossible to separate the religious message of churches in Red America from Red America's earth-bound belief system, the primary tenet of which is that anything that genuinely helps the poor is just a form of coddling -- a hammock, if you will -- because what the poor really need is less help from society and more tax cuts for the already prosperous. Maybe the poor in religious communities don't go to church all that much because the pious in those communities act as if it's God's will that the have-nots remain have-nots. Maybe have-nots don't love God because it sure looks as if God doesn't love them back.

In reality, it's the godly who don't love the less godly -- and it's not that they really, really would like to be charitable but fall short, it's that they have a political ideology that tells them no help should be forthcoming.

So if we secularists want to do the work that religious people won't, well, I guess we feel the way Abraham Lincoln felt about General McClellan: If you people don't want to use your Christian charity, may we borrow it?

Saturday, March 29, 2014


The Washington Post reports:
Many of the Republican Party's most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.
The story goes on to give several reasons for this, among them the following:
Fluent in Spanish, Bush has credibility within the Hispanic community that could help broaden his coalition.
Except that there's no evidence that this is true.

Among recent polls of the 2016 general election that mention Jeb, two surveys -- from Quinnipiac in January and Public Policy Polling earlier this month (PDF) -- break out results for Hispanic voters. Neither one suggests that Jeb prioides any particular advantage against Hillary Clinton.

Quinnipiac, Hispanic vote only:
Clinton 58%, Bush 30%
Clinton 59%, Paul 29%
Clinton 63%, Christie 28%
Clinton 64%, Cruz 24%
PPP, Hispanic vote only:
Clinton 48%, Paul 27%
Clinton 55%, Christie 29%
Clinton 57%, Rubio 28%
Clinton 58%, Ryan 28%
Clinton 61%, Huckabee 25%
Clinton 63%, Bush 28%
Clinton 64%, Romney 22%
Clinton 65%, Cruz 27%
In a Latino Decisions poll conducted last July (PDF), the results were even worse for Jeb:
Clinton 66%, Rubio 28%
Clinton 73%, Ryan 21%
Clinton 74%, Bush 20%
In that poll, Chris Christie had a much better favorable/unfavorable rating than Jeb, and Marco Rubio topped Jeb as well, while Jeb had the highest unfavorable level. Here were the Republicans surveyed:
Chris Christie (pre-Bridgegate): 38% favorable, 12% unfavorable
Marco Rubio: 31% favorable, 29% unfavorable
Jeb Bush: 27% favorable, 39% unfavorable
New Mexico governor Susana Martinez: 25% favorable, 12% unfavorable
Ted Cruz: 25% favorable, 20% unfavorable
Paul Ryan: 20% favorable, 31% unfavorable
Rick Santorum: 17% favorable, 24% unfavorable
Rand Paul: 17% favorable, 27% unfavorable
Jeb doesn't automatically make Republicans competitive with Hispanics. Far from it. Understand?

That Latino Decisions survey says Jeb could get more than 40% of the Hispanic vote, as could other Republicans -- but only if they play a key role in persuading Congress to pass an immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. Doing that, however, would end any 2016 wannabe's chances of winning the Republican nomination. So it's a moot point.

I don't get what Chris Christie is doing. I guess it's not surprising that he'd try to cook up a report that casts his scandals in the best possible light, because pols in trouble regularly try to get a narrative into the mix that's an alternative to what the press and political opponents are cooking up -- but by doing what amounts to a book tour for the report (a news conference with the Trenton press corps, a softball interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and, as Dave Weigel notes, another interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer), he just comes off as desperate. We know his version is distorted. Why is he straining so hard to get us to believe it?

And he's trying to come off as a pleading puppy dog. Check out the ABC clip at the end of this post. Yeah, I know: Christie fans think he's a nice, reasonable guy who gets angry only when someone crosses him. Well, someone's crossing him. It doesn't matter what the truth is -- his fans want him to get angry at people who say he's a bad guy. That emotion would make them believe he's not guilty, regardless of what the facts say.

I think this is true even of his moderate fans -- the ones who voted for Obama and Booker as well as Christie. They like a bit of rough, too. Some of them may regard themselves as liberals, but they accepted his argument that unionized teachers with pensions are history's greatest monsters. They got a thrill from his attacks on those teachers, too.

The Christie narrative is that, when Sandy hit, we saw the aspect of him that made him the ideal GOP candidate: we saw the bipartisan softie under all the bluster. But think of what would have happened if Sandy had taken a different course and done little or no damage to Jersey: the last impression of the governor in the 2012 campaign would have been the nasty anti-Obama speech he delivered just a few days before the storm, the one in which he described the president as "blindly walking around the White House looking for a clue." And you know what? He still would have won reelection a year later in a landslide. Because he had plenty of crossover support prior to that. He'd already won once in a blue state. He didn't need to seem like a nice guy.

A comeback successful enough to put him back in the presidential race is a longshot, but if he wants to try, he should just shut up about his scandals and attack someone -- attack Obama on health care, attack Hillary on Benghazi, whatever. That's what his former right-wing fans want. That's even what his swing-voter fans want. Failing that, kick a teacher again.

And no, Dave Weigel, this doesn't count:
At the [Trenton] press conference, Christie reawakened the angry muse that had endeared him to national Republicans in the first place. When a national politics reporter asked him how the scandal affected his 2016 chances (sigh): "Any of you that try to game out the politics of this, that's a fool's errand."

When a reporter asked about the friendliness of the firm that did the investigation: "No matter who I chose to do this, questions would be raised by some reporters."

When a New Jersey columnist started in: "It's your assumption, as you often do (sic). It's your assumption. You're a columnist."

