Free Sample Of Southwest Missouri Culture

For those of you who don’t live around these parts (southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas) I am happy to provide a sample of at least part of the cultural ambiance you are missing.

The following story (which I present in its entirety) came from page 6A of Saturday’s Joplin Globe:

Man to be tried in case involving shots fired into car

A Jasper County man waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday on a charge that he fired several shots from a rifle in the direction of a woman he knows and into the vehicle beside her.

After waiving the hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court, Jeremy W. Bryant, 33, of rural Joplin, was ordered bound over for trial by Associate Judge Richard Copeland on a count of discharging a firearm into a vehicle. The judge set April 9 for the defendant’s initial appearance in a trial division of the court.

A probable-cause affidavit states that Bryant was arrested Feb. 28, 2011, at 1705 S. Central City Road after a disturbance involving gunshots. A sheriff’s deputy who responded to a report of the gunfire located Dana Shafer, who told him she was inside her home when she heard gunfire and went outside to see what was happening.

Shafer told the deputy that she walked to her gate and saw Bryant, her ex-boyfriend’s cousin, standing at the end of her driveway with a rifle in his hands. Shafer said that as she went out the gate to her vehicle, Bryant told her: “You come any closer and I will shoot you,” according to the affidavit.

She said she told him: “Go ahead.”

He allegedly fired seven to eight shots in rapid succession in her direction, with more than one bullet striking the station wagon and breaking out some windows.

When Bryant had finished shooting and Shafer told him that she was going to call 911 and he would be going to jail, Bryant reportedly responded: “I don’t think so,” and walked back to his home at 5473 W. Redneck Lane.

Under The Influence of Zealotry

Now filed under TEC’s Stupid Things Done Under The Influence of Fundamentalist Religion, get this:

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) -A 14-year old Dauphin County girl said she thought she was going to die Wednesday night when two men with apparent guns raided a church meeting. She later found out that it was a learning exercise carried out by the church youth group.

The mother of the young girl did not want to reveal their names. The teenager does not belong to the Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Lower Swatara Township, but she decided to go to a youth meeting Wednesday night with a friend who told her the meetings were fun.

Since church “youth groups” very often use “fun” to turn kids into religious zealots, I advise everyone to politely decline any such invitation on behalf of your children.

Here was the “purpose” of this exercise in dim-wittedness:

Church officials said it was intended to teach students about some of the things people of faith go through in other countries on a daily basis and that it was meant to have shock value.

“There are people in other countries that live under this environment on a regular daily basis,” Pastor John Lanza said. “They’re not warned that their persecutors are coming in.”

I smell a lawsuit, if not prison time for the perpetrators.

Bold Liberalism

It’s time for percolate-up economics for the middle class.”

—Senator Tom Harkin defending the “Rebuild America Act

his post may separate those of you out there who think you are liberals from those of you who really are.

From philosopher John Rawls I learned the “difference principle,” which essentially states that social justice entails creating the kind of society in which the worst among us are as well off as possible. The key to understanding this concept of social justice is to note the phrase, “as well off as possible,” and not mistake it for, “as well off as everyone else.”

My personal application of this idea is that certain social inequalities can be tolerated so long as we have striven to eliminate them in the context of keeping the engine of capitalism running. This implies that restrictions on capitalism are necessary, and that there is a need for redistributive polices, in order to ensure wealth doesn’t become too highly concentrated in the hands of a few.

As a liberal, I’m not afraid of stating that notion openly and defending it not only on the grounds of justice or fairness, but on the grounds that a society whose abundance is not shared by most of its citizens cannot long endure as a stable entity.

Having said that, here is an excerpt from The Nation:

Senator Tom Harkin announced today a broad economic plan that he will introduce shortly in the Senate—one well to the left of the current White House proposal and aimed directly at reviving the middle class.

Harkin’s legislation, which he dubs the “Rebuild America Act,” touches on virtually every area of American economic policy: it revamps the tax code, initiates a wide array of public spending meant to goose the economy, pushes for fair trade laws, and retools laws and regulations that affect middle-class families.

Here are some proposals in the bill, which is divided into “three basic categories”:

Economy and Job Boosters:

  • $300 billion (over ten years) for roads, bridges, sewer-water systems, levees and rural infrastructure
  • $20 billion (over ten years) in school modernization funding (From Harkin’s summary: “Grants are distributed to states based on poverty and population and States must describe how they will consider the impact of potential projects on job creation and give priority to eligible entities that use green practices and serve the largest percentages of low-income populations, among other things.”)
  • Boosts funding for agencies that regulate trade in order to better enforce fair trade policies
  • Helps states fund the hiring of teachers, public safety workers and other public employees
  • Provides a formula for matching grants to the states for “the modernization, renovation, and repair of early childhood education and care facilities, k-12 public schools, and community colleges
  • Establishes a program to help local communities “in efforts to undertake comprehensive energy systems renovations strategies” for the 21st century which will “enhance energy security and lessen environmental impacts”
  • Provides competitive grants for ensuring that Americans “obtain the skills and credentials needed to enter into and advance in high-quality jobs”
  • Provides loan guarantees so small manufacturers with work orders can get loans to expand

Middle Class Stabilizers:

  • Increases child care subsidies for working parents and grants to the states to “encourage the development of high quality child care programs”
  • Ensures that workers, particularly white-collar workers categorized as independent contractors, earn time-and-a-half overtime pay
  • Raises the minimum wage to $9.80 over two and a half years and then indexes it to inflation; raises the minimum wage for tipped workers “to 70% of the federal minimum wage”
  • Requires employers to offer workers paid sick days
  • Strengthens the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for workers to join unions and increasing penalties on employers for blocking unionization.
  • Improves benefits “for current and future Social Security beneficiaries” by changing the method of calculating the benefits, which “when fully phased in” would increase benefits by $800 per year; also the law bases future increases on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly rather than the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Wage Earners
  • Phases out the Social Security tax cap on wages

Tax Changes:

  • Raises the capital gains rate (to 28% for higher-bracket earners) and closes the carried interest loophole
  • Institutes the “Buffett Rule,” which ensures that Americans “with annual income over $1 million, pay no less than a 30% effective tax rate”
  • Creates a Wall Street “speculators tax” of three basis points on common financial securities trades
  • Acquires “$65 billion over 10 years from large financial institutions…that received emergency financial assistance” through TARP
  • Ends tax breaks for companies that “ship jobs overseas”
  • Protects workers’ pension funds by strengthening the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and by adding protections for workers who pensions are threatened by bankruptcy

As The Nation’s George Zornick points out, Harkin’s legislation overlaps much of the recently announced “Budget for All” from the House’s Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Now, everyone knows that the chances of getting this or similar legislation passed is exactly zero. But that’s not the point. Too often Democrats start with a compromise and give more and more until we are essentially debating Republican proposals (see: the Affordable Care Act).

It is time we start the conversation on our own terms.

Women Beware

I wanted to call your attention to an excellent post by Katy Hall on HuffPo:

9 Lies Republicans Tell About Women’s Bodies

For the details go to the site and get educated. Here is the list:

1. Birth Control Causes Prostate Cancer.

2. Abortion Causes Breast Cancer.

3. Birth Control Is A Sex Pill.

4. Abortion Industry Is “Selling Abortions.”

5. Women Can’t Get Pregnant From Rape.

6. Prenatal Testing Leads To Abortion.

7. HPV Vaccine Causes Retardation.

8. Plan B Causes Abortions.

9Your Fetus Is Just Fine. (Proposals to protect doctors from “wrongful birth” lawsuits that involve physicians “withholding information that may lead a patient to get an abortion.”)

The Republican Health Care Plan: Too Bad, So Sad

I don’t often post segments from The Ed Show, but he nailed Mittens with this one:

Divide And Conquer Theocracy

The theocrats are getting desperate.

From CNN:

Group sought wedge between blacks, gays to fight same-sex marriage

A national group opposed to same-sex marriage aimed to fight it by driving “a wedge between gays and blacks” and identifying “glamorous” Latino artists and athletes to advocate traditional marriage, according to newly released confidential memos.

In other words, those who always scream the loudest (and falsely) about liberals wanting to divide Americans along racial lines are actively trying to divide Americans along racial lines.

That “national group” is called the National Organization for Marriage and here is a couple of the memos:

The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote, and will be so even more so in the future because of demographic growth. Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.

The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party.

As damaging as that stuff is, CNN reports what I consider to be the most damaging:

NOM argued “gay marriage is the tip of the spear, the weapon that will be and is being used to marginalize and repress Christianity and the Church.”

