‘Nuff Said About Benghazi?

From the Associated Press:

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees. 

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

No wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.” “Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies.” “No, no, no.”

How telling is this:

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.

After all the hysterics, after all the accusations, after all those “dark conspiracies,” the Benghazi “conspiracy” dies with a gobble-gobble.

That’s it? Don’t bet on it:

The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

What A Leader Does When The Cowards Won’t Act

When President Obama was speaking last night, I was thinking, “Dammit, this is what Democrats are supposed to do!” We’re supposed to bring some measure of mercy to people who otherwise would be without it, who otherwise would be at the mercy of the merciless. We’re supposed to lead this country into a more hopeful future. And, for all the foolish talk about how weak a leader he is, President Obama was a powerful leader last night. He looked right into the eyes of the American people and asked:

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, immigration speechand give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works together to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration. We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

Hope over fear, help over hate. That’s what the Democratic Party should be about, and its leader should be about leading the country to embrace those values. President Obama, after waiting so long for Republicans to act, finally just shoved the cowards out of the way.

The President told the story of Astrid Silva, a beneficiary of his earlier order deferring deportation action for those undocumented young people—”DREAMers”—who were brought to the country as children. Silva became an immigration activist who demanded a more comprehensive fix to what “everybody knows,” as the President noted last night, is a “broken immigration system.” About her he said,

Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school, not because they didn’t love her, but because they were afraid the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant –- so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid, or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

astrid silvaMost of the people who oppose this president—the people who want his political scalp, who want to sue him or impeach him or worse—are not fighting against Obama so much as they are fighting against the changing face of America that Obama, so dramatically, represents. Many of the millions of people who will be helped by his executive actions look like Astrid Silva and not like Rush Limbaugh. And you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that makes a difference. If those undocumented immigrants were mostly white, immigration reform would have happened a long time ago.

The questions that journalists should ask every single Republican in Congress who opposes Obama’s action are these: Why do you want to load up buses with hard-working people who adore America and send them away? Why do you want to break up families through deportation while simultaneously championing “family values”? And if not Obama’s way, then what way?

____________________________

The Chaos To Come Will Be John Boehner’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s political life will be over on January 20, 2017, and he has some things he wants to do before the end comes.

One of those things is immigration reform. There is a bill in Congress that would go a long way toward fixing our immigration system, a bill that has been passed by the Senate—in June of 2013—with, gasp, 14 Republican votes. But that bill, a bill that would quiet all the fuss over executive orders if it reached the President’s desk, will never get a vote in the Tea Party-controlled House because Speaker John Boehner knows it would pass with Democratic votes, joined by a handful of Republicans. And the Speaker knows that if that were to happen, he wouldn’t be Speaker anymore. There would be a rebellion of historic proportions.

So, let’s get it straight: There is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem that has been rejected by a Republican leader because he values his leadership job over the well-being of the country. It’s pretty much that simple. And if journalists spent as much time reporting on that salient fact as they have on the issue of Obama’s executive oJohn Boehner smilerder—which he will announce tonight—an order that would only partly and temporarily address a long-standing problem, then maybe there would exist some decisive pressure on the Speaker to allow the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate to come to a vote. And we could move on to other things.

But there has been no real pressure on Speaker Boehner. He is rarely, if ever, asked a question about why he is tearing the country apart by not allowing that vote on the Senate bill. Most of the questions these days are focused on just how ridiculously nuts will his caucus go, if the President issues his order, an order that will not only help millions of undocumented immigrants and the country as a whole, but would also help Republicans in the 2016 presidential election (just ask the Chamber of Commerce). Those questions raised about the craziness of the Republican reaction are certainly legitimate, but they shield Speaker Boehner, who is the real problem in this mess, from the criticism he richly deserves.

When President Obama (Boehner’s spokesman now calls him “Emperor Obama”) finally announces his executive action on immigration reform (Boehner himself falsely but intentionally calls it “executive amnesty”), the resulting tumult, both in the Congress and throughout the foaming-at-the-mouth conservative media complex and beyond, will be Speaker Boehner’s responsibility. Whatever ugliness happens after tonight—and it will get ugly—history will blame much of it on John Boehner, even if contemporary journalists have largely given him a pass.

[AP photo]

Claire De Lune?

clair de lunea very pale blue color…

Dictionary.com

Let me begin by showing you this headline over a Huffington Post story posted on Sunday evening:

Sen. Claire McCaskill Distances Herself From Obama, Senate Democrats

That characterization of McCaskill’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation wasn’t a totally accurate one, as you can see by this exchange with the program’s host:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me talk a little bit about what [Romney] said on immigration. He said what the Republicans have been saying up on the Hill, the President taking unilateral action on immigration is a poke in the eye like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Are you comfortable with the President taking unilateral action?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: You know I’m not crazy about it. But let me say this, I’ll tell what you a poke in the eye is. A poke in the eye is for the United States Senate almost a year and a half ago passing by a two-thirds majority and a comprehensive immigration bill with Republicans voting for it from places mccaskill on face the nationlike Tennessee and South Carolina that just got re-elected by double digits. And Speaker Boehner has refused to debate one of the most complicated and difficult problems facing our country. They won’t take our bill up. All he has to do next week if he doesn’t want the President to act is take up the Senate bill, amend it, change it, put up your own bill. Let’s get back to doing our work instead of just blaming the President for everything.

I actually don’t see much distance between her and Obama, at least in that statement. I would venture to say that President Obama isn’t exactly “crazy” about the idea of unilateral action either, but he understands the reality of the politics facing him, especially given the fact that next year’s Congress will be even more reactionary than the present one.

But there is some awful truth to the other part of the claim about McCaskill made in that HuffPo headline. Clearly she is distancing herself from some Senate Democrats (many suspect she is going to run for Missouri governor in two years). She was one of only six Democratic senators not to vote for Harry Reid as their leader next year. But even more troubling for me is that she is distancing herself from those Senate Democrats who actually stand for something, who actually stand for what should be important Democratic values. McCaskill made it clear she preferred more “moderate” voices over clearly liberal ones:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this: Elizabeth Warren, the fiery populist from Massachusetts has now been part of the– voted in as part of the leadership in the Senate. How do you feel about that? It’s another woman in leadership. But is this going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left when a lot of people think the only way that you can get anything done is if both parties move toward the center?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think that the leadership team, hopefully, may expand even more with more moderates in it. And by the way the same day that Elizabeth Warren was selected, so was Jon Tester, a flat top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren’s.