On the man at the center of the controversy, who was not interviewed in the internal report: "I honestly think that having David Wildstein on the Port Authority was a mistake. Let's just leave it at that."
That's not anger. That's not what made him famous. This is what made him famous:

Short version: Be a real dick, governor. That's your only hope right now. Not this:

ABC US News | ABC Business News

Friday, March 28, 2014


The longer I follow the Stephen Colbert situation, the more disheartening it seems. I'll get my opinion out of the way: Colbert's character is an oblivious right-wing jerk who thinks he's reasonable and charming, and I feel Colbert sustains that conceit brilliantly most of the time, and successfully skewers people who have a good skewer coming. But it can a delicate task playing an offensive boor without saying offensive things in a way that gives them the power they'd have if you actually believed them -- when I was growing up, I watched Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker on All in the Family get loud ovations for lines that were seemingly meant to offend, and it began to seem as if he'd evolved into the show's hero. But I don't see Colbert having jumped the shark that way.

The bit that's got people upset is, I suppose, close to the line:
... On Wednesday night Stephen Colbert made sport of Washington football team owner Dan Snyder and his plan to undercut criticism of the team name by founding an organization for the uplift of "original Americans." Colbert ran though all the reasons why this was funny, then called back to a skit from one of the show's first episodes, way back from the fall of 2005—a joke about the host being caught on a "live feed" playing a racist Asian stereotype (Ching Chong Ding Dong, from Guanduong), then not understanding why it was racist. Colbert would make amends with his new "Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." ...

Most of a day later, the official Twitter account of The Colbert Report tweeted a short version of the joke: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." Bad move....
To me, it's not over the line -- it's an oblivious-about racism character mocking a real-life racist. But I'm a white guy. To Suey Park, who's Korean-American, it was over the line, hence the #CancelColbert Twitter storm. I simply don't know how this feels to her, or to other people it offended.

But I also think it's indisputable that Colbert was trying to drop the joke on the right side of the line. I think a campaign that calls for cancellation doesn't take his intentions into account, here and throughout the years he's done this character.

So I disagree with Park -- and I find this all exasperating, because the real person named Stephen Colbert is trying to be on the right side and American society is full of so damn many dangerous, malevolent, destructive bastards that this campaign seems wildly misdirected.

And yet the backlash to Park actually does reek of condescension. Here's Josh Zepps of Huffington Post, in the interview embedded below:
"No one's minimalizing your experiences. No one's minimalizing your right to have an opinion. It's just a stupid opinion.”

Here's Bob Cesca Chez Pazienza at the Daily Banter:
Zepps's bemused incredulity when facing off with Park, who's basically a human umbrage machine, almost makes this entire stupid "controversy"” worth it.

... And while it can be argued that Zepps was indeed somewhat condescending to Park during her interview, it wasn't because she’s a woman, or Asian, or even an activist -- it was because her #CancelColbert crusade is fucking stupid and doesn't deserve to be taken the least bit seriously.
I think Park misses the point when she says in the Zepps interview, "I really don't think that we're going to end racism by joking about it" -- I think humor actually does have a role to play in undermining bigotry -- but Park doesn't come off as someone who deserves smirky, condescending dismissal. Zepps not only calls her opinion "stupid," he talks over her, and mocks her for using the word "Orientalism" -- a real word used for decades to describe the exotification of Asia, a word she's familiar with and he isn't. She and I come down on didfferent sides of this, but she tries to hold to some dignity in this interview, and I respect that.

A couple of months ago, Park started another hashtag tend with #NotYourAsianSidekick -- which struck me as a worthwhile bit of consciousness-raising. She told a Washington Post interviewer this:
Even from the start of kindergarten, I was quickly racialized and made to understand that I was different based on what my mom packed for me in my lunch bag. On the playground other kids would pull their eyelids to their side and run around and chase me. I always thought to myself that someone must have taught them that. What kid would know to put their hands on their eyelids and make their eyes slanted? It’s not like they would look at an Asian girl for the first time if they never heard of Asians and do that. So it really proved to me that racism is taught.
Park is 23 years old. I'm 55, and part of the reason I'm amused by the Colbert joke is that he seems to be mocking not just racism but a dated style of racism, clung to by aging throwbacks. (The bit originated as an attack on some anti-Asian mockery by Rush Limbaugh, who's a decade older than I am, but whose cultural touchstones seem even older.) The eyelid pulling seems like something that should have gone out with Laugh-In's Polish jokes half a century ago. It's depressing that it continued into the childhood of someone who's only 23 now.

So I think Colbert should acknowledge the criticism, and I think he should get back to work. I absolutely don't want him off the air. But I also don't want Suey Park off the Internet. Chances are I'll agree with her next time.

The polls say that Americans are still suffering from a war hangover after Iraq and Afghanistan, but in GOP circles, it's looking as if saber-rattling is fashion-forward. The Atlantic's Philip Bump says we're going through a "torture apologist renaissance":
Like the proverbial crook who returns to the scene of the crime, the architects of the Bush administration's torture program are suddenly ubiquitous in its defense. Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to be a coordinated effort. It's just coincidence...

"It wasn’t torture," former vice president Dick Cheney told an audience at American University on Thursday. And what's more: "If I would have to do it all over again, I would," he said. "The results speak for themselves." ...
Bump goes on to quote Donald Rumsfeld (in a clip from Errol Morris's new documentary The Known Unknown) claiming the Bush Justice Department's so-called torture memos were few in number, weren't torture memos at all, and were none of his business anyway because he's not a lawyer. And John Yoo, the lawyer who actually wrote those memos, recently appeared at Drexel University and said, "I do stand by the line that we drew."

All this while Condoleezza Rice is pounding the war drums again:
Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says that American leaders need to resist the temptation to become weary of war, according to a report of her remarks at a fundraiser.

"I fully understand the sense of weariness," she told a GOP fundraiser Wednesday, according to reports. "I fully understand that we must think: 'Us, again?' I know that we’ve been through two wars. I know that we've been vigilant against terrorism. I know that it's hard. But leaders can't afford to get tired. Leaders can't afford to be weary."
I point this out in the context of reports suggesting that Rand Paul might be the 2016 GOP presidential front-runner because he "has become the first Republican to assemble a network in all 50 states as a precursor to a 2016 presidential run, the latest sign that he is looking to build a more mainstream coalition than the largely ad hoc one that backed his father’s unsuccessful campaigns." This goes hand in hand with the notion that Paul can win in 2016 because he'll be able to "woo disaffected and millennial voters" who are "disillusioned by intrusive government surveillance and aggressive drone strikes."