You see? Gay marriage is, and always has been, a religious issue for right-wingers. It features culturally fearful conservatives, drunk on Iron Age theology, who want to cram their anachronistic religious beliefs down the throats of an increasingly resistant public.

And we are lucky the zealots are at present only trying to drive metaphorical wedges between gays and blacks and Latinos. I suppose the Rack is not practical these days.

Don’t Worry, Be (Somewhat) Happy ACA Fans

With all the defeatist talk out there about how it is over for the individual mandate and likely over for the Affordable Care act, I want to offer a word of comfort: It’s not.

Famously now, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst, said after oral arguments on Tuesday:

This was a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it’s going to be struck down.

After hearing that and after hearing similar remarks coming from several talking heads on the TV box, I waited until 1:00pm Central time and listened to the arguments myself. Better yet, I followed the transcript as I listened, stopping when necessary to analyze the arguments being made (much easier than yesterday) and the questions being asked.

What I found was that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did get off to a horrible start. A really horrible start. He soon got help from Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan and by the end he had pretty much righted himself.

As expected, the conservative justices (except for Clarence Thomas who was likely texting Rush Limbaugh during the proceedings) executed an attack on the law, but nothing we hadn’t heard before and nothing that couldn’t be refuted.

Justice Scalia, who gets a lot of credit for being such an unassailable thinker, was not particularly good in his remarks* and it appears he will find a reason to vote against the law no matter how far he has gone in the past to justify an expansion of the government’s powers (when the government’s position happens to correspond with his own position on, say, the legality of medical marijuana) under the Commerce Clause. It appears to me that Scalia and the conservatives want to find a “limiting principle” on the government’s power under the Commerce Clause only when it is convenient.

Obviously, everyone was listening for clues from Justice Kennedy. Was he hostile to the government’s case? Hardly. He asked some tough questions, expressed some doubts, but in the end he also pressed former Solicitor General Paul Clement, who argued most of the case for the other side. At one point Kennedy said:

The government tells us … the insurance market is unique. And in the next case, it’ll say the next market is unique. But I think it is true that … the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries. That’s my concern in the case.

This should be seen as a good sign because those conservative judges who have upheld the mandate have said that the healthcare market is not like buying broccoli or cell phones (to mention a couple of examples used by the conservative justices during oral arguments). Everyone will eventually participate, either accidentally or on purpose, and the cost-shifting involved (because most hospitals are mandated to provide treatment) is unique.

There is not only a good possibility that Justice Kennedy will find a way to uphold the individual mandate, there has been some speculation that Justice Roberts might follow him. I was particularly surprised that Roberts stepped in to restate the government’s argument, when he thought the other side had miscast it, but that is a rather thin string to hang a hope that Roberts might make it 6-3 to uphold the law.

Finally, Paul Clement did do a very good job of presenting his case, but he knows that oral arguments are not necessarily the decisive part of a complicated case like this:

I’m a big believer that oral argument makes a difference, but I’m also a big believer that comparably the briefs make even more of a difference.

We shall see. Prediction: 6-3 to keep the Affordable Care Act whole.

__________________________

*Here is one silly offering from Scalia:

Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.

Or how about this one:

Necessary does not mean essential, just reasonably adapted. But in addition to being necessary, it has to be proper. And we’ve held in two cases that something that was reasonably adapted was not proper because it violated the sovereignty of the States, which was implicit in the constitutional structure. The argument here is that this also is — may be necessary, but it’s not proper because it violates an equally evident principle in the Constitution, which is that the Federal Government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers; that it’s supposed to be a government of limited powers.

Necessary does not mean essential, just reasonably adapted“? Huh? Necessary means “of an inevitable nature.” And essential means “absolutely necessary.” You see how easy it is to bend words to fit your ends?

And although Scalia worries about violating the “sovereignty of the States” these days, he did not worry much about that in 2005, when he found it necessary to stomp all over California’s right to allow its citizens to grow marijuana for their own medicinal use:

As we implicitly acknowledged in Lopez, however, Congress’s authority to enact laws necessary and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce is not limited to laws directed against economic activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Though the conduct in Lopez was not economic, the Court nevertheless recognized that it could be regulated as “an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated.” … This statement referred to those cases permitting the regulation of intrastate activities “which in a substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power.” … As the Court put it in Wrightwood Dairy, where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, “it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

How Obama Will Sell Out The Country

I suggested yesterday (Obama’s Planning On Selling Out the Country…) that someone on Fox’s evening lineup would question the “intelligence and patriotism” of Obama and that someone might wonder “what else is Barack Obama not telling us he’ll do after he’s elected.”

Sean Hannity did not disappoint last night. He played Obama’s “private” conversation with Dmitry Medvedev:

OBAMA: This is my last election, and after my election I’ll have more flexibility.

MEDVEDEV: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin].

Now, everyone knows that the term “more flexibility” means “more flexibility to screw the American people who just elected me,” right? And if you didn’t know that, then you did after Sean’s guest, Newt Gingrich, explained it all:

Well, it raises two questions. The first is, what other countries has he had this conversation with and who else has he said—to the Iranians to the North Koreans, to a variety of places—you know, give me a little time, give me some space, let me get reelected and then I’ll sell out.

And the second is, my interpretation of an American president telling a Russian president about our missile defense clearly indicates he’s going to sell out our defense system as soon as he gets reelected, which would fit his whole policy of weakness and appeasement…

He’s a hard-line left-winger…none of this is a surprise. The question is does the United States want to reelect a president with the worst economic record since the Great Depression, the highest deficits in American history, the rising cost of gasoline, a weak foreign policy, and he really wants to destroy the American defense system. That’s essentially what Obama-ism is.

Those aren’t the words of some obscure know-nothing in the bowels of movement conservatism. Those are the words of a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who once was considered by many to be a viable contender in the GOP presidential primary.

And if that wasn’t enough entertainment for one night, the opening act for Gingrich was the toesucker himself, Dick Morris.

Hannity had played a Santorum ad the theme of which was: If we reelect Obama, the world will grow dark and the birds and Mitt Romney will stop singing. Asked to comment on the ad, the toesucker said it “understated” how bad things will be, should voters put Obama back in the White’s House.

He then outlined Obama’s second term for the lucky viewers, which I will quote at length because one has to plumb the depths of this Mariana Trench delusion to fully appreciate it:

First of all, I believe he’ll proceed to a single-payer system on health care.  I think Obamacare was just an intermediate step in his mind.  And if he’s reelected, particularly if he has a Democratic Congress, he will eliminate the private health insurance industry and all insurance will be from the government and it will all be according to one plan.

Secondly, I think that he will completely reverse the initiatives of the Bush 43 administration in opening vast new forms of oil drilling in the U.S., and will eliminate this incredible opportunity we have to dominate the global oil markets and put the terrorists out of business.

But thirdly, I think that his big focus will be to make the United States a vassal state to a globalist entity. I think that the G20 and the IMF will acquire sovereignty over our economy. I think that he will sign the international criminal treaty—Criminal Court treaty—that would oblige the United States to get U.N. approval, which is to say Russian and Chinese approval, before going to war.

I think he’ll sign—I write about all this in my book coming up in two months called “Screwed”—I think he’ll sign the Rights of the Child treaty, which would create a legal basis for suing to increase foreign aid to poor countries.

I think that he’ll sign the Gun Control treaty…I think that he’ll sign the global ban on small arms—back door arms control in the United States. I think he’ll sign away our royalties for offshore oil drilling by going along with the law of the sea treaty. I think that he’ll ban U.S. weapons in outer space, which will eliminate an anti-missile capability fiasco…

But the most important thing I didn’t get to: He’s gonna transform America into two countries. A small number of people who pay taxes and a large number of people don’t work and are dependent upon the government to create a permanent leftist, socialist base in the United States.

As you can see, Mr. Obama will have his hands full in his second term, as selling out America is no easy task.

And by the way, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Dick Morris’ book in a couple of months.

Obama’s Planning On Selling Out the Country To The Ruskies—Tune In To Fox Tonight For Details

Taking time out from paling around with the money she has made fleecing fellow Foxish-conservatives, Sarah Palin said this about Obama’s chit-chat with Dmitry Medvedev (the more-flexibility-after-the election comments):

Whoever chooses to merely dismiss the significance of today’s exchange between our president and Russia’s president should have their intelligence and patriotism questioned. Let this exchange be a warning to voters: President Obama will have ‘more flexibility’ to weaken us if he’s re-elected in November.