“Moderate through and through,” she said. She admires that. During her campaign in 2012 she emphasized just how moderate she was.  No, she actually bragged about it. Who could forget this commercial:

I have been mostly supportive of Claire McCaskill over the years. I’ve even knocked on doors for her. I know what politics is like here in half-Democrat, half-Republican Missouri. I understand the need for compromise (which she appropriately embraced on Face the Nation). And I wish her luck should she decide to run for governor in 2016. But I confess there is something about that whole moderate thing that just bothers the hell out of me.

Last year McCaskill became an honorary co-chair of Third Way,” a group of “Democrats and Independents” who “believe that America is best led from the center” and who are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” They say,

Third Way’s role in these debates is to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity – forces that serve only to preserve the status quo.

That sounds nice to a lot of people. I know it does. But think about it. What it actually means is that this group of Democrats, presumably including Claire McCaskill (she said on Sunday that she hopes “to be somebody who is driving people to the center”), actually think there is an equal amount of blame to go around for the polarization and ideological rigidity we have seen, especially over the last four years. But there most certainly isn’t an equal amount of blame. Even Claire McCaskill at one time recognized the reality of the situation.

In 2012 McCaskill said that “the far right-wing base of the Republican Party” wanted candidates who believe “we need to turn out the lights on the federal government and go home.” She was absolutely right about that. But no one could say the same thing about the liberal base of the Democratic Party. They actually want candidates who want to govern. It’s what they send them to Washington to do because they actually believe in government. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a democratic socialist, actually compromises with Republicans, for God’s sake.

So any Democratic group that says it exists “to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity” has it wrong from the start. And one suspects that something else is cooking, and it doesn’t smell much like working class populism to me.

But there’s more to it than that. As I noted earlier, the Wall Street-backed group of so-called moderate Democrats in Third Way claim they are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” That highly suggests they think the visions of the Elizabeth Warrens out there are as extreme and disturbing as the visions of the Ted Cruzes, that the economic populism championed by the senator from Massachusetts is as bad for the country as the know-nothing Tea Party extremism advanced by the senator from Texas.

And if that is what Claire McCaskill believes, she should say so.

-CINCpt_07-18-2014_Enquirer_1_A009~~2014~07~17~IMG_0210_sherrod_brown.j_1_1_.jpgOne Democratic Senator (and one of my favorites) who isn’t afraid to speak up in defense of working class populism is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Last week in The New York Times he said,

Too many Democrats are too close to Wall Street. Too many Democrats support trade agreements that outsource jobs, and too many Democrats are too willing to cut Social Security — and that’s why we lose elections.

I don’t know if Brown is completely right about why Democrats lose elections. But if the Democratic Party, in the name of “moderation” or “centrism” gets even chummier with fat cats on Wall Street, if the party helps make it even more profitable for American companies to outsource jobs, and if party leadership agrees to additional cuts to social programs, then I will know that the Third Way moderates have won the battle for the soul of my party—and the forces of reaction and regression will make life even harder for the poor and for the working-class, often, we all should be ashamed to admit, the same people.

___________________________

[Sherrod Brown photo: AP]

Breitbart: “Impeachment Goes Mainstream”—Yes!

It’s official: Charlie Krauthammer, the ringmaster of reactionary columnists, has blessed impeachment. Alas, my strategy is working!

After last week’s election, I published a piece (“Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus”) in which I urged President Obama to go ahead and incite incitable Republicans with his promised executive action, including de-prioritizing deportation of certain classes of undocumented immigrants (“deferred action”), such as those who have been here for some time and those who have families here. His action would not be unprecedented (even Republican presidents have done it), nor would it be outside of his authority as chief executive of the country, which, after all, does give him discretion on how to use the limited resources available for prosecution of any crimes (the Feds, for instance, aren’t prosecuting marijuana munchers in Colorado).

After Fox “News” and The New York Times reported that Obama may in fact throw his executive authority on the side of immigration reform next week, the circus clowns began putting on their creepy makeup and the sideshow artists began honing their acts—rumor has it that a sword-swallowing Sean Hannity will attempt to deep-throat Rush Limbaugh’s sweaty sword. Anything for the team!

It was one thing when Sarah Palin, who knows more than a little about not completing terms in office, called for impeachment this past summer:

…we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is. 

Or when right-wing legisnutters like Joe Barton of Texas floated the idea last week:

…impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir.

breitbart on impeachmentBut when Ringmaster Krauthammer says that action by Obama on immigration reform “is an impeachable offense,” then, God bless P.T. Barnum, it’s time to set up the big tents!

Just yesterday I heard a smug John Boehner say, “All of the options are on the table,” when it comes to depriving the President of his executive powers. He also claimed that he wanted to stop Obama “from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution.” Now, if he really means that, it’s impeachment, baby!

But then, dammit, The Washington Post came out last night with a report that suggested the House would only consider a lawsuit as a response:

The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP’s playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president’s use of executive power.

Darn, darn, darn! Maybe the clowns and Sean The Sword-Swallower will have to wait on the lawyers. But the sue-Obama-for-doing-his-job lawyers are sort of hard to find:

Boehner first announced plans to initiate a federal suit against Obama in late June, when he called the president’s executive orders an unconstitutional power grab by one branch of government.

But the suit has wallowed ever since as GOP lawmakers have struggled to find a D.C. area law firm willing to take up their legal fight.

The good news is that if the House is serious about finally bringing a lawsuit against the President, as opposed to bringing up articles of impeachment, that means Obama can go even further on immigration reform than he might now be contemplating. And that would be good not only for the immigrants involved, but good for the country.

And going even further would, Allah willing, bring us Ringmaster Krauthammer and The Greatest Show On Earth. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, get ready!