But Republicans are reverting to type lately -- jonesing for war and calling Democrats "weak." Yes, that seems to be just a response to current circumstances. But how likely is it that the world will be very different in late 2015 and 2016 from the way it is now? How likely is it that Vladimir Putin is going to mellow out? How likely is it that various Middle East flashpoints are going to seem stable? And isn't it likely that the White House is going to continue on roughly the same middle-ground, cautious foreign policy, which will be easy for Republicans to caricature as unmanly?

And I haven't even mentioned the likely Democratic nominee, who will forever be linked in Republicans' minds to Benghazi.

My point is that the 2016 GOP contest is likely to include a hell of a lot of prattle about restoring America's strength and resolve -- and if Rand Paul wants to compete seriously, and not be marginalized like his father, he's going to have to rattle sabers with the rest of them.

We know Paul is willing to do that, in his own way -- that's why he was at Breitbart on Tuesday with a column titled "Obama Cutting Tomahawk Missile Makes No Sense, Leaves Real Waste Untouched":
I believe in a strong national defense. I believe in Ronald Reagan's policy of "Peace through Strength." ...

Nobody wants to cut spending, including Pentagon waste and abuse, more than me. I agree with former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who has said that the greatest threat to our national security is the national debt.

But I don't want to cut weapons that have been integral to maintaining a strong military....
This after his peculiar call, in Time magazine a couple of weeks ago, for more missiles in Eastern Europe:
I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic, only this time, I would make sure the Europeans pay for it. The problem with the foreign policies of both Democratic and Republican administrations is that they never give a second thought to how America can afford what they implement.
Yeah -- it's not saber-rattling if somebody else pays for the sabers!

Seriously? This is the guy who's going to appeal to dudebros with his groovy libertarian war-skepticism? If he yells about the debt while pounding war drums, the dudes won't notice that he's pounding war drums?

I think the world's going to continue to seem chaotic, and Obama's going to continue to operate in a low-key manner that isn't satisfyingly jingoistic to the right. Calling Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton, a bunch of America-hating hippies is going to be the percentage move in the GOP primaries. Rand's going to have to keep up if he wants the nomination -- and that's going to hurt him in the general election.

Meet the King Lear of slot machines:
A push by the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson to outlaw online gambling has ignited a bitter civil war in the gambling industry, dividing one of Washington's most powerful interest groups and posing a major test of the Republican donor's political clout.

Mr. Adelson's effort officially kicked off on Wednesday, when lawmakers, including a senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the businessman and his family, introduced legislation originally drafted with Mr. Adelson's lobbyist.

The bill would close a three-year-old loophole in federal law by banning online gambling -- a growing industry that Mr. Adelson argues is bad for casinos and gamblers -- and shutting down online gambling in a handful states that recently legalized it.

The dispute has already largely sidelined the industry's powerful trade group, the American Gaming Association, after Mr. Adelson threatened to withdraw from the organization if it continued to back expanded online gambling, according to several industry executives....
I get that Adelson runs brick-and-mortar casinos and that online gambling threatens to cut into his business. But Adelson will be 81 freaking years old in August. He's worth $37 billion. In life's race, he won. That's basically the final score. Trying to run it up now makes him look like the Rolling Stones, who just seem more and more pathetic as they trot their septuagenarian greatest-hits show around the world every couple of years just to make more money they don't need.

I can understand that an idealistic sense of how American should be governed, or what might protect the state of Israel, might motivate Adelson well into old age, even if I don't agree with his ideals. But we're talking about casinos here. It's just work. Yeah, you built it, Sheldon, but that's done, and we all agree that it was done with great success. You just want to keep winning the game because, somewhere in the back of your mind, you really think you're not going to die.

I don't even know if an abstract sense of what's good for America even qualifies as one motivation for Adelson's interventions into politics -- he mostly just seems to want to rig the game for people like him beyond his death. That also seems to be the motivation of the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, and even a non-plutocrat like Roger Ailes. The Kochs in particular seem to want to induce mass ignorance on fossil fuels and climate change just so purveyors of traditional energy will continue to rake in huge profits -- purveyors like themselves, even though they won't be around much longer. For that they're willing to tear apart the country. For that they're willing to support causes far outside their ambit -- Stand Your Ground, restrictions on abortion -- just to keep white heartlanders voting Republican. It's their life's work, even at the end of their lives. They refuse to stop trying to win even though they've already won. I don't get it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Let's see: the Justice Department under Eric Holder has just obtained a multi-count indictment of a prominent California state senator:
Known for navigating the state Capitol's backrooms and this city's complicated political landscape, state Sen. Leland Yee now is accused of consorting with notorious felons, accepting money for his cash-strapped political campaigns in exchange for favors and promising undercover FBI agents he could deliver connections to international gun runners.

In a stunning development that almost certainly torpedoes Yee's quest for statewide office, the San Francisco Democrat wound up glum and disoriented in a federal courtroom Wednesday. The politician who introduced anti-gun-violence legislation is now charged with trafficking in firearms and public corruption in an FBI undercover operation that could land him in prison for years.

...Yee is depicted in a startling, 137-page FBI affidavit of repeatedly offering to broker illegal firearms sales in exchange for campaign contributions. He allegedly took part in dealmaking meetings with undercover agents....
And the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, also a Democrat, is also being brought to justice by the feds:
Patrick Cannon, who rose from public housing to become mayor of North Carolina's largest city, was arrested Wednesday by the FBI and accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes – including $20,000 in cash delivered in a briefcase last month to the mayor's office.

Cannon, a 49-year-old Democrat who took office only four months ago, was scheduled to show up at a luxury apartment in SouthPark for yet another payoff from what he thought were businessmen needing his influence in city matters, the affidavit says.