Question the “intelligence and patriotism” of Hussein Obama supporters? Of Hussein Obama himself? Now, who would go and do a thing like that?  I guess we’ll just have to wait for this evening’s Fox lineup to find out.

Stay tuned for the details.

Oh, one more thing. What else is Barack Obama not telling us he’ll do after he’s elected? Huh?

I’m guessing that question will come up a time or two tonight on the Fair and Balanced Network.

What Do We Make Of It All?

There it was. The headline many around here had hoped they would see:

From the beginning of his trial, delayed for years, there was no doubt as to Chris Collings’ guilt. He had confessed to the rape and murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella, Mo., crimes he committed in November of 2007.

His lawyers admitted in court that he killed the little girl, after he had brutally raped her. Collings had confessed that he tried to keep his identity hidden from his victim, but the fourth-grader turned and saw him and for that he said he murdered her and threw her body down a hole, no doubt hoping the earth would swallow up his wickedness.

The only thing that his trial would ultimately decide was whether he would serve his impending sentence alive or dead.

I was reading the article in the Joplin Globe, awkwardly satisfied that justice had been done, thinking that Collings got what he deserved, despite my own misgivings about the death penalty, particularly those times it has victimized the innocent. This case was different, I kept telling myself. This man admitted he raped and killed the innocent little girl, and he deserved to die.

He most assuredly deserved to die.

Then I kept reading the story. I came to the part where the police chief of Wheaton, Clint Clark, who had known Collings since he was a boy, said this about the imposition of the death penalty in this case:

Either way would have been difficult,” Clark said of the jury’s two choices in the penalty phase, either life without parole or the death penalty. “I believe in God, and I believe what the Bible says, ‘An eye for an eye.’” He said it would have been a difficult decision for him to make, knowing Collings as well as he does, just as it was no doubt difficult for each of the jurors who made the decision. He said he can hate only what Collings did, and not the defendant himself, whom Clark has known most of his life.

“But I can’t look at my children without thinking of Rowan,” Clark said.

When I got to that part about the Bible and the “eye for an eye,” I cringed. Are we still meting out justice according to Iron Age theology? I asked myself.

It so happened that MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell discussed on Thursday the death penalty on his show, The Last Word. The gripping segment centered on the murder last April of James Craig Anderson in Jackson, Mississippi.  The 47-year-old African-American was intentionally run over by white, hate-filled racist teenagers in a pickup truck. The driver of that truck, Deryl Dedmon, pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering Anderson and to the commission of a hate crime.

Amazingly, James Craig Anderson’s family had asked prosecutors not to pursue the death penalty for Dedmon, saying in a letter:

Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well. Our Savior Jesus Christ rejected the old way of an eye for an eye and taught us instead to turn the other cheek. He died that we might have everlasting life and, in doing so, asked that the lives of the two common criminals nailed to the crosses beside him be spared. We can do no less.

There you have it. Good people citing “eye for an eye” in completely different ways, in the midst of horrific circumstances. What is one to make of it all?

O’Donnell, a fierce opponent of the death penalty, said this on Thursday:

The only way to completely prevent the possibility of executing the innocent is to oppose the death penalty in all cases. If you oppose the death penalty just for the innocent, that means you’re willing to leave the death penalty in place. And if you leave it in place, mistakes will be made. The real test of your opposition to the death penalty is the hard case.

No doubt, if you are an opponent of the death penalty, the rape and murder of little Rowan Ford here in southwest Missouri is a hard case. If ever anyone deserved to be executed by the state—by we the people—it is Chris Collings.

That is why the defense argued during the penalty phase that there were mitigating circumstances the jury should consider, before it pronounced the ultimate sentence on him.  Among those alleged mitigating circumstances, according to the testimony of a human development specialist that interviewed Collings, was emotional neglect both before birth and immediately after, as well as a number of “stressors” throughout his life that left Collings with a “disorganized attachment disorder” and “stuck at an emotional age of 14 or 15,” as the Globe’s Jeff Lehr reported it.

Lehr began his story on the first day of penalty-phase testimony this way:

The birth father of Chris Collings testified Thursday that he was drunk every day of the week about the time his son was born in 1975.

Dale Pickett, of England, Ark., admitted…that both he and Collings’ mother, Barbara, had issues with alcohol, although she was not as heavy a drinker as he.

“She couldn’t stand me drunk, and I couldn’t stand her sober,” Pickett summed up the relationship from the witness stand.

Chris Collings’ father spent time in prison for shooting a man he thought was having an affair with his wife.  Collings’ teenage step-brother testified that he took care of his younger sibling during that time and that their mother worked more than one job and drank and “beat on him for not keeping their house picked up and went after a guy who had been drinking with her with a butcher knife,” in Lehr’s account of the testimony. That led to placement of the two kids in foster homes, and then into other foster homes.

Seven-year-old Chris Collings was eventually adopted, but soon after that his adoptive parents separated and he “began getting shuttled back and forth between his adopted mother and father.”  Eventually an eighteen-year-old Chris Collings would resume a relationship with his birth father—then out of prison—who, as Jeff Lehr reported,

said his love for Chris endures despite alleged sexual contact of his son with his stepdaughter when she was between 11 and 14 years of age.

Asked about the murder of the Ford girl, Pickett said he knows his son made a mistake, but everybody makes mistakes.

What does one make of a man—whose son brutally raped and murdered a fourth-grader—who can summon from his mind only the word “mistake” to describe such crimes?

A few months before he raped and murdered Rowan Ford, Collings’ birth mother died. A few weeks before he raped and murdered Rowan Ford, his adoptive mother died. What was the jury to make of this and of all the other testimony meant to keep Chris Collings alive and in prison for the rest of his life?

As I said, what are we to make of it all? Are there any circumstances that help to explain such crimes?  Are there any adverse nurturing conditions that would convince a reasonable person to spare Chris Collings’ life?  Just what are the elements in one’s upbringing that conspire to create a murderous monstrosity like he most certainly is? And how much can we blame him for what he became?

I wish I knew the answers to all those questions. I wish this jury knew the answers. But what they did know, what we all know who have followed this case, is that “slender, brown-haired” Rowan Ford, who loved Hanna Montana and Jesus; who traveled the roads of Stella “on her blue-tinted Blossom Quest bicycle”; who “read voraciously, worked hard and was well-behaved,” suffered an unspeakable—and unimaginable—end to her life.

She died a most painful and terrifying death. She died sharing her last few minutes on earth with a perverted monster, the likes of which she would never have confronted in her worst nightmare. And the horror she faced, the absolutely dreadful savage that tortured her and murdered her, will one day, absent the suffering she endured, be put to death by our hand—yes, by our hand because we still approve of the death penalty—and I confess I can’t find it within me to protest.

“When I Think About This Boy”

President Obama spoke about the Trayvon Martin case this morning, saying among other things:

When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids…I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how did something like this happen.

Yes. That is it. All parents should think about their kids when they think of what happened to Trayvon Martin. All of us should dig deep to figure out what went wrong and why a young boy 70 yards from the safety of his home was shot dead on the sidewalk.

Mr. Obama speaks for all Americans when he says such things, and any president would express similar sentiments.  But not any president, not any president we have ever had in our long history, could say this:

You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.

While we think about the tragedy in Sanford, Florida, while we watch news accounts of all the protests and the news conferences held by the various people involved in the case, we should also think about the kind of country we are and the kind we can be—no, the kind we want to be.

Barack Hussein Obama became president just over three years ago, a most unlikely outcome given our history. But there he stood this morning, the leader of a great nation, a nation that has struggled with the issue of race, that has come a great distance from a time in which Trayvon Martin wouldn’t even have been considered a whole person.

Speaking of the parents of the slain child, Mr. Obama said,

And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

“All of us as Americans,” he said. And there is something that makes that phrase ring truer this morning, spoken as it was by our president, the first who could ever utter, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

Party like It’s 1804!

Alan: I hear you’re a Republican now.

Fred: Yeah, I figured, if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.

—From The Free Dictionary, “Idioms

n view of all the national commotion that the killing of Trayvon Martin has caused, and as a bleeding heart liberal, I have a modest proposal that may help make America a better place to live, or at least it may even things up a bit:

1) Because liberals like dispute resolution, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that would make it the law of the land—in all fifty states instead of the two dozen that have it now—that “Stand Your Ground” be the national default dispute resolution technique, perhaps the best one since Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.