Rosetta And The Future Of Man

I’ve been a fan of space travel and NASA since I was a little boy. I read about the Mercury and Gemini programs and followed the Apollo missions. I dreamed of earthlings colonizing Mars, a dream helped along by Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and other books.

But I never thought I’d live to see mankind land a probe on a comet! Did you get that? Just when we thought the world was going to hell in all kinds of ways, when we felt all our institutions were failing us (they really aren’t, of course), we landed on a comet. Wow.

By “we” I mean the European Space Agency, with help from NASA. All morning I waited for the big event, and a little bit after 10 this morning it happened, as this tweet from ESA indicates:

rosetta mission landing tweet

 “Philae” is the landing craft that left its mother ship, Rosetta, and landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is currently 300 million miles away from Earth and headed toward the Sun. All of which merited a shout-out from Captain Kirk himself:

captain kirk tweet

The journey to the comet took more than 10 years, after its launch in March of 2004. That was before some guy named Barack Obama gave the famous keynote speech at his party’s convention that first brought him national attention. Think of all the events we have witnessed since then. Yet, during all that time there was Rosetta speeding its way to a rendezvous with, and carrying a probe that would eventually land on—let me say it again—a comet! One of these things (photo of Comet West via NASA; Comet 67P can’t be seen with the naked eye):

Comet West

Comet 67P actually looks like this closeup (the primary landing site is enlarged):

Philae's primary landing site, Site J, now named Agilkia

Needless to say, this is one stunning technical achievement, even though as of right now the probe Philae hasn’t been secured on the surface of the comet. Because Comet 67P is so small, its gravitational pull is hundreds of thousands of times weaker than Earth’s and harpoons were suppose to fire from the lander to help keep it in place. They didn’t fire and no one knows why. There are, though, ice screws on each of the lander’s three legs that are supposed to use the impact energy from the landing to drive them into the surface. Hopefully that will be enough to keep it attached while the science is conducted.

In any case, whatever happens, it is a remarkable day for our kind. I want to share with you what Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, had to say about the event. Mr. Green was at ESA when Philae touched down and couldn’t contain his American-style enthusiasm in front of the distinguished guests:

Personally, from my perspective, how audacious! How exciting! How unbelievable to be able to dare to land on a comet! To take that step that we’ve all wanted, from a scientific perspective…It is the start of something important. The Solar System is mankind’s. This mission is the first step to take it. It is ours! Let’s learn about the environment that we are in. It’s these steps that will lead us beyond this planet and onto Mars and out into the Solar System. I truly believe that a single planet’s species will not survive long. It’s our destiny to move off this planet.

You have to love the guy. He thinks big. Like human beings should do. This planet is too small to hold us!

I want to inject into this tribute to human ingenuity a note about a couple of old friends of mine. The old friends are actually spacecraft that were launched in 1977, one just before and one just after I turned 19. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still alive and transmitting data back to earth, even though by the time the radio signals arrive here, they are less than a billionth of a billionth of a watt. Yet, those signals shout out our expansion into the universe.

Both Voyagers flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 2 managed to also take in Uranus and Neptune on its scientific sightseeing tour of the Solar System. After their planetary missions, they headed for interstellar space. Voyager 2 is 10 billion miles away from home and counting and hasn’t yet reached the boundary that defines interstellar conditions. Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space—the first man-made object to do so—and is more than 12 billion miles from Earth. Travelling at 38,000 miles per hour, it is headed in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, which brings us back to the comet.

In Book II of Paradise Lost, John Milton compared Satan to a spectacular comet flashing across the constellation Ophiuchus:

Incens’d with indignation Satan stood
Unterrify’d, and like a comet burn’d
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In th’ arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war.

Paradise Lost is based on the story of the Fall of Man found in the book of Genesis, a story that attempts to persuade us that death is God’s punishment upon us for our failure to resist Satan’s offer of forbidden knowledge. Milton’s use of the streaking comet as a metaphor for Satan shaking “pestilence and war” on mankind is perfect, now that we have actually set our collective feet on a real comet today. Perhaps it is that all the knowledge and imagination and intelligence that went into the ESA’s Rosetta mission represents a metaphorical conquering of our ancient fears and superstitions. And perhaps Voyager 1′s planet montagestreaking “the length of Ophiuchus” represents a newer, far superior image of mankind than the horrific imagery found in the Old Testament and in Bible-based epics like Paradise Lost.

Aboard Voyager 1 is a 12-inch gold-plated phonograph record that holds selected cultural sounds and images of life on Earth. Featuring sounds of nature and music and a sampling of the world’s languages, NASA says the record is “intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.” But I think the story is better told to ourselves. We are an amazing species when we want to be.

The great Carl Sagan, who chaired a committee that determined the content of the record aboard both Voyagers, said,

The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.

Indeed, it does. And so does riding a comet.

A Veterans Day Lesson On Our “Democracy”

I will acknowledge from the start that I know why we have the political system we have today. I can read history books (or Wikipedia), too.

But on this Veterans Day, a day celebrating those who actually defend what we often call a democracy, it is worth taking a look at just how un- or anti-democratic our system really is, a system first constructed from a blueprint in west point first black graduateour Constitution, and modified by court decisions, amendments, and evolving practices.  And of course I know there will be no constitutional convention to alter our system of governance or no new and radical amendments to a document that is damned hard to amend under the best of circumstances. All that being said, we owe it to ourselves now and then to note just how we fail to govern ourselves democratically in some important respects and why we have failed from the beginning.

1. To start with, the  successful attempt by Republicans to suppress voter turnout among Democrats by enacting needlessly burdensome voting laws, which disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities, is as shameful as anything one can think of for people who live in a democracy. But the right-wing “patriots” who engage in such voter suppression are beyond shaming. Winning will only produce more attempts to skew the vote their way and undermine the principles of democratic government. But there’s more to the story of why they are doing such nasty things to our system, which I will get to at the end.