But after arriving, Cannon learned who they really were, a source confirmed: undercover FBI agents who'd been recording their meetings over the past three years....
Over the past three years? that would take us back to ... 2011, right? Who was president then? What party did he belong to? And who was attorney general then?

But in case you think this means that President Obama and Attorney General Holder pursue justice without regard to party, Michelle Malkin wants you know that you're totally wrong:

That's right: arresting fellow pols on corruption charges is proof of corruption. The fact that the arrestees are fellow Democrats is proof of naked partisanship. Ruining these people's political careers and probably sending them to prison for many years is "Kabuki theater."

Now, you and I might think that truly corrupt, partisan Democrats would just completely ignore Cannon and Yee's corrupt activities. But this is much, much more evil. Why? Because ... um, I'm not sure why. But if Michelle Malkin says it is, then it is, dammit!


UPDATE: Whoops -- sorry, now I get it. A Malkin fan explains the true evil of all this:

That's right -- the whole point of these multi-year investigations and arrests was to distract us from Obamacare this week! It all makes sense now!

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that football players at Northwestern University have the right to vote on forming a union; he's concluded that players at Northwestern are employees, not student-athletes. This won't have immediate consequences -- Northwestern plans to appeal the ruling to the full NLRB, and then the case could be litigated further:
A likely outcome is that Northwestern players hold a vote and the results are impounded while the national board reviews the case. If the decision is upheld, Northwestern will have the option to refuse to bargain with the union, which would send the case to a federal appeals court.
The case could ultimately go to the Supreme Court.

I assume that if the Northwestern players are allowed a union vote, there'll be tremendous pressure on them to vote no -- rich union-hating alumni will threaten to withdraw financial support to the university and so on. I imagine this anti-unionization campaign will be egged on by Rush Limbaugh and others on the right, who are going to say that the union fight is one more battle in the "liberal war on football."

You didn't know there was such a war? Here's Limbaugh talking about the recent focus on concussions in the sport:
Just based on the way I saw the media dealing with the concussion stories that were being ramped up, I said, "I know how liberals act, how they think and what they do, and it isn't gonna be long before somebody of stature suggests the game be banned -- and once that is seriously proposed, the game is never gonna be the same." I still claim... I don't know what the ultimate fate is gonna be....

It'll be flag football or some such thing, but it will not exist as it does right now.... It's gonna take 20 years, but it's gonna be over.
At Breitbart, Daniel Flynn recently issued dark warnings about mandatory "sensitivity training, media coaching, and more harassing rules about workplace harassment" after Michal Sam announced he was gay and sexualized harassment by Richie Incognito was brought to light. Flynn is the author of a book titled The War on Football: Saving America's Game:
From concussion doctors pushing "science" that benefits their hidden business interests to lawyers clamoring for billion-dollar settlements in scam litigation, America's game has become so big that everybody wants a cut. And those chasing the dollars show themselves more than willing to trash a great sport in hot pursuit of a buck.

Everything they say about football is wrong. Football players don't commit suicide at elevated levels, die younger than their peers, or suffer disproportionately from heart disease. In fact, professional players live longer, healthier lives than American men in general.
No, really -- these folks actually believe that football is "the safest sport," and that it's under attack by liberalism.

But the liberal threat to football doesn't just concern sexual orientation and brain damage. As Lisa Fabrizio writes for The American Spectator, it's a multi-pronged assault on everything that is good and true and decent:
... there's been a lot of talk lately about the notion of a liberal war on football and rightly so, because the symptoms of the decline of football mirror those of this nation, which is also currently suffering under the tender mercies of liberal leadership.

It's not just the rule changes -- though they are many and awful -- that are generally bemoaned by everyone who loves the defensive aspects of the game, but the morphing of what was once a mirror of the American path to success through hard work and fair play into just another liberal social experiment. Much in the same way that they have used their psychobabble to confuse Americans about everything from education to gender to the weather, they have managed to convey the idea that football is some kind of esoteric rocket science; all the more reason to impose their navel-gazing ways on what was once a great game.

... it gives them another venue for encouraging minorities to vent their anger on those who so rightly deserve it: rich white men, whose crimes range from naming their teams to honor Native Americans to hiring coaches based on ability rather than skin color....

There is also the issue of male domination, which demands that women reporters invade men's locker rooms and also explains the iron-clad rule that all networks must employ at least one sideline babe to tell us things we're too stupid to see from actually watching the game. This combines well with the constant admonitions that all competitive games -- particularly ones involving males -- are dangerous health risks....
Is there a link between the unionization drive and this horrible war on masculinity? Well, news stories suggest that there could be:
Experts said the ruling could have wide impact beyond Northwestern's locker room, potentially influencing other players, schools, and state and federal agencies. For example, McCormick said that if college players demand compensation for injuries suffered during training or a game, Ohr's opinion could raise the question of whether they should be treated as employees under the state Workers' Compensation Act.
So expect the right to make this a big deal. Expect Republicans, in the future, to try to block the confirmation of any NLRB appointee (or judicial appointee) who thinks college players should have the right to unionize. And since I assume that most big donors to sports-power colleges are conservative white guys, expect the talk in the right-wing media to increase alumni anti-union pressure.

(And yeah, I know: pro athletes have been unionized for years. The right finds that tolerable because it's established -- it's sort of like Social Security and Medicare. This is like Obamacare -- it's a further "socialist" incursion, so it's intolerable.)


UPDATE: Here we go:
Former Republican Rep. Allen West is criticizing "liberal progressive socialists" following the decision Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board to allow football players at Northwestern University to unionize.

"Well, it has happened, liberal progressive socialists have struck at my favorite sport: college football," West wrote in a post published to his Facebook page Wednesday....