That ought to make those who want to “party like it’s 1804” very happy! May the fastest gun win!

2) Because liberals like mandates and subsidies, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that mandates that every liberal in the country purchase a gun, preferably a 9mm Glock.  And for those liberals who can’t afford the cost of a 9mm Glock , Congress should subsidize the purchase.  And in the spirit of George Zimmerman, who gunned down that scary, hooded teenager in Florida with his own 9mm Glock, all liberals have to do to prove their inability to pay is just say so!

These mandates and subsidies ought to make all the NRA types happy, put a chunk of change in the pockets of reactionary gun dealers everywhere, and stimulate the economy!

3) Because liberals love education and tend not to be gun aficionados nor prone to violence, I urge the Congress to pass legislation that would fund mandatory re-education camps run by the NRA, which would:

♦ Teach liberals to “get tough” and not be so, well, so compassionate.

♦ Teach liberals how to shoot their new weapons, possibly by using old Jesse Helms photos for targets.

♦ Teach liberals that while in public places it is okay to shoot people they have a problem with—so long as those liberals “feel threatened.”

♦ Teach liberals how to “feel threatened” by non-liberals.

♦ Teach liberals that “self defense” can also mean aggressively pursuing the person you are defending  yourself against.

This legislation would put a lot of out-of-work teachers back in the classroom!

4) Finally, after liberals have been given their guns, taught how to use them, and had their minds brainwashed in NRA re-education camps, government employee-loving liberals should urge the Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for government employees, like law enforcement officials, to overlook the evidence, should Glock-toting liberals begin pursuing, uh, conservatives.

There. That ought to do it. Let’s all have fun and remember: Party like it’s 1804!

“Censoring Thugs” And Other Good Americans

There is panic in Limbaugh Nation. The parching heat of exposure must be sucking the life out of the money tree.

On Wednesday, “show spokesman” (since when does anyone speak for Rush?) Brian Blicklich wrote an op-ed for Politico viciously attacking David Brock of Media Matters for daring to use the (gasp!) free market and First Amendment to call attention to the talker’s hate-filled shtick.

On the same site on Tuesday, Mr. Brock, a former right-winger himself, had written:

At Media Matters for America, we have monitored “The Rush Limbaugh Show” every day since our founding in 2004. There is no example we can recall in which Limbaugh, or any other media figure, levied attacks of the tone and duration of those leveled against Fluke.

It is for that reason that Media Matters, along with numerous other groups, have begun to educate advertisers about the damage their financial support of Limbaugh’s program can do to their brands.

For having the audacity to use his free speech right in the town square, Brock earned himself some Limbaugh-size contempt from Attila’s spokesman:

This is Brock’s cynical marketplace of ideas. He will fail, as every censoring thug has in this country. Americans are smart enough to make our own decisions about what media to consume. We don’t need self-appointed monitors. Black-list censors are some of the most reviled characters in U.S. history.

One day Media Matters will join that list as an advocacy that lost sight of its mission, which was to promulgate a point of view, in order to adopt a darker one, which was to deny that right of expression to others.

Censoring thug“? Hmm. All of this sounds very familiar to me, as I have been similarly attacked by local right-wing bloggers who believe they have an unfettered right to dump whatever shuddersome waste they want right here in my space, their own Globe-sponsored blogs not being enough “free speech” for them.

As far as Limbaugh is concerned, apparently there are people out there who believe that he has some kind of inviolable right to have advertisers support his radio show no matter what he says or does.  It’s as if the many advertisers who have abandoned his show are stepping all over his First Amendment rights because they don’t want to be associated with a buffoon who would call a college student a slut or prostitute or suggest he wants to watch her have sex on the Internet.

And obviously, since advertisers are constitutionally bound to keep supporting Limbaugh, anyone urging those advertisers to withdraw their support of his show—as David Brock and others have done in the strong tradition of peaceful protestation (see the history of Charles C. Boycott)—is a “thug.” No, uh, I mean a “censoring thug.”

The truth, though, was stated quite well by Mr. Brock:

We are not a government entity attempting to stifle Limbaugh’s speech. Instead, we are using our right of free assembly to join together and raise our voices against Limbaugh. We are, in fact, engaging in the marketplace of ideas, one in which people, examining all of the facts, can choose whether it is in their financial interest to support hate radio.

For someone to label that very American act as thuggery says a lot about how effective it has been and how much it is co$ting those who have profited wildly from marketing malevolence.

Mittens, Pathological Prevaricator?

I once worked for a guy who lied when it was easier to tell the truth. He told whoppers that he should have known weren’t believable. But he kept telling them, and I became convinced he had no idea that most of us weren’t buying them.

Mitt Romney is like that. He lies when it would be so much easier not to. That’s my personal definition of a pathological prevaricator. In this case a politically pathological prevaricator.

I most recently accused him of lying—and I received some flak for doing so—about three weeks ago. I have yet to hear him speak at any length that I haven’t heard him tell blatant lies—not just “spin”—and it is beyond the normal politician-speak we have, unfortunately, grown used to.

Now, finally, I can post a segment from St. Rachel Maddow that makes the point better than I ever could, and she does so in the context of the recent Etch-A-Sketch gaffe:

Throw Medicare From The Train—Part Deux

Here’s the basic outline of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget in one sentence: Ryan’s budget funds trillions of dollars in tax cuts, defense spending and deficit reduction by cutting deeply into health-care programs and income supports for the poor.”

Ezra Klein

The Associated Press story in today’s Joplin Globe (the paper’s version was shortened for publication) summed up the Ryan budget plan nicely:

Mixing deep cuts to safety-net programs for the poor with politically risky cost curbs for Medicare, Republicans controlling the House unveiled an election-year budget blueprint Tuesday that paints clear campaign differences with President Barack Obama.

The AP also reported Mitt Romney’s rather enthusiastic support for the plan:

The House Republican budget rejects the out-of-control spending and higher taxes proposed by President Obama in his budget last month. By proposing prescriptions that will strengthen Medicare for generations to come, it also highlights President Obama’s failed leadership on entitlement reform.

So, now that we know where Romney stands (a rare achievement), let’s look at some of the Ryan plan in broad strokes, as presented by the AP: (follow the link for the details):

The Republican proposal…would wrestle the federal spending deficit to a manageable size in short order, but only by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants and a host of other programs…

The plan calls for steep drops in personal and corporate tax rates in exchange for clearing away hundreds of tax deductions and preferences. It would eliminate oft-criticized corporate tax boondoggles but also tax deductions and credits claimed by the poor and middle class.

To cope with the unsustainable growth of Medicare and the influx of retiring baby boomers, the GOP budget reprises a controversial approach that would switch the program — for those under 55 today — from a traditional “fee for service” framework in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills to a voucherlike “premium support” approach in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance.

If that all sounds familiar, that’s because we saw this movie last year. The difference is that this year’s sequel is even gorier (aren’t they always?) than last year’s spine-chilling offering.  And it was meant to be that way, according to Paul Ryan:

We are sharpening the contrast between the path we are proposing and the path of debt and decline that the president has placed us upon.

Sharpening, indeed.

Perhaps most appalling—considering all the cuts in the rest of the budget and the change in Medicare—is this:

The GOP measure also would replace $55 billion in Pentagon spending cuts and $43 billion in cuts to non-defense appropriations set to take effect in January with at least $261 billion in other savings over the coming decade, including curbs to food stamps, federal employee pensions and further cuts to federal health care programs.

As The Hill reported, not only does Ryan’s plan “shield the Pentagon from nearly $500 billion in automatic cuts and roll back some of the $487 billion reduction” already approved, the plan,

also increases national defense spending to $554 billion in 2013, an increase of $8 billion over the $546 billion that was agreed to under the Budget Control Act.

Get that? The GOP budget actually increases defense spending over what was agreed to last year!

All of the above is from neutral journalists. If you want to read progressive takes on the Ryan plan, go to the Washington Post and read Ezra Klein or to the Center for American Progress, which has a series of articles presenting the details of the plan. It ain’t pretty. And there is, as always, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities here and here.

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As for a short, non-partisan analysis of the “premium support” plan for “saving” Medicare, go to Kaiser Health News. Here is part of that analysis:

All plans, including traditional Medicare, would submit bids for how much they would charge to cover a beneficiary’s health care costs. The government would pay the full premium for the private plan with the second lowest bid, or for traditional Medicare, whichever is lower. Beneficiaries would have to pay the difference if they chose a plan that set rates higher. There could be one less expensive plan option, and beneficiaries who chose it would get a rebate for the difference…

But some critics are already arguing that the government-administered option would not be affordable and that it could cause doctors to leave the program. Critics have argued that the government-run plan would attract the sickest people, driving up its costs, while private plans would lure the healthiest.