2. Next, we have the issue of money and politics. Theoretically, we all have the ability to influence the electoral process by making contributions to partisan candidates, or on behalf of or in opposition to ballot initiatives. Yes, we are all free to inject into the process a million or ten million or a hundred million dollars, right? Of course not. But people with real money can and do buy votes and people without real money can and do suffer because of it. Undemocratic or anti-democratic? You pick. Either way it is also a shameful aspect of our system.

3. Another people-unfriendly flaw in our electoral schemata was illustrated just 14 years ago. Everyone remembers that Al Gore, former Vice President of the country, actually got over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. Yet there was no President Al Gore. The Constitution, in all its compromising glory, denied him the office, by virtue of a partisan Supreme Court decision that prematurely settled a messy election in Florida, which then led to Gore’s subsequent defeat in the very weird and anti-democratic electoral college.

Al Gore’s I-won-the-popular-vote-but-I-lost-the-election misfortune (and the country’s misfortune, given what happened on 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which has set part of the world on fire), though, is a relatively rare event. Such an outcome is not a regular occurrence even under our Constitution. Before the 2000 election, the last time a candidate won a presidential election without at least a plurality of the vote was in 1888. But still it happened and its consequences were costly and catastrophic, and given the trends in our electorate, it may happen more frequently in the future.

4. A more regular anti-democratic feature of our system is gerrymandering, a process of manipulating demographics in order to achieve lopsided outcomes by drawing up Ebola-looking congressional districts. For instance, here’s Maryland’s 3rd District and North Carolina’s 12th District, two of the most gerrymandered House districts in the country:

gerrmandered districts

The most recent beneficiary of this form of voter manipulation is, of course, the Republican Party. After that Democrat-shellacking 2010 election, right-wingers got to draw boundaries for a larger number of congressional districts than Democrats did. After the 2012 election, the results were in: Democrats outpolled Republicans by about 1.4 million votes nationally in House races, but were under-represented by 18 seats. We saw the effect here in Missouri again this year, where even last Tuesday’s pitiful statewide electoral performance by Democrats (they only received 36% of the vote in all U.S. House races) would, under a more people-friendly system, have entitled them to an additional representative in Congress.

Consider the following analysis of the 2012 election done by Sam Wang, who founded the Princeton Election Consortium:

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

5. Another regular anti-democratic feature of our strange electoral system is what happened last Tuesday relative to the U.S. Senate, which, as some political scientists claim, “may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” Let’s look at Louisiana. There were eight candidates in the Senate race. Here are the top three finishers:

Democrat Mary Landrieu: 618,840  42.1%
Republican Bill Cassidy:    602,439  41.0%
Republican Rob Maness:   202,413  13.8%

Rob Maness is a typical Tea Party wingnut Republican. As far as I’m concerned, Maness shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether to buy a new street sweeper for the city of Baton Rouge, let alone make reactionary whoopee with Mitch McConnell in Washington, D.C.  But Maness did manage to get over 200,000 votes in a multi-candidate race. Compare that to fairly-liberal Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. He won his race by almost 16 points, yet he received only 130,645 votes. Coons will be a U.S. Senator and Maness will not, thank God and, in this limited case, the Founding Fathers.

But there is something about that 130,645 vote total in Delaware that should unsettle us all, at least those of us who value representative democracy. And there is something unsettling about Mike Rounds’ U.S. Senate victory in South Dakota. He got 140,721 votes. Republican Senator Mike Enzi was reelected in Wyoming with a whopping 72% of the vote, but he got a total of 119, 534 votes. In Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is leading with 110,203 votes. Compare all those totals with what Republican Senator John Cornyn received in his Texas race: 2,855,068. That far exceeds the vote totals of 12 U.S. Senate winners, Republicans and Democrats, last Tuesday. Think about that. There were 36 Senate seats up for grabs and John Cornyn got more votes than one-third of the winners put together. Yet Cornyn, who represents 26.5 million people, will have only one vote, and those 12 other Senators, including Mike Enzi from a population-poor state like Wyoming—583,000—will each have a vote that counts as much as Cornyn’s. In effect, Wyoming citizens enjoy 46 times more representation than do Texans—and 66 times more than Californians!

Put another way on this Veterans Day, an American soldier from Texas or California who is fighting on behalf of the country’s democratic values, is getting considerably shortchanged. Those soldiers from Wyoming or Delaware have, democratically speaking, more to fight for and more to lose. And the small-state advantage is not only big, but it is increasing because of the population growth in large cities in the larger states. Because of the nature of that population growth—African-Americans and Latinos tend to live in the largest states—the smaller states with the lopsided representation make the country’s governance much more whiter and conservative than it would or should be. As The New York Times pointed out,

Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

The Times reports another disturbing feature of our political life related to the anti-democratic Senate:

In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.

Given that reality, even when Democrats do manage to control a majority of Senate seats, they are still fairly powerless to do anything. One-third of the country’s people can stop two-thirds. It’s hard to see how that is anyone’s idea of representative government.

As I said, there isn’t going to be any mad rush to change any of these flaws in our system. We’re stuck with it, as far as the eye can see. But I do want to point out a dark and disturbing connection between all of the items on my list of anti-democratic elements in our political system, starting with voter suppression efforts by Republicans and ending with the very anti-democratic U.S. Senate.

It is well established that conservatives in our country, whether they have called themselves Democrats or Republicans historically, have always had a problem recognizing the citizenship-legitimacy of African-Americans. The obvious attempts by conservative Republicans today to discourage black people (and other minorities, to be sure) from voting is just another manifestation of institutional discrimination that has bedeviled our democracy since its founding. From the Times:

Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

Related to that excellent Times article, professor of political science and author Corey Robin wrote,

…for all the justified disgust with Emory University President James Wagner’s recent celebration of the 3/5 Clause, virtually no one ever criticizes the Senate, even though its contribution to the maintenance of white supremacy, over the long course of American history, has been far greater than the 3/5 Clause, which was nullified by the 14th Amendment.