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The headline of this CBS poll story is "Americans Disapprove of Obama's Handling of Ukraine Crisis" -- but it beats the hell of me what Obama could do that would actually meet with Americans' approval:
While a majority of Americans (56 percent) support U.S. sanctions against Russia, they are less pleased with President Obama's handling of the situation between Russia and Ukraine overall. Forty-six percent disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling these events, while fewer - 38 percent - approve.
So what's bothering the poll respondents? Do they think America could do more to affect the situation?

There are limits to what Americans think the U.S. can accomplish regarding the recent Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. Fifty-seven percent of Americans think the situation between Russia and Ukraine is beyond the control of the U.S.; just 37 percent think it is a conflict the U.S. can do something about.
Do they think we should intervene militarily? Again, no:
Americans stop short when it comes to providing military aid and equipment to Ukraine. Just 26 percent think the U.S. should do so in response to Russia's actions, and far more - 65 percent - think the U.S. should not, including majorities of Republicans (59 percent), Democrats (67 percent), and independents (69 percent).
Do they think America should do anything at all? No again:
Most Americans don't think the U.S. is obliged to intervene there: 61 percent of Americans do not think the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the situation between Russia and Ukraine, nearly twice as many as think the U.S. does have that responsibility. There is widespread bipartisan agreement on this.
This is true even though, as stated above, a plurality of respondents support sanctions -- which are an intervention. Then again, they don't think sanctions will do any good, so they don't even support what they support.

In another poll, from AP/GfK, Obama's Russia policy gets even worse ratings:
... just 40 percent of Americans approve of his foreign policy. Most Americans disapprove of how he has handled the situation in Ukraine generally (57 percent) and his interactions with Russia (54 percent).
And yet:
Despite his dismal numbers on the Ukraine question, an overwhelming majority -- nine in 10 Americans -- supports his administration's most significant policy response to the crisis, sanctions on Russia in response to its annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine.
Possible further responses to the Russians are also unpopular in this poll:
About a third of those surveyed said they oppose giving monetary aid to nations targeted by Russia. Only about 20 percent approve of financial support, while the biggest share is neutral....

The idea of lending any type of military support to Ukraine is unpopular, the poll says.
So what the hell do these people want? Um, they want something, even if they can't tell us what it is:
"We're supposed to be a country that helps smaller countries in need," said Christopher Ashby, 29, a Republican in Albemarle, N.C., who wants a more powerful response. "Ukraine at this time is definitely in need."

Ashby, a stay-at-home dad caring for three young daughters, said, "When I look at Obama, I see my 5-year-old daughter looking at something that just happened and saying 'What do I do?'"
Or they want nothing:
Richard Johnson, a politically independent retiree in Redmond, Wash., said the United States shouldn't have gotten involved at all, especially since many Crimean residents favor Russia.

"They're protesting in both directions, right?" Johnson said. "So I just feel like we've got enough problems here at home, why are we looking for more trouble?"
Here's what they really want: they want the U.S. economy to get better. They want America to be functional again. Until that happens, they're just pissed off at everything. So, yeah, Obama gets bad grades on foreign policy -- and, in these polls, on pretty much everything else.

Also, Obama is pursuing his Russia policy quietly, while Republicans are SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS THAT OBAMA IS HELPLESS AND FECKLESS AND PATHETIC AND WEARS MOM JEANS AND DID AN NCAA BRACKET AND IS EVIL EVIL EVIL! So of course Obama's getting bad grades. Everyone "knows" he's screwing up -- even if no one can explain precisely how.

Concern trolls gotta troll:
If Harry Reid isn't careful, Democrats might just lose the all-important "Morning Joe" vote this year.

On Wednesday, MSNBC's purveyors of conventional wisdom once again panned Reid's attacks on the billionaire Koch brothers. Joe Scarborough said the strategy is evidence that Democrats are "devoid of ideas" and "disconnected from America."

"Harry Reid has lost his political mind," the host declared.

Scarborough's sidekick Willie Geist also questioned the effectiveness of going after the Kochs, wondering how "moderate voters" will respond. And Scarborough even suggested that liberals might be annoyed with Reid because the super rich siblings have made contributions to cancer research and the arts....
Yes, he actually said that: liberals might be less inclined to voter Democratic if Democrats attack the Kochs. The mind reels.

This follows snickering from National Journal ("Can Democrats' Koch Attacks Work If Nobody Knows Who They Are?") and BuzzFeed ("Poll Shows Democrats' Big Push Against The Kochs Might Not Make Any Sense"), all based on a poll showing that very few voters are familiar with the Kochs.

But here's the thing: Democrats are invoking the Koch brothers to inspire the base to donate money (money that, of course, offsets the money the Kochs themselves are spending). And it seems to be working: as Dave Weigel has noted, recent fund-raising appeals that mention the Koch brothers have pulled in triple the money that non-Koch appeals have raised. If mention of the Koch brothers opens Democratic wallets, presumably it will also drive Democratic voters to the polls in November (in a midterm election, when Democratic turnout is traditionally a problem).

Funny, I don't see Joe Scarborough or National Journal or BuzzFeed mocking the GOP's attempt to fire up the base using Obamacare, even though, as Talking Points Memo notes, that effort may be alienating non-base voters:
... a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation might bring the GOP's certainty into question: 53 percent of Americans, including 51 percent of independents, say they're tired of debating Obamacare and think that the country should focus on other issues.

Even among Republicans, the numbers are almost evenly split: 47 percent are tired of the debate, while 49 percent think it should continue.
What's more, this poll says that 59% of voters, including 52% of independents, want to keep Obamacare in place, either as is or with improvements (49% of all voters and 44% of independents want the latter). Only 29% of voters (including 32% of independents) want what Republicans want, which is repeal.

So endless Obamacare chatter bores non-Republicans, and the Republican insistence on repeal is rejected by large majorities of voters. Who in the center is going to wag a finger at the Republicans?

But we all know that Republicans are fixated on Obamacare because it fires up the base. Republicans never get attacked for preaching to their own converted -- not on the IRS or Benghazi now, not on ACORN or the "Ground Zero mosque" four years ago. Just don't try it if you're a Democrat, because the Morning Joe Heathers will snicker and point.