This plan is the so-called Wyden-Ryan “compromise.” If you have wondered why a Democrat with liberal bona fides—Oregon Senator Ron Wyden—would team up with a right-winger like Paul Ryan to develop a plan to “protect Medicare,” go here and read Senator Wyden’s explanation. (You might be surprised; I was. But it is still unconscionable to give Ryan and the Republicans some political cover at a time like this, when so much is at stake.)

For a readable critical analysis of that Wyden-Ryan plan go here and here and here to get educated. It is essential to know what may happen to a vital social program.

Finally, in case any of us might think the White House will get wobbly-kneed on the Medicare proposal in the Ryan budget, remember this initial statement from Obama’s Communication’s Director Dan Pfeiffer:

We are concerned that Wyden-Ryan, like Congressman Ryan’s earlier proposal, would undermine, rather than strengthen, Medicare. The Wyden-Ryan scheme could, over time, cause the traditional Medicare program to “wither on the vine” because it would raise premiums, forcing many seniors to leave traditional Medicare and join private plans. And it would shift costs from the government to seniors. At the end of the day, this plan would end Medicare as we know it for millions of seniors. Wyden-Ryan is the wrong way to reform Medicare

Baptist Pastor, Schmuck

Theocrat Rick Santorum appeared in Baton Rouge at a taxpayer-subsidized church (exempt from federal income taxes and property taxes, which have to be made up elsewhere) and was introduced by a creepy pastor named Dennis Terry.

If you are having trouble understanding why Rick Santorum will never be president, your trouble will be over after you listen to Pastor Terry.

Try to listen to the entire three minutes, forty-one seconds of video posted below, chock-full of perspiring remarks from a fundamentalist fool. And remember that a goodly number of  your fellow Americans listen to pastors like this every week and your tax dollars are essentially supporting schmucks like him in a church or two near you.

Some highlights from the talk by Pastor Terry:

There’s only one God and his name is JEEEZZZUSSS!

Keep that in mind as you read the next selection:

If we’ll put God back in America, put God back in our pulpits, put God back in our homes, and in our statehouse, and then in Washington, D.C., then we can have revival in America and the Holy Spirit will show up and great and mighty things will happen for this country.

Question 1: If there is “only one God and his name is JEEEZZZUSSS,” then who is this Holy Spirit fella who comes on the scene after we put God back where he belongs?

Question 2: If God ain’t in America, ain’t in our pulpits, ain’t in our homes, ain’t in our state or federal capitals, then where the hell is he? Oh my God! Barack Obama has kidnapped him and is holding him in Kenya! Pray! Pray! Pray!

If you don’t love America, if you don’t like the way we do things, I got one thing to say: GET OUT!!!!

Question 1: What if you love America but don’t like the way we do things? Do you still have to GET OUT?

Question 2: What if you love America and like the way we do things but the reason you love America and like the way we do things is because you don’t have to GET OUT if you don’t?

We don’t worship Buddha! I said we don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Question 1: I wanna get this straight: Am I supposed to worship God or God’s son? Dang, this stuff is confusing.

Question 2: Can we make an exception for Mittens The Mormon?

As long as they continue to kill little babies in our mother’s womb (sic), somebody’s gotta take a stand and say, “It’s not right! God be merciful to us as a nation!”

Question 1: Who are “they”?

Question 2: So, let me see here. Somebody is killing “little babies” and all we need to do is stand up and shout, “It’s not right”? Shouldn’t we be, uh, blowin’ up stuff and shootin’ doctors or somethin’?

As long as sexual perversion is becoming normalized, somebody needs to stand up and say, “God forgive us, God have mercy upon us.”

Question 1: What if normalizing sexual perversion is God’s way of getting rid of it?

Question 2: Were you afraid of embarrassing Rick Santorum by just saying, GOD HATES FAGS?

Missouri Politics Catch Up

I think I have neglected Missouri politics lately, so let’s catch up:

Whoops! Somebody call the cops!

First, the Missouri GOP caucus mess. For a party that likes to think of itself as the most competent to manage the world’s affairs, including lowering gas prices and taming foreign governments, a St. Charles County Missouri caucus proved more than it could handle:

One of Missouri’s largest Republican Party presidential-nomination caucuses got shut down early — and inconclusively — after a chaotic argument led two Ron Paul supporters to be arrested on Saturday.

Minimum Wage? What’s That?

Steve Benen wrote:

It’s no longer unusual for statewide GOP candidates to oppose the minimum wage, child-labor laws, the existing structure of Medicare and guaranteed benefits, restrictions on torture, collective bargaining, and unemployment benefits.

Not too long ago, this would have been largely unthinkable, and such candidates would have been labeled “extremists,” unable to even compete in a statewide primary.

Benen was referencing Greg Sargent at WaPo, who noticed the sad fact that the three GOP candidates hoping to end the senate career of Missouri’s Claire McCaskill not only didn’t know what the federal minimum wage actually is but two of them—Todd Akin and Jon Brunner—”seemed to come out for doing away with the minimum wage entirely.”

Well, here in Missouri these days it would be “unthinkable” for Republicans to not hold such extremist views.

Stimulus Is Gone, Now What?

Speaking of extremism, let’s look at what our Missouri state legislators have planned for the new session. This is the way the St. Louis Beacon reported the return from spring break of Missouri’s plucky lawmakers:

House Floor Leader (and speaker-in-waiting) Tim Jones, R-Eureka, agrees with Senate leaders that economic development will take center stage again.

But so will the state’s financial problems, which have been softened by federal stimulus aid over the past three years.

You mean the stimulus helped Missouri? That can’t be right because everyone knows that Obama’s stimulus was a failure. Must be a misprint.

Missouri Vaginas Versus “Employers’ Wishes”

Most Missouri women will be happy to know that our legislators have not forgotten about their reproductive real estate and how it might be put to improper use:

Jones said the House and Senate also are working on similar bills that would allow employers to exclude contraceptives from their employees’ health insurance. The aim is “strengthening the employers’ wishes’’ about what they want their insurance to cover, he said.

In Missouri, Republicans are worried more about “the employers’ wishes” than about anything else. And to prove that, please read on.

Workers’ Rights Are Wrong In Missouri Legislature

Late last week, Nixon vetoed two…bills, which sought to tighten the state’s workers compensation laws and to curb workers’ ability to sue employers for discrimination. Both measures had been sought by business groups, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Republican leaders in both chambers, including [speaker-in-waiting Tim] Jones, blasted the governor’s action. But Jones acknowledged in an interview that it’s unlikely the House will override the governor’s vetoes. That means new versions must be crafted or the issues deferred to the next session.

“We spent a great deal of legislative time on two measures that are now gone,’’ said Jones.

Regardless of what Nixon’s vetoes may imply, said Jones: “We didn’t pass these bills to score political points.”

Oh, yes you did.

And thank you, Governor Jay Nixon, for helping to protect Missouri workers.

Republicans Not Too Proud To Make Workers Beg

Republican attacks on Missouri workers continue. The state Senate is itching to pass a “right-to-work beg” law, and “a compromise” between the Republican-dominated House and the Republican-dominated Senate (see? that is what we mean these days by a Missouri compromise!) on the “prevailing wage” issue is predicted by Jones.

Keep your veto pen inked up, Gov’nor.

For Sale: Missouri Legislators

The Missouri Supreme Court recently kiboshed, on technical grounds, ethics legislation designed to make ethics-resistant politicians ethical, or something like that. But Democrats are pushing the issue again this session. On Monday they introduced a bill that would restore at least some limits on purchasing our politicians:

The Democrats’ proposal would set the top donation limit at $5,000 per election, more than twice the old limits.

Perhaps many of you have forgotten that Republicans erased any limits in 2008, when they effectively and arrogantly overturned the will of Missouri voters, who approved Proposition A (The Missouri Campaign Contribution Limits Proposition) in 1994.

When one looks at the results of that state-wide vote (the statute provided for dramatically lower limits than politicians are willing to live with today), it is hard to see why Republicans felt free to give the finger to Missouri voters:

The truth is that Missouri Republicans are so confident that conservative rural voters will keep sending them to Jefferson City, they can flip the electorate the bird with each hand and get back a friendly wave.