Now you can see why we have had, and continue to have, such an anti-democratic system. The causes are rooted in white supremacy, and we see a manifestation of that same spirit in the Republican-led defense against what they Gordon, scourged back, colored slide 2.pngperceive as threats to white Western culture. The voter suppression of minorities is part of that defense. The big money that controls our politics is part of it (how many black billionaires do you know?). The Electoral College system, which is directly related to the issue of slavery, is another part. Gerrymandering, where minority voting power is diluted by packing voters into often-convoluted districts, is still another part. And, finally, the Senate is part of it, too, a place where, as Corey Robin wrote, “democracy goes to die.”

So, the next time you hear a Republican talk about voter fraud and the need for stricter ID laws, or talk about how money equals free speech, or how the Electoral College “keeps the values of traditional America relevant,” or how gerrymandering “isn’t really about race,” or how the U. S. Senate balances rural interests against big-city interests, you will know what that Republican is really saying: white might makes right.

Democrats Need To Learn Something From The 2014 Election And Evangelicals May Be Their Best Teachers

I know Democrats are still stunned and angered by last Tuesday’s election results. Over the weekend I heard a lot of talk about what went wrong and why it went wrong. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion, including me.

Beyond the unfavorable mathematics of the situation—so many Senate Democratic seats to defend in so many indefensible places—and beyond the problems with voter ID laws that right-wingers used to make it more difficult for Democrats to cast votes, there was the troubling notion that voters, who said they were dissatisfied with the economy and believed the country was on the wrong track, looked to Republicans to help fix things. That in itself is enough to tempt a rational person into abandoning all hope that there is in fact any rationality in our electoral process.

We all saw the news last Friday that 214,000 more jobs were created in October, lowering the unemployment rate to 5.8%, the best it has been since 2008. Amazingly, it was 7.2% just a year ago. We now have seen nine consecutive months in which more than 200,000 jobs were created—the strongest job growth since 1998—and in just over four and a half years 10.6 million private-sector jobs have been added to the economy. The stock market has soared beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. More people have health insurance now. We’ve come a helluva long way since Barack Hussein Obama’s first few months in office.

Yep, all that makes one wonder what people were thinking on Tuesday. And it makes one wonder what Democratic candidates were thinking before Tuesday when most of them didn’t bother to run on the progress that has been made—progress made despite Republicans sabotaging the economy with shutdowns, threats of shutdowns, threats of defaulting on our debt, not to mention their strategic legislative obstruction in Congress. You gotta scratch your head.

But the biggest head-scratching fact of the election was, of course, the problems our side has with turnout. Hispanics, a strong Democratic Party constituency, constituted 11% of eligible voters this year yet only represented 8% of actual voters. And although Democrats won a significant share of the overall Hispanic vote nationally, in places like Texas, where Hispanics represent 17% of the electorate and where Democrats expect to become competitive in the near future, Hispanics gave Nugent-loving Greg Abbott 44% of their share. Texas Senator John Cornyn actually outperformed his Democratic opponent among Hispanics, 48% to 47%, as did reactionary Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who won his race with only 49.96% of the vote but managed to win the Latino vote 47% to 46%. (I should point out that there are some analysts who believe the exit polling showing these results was skewed and that Republicans didn’t do so well.)

Democrats, as usual, won the 18- to 29-year old vote, this year by 11 points. Problem is that they only represented 13% of the electorate on Tuesday, down from 19% in 2012. Turnout among single women, another stronghold for the Democrats for many important reasons, was also down and those who showed up only favored Democrats this time by a 60-38 margin. Women overall only favored Dems by five points, compared to +11 just two years ago. African-American turnout was down slightly from 2012, even though they remain a reliable voting block for Democrats.

I can’t explain to you why all those groups, groups that have so much to lose if Republicans have their way, don’t bother to show up in droves for the mid-term elections. It boggles my brain. The folks that Democrats help the most aren’t very good at helping Democrats when they need the most help. I just don’t know why that is. I don’t know why such folks need to be energized by a presidential campaign. Makes no sense to me. And I don’t know how long the country can continue progressing with what essentially are two distinct electorates, a younger and darker and more liberal one for presidential years and an older and whiter and more conservative one for off years.

But as a former evangelical Christian, something I do know and understand is this:

White Evangelicals turned up at the polls in large numbers on Tuesday, playing a key role placing Congress in the hands of the Republican Party.

That’s from a HuffPo article on “the religious landscape” of the 2014 election. The fact that conservative Christians showed up and voted, and voted in large numbers like they always do, doesn’t surprise me a bit. Those folks, even though they sometimes get frustrated with politics, nevertheless play the long game. They organize at the local level, move on to control their state’s GOP, and have a big say in who gets on the ballot. They then volunteer in campaigns and make sure to get out their vote, no matter what the election is. They are largely responsible for what we have seen since 2009. Barack Obama scared the devil out of them, or somewhat more accurately from their point of view, Barack Hussein Obama is the devil.

Take my next-door neighbor, Arkansas:

52 percent of the electorate was composed of self-identified white evangelicals or born-again Christians. About 73 percent voted for Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, which helped unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Now, Mark Pryor was no atheist. In fact, he was co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast—where Republicans take time out from demonizing Democrats in order to assert their Christian values—four times. He was as sincere a Christian as one can find in politics (don’t laugh). But that didn’t stop the National Republican Senatorial Committee from attacking Pryor’s faith in December of last year, an attack that Tom Cotton even criticized, that is, just before Cotton attacked Pyror’s faith himself in July:

Barack Obama and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. That’s when we worship, but faith is what we live every single day.

Cotton, who apparently has more ambition in his bones than Christian charity in his heart, didn’t know in July whether he would beat Mark Pryor. Polls showed the race was fairly tight. But he had good reason to believe a whole lot of evangelical Christians would turn out to vote in November—turnout was actually up in Arkansas over what it was in 2010. So, why not take a shot at Pryor in Jesus’ name? And it was a nice touch putting Barack Obama’s name in that statement, don’t you think? What most evangelicals in Arkansas heard was, “The Devil and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings.” Pryor, who didn’t want anything to ralph reed and faith and freedom coalitiondo with The Scary Negro because he is so unpopular in Arkansas, didn’t even get 40% of the vote last Tuesday. He lost by 17 points—in a state that saw 168,000 people, out of a population of only three million, benefit from ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion (the state had, until Tuesday, a Democratic governor).