A couple of stories of right-wing outrage.

First, Priscilla at News Hounds tells us that the right is upset because the new movie Noah doesn't use the name "God," according to a couple of folks on Fox:
Sweet lil Christian gal, Ainsley Earhardt began her "Fight for Faith" segment with some video from the movie Noah. The chyron read "From Bible to Big Screen, Christians Question Authenticity of Noah." She reported that the movie is causing "controversy among Christians" because OMG "it doesn't use the word God" OMG "not once throughout the entire film." She asked Fr. [Jonathan] Morris how "you make a movie about Noah, the story in the Bible about Noah, who was created by God, without mentioning God, that's like writing an American history book without mentioning George Washington."
Well, actually, it's more like writing an American history book without ever referring to "the Revolutionary War" -- not because you don't discuss that war, but because you've chosen to use a perfectly acceptable alternative, "the War of Independence." Here's what Noah does that has Father Morris's knickers in a twist:
Morris ... said that the movie uses the word "creator" but "the Bible uses the word God."
Yup -- "Creator" is now a God-bashing slur. What, you didn't know that? You have to keep up with these things!
Morris described the movie director's "fancy explanation" of how the movie shows the pre-flood era and as such, the word "creator" was more appropriate; but "it doesn't quite work."
I'm not sure what the "fancy explanation" was, but since it didn't inlude "this film was made by Fox," I'm not surprised that "it doesn't quite work" according to Fox.

I don't really understand what the problem is because, according to Father Morris, the word choice here does the thing Jesus loves more than anything: it offends liberals.
Morris threw in a little dig at the expense of "radical environmentalists" who, according to Morris, would "hate" the word "creator" because they prefer "mother nature."
A word to whoever wrote that particular Fox one-liner: 1971 called. It wants its talking points back.


And meanwhile, over at Fox Nation, there's this photo of the new Speaker of New York's City Council:

Fox Nation doesn't even feel the need to offer an explanation for this, trusting that its audience can fill in a backstory: Bill de Blasio is mayor of New York now and the whole city's gone commie. The blog Weasel Zippers (FN's source for the photo) offers a slightly different caption:
New Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (speaker on left) and some husky Communist friend of hers.
There seems to be some confusion as to whether the Speaker is on the left or on the right (she's on the right), but the point is clear: she's wearing either a Che shirt or a Che beret, so she's a lefty dupe who's going to crush capitalism in Gotham under her jackboot. Here's more huffing and puffing from Right Wing News:
The woman on the right is not a junior high student trying to annoy her parents or even a gullible coed sucking up to her Marxist professors, but New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Even in New York, which politically speaking has degenerated into a lunatic asylum run by the inmates, you can't attain such a high level of political power without being sufficiently aware of reality to know what Guevara represents: unalloyed bloodthirsty tyranny....

Why would Mark-Viverito pose for pictures with someone wearing a Che Guevara shirt? For the same reason she herself is wearing a communist red star in the picture above, in honor of the ideology in whose name communist governments killed over 100 million of their own citizens during the 20th century.
Yup, that's gotta be it ... unless it's because someone, as a lark, made up a graphic of Mark-Viverito as Che a few months earlier, which is now a running joke in her life....

Which is exactly what happened. From the New York Post last November:

City Council speaker hopeful Melissa Mark-Viverito posted this image of herself -- modeled after the iconic portrait of Che Guevara -- months before Bill de Blasio was likened to the Marxist guerrilla for his love of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.

"I take this as a compliment," she wrote in an Instagram post that accompanied the homage to Fidel Castro's right-hand the revolutionary.

The image was mocked up as a lark by Jorge Bendersky, a celebrity dog groomer connected with the councilwoman through Instagram and charity work.

"That was a joke," Bendersky said. "It didn't have any political background."
That's the real backstory: an ambitious New York pol with strong ties to real estate developers as well as unions -- in other words, a typical local politician, not a violent revolutionary -- was sent a joke image of herself as Che by a friend, and thought it was funny, so she reposted it. The friend was also not a violent revolutionary -- he's a high-end dog groomer. Specifically, he's this guy:

OK, so there was the Che graphic last fall - why the shirt and beret in the photo?

Well, that photo actually depicts Mark-Viverito with local news reporter Sonia Rincon (the Fox caption was wrong). The photo was taken at last Saturday's Inner Circle dinner, an annual event where city pols mock and are mocked -- it's the local equivalent of those awful D.C. dinners where Karl Rove dances to fake rap music and George W. Bush makes jokes about not finding WMDs. At this year's dinner, Rincon played Mark-Viverito while wearing the Che shirt and beret, then posed with Mark-Viverito. So, um, it was a joke. (Did I mention the fact that the Inner Circle dinner is where, back in 2000, Rudy Giuliani appeared in drag?)

To sum up: New York's new city council Speaker got a gag graphic of herself as Che Guevara from a friend a few months ago, and reposted it. This became the basis for a gag at a political insiders' variety show a few days ago. And now the right thinks the Speaker is a card-carrying communist.

Oh, and if being depicted as Che means you're a commie, then this guy was a commie, too:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


The Supreme Court heard opening arguments in the Hobby Lobby case today, and things did not go well for supporters of the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate.

The Court seems prepared to rule that corporations, or at least some corporations, have religious rights previously extended only to individuals. Likely swing vote Anthony Kennedy apparently believes that allowing the contraceptive mandate to stand could someday force businesses run by religious conservatives to pay for abortions, while Chief Justice John Roberts says, in effect, that the contraceptives in dispute induce abortions if the plaintiffs feel that they do. (Ian Millhiser at Think Progress: "Roberts, however, suggested that someone's mere belief that something is an abortion is enough to trigger an religious exemption to federal law.")