The Blind Bleeding The Blind

As for budget issues, let me see, House Republicans are planning to kill “the state’s longstanding assistance for the blind.” Floor leader Jones called this “an extra benefit” (it helps 2,800 blind folks who don’t quite qualify for Medicaid), saying:

in tough economic times, extra programs that are specifically targeted to specific classes of individuals have to be looked at first.

Yes. Here in Missouri the first individuals to get a look in terms of budget cuts are the blind. I suppose somebody has to sacrifice to keep taxes low enough to attract all those bidnesses that never seem to get the message that they should pack up and move to Missouri.

Proper Role?

Speaking of bidnesses who aren’t moving to Missouri, I want to point out something important that House floor leader Jones said:

There’s a proper role for state government to create the environment by which businesses want to move here and create jobs here.

In Missouri, that means keeping taxes low, keeping wages low, keeping unions at bay, weakening already-weak workers’ compensation laws and other workers’ rights.

Oh yeah, I forgot about booting the blind from the budget. That’ll get bidnesses’ attention.

Did Mr. Obama Lose His Way Last Summer?

Jonathan Chait wrote a disturbing—no, very disturbing—piece on the so-called Grand Bargain deficit-reduction talks last summer. The piece was titled:

How Obama Tried to Sell Out Liberalism in 2011

Chait’s commentary was based on a Washington Post story—also disturbing—allegedly detailing President Obama’s failure—yes, unbelievably, that is the way the story frames it—to get a budget deal with Boehner and the Republicans, as the debt-ceiling limit was purposely and purposefully expiring.

Remember all that senselessness and stupidity we went through? Remember how Republicans yet again held the country hostage and engaged in economic jihad to protect the wealthy and cut entitlements?

It turns out that our man in the White House—who a few months earlier had made a very courageous decision to kill Osama bin Laden—may have been just as courageous in his willingness to send liberalism to the bottom of the sea.

That is, if the Post story is completely accurate. There is a weaselly “appeared to accept” at a crucial place and the story does include a pushback from the White House, most notably a denial that it ever agreed to the Republican economic fiction—a piece of trash conservatives never tire of peddling—that reducing tax rates stimulates economic growth and thus increases revenue.

The whole Post narrative is hard to believe, mainly because I don’t want to believe it. But admittedly there does appear to be a large amount of truth to it, a truth rooted in another truth we liberals have to keep relearning: Mr. Obama, for all the good he has done—and there has been a lot of good—is not Bernie Sanders.

As Jonathan Chait points out,

It has previously been reported that Obama had offered to John Boehner to make a series of cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and the domestic budget, to reduce top-end tax rates, and to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, in return for increasing tax revenue (over current tax levels) by about $800 billion over ten years.

What we didn’t know until the Post story, was,

that even the $800 billion in tax revenue offered by Boehner was not, in fact, $800 billion in tax revenue..

That $800 billion, the Post reported, “came with strings attached,” including lowering the tax rate paid by wealthy Americans. That’s right. I said lowering the rich’s tax rates. But there’s more:

Much of the $800 billion  would have to come from overhauling the tax code — not from higher tax rates. The Republicans believed lower rates and a simpler code would generate new revenue by discouraging cheating and spurring economic growth. If the White House would agree to count that money, the Republican leaders said, then they might have a deal.

As Chait points out, any agreement based on Republican tax philosophy would insure,

that the burden of any higher revenue would fall on the non-rich.

Let that sink in. Let it permeate your progressive pores. Then absorb this:

Obama, incredibly, agreed to that — he agreed to a debt reduction plan that would exempt the wealthy from any sacrifice, and indeed protect them from the possibility that their tax rates would rise when the Bush tax cuts expire.

Now, never mind that even this sellout to conservative teapartyism wasn’t enough for conservative teapartiers, as Chait emphatically notes. They want a total rout. What we should be concerned about—particularly should there be a second term for Obama—is that the President did not tell the tea party hacks to get the hell out of his office, taking their oversize teabags with them.

Jonathan Chait put the matter in about as succinct terms as possible:

The central fiscal issue in American politics is the Republican Party’s insistence on cutting taxes for the rich everywhere and always with no compromise possible. The Post’s story suggests that there was zero progress on this impediment, and Obama wanted a deal so badly he wanted to proceed as if this could be ironed out in the details.

No. There is no ironing out differences with these people. There is no compromise possible with them. They are on a mission from a very strange God and nothing short of complete capitulation can be offered to them that they will feel compelled to accept. A compromise involves concessions on both sides. It means the other side has to move your way, accept things it doesn’t want to accept. But these tea party and tea party-ish folks are willing to hold out until our side completely submits, even if it means The End.

The way to combat these people, as Mr. Obama seems to have lately learned, is expose them. Hold up their regressive and regrettable ideas to the light—the American people—and let everyone see what fanaticism looks like, what unadulterated zealotry would beget if given the fertile ground of surrender.

But having said that, I am forced to confront the most frightening line in the Washington Post story about the Grand Bargain—and one I adamantly refuse to believe is true:

White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.

If that is true—and I won’t believe it until I hear it from Mr. Obama himself—then the leader of the Democratic Party has not only lost his way, he has lost his political mind.

“I Don’t Hear Him Yelling Anymore”

I heard someone crying — not boo-hoo crying, but scared or terrified or hurt maybe. To me, it was a child.”

Mary Cutcher, a resident in the Florida community where 17-year old Trayvon Martin was killed as he cried for help

y youngest son is almost seventeen years old.

I have followed the case of Trayvon Martin since it first broke. He was a seventeen-year-old African-American who during halftime of the NBA All-Star game reportedly went to the store to get his brother some candy. Armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles, he was shot dead—just yards from his father’s home—by a “neighborhood watch” freak with a gun, a freak who is free to carry his 9 millimeter pistol legally here in twenty-first century America, blessed as we are to have a conservative Supreme Court majority with its feet firmly planted in the Old West.

And, so far, the gun-toting 250-pound faux-vigilante who shot and killed 140-pound Trayvon Martin is being partially protected by a bizarre state law—”Stand Your Ground“—in an increasingly bizarre state—Florida.

This case is hard for me to write about, and honestly I have been thinking, since the story became national news, that there would be some facts come out that would make it more understandable, more digestible.

But the more I learn about the case the more incomprehensible it becomes.

My  teenage son, who is as white as snow, may eventually find fate an unkind companion, but he will never face the fate that awaited Trayvon Martin—who was guilty of nothing but being black.  And although there are pathologies strewn throughout American communities of all colors and persuasions, a persistent pathology has plagued America since its founding, a pathology of racism rooted in our history of slavery, the demons of which torment us to this day.

Thankfully,  Lawrence O’Donnell did two excellent segments Monday night on the issue, and I implore all to watch the segments below, especially those comfortable whites* who think that the America white people see is one and the same America that black people see:


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* George Zimmerman, the faux-vigilante who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, was apparently described by police as “white,” even though his family “says he is Hispanic and is not racist.” The point here, though, is that many white people believe that all is right with America on the racial front, especially since 53% of us voted for Barack Obama. But all is not right—not yet.

Why C.S. Lewis Was Right About Government

Saturday’s Joplin Globe featured a column by Paul Greenberg, who quoted, favorably and surprisingly, C.S. Lewis:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

I happen to think that Lewis’ sentiments here describe exactly the raison d’être of government. I am just surprised that Mr. Greenberg, a conservative, so enthusiastically embraces those sentiments.

The quote from Lewis is found in his famous work of apologetics, Mere Christianity (first published in 1943), and his thoughts on government are really extraneous to the argument he was making in that book. Lewis wasn’t writing a political treatise, but was evangelizing on behalf of his faith. But he captured the essence of why men and women bind together to create an organized community we call the State, with its complex of relations we call politics, the art—and increasingly—the science of government.

That Paul Greenberg, or any conservative, would adopt Lewis’ beautiful description of why the State exists is really both comforting and off-putting at the same time.

It is comforting because perhaps there is hope that conservatism can yet be retrieved from the clutches of the awful reactionaries who have commandeered it, and the Republican Party can be healed from the wounds those reactionary conservatives have inflicted.

But it is off-putting because so much of contemporary conservatism is not concerned with promoting or protecting “the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.”  The conservative movement these days is about promoting and protecting extraordinary things like tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans or about demanding the termination of government actions designed to actually promote and protect ordinary human happiness, actions like regulating capitalism and trying to make sure all of our citizens have access to affordable health care.