But I can’t really blame Tom Cotton—who once called for the prosecution and imprisonment of three New York Times’ journalists—for such tactics, given the nature of electoral politics in Arkansas and across the Deep South (where, if Mary Landrieu loses in December, there will be no white Democrats in Congress). It isn’t as though we should expect that Cotton, being an “every single day” Christian, has any better manners or morals than your average beer-slamming blogger (don’t judge me too harshly). But he and his handlers understand his base. They know what buttons to push. They know what will get even more evangelicals than usual to the polls on Tuesdays in any November when there is an election going on. Cotton doesn’t care that he slandered a fellow Christian (actually, two fellow Christians, if you count that crypto-Muslim in the White’s House) in order to score points with white evangelicals in Arkansas. He wants to be a senator for God’s sake!

All of which gets me back to Democratic constituencies and our problems with turnout. It is simply a stubborn fact that we have to cobble together enough votes to win by appealing to a more diverse collection of people. We can’t rely on an overwhelming number of white voters (whose electoral strength is slowly dissipating), who this election made up 75% of the electorate, compared to 72% in 2012, and who gave the GOP 60% of their vote. Or, I hate to say it, we can’t rely on 65-year-old and older voters, who this time made up 22% of the electorate and, although most of them are living off Democratic programs like Social Security and Medicare, nevertheless voted Republican 57-42 .

We continue to heavily rely on the under-45 vote, the female vote, the union vote, and the minority vote, while getting significant shares of those between the ages of 45 and 64—they make up 43% of the electorate and we got 45% of their vote (yes, I know, these groups overlap). And as noted we continue to fail to get out our voters in sufficient numbers in off-year elections. As I said, beats me as to why that is or what we can do about it. I suggest, for a starter, not running away from our leader or our accomplishments.

But beyond that Monday-morning analysis, maybe we need to stop underestimating the power and influence of  white conservative evangelicals, who make up about one-fourth of the national electorate and a much higher percentage in states like Arkansas. There is no other group in American politics quite like these evangelicals. I think this explains a lot about why Republicans have a habit of winning mid-term elections. These folks don’t quit. They don’t tend to stay at home out of frustration. They don’t tend to let anything stand in their way, including voting for a Mormon in 2012, even though many evangelicals consider Mormonism to be a cult. They seem to have an immunity to apathy. Most of them believe every election, every vote, is crucial to fighting the tides of secularism that they are certain threaten their faith, perhaps their very existence. It is a good-versus-evil choice for them each and every time a national election is held.

Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, don’t seem to understand this reality. For some reason, instead of attempting to match or exceed evangelicals’ electoral enthusiasm—if that’s even possible—liberals keep wanting to wish it away. ThinkProgress published a piece two years ago, after Obama’s victory over Romney, that ended with this:

The 2012 election season appears to have been an ominous one for the Religious Right, and – if the trend continues – may very well signal the end of their traditional dominance of Republican politics…the Religious Right looks to have already lost persuasive power with many American voters.

Nope. Just ask Tom Cotton, uh, I mean, Senator-elect Tom Cotton.

Finally, I want to say that as a former evangelical I have spent a lot of time over the past several years writing about the influence of conservative Christians, whom I consider to be the most reactionary force in American society, especially in our politics. And I want to end this rather sad blog post by noting just how powerful the evangelical movement has been in terms of restricting reproductive freedom for women. Anyone who thinks that conservative Christians are losing their political clout, anyone who wants to ignore their influence over what happened last Tuesday in evangelical-rich Arkansas or Iowa or Colorado or Georgia or North Carolina or elsewhere, need only look at this headline:

Anti-Choice Group Moving Into Planned Parenthood Clinic Closed By Texas Abortion Restrictions 

Let that sink in for a moment or two. Now read this:

BRYAN/COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Nov. 6, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — The worldwide 40 Days for Life movement is moving its headquarters into a former Planned Parenthood abortion center in Bryan/College Station, Texas. The pro-life initiative began outside that same facility ten years ago.

“This news shows what God can accomplish when His people pray,” said Shawn Carney, campaign director of 40 Days for Life. “More than 6,400 children lost their lives in this building, but God is making ‘all things new.’ What was once a place of death and despair is now going to be a place of life and hope. We are excited to start using this location to aid the rapid worldwide growth of 40 Days for Life, and to help other cities become abortion-free.”

Instead of ignoring or writing off right-wing Christians in America, Democrats have to find a way to stir up the same passion and commitment that evangelicals attach to their theocratic vision of a better society. If we don’t, then not only will the on-again, off-again electoral cycle we have seen continue, but in more places than Texas we will see liberal values diminish or disappear.

_______________________________

UPDATE: A commenter directed me to the following video, which captures much of the frustration on our side but also demonstrates the passion necessary for us to win again (for you folks who don’t like profanity, there are a few naughty words toward the end):

Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus

My favorite moment in John Boehner’s post-election, in-Obama’s-face press conference Thursday afternoon was when a reporter, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, ask him this question:

Mr. Speaker, you have a new crop of conservatives coming into the House who have suggested, among other things, that women need to submit to the authority of their husbands, that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ, and that feel that the Sandy Hook victims should just get over it. So, the “Hell No!” caucus,” as you put it, is getting bigger and some of them think you’re not conservative enough. How will you deal with them differently than you did in the last Congress?

boehner news conference nov 2014The way that question was set up was priceless. But the question itself was absolutely the right question to ask. Problem is, Boehner didn’t answer it. What he said, in my loose translation, was essentially this: Look, you’re right, there are some nuts in the new crop, but most of the new guys are “good candidates.” Yikes.

The reason Boehner couldn’t answer that question is pretty simple. He has no idea how he will deal with the Hell No! caucus. I mean, how do you deal with, say, the “Neo-Confederate Christofascist” who just got elected in Maryland? And he may not be the nuttiest new member, to say nothing of the nuts who were reelected. Boehner knows controlling these people is going to be harder than ever before, since the caucus, though larger, is also much more reactionary and since his members, with the Senate as partners, will expect real ideological action, not pragmatic compromise of any shape or form.