In response to all this, David Atkins writes:
... abortion has been set up in its own special category by conservative male legislators in this country. I am forced to support corporate welfare, Creationist schools and immoral wars with my tax dollars. But for some reason my conservative neighbor doesn't have to support abortion rights with his tax dollars. And if Hobby Lobby gets their way, my conservative neighbor will be able to pay any potential employees differently based on whether they use birth control.

That's not justice. If this country wants to move in that direction, then perhaps progressives nationally should reorganize into a "religion." Sounds like a pretty cool perk: organize politically without the pesky IRS, and enshrine a bunch of political beliefs into a discriminatory legal code.
Maybe we just need to embrace the notion, promulgated by right-wingers over the years, that we evil lefties have a godless religion called "secular humanism."

Some believe (erroneously) that the Supreme Court found secular humanism to be a religion in 1961. In fact, Justice Hugo Black merely referred to it as a religion in a footnote in the case Torcaso v. Watkins, which reaffirmed that there can't be a religious test for any U.S. public office. Since then, however -- Rick Perlstein runs down the history here -- right-wingers have argued that, yes, liberals are trying to establish the religion of secular humanism in America. A sample:
In 1976, an Arizona congressman named John Conlan -- now obscure, but at one time Evangelicals' first choice for president -- introduced an anti-secular humanism bill. It passed a House of Representatives in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans 291 to 144. This is potent stuff. The conservative group Concerned Women for America began donating legal services for parents wishing to challenge the supposed teaching of secular humanism, predicting that 300,000 school districts might come under challenge in 1986. Megachurch minister Tim LaHaye (who later co-authored the "Left Behind" series) said secular humanists were not qualified to hold government positions -- neatly inverting ... Torcaso v. Watkins.... And in 1985, congress passed the Education for Economic Security Act to improve science education, including funding for magnet schools -- to which conservatives added an amendment prohibiting its use for "teaching secular humanism," conveniently omitting to define "secular humanism," except to note that local school boards could define it themselves.
If this is how right-wingers think, maybe we should go for it. Maybe we should start churches of secular humanism and assert our rights under the new post-Hobby Lobby order. We struggle to advance the cause of climate science, or evolution, or reproductive rights by appealing to reason -- maybe we'd do better if we could whine that our enemies are guilty of religious bigotry. How much worse could it get?

You've seen this, I assume:
The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that -- if approved by Congress -- would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials.

Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans' calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order....
John Cole and Esquire's Michael Maiello state the obvious: this wouldn't be happening if it weren't for Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. I don't have to like them, Greenwald in particular, to be grateful to them for bringing the NSA's surveillance excesses to light.

But, of course, Greenwald will not allow himself to be pleased at this development. Faced with the opportunity to write about a president who's had a welcome change of heart on surveillance, Greenwald decides that he's going to stick with his villains of choice -- Democrats and liberal supporters of the president:
I vividly recall the first time I realized just how mindlessly and uncritically supportive of President Obama many Democrats were willing to be. In April 2009, two federal courts, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the Pentagon to disclose dozens of graphic photos it possessed showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration announced that, rather than contest or appeal those rulings, they would comply with the court orders and release all the photos....

But then -- just two weeks later -- Obama completely reversed himself, announcing that he would do everything possible to block the court order and prevent it from taking effect....

Now, obviously, the people who had been defending Obama's original pro-transparency position (which included the ACLU, human rights groups, and civil liberties writers including me) changed course and criticized him. That's what rational people, by definition, do....

But that's not what large numbers of Democrats did. Many of them first sided with Obama when his administration originally announced he’d release the photos. But then, with equal vigor, they also sided with Obama when -- a mere two weeks later -- he took the exact opposition position....
Wait -- this is Greenwald's response to the president's reversal on NSA bulk phone record collection? Yes, Greenwald's getting to that. First he had to excoriate pro-Obama liberals for hypocrisy, while giving himself a big round of applause.

Many paragraphs later, he gets to the current news. Even while acknowledging that this is a very real and (in his opinion) positive change in policy, Greenwald has to take a shot -- several shots, in fact -- at the guy who's proposing the policy change:
This proposal differs in significant respects from the incredibly vague and cosmetic "reforms" Obama suggested in his highly touted NSA speech in January.... under Obama's latest proposal, the telecoms "would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would" (the law currently requires 18 month retention) and "the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order."

As always with Obama, it remains to be seen whether his words will be followed by any real corresponding actions. That he claims to support a bill does not mean he will actually try to have Congress enact it. The details, still unknown, matter a great deal. And even if this did end the domestic bulk collection spying program, it would leave undisturbed the vast bulk of the NSA's collect-it-all system of suspicionless spying.
And while he's establishing that Obama, despite the good things in this proposal, still sucks, he has to take a shot at his backers:
We're now about to have a similar lab experiment, this time in the context of the NSA....

[It] puts hard-core Obama loyalists and pro-NSA Democrats -- the ones that populate MSNBC -- in an extremely difficult position. They have spent the last 10 months defending the NSA (i.e., defending Obama) by insisting that the NSA metadata program is both reasonable and necessary to Keep Us Safe™. But now Obama claims he wants to end that very same program. So what will they do?

If they had even an iota of integrity or intellectual honesty, they would instantly and aggressively condemn Obama. After all, he's now claiming to want to end a program that they have been arguing for months is vital in Keeping Us Safe™. Wouldn't every rational person, by definition, criticize a political leader who wants to abolish a program that they believe is necessary to stop terrorism and preserve national security?

But that's not what will happen. After spending months praising the NSA for responsibly overseeing this critical program, they will now hail Obama for trying to end it.
So the real news in all this, to Greenwald, is not the welcome policy change. The real news is that Democrats and liberals are still evil.

And do I have to point out the irony in this? Greenwald says that no matter what Obama does, his liberal backers will still support him, even if they're backing him for doing the opposite of what they backed him for in the past. Meanwhile, Greenwald has attacked Obama and his backers for not wanting the NSA curbed, and now he's attacking them for wanting the NSA curbed. He hates Obama and pro-Obama liberals no matter what they do. while accusing Obama supporters of loving Obama no matter what he does.