My friend and fellow Globe blogger, Jim Wheeler, wrote eloquently on St. Patrick’s Day about the tragedy of the English subjugation of the Irish (“The Isle of Freedom“), and he made an important point about “what freedom means in America“:

Freedom is found not only in the ability to travel the streets and lanes of the land at will, to choose a religion or no religion, to be secure in one’s own home, and to stand on a soapbox in the town square and orate. It is those things of course, but so much more. In the complex amalgamation of civilized life freedom must be had in an economic context, for without economic equality under the law opportunity is forfeit and with it the meaning of freedom itself.

Of course, it is often hard to define what exactly constitutes “economic equality under the law,” but it is not hard to see that economic inequality in contemporary America is alarmingly high, as this graph from The Economist, , demonstrates:

The graph is based on work done by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, and you may notice that after the Great Depression—after the State stepped in to address income inequality—the income earned by the top earners leveled off. It leveled off until the Reagan Reversal, when conservatives stepped in with their laissez-faire attitudes and ideology, an ideology that established deregulation as gospel and tax cuts as economic salvation, an ideology that today shouts “class warfare!” at those who desire a more equitable distribution of income.

Paul Greenberg—who as far as I know never met a Bush tax cut he didn’t like—joined the ideological shouts of class warfare last month, when he criticized President Obama’s budget:

Behind all the fanciful figures in this budget, there is a simple strategy, also dating back to Roman times. Divide et impera. It’s a battle plan as old as Cannae: Divide and conquer. In political terms, it means setting poor against rich.

You see, anyone representing the State, who wants to ensure that our nation’s wealth is not just the possession of a few, is merely playing politics, “setting poor against the rich.” But let’s look back at Lewis’ words, which Mr. Greenberg quoted so approvingly:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for.

It is hard to see how a husband and wife can chat over a fire, if they don’t have a fireplace to call their own. It is hard to see how a couple of friends can have a game of darts in a pub, when there are so few disposable dollars in the pockets of people who might want a pint with their game. And a man needs a decent income to purchase “his own room” or to buy a plot of ground so that he can dig in “his own garden.”

But beyond all that, it is certainly hard to see how the “ordinary happiness of human beings” can happen in a world in which people don’t have money to go to the doctor or who fear they are a sickness away from economic ruin.

Greenberg recently began a column this way:

Have you got health insurance? I do. Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody did? Just think:

No more worries about losing your health care if you lose your job, or just get a different one. Ah, peace of mind at last.

If you assume there is a caveat coming from this conservative, you would be right:

Don’t fret. It’ll all be nice. Just leave it to government. It knows best. And it’s all for our own good. The velvet glove will be so soft that after a while we won’t notice the iron hand inside.

…Democratic nations are peculiarly susceptible to a soft form of despotism that doesn’t so much dictate to its people as embrace them, infantilize them, smother them ever so gently in its all-encompassing arms.

We would all be saved the trouble of making our own decisions, providing our own necessities (like health care), and generally thinking for ourselves. Which was always a bother anyway.

To Greenberg, daring to do something about the fact that millions upon millions of Americans don’t have and many cannot get health insurance, or daring to alleviate the widespread fear that ill health could instantly bankrupt them, amounts to “a soft form of despotism.” As if there isn’t real repression involved with going without adequate health care or there isn’t genuine tyranny mixed up in the dread of going broke at the hands of a disease.

Thankfully, C.S. Lewis, whose view of government we now know has Paul Greenberg’s blessing—he  called Lewis’ words a “reliable standard” and “sure guide” and “genius”—had a word or two to say about health care, particularly about what Americans call “socialized medicine” and what Brits like Lewis called their National Health Service.

To an American correspondent Lewis wrote:

What a pity you haven’t got our National Health system in America. (1/14/1958)

What you have gone through begins to reconcile me to our Welfare State of which I have said so many hard things. “National Health Service” with free treatment for all has its drawbacks—one being that Doctors are incessantly pestered by people who have nothing wrong with them. But it is better than leaving people to sink or swim on their own resources. (7/7/1959)

I am sorry to hear of the acute pain and the various other troubles. It makes me unsay all I have ever said against our English “Welfare State”, which at least provides free medical treatment for all. (6/10/1963)*

It is obvious that Lewis came to see that “the ordinary happiness” the State existed to “promote and to protect” was very much dependent on access to “free medical treatment for all,” which is paid for by taxes, particularly by those who have benefited most from the existence of the State.

Somehow I don’t think we will find Paul Greenberg, or any conservative in America, lifting these C.S. Lewis quotes for use in their attacks against what they derisively call “Obamacare,” the essentials of which were originally proposed by conservatives as an alternative to real socialized medicine.

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* All citations taken from Letters to an American Lady, my copy published by Eerdmans in 1967.

Proper Anti-Colonialism On This St. Patrick’s Day

Long before Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D’Souza alerted us to the not-so-stunning-even-if-it-were-true possibility that Barack Obama possesses an “anti-colonial worldview,” there was an Irish musician, Tommy Makem, who wrote a lovely ballad about the British colonization of Ireland and the militant resistance of the Irish to that colonization.

I saw a YouTube video of a performance of the song today on Moe Holland’s blog, Whatever Works, (posted for her father on this St. Patrick’s Day). I am also posting the song, Four Green Fields, along with the lyrics below.

Keep in mind that the four green fields are the four Irish provinces and the “strangers” that “came and tried to take them” were the colonialists, toward whom, according to Gingrich and D’Souza, no one is supposed to hold any ill feelings.

What did I have, said the fine old woman
What did I have, this proud old woman did say
I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels
They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she

Long time ago, said the fine old woman
Long time ago, this proud old woman did say
There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she

What have I now, said the fine old woman
What have I now, this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, one of them’s in bondage
In stranger’s hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons had sons, as brave as were their fathers
My fourth green field will bloom once again said she

CBO: The Affordable Care Act Will Save Even More Money Than We Thought

I wanted to write today about the ongoing Republican assault on women’s rights in places like Arizona (employers may have the right to grill women about why they need contraceptives and possibly fire them for giving the wrong answer) and Pennsylvania (the GOP gov’nor “says he supports forcing women to have an ultrasound before an abortion because they can just close their eyes”) and Texas (GOP lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from state funding, which means the Federal money for the state’s Women’s Health Program will dry up, too).

But something else has bothered me since I heard it earlier this week:

RUSH LIMBAUGH: The Congressional Budget Office says that Obamacare is gonna cost twice what he told us.

I knew when I heard this newly-minted meme that it would, true or not, generate a lot of heat among heat-seeking right-wingers. Limbaugh went to great lengths to explain what he doesn’t understand, which is actually the format of his show, by the way.

What Limbaugh was trying to explain that he doesn’t understand was the “Updated Estimates For The Insurance Coverage Provision Of The Affordable Care Act,” released on Tuesday (The 8 1/2 page text is here and the blog post summary is here). The CBO was doing its job of getting us up-to-date on the “budgetary effects” of the coverage provisions of the ACA.

If Limbaugh—and others who ought to know better—had actually read the CBO report (as Rick Ungar of Forbes noted it is “available in very readable English“), they would have noticed that the CBO actually estimates the net cost of the ACA will be around $50 billion less than its estimate from last year!  Get that? $50 billion less, which means the new law will save taxpayers more money then the CBO originally estimated!

As I think about it, it is obvious that these Republican folks actually did read the report and found it necessary to lie about what it meant because otherwise their campaign to repeal it would lose a little steam, if word got out that it isn’t the budget-buster they’ve been saying it is.

I won’t bother to go over the nuances of the report, since good explanations are available, including here and here and here, but I will quote from each source listed:

As it says right in the title, this is just a look at “the insurance coverage provisions” of the Affordable Care Act. That is to say, it’s a look at the spending side of the bill. So it doesn’t include the Medicare cuts, or many of the tax increases, that pay for the legislation. It’s like reading only the “outlays” side of the budget and ignoring the “revenues” part. Of course that would make the deficit look huge. (Ezra Klein)

..not only is the GOP pitch a gross distortion of the truth, this is one of those all too rare moments where I get to actually prove the meme to be nothing more than another effort to confuse Americans. (Rick Ungar)

Yes, you read that right: The real news of the CBO estimate is that, according to its models, health care reform is going to save even more taxpayer dollars than previously thought. (Jonathan Cohn)

To be fair, Cohn does mention “one finding that give us at least a little pause“:

CBO now projects the number of people with employer-sponsored insurance will drop by 4 million people, on net. It’s still a small effect, representing less than 2 percent of the total population with employer-sponsored coverage. That’s well within the margin of error of these models. It’s also difficult to tell why CBO thinks this will happen—whether it’s fewer employers offering insurance, fewer employees accepting coverage, or workers moving into firms that are less likely to provide benefits. Any of those would be consistent with lower economic growth, as CBO now expects. Still, the issue merits attention.