And speaking of the Senate, it is the same for McConnell. His majority in January will be much more radically conservative than the minority he leads now. He knows how difficult it will be to rein in Ted Cruz and other extremists, especially now that they have zealous reinforcements in the persons of Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, David Perdue, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner and probably Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (after a runoff on December 6).

So, now that we have heard from the two gloating GOP leaders, as well as a strangely but touchingly romantic President Obama (“I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states”), what should our side, meaning our leader who will today meet with Boehner and McConnell, do? The clue is in what both Republican leaders have now famously said relative to immigration reform. Both of them went out of their way to assert that if Obama takes executive action to help fix the immigration mess, it will “poison the well.” That very much sounds like a threat, right? Boehner said, which everyone is quoting,

When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.

Yes, that sounds like a threat. It sounds like an impeachment threat. But there is another way of interpreting his language. It is a plea. It is Boehner begging Obama not to set his House caucus on fire, not to make the job of herding his members, which under the best of circumstances is close to impossible, completely impossible to do. And McConnell, too, is begging the President not to give Ted Cruz and the other nuts in his caucus their own matches to play with, matches they will use to burn not just Obama, but burn the whole damned place to the ground.

Listen to what John McCain said on Thursday afternoon:

I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.

It couldn’t be any plainer. No relatively sensible leader in the GOP (and I emphasize the qualifier, “relatively sensible”) wants Obama to act because they know what will happen to their party. The impeachment circus will come to town. There will be freak shows with bearded ladies and two-headed men talking about the President’s lawlessness. There will be Obama-hating fire breathers and glass eaters on every news show. The Cruz-led clowns will come out and shut down the government.

That’s what would happen if Obama were to do what, in his own press conference, he indicated he was going to do sometime this year:

...we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern.  And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed.  And if they want to get a bill done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year — I’m eager to see what they have to offer.

But what I’m not going to do is just wait.  I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.

He said a bit later:

But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting.  There is a cost to waiting.  There’s a cost to our economy.  It means that resources are misallocated…separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country. So where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that.

Well, he should have already been “started on that,” but that’s another argument. What he should do now is light the match of executive action and move as boldly as any generous reading of the law will allow. There are two reasons for doing this, one moral and one political.

The moral reason: Such executive action will actually help real people in real time and it won’t get done otherwise. De-prioritizing deportation action against non-criminals who are here without documentation, particularly folks who have been here a long time and have family here, would do a lot of instant good.

Not only that, Obama could, and should, go further and build upon his executive move in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As the Immigration Policy Center pointed out, that action has, as of March of this year, helped more than half a million undocumented young people gain “widened access to the American mainstream,” including legally joining the workforce and attending college. Many legal minds believe the President has the executive authority to go further, as Talking Points Memo pointed out:

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has recommended an expanded deferred action program for close family members (including parents, children, spouses and siblings) of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and DACA beneficiaries.

“Technically under the law there is not a specific constraint preventing the president from designating a broad category of individuals for whom he’s going to suspend enforcement against,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director for [the American Immigration Lawyers Association].

That would be a lot of people that President Obama could help immediately, if not permanently. And there is exactly no reason, given what we have seen Republicans do on this issue for the last two years, to think that those undocumented people will get any relief from right-wingers in Congress. The President said himself yesterday:

I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.  Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.

Exactly. And nothing has changed except those anti-reform folks have grown stronger.

The political reason: As far as politics, the reason the President should proceed with executive action on immigration is that it would do two things. As I suggested above, it would throw Republicans in Congress into ideological convulsions, which would be both entertaining and electorally useful. And that’s worth doing even if that were the only reason. But executive action would also certainly strengthen the attachment between Hispanics and the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential election, an election we obviously cannot now afford to lose.

It’s no secret that the President’s hesitation to act this summer on the immigration issue hurt the Democratic Party. If he does nothing this year, if he waits too long for Republicans to act when there is almost no chance of their acting, then the unfortunate—and unwarranted—apathy we saw this past election among Hispanics will likely get worse.

Look at this from NBC News:

Hispanic voters made up only 8 percent of 2014 voters, compared to 10 percent in 2012, a disappointment to voter advocates who hoped that Latino votes would increase at least due to the growing population. In 2010, the last midterm election year, they were 7 percent of voters, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

And Democrats did not garner the support they were hoping to get from Latino voters.

In 2012, Democrats enjoyed a wide margin over Republicans; 71 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama to 27 percent for Romney – a 44 percent advantage for the Dems. But as NBC News’ Carrie Dann reports, in Tuesday’s elections Hispanics voted for Democrats by a margin of 28 percent.

If President Obama unilaterally acts this year on immigration, he will have done all he can to make life better for undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanics. That would be the right thing to do no matter the politics. But it would also help whoever is the Democratic presidential nominee and the many Democratic candidates running in 2016.

Exit polling from this last election, as bad as the election was for Democrats, showed that 57% of voters believe that undocumented immigrants should have “a chance to apply for legal status.” Most non-Tea Party folks, by the time the next election comes around—the electorate will be more Democratic than Republican—will have forgotten about Obama’s executive action—his DACA order wasn’t an issue on Tuesday. But Hispanics everywhere will remember, and it will be much easier to get them to the polls to vote, and to vote for Democrats.

Bottom line: There simply is no good reason for President Obama to wait too long on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to figure out how to work a miracle and get an immigration reform bill— one that Democrats could support—through this lame-duck Congress or through a much more conservative Congress next year. But there are moral and political reasons for him to act in the next month or so.

Do it, Mr. President. And then we’ll all get our popcorn and sit back and watch the Tea Party circus.

_______________________________

[Matches by visualswirl.com; Republican Cirque by Mario Piperni]

Apathy And Its Consequences, Part 2

“Fear is better than apathy because fear makes us do something.”