But still: what journalist deserves the most credit for the change in policy? Glenn Greenwald -- alas.

A new bill that allows guns in churches, schools, restaurants, bars (at least if the bearer isn't drinking), and the non-secure parts of airports awaits the signature of Georgia governor Nathan Deal, as today's New York Times reports. But have the gunners gone too far?
Critics say the victories may come at a price as pro-gun legislation pushes up against the limits of public opinion.

"I do think they've overreached," said Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Georgia bill, she said, is "so extreme and people do have such a strong reaction to it. I don’t think over all it's a victory for them."

The bill was opposed not only by gun-control groups, but also by the state's police chiefs association and restaurant association, Episcopal and Catholic churches, and the federal Transportation Security Administration. A majority of Georgians also opposed it, according to several polls.
Yeah? So? Huge nationwide majorities support universal criminal background checks, and the assault weapons ban, and quite a few other gun control proposals. Notice that Republican opposition to these extraordinarily popular laws is an absolute non-issue in the congressional midterms, which are likely to be a Republican rout?

So, no, none of this will matter:
... a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ... found 72 percent of registered voters statewide oppose allowing firearms in houses of worship, while 26 percent said they favored the idea....

The poll also asked how did people feel about allowing people to carry firearms on college campuses and in dorms. Seventy-eight percent said they oppose the idea....
It won't matter because practically no one in America is a one-issue gun control voter, whereas millions of Americans are one-issue gun rights voters.

This quote, from the Times story, makes a lot more sense:
"I don't think it will backfire," said Jerry Henry, director of Georgia Carry, one of the main local groups that promoted the bill. "You can bet those politicians who voted for it knew what their constituents wanted."
They're doing this in an election year. They know what they're doing. Governor Deal is up for reelection, and he's expected to sign the bill. His Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter's grandson Jason Carter, is a state senator. He voted for the bill.

What could push Americans too far on guns? I don't know how you can have much more of a jolt than Newtown, and, as the Times story notes, "in the 12 months immediately afterward, states passed 39 laws to tighten gun restrictions and 70 to loosen them." A rampant gun culture keeps us at a level of violence no other civilized country would find acceptable, but loosening guns laws doesn't really lead to dramatic increases in violence, or dramatic decreases, so while the gunners remain eternally vigilant, most other voters just shrug and turn away, then go on to vote the way they always did.

Which, for most white people, means voting Republican, and therefore, ultimately, pro-gun. Republicans, even if they support seemingly unpopular gun laws, seem to embody white people's culture, so white people vote for them.

What might change that? Maybe a huge increase in gun violence (although the gunners would probably blame that on gun restrictions, not gun freedom). Maybe Democrats would begin competing for the white vote by seriously pushing pro-middle-class economic populism (but how likely is that?).

More likely, we're going to have to wait until America isn't majority white anymore to see any change in this. That's not expected to happen until 2043, and it'll be a couple mote decades before the effect shows up in voting totals. But until then, nothing's going to change on guns, unless white people develop a skepticism about the GOP.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Politico's Stephanie Simon tells us today that tax dollars are supporting the teaching of creationism in private schools:
Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies....

Decades of litigation have established that public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design. But private schools receiving public subsidies can -- and do. A POLITICO review of hundreds of pages of course outlines, textbooks and school websites found that many of these faith-based schools go beyond teaching the biblical story of the six days of creation as literal fact. Their course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists....
Ahh, but at National Review, Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute tells us not to worry our little heads over this -- sure, phony science is being taught in private schools, but it's being taught i public schools as well. So it's all good!
The implied belief [of Simon's article] is that because courts ruled that public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design, they don't. The only problem with this belief is that it is false (a little ironic in an article about false beliefs).

In a 2011 issue of Science magazine (summarized without a paywall here), Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer surveyed a nationally representative sample of public high-school biology teachers and found that only 28 percent of them consistently implement National Research Council standards for the teaching of evolution. Thirteen percent of biology teachers explicitly teach creationism or intelligent design. Sixty percent hedge by neither strongly advocating for evolution or creationism.
And you were worried about private schools sneakily siphoning up your money to teach ignorance. Ignorance is being taught openly in the public sector! Don't you feel better now?

And really, it's only fair, according to McShane:
This makes a great deal of intuitive sense. The Politico article itself cites Gallup polling that consistently finds about 45 percent of the population of the United States believing in creationism....

It turns out that, in a big, diverse, pluralistic, and free nation like the one we live in, some folks are going to believe stuff that we don't like and will want to teach that to their children.
So it's inevitable that ignorance and superstition will be spread in the schools, because freedom!

Now, of course, in America, 18% of us think President Obama is a Muslim, while 20% of us think vaccines cause autism and 15% of us think the U.S. government was behind 9/11. In big, diverse, free, pluralistic America, all sorts of things are believed about Jews:

All these beliefs should be showing up in approximately every fifth school in America, shouldn't they? After all, we are a free people!

But if all this troubles you, Mr. McShane feels your pain -- and he's got just the remedy: even more freedom!
... the Politico article makes what I think is a great argument for vouchers.

Imagine yourself moving to a state where a majority of citizens believe in creationism. If you agree with the wealth of human knowledge that our world developed through the process of evolution, you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle. Because local school boards and state boards of education are elected or appointed by elected officials, it's most likely that they will represent the viewpoints of creationists, which will then be reflected in school curriculum....

If you're a poor person in Louisiana or Tennessee, or at times Texas or Kansas, a voucher might be your only way out of a school that teaches creationism. If creationists are set on taking over school boards or state legislatures, school-choice programs might also work as a release valve for creationists to inflict their teachings on only their own children, and not yours.
Or, y'know, we could, as a nation, actually enforce the ban we already have on teaching creationism in schools. Because maybe it's a bad idea to have a society in which other people's kids are taught sheer nonsense.

Nahhh. Then we wouldn't be free, would we?