Cohn also points out—for those Republicans who cry crocodile tears over the estimate that 4 million folks will lose their employer-sponsored insurance—”if they had their way, health care reform would reach even fewer people and provide less protection.”

And who can doubt that?

If Obama Is A Big-Government Socialist, What’s That Make Ronald Reagan?

I saw this interesting graphic on MSNBC (adapted from a Talking Points Memo piece), which should, but won’t, shut up all the talk about the socialist in the White’s House.

In terms of net change in government spending, Obama isn’t in the same league with either Bush or Ronaldus Magnus:

Remarks And Asides

Ann Coulter, in the context of Sarah Palin suggesting herself as the brokered-convention choice for GOP presidential candidate, said this:

…the conservative movement, does have more of a problem with con men and charlatans than the Democratic Party. I mean, the incentives seem to be set up to allow people — as long as you have a band of a few million fanatical followers, you can make money.

Forget Game Change, the movie or the book, which has exceedingly diminished Palin’s standing outside of Fox “News”; Palin really knows she has a credibility problem when someone like Ann Coulter, with a few million fanatical followers of her own—many of whom will drop twenty bucks or so on her latest book, lovingly titled, “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America“—goes all nasty on her.

But for once Coulter got something right if only because it takes a charlatan to know one.

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Speaking of credibility problems, here in Missouri yesterday, Mittens said “we’re going to get rid of” Planned Parenthood, should conservative voters put him in the White’s House, presumably by overlooking these inconvenient facts:

♦ He sought Planned Parenthood’s endorsement during his run for governor.

♦ He attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser during his run for governor.

♦ Said he supported Roe V. Wade.

♦ Said he supported “state funding of abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women.”

♦ Said he supported including information about contraception in public schools.

♦ Said he supported abortions even after 24 weeks if they were done to “save the life of the mother, or when there is a substantial risk of grave impairment to her health.”

♦ Said he supported efforts “to increase access to emergency contraception” known as “the morning after pill.”

Of course all that stuff happened a long time ago—way back in 2002!—which in Romney years is a whole lifetime.

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Now-former Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith has caused a stir via his last-day-on-the job op-ed in The New York Times. Among other things, he accuses the firm of promoting people into leadership who essentially screw Goldman’s clients while making oodles of cash for the company:

I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

Smith begs the board of directors to do something:

Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.

Obviously, Greg Smith’s next gig will be at the Gotham Comedy Club, as he is a very funny man.  Next, he will urge Mittens to give back all that Wall Street campaign dough!

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Speaking of comedy, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee all—all!—voted against a renewal last month of the normally bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. Why? Oh, come on, you could have guessed this:

Republicans objected to new language in the bill that would extend protections to undocumented immigrants and LGBT victims of domestic violence, as well as allowing native American authorities to prosecute some non-native offenders.

By God, if you’re not a heterosexual and you don’t come into the country legally, you deserve what you get, girls!

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Finally, more from The Comedy Channel Fox “News” via Steve Benen:

The Dow Jones industrial average soared yesterday, closing at its highest level since before the start of the Great Recession. The Nasdaq composite index, meanwhile, closed yesterday at its highest level in more than 11 years.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) offered a unique take on these developments yesterday, telling Fox News’ Neil Cavuto the recent upswing may be tied to the 2012 presidential election.

WEST: Well, I would think maybe the markets are maybe looking five to six months down the road, when we have a change in leadership in this country–

CAVUTO: Wait a minute, you think that this is built on a Republican either capturing the White House or Republicans capturing the Senate? … You think that the markets are getting bubbly in anticipation of a Republican taking the White House?

WEST: Oh, absolutely.

Now, that is funny enough on its own. But Benen points to a Bloomberg article last month that makes Congressman West’s assertion even funnier:

The BGOV Barometer shows that, over the five decades since John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, $1,000 invested in a hypothetical fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) only when Democrats are in the White House would have been worth $10,920 at the close of trading yesterday.

That’s more than nine times the dollar return an investor would have realized from following a similar strategy during Republican administrations. A $1,000 stake invested in a fund that followed the S&P 500 under Republican presidents, starting with Richard Nixon, would have grown to $2,087 on the day George W. Bush left office.

Media Failures And The “Inevitable” War With Iran

I know most of the talk today is about the allah-awful GOP presidential primary campaign, where the candidates are all trying to out-Neanderthal each other, but I want to forward something to you that has real substance to it, as well as real consequences, something that highlights the propaganda being fed to Americans about the Iran-nuke controversy.

This past Sunday Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, posted on his Foreign Policy blog a critique of the job our so-called mainstream media have done relative to coverage of “the current war scare over Iran.”

And it ain’t pretty.

Here is an edited version of his “Top Ten Media Failures in the 2012 Iran War Scare“:

#1: Mainstreaming the war.  …prominent media organizations keep publishing alarmist pieces about how war is imminent, likely, inevitable, etc., this may convince the public that it is going to happen sooner or later and it discourages people from looking for better alternatives.

#2: Loose talk about Iran’s “nuclear [weapons] program.” A recurring feature of Iran war coverage has been tendency to refer to Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” as if its existence were an established fact. U.S. intelligence services still believe that Iran does not have an active program…

#3: Obsessing about AhmadinejadA typical insertion into discussions of Iran is to make various references to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, usually including an obligatory reference to his penchant for Holocaust denial and his famously mis-translated statement about Israel “vanishing from the page of time.” …But the obsession with Ahmadinejad is misleading in several ways: he has little or no influence over Iran’s national security policy, his power has been declining sharply in recent months, and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini — who does make the key decisions — has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam.

#4: Ignoring Iranian weaknessIran is not a very powerful country at present…its defense budget is perhaps 1/50th the size of U.S. defense spending, and it has no meaningful power-projection capabilities. It could not mount a serious invasion of any of its neighbors, and could not block the Strait of Hormuz for long, if at all…U.S. media coverage often portrays Iran as a looming threat, without offering any serious military analysis of its very limited capabilities.

#5: Failing to ask why Iran might want a bomb. Discussions of a possible war also tend to assume that if Iran does in fact intend to get a nuclear weapon, it is for some nefarious purpose. But the world’s nine nuclear powers all obtained these weapons first and foremost for deterrent purposes (i.e., because they faced significant external threats and wanted a way to guarantee their own survival). Iran has good reason to worry: It has nuclear-armed states on two sides, a very bad relationship with the world’s only superpower, and more than three dozen U.S. military facilities in its neighborhood…

#6: Failing to consider why Iran might NOT want a bombAt the same time, discussions of Iran’s nuclear ambitions often fail to consider the possibility that Iran might be better off without a nuclear weapons capability. As noted above, Supreme Leader Khameini has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam, and he may very well mean it…

#7: Exaggerating Israel’s capabilities. this whole war scare has been driven by the possibility that Israel might feel so endangered that they would launch a preventive war on their own, even if U.S. leaders warned them not to. But the IDF doesn’t have the capacity to take out Iran’s new facility at Fordow, because they don’t have any aircraft that can carry a bomb big enough to penetrate the layers of rock that protect the facilities…and the only reason they might strike is to try to get the United States dragged in…the belief that Israel might strike on its own-may be based on a mirage.

#8: Letting spinmeisters play fast and loose with facts. Journalists have to let officials and experts express their views, but they shouldn’t let them spout falsehoods without pushing back. Unfortunately, there have been some egregious cases [Rick Santorum and Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, for example] where prominent journalists allowed politicians or government officials to utter howlers without being called on it…

#9. What about the human beings? One of the more bizarre failures of reporting on the war debate has been the dearth of discussion of what an attack might mean for Iranian civilians…most discussions emphasize the dangers of Iranian retaliation, or the impact on oil prices, instead of asking how many innocent Iranian civilians might die in the attack. You know: the same civilians we supposedly want to liberate from a despotic clerical regime.

#10. Could diplomacy work? …an underlying theme in a lot of the coverage is the suggestion that diplomacy is unlikely to work…diplomacy has yet to succeed-and it might not in any case-but it’s also never been seriously tried.

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