—Emiliano Salinas, anti-violence and anti-corruption activist from Mexico

No further commentary necessary:

huffpo post election header

Apathy And Its Consequences

All Democrats who live where I live expect our candidates to lose each and every election. That’s just the way it is here in ruralish Southwest Missouri. This year, of course, was no exception. Ozark Billy got almost 64% of the vote against Jim Evans, the valiant Democrat who received only 29%.

Most of Missouri’s eight U.S. House districts produce pretty lopsided election results, six of them going for Republicans and only two for Democrats. That’s the way the Republican-dominated legislature designed these districts. They are heavily partisan with predictable results.

But there is a fact that stuns the soul of every democracy-loving Missourian, or at least it should. Democrats got 41.8% of all votes cast in Missouri’s eight U.S. House races in 2012, when turnout was 65.7%, yet it was only possible for them to end up with 25% of the seats, which were essentially capped at two. Republicans got 54.6% of all votes in House races across the state in 2012 but ended up with 75% of the seats. Some of us don’t think that is very democratic, but that’s the way it is.

This year turnout in Missouri was a paltry 35.2%. Think about that. A little more than half of the registered voters in this state who voted in the presidential election two years ago bothered to vote in this one. That amounts to 608,119 fewer Democrats and 627,051 fewer Republicans who didn’t vote, all things being equal. Those numbers look like they might be an advantage for Democrats, since more Republicans bugged out this year than Democrats. But it is a matter of percentages.

In 2012, as I mentioned, Democrats got 41.8% of House votes and Republicans got 54.6%. But in 2014, with the dropout of voters, Democrats only got 35.9% of House votes and Republicans got 58.8%. The lesson: voter apathy hurts Democrats in states like Missouri much more than it hurts Republicans. (Another lesson is that even just getting 35.9% of House votes would, if this were a perfectly tuned democracy, get Democrats an additional House seat, but that’s another matter.)

As an example of how this phenomenon can affect individual races, let’s look at House District 5, which comprises a big chunk of the Kansas City metro area, as well as some suburbs in Jackson County (by the way, that’s where many Mormons believe the Garden of Eden was and where many believe God will return to establish the New Jerusalem—I kid you not). Normally this seat is a very safe one for the Democrat. Emanuel Cleaver, an African-American pastor, was a city councilman in Kansas City for 12 years and mayor of the town for eight years. He first won this House seat in 2004 with 55% of the vote, and has since faced the same Republican opponent, Jacob Turk, five times. Yep. Five times.

Cleaver, who is fairly liberal, beat Turk, who is really conservative, in 2006 and 2008 with 64% of the vote. But he only beat him in 2010 with 53% of the vote. Remember that year? Of course you do. It’s the Democratic Party’s ongoing nightmare. It was a very low turnout year for Democrats, especially in Kansas City, which that year saw only 38% of its registered voters show up. In Jackson County, with all the suburbs, the turnout was almost 48%. One of those suburbs was Independence, Harry Truman’s hometown. Turk beat Cleaver there. Thus, with that turnout disparity, you can see why Cleaver only got 53% and Turk got his then-best mark of 44%. In 2012, with a turnout of 65.7%, Cleaver rebounded and beat Turk with 60.5% of the vote.

Now let’s finish up with this year’s race, which, you will remember, featured a statewide turnout of 35.2%. Cleaver and Turk tangled again and Cleaver only got 51.5% of the vote versus Turk’s 45%, his best showing ever. The Libertarian got 3.5%. Now, it’s true that Cleaver still won the race by 6.5 points, but it’s also true that had voters had a different Republican candidate, one with new ideas and a new face and one that didn’t have any Libertarian pulling votes away from him, Cleaver may have gone down to defeat. That could have happened to a long-time and popular Kansas City Democratic officeholder.

It’s this simple: No Democrat should struggle to get 51.5% of the vote in a metro area like Kansas City. But apathy is not just poison for the soul—for the soul of democracy—it is especially dangerous for the soul of the Democratic Party here in Missouri and elsewhere.

Dear Barack

Dear Barack,

Yep. It was a tough night. I, too, wonder if Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to Mitch McConnell by a whopping 15 points, is sorry she didn’t admit she voted for you. Or, maybe, she didn’t vote for you! That would explain a lot.

I’m writing to tell you not to dwell on the defeats last night, even though you said your policies were on the ballot. Everyone makes mistakes and saying such a thing turned out to be a dumb one, but at least it had the benefit of being true. Obviously, some of your policies were on the ballot; it’s just that too many Democrats didn’t bother to defend them. It probably wouldn’t have made much difference, though. The fact is that Americans are in no mood to hear the truth, as the Ebola mess and the vastly improved economy have made clear. As I heard Alexandra Pelosi say last night, “One of the curses of being a Democrat is that the people don’t vote to say ‘thank you.’” She’s right you know. The people Democrats are trying to help often don’t bother to show up to help the Democrats. So don’t take it too personally.

Here’s what you should do now: nothing. Oh, you should publicly make a show of saying you want to work with Congress, with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Tell all the folks you are ready to do the “80% of things we agree on” and all that stuff. But, really, it should be all talk. There’s nothing in it for you and, more important, there’s nothing in it for the country. Why? Because anything of consequence that can get passed in the reactionary-controlled House of Representatives—yes, Tea Party types will still run things, no matter what Tom Brokaw says about how “the GOP showed the Tea Party the door”—is not likely going to be anything worth signing and not likely anything that will help the country.

Just keep acting like you want to work with the obstructionists and, when they inevitably refuse to offer you anything of value, be sure to loudly blame it on them. Like they have done to you for years now. What’s the worst that can happen? Gridlock? That turned out to be a winning strategy for Republicans. It’s our turn now. Besides that, they shouldn’t be rewarded for such creepy cynicism that has brought them control of Congress. It will never stop if they are. You owe it to the country to let them, now that they have governing power and therefore responsibility, squirm in dysfunction.

In the Senate, Republicans won’t have Harry Reid to kick around anymore. Ol’ Mitch is in charge now, as hard as that is to stomach. And, God, I hope that story about you being “liberated from deferring to Harry Reid” is all bullshit. Surely you know better than that. But here’s the thing: McConnell has his own problems in the Senate. He’s got more than a few nuts there to crack, and some new ones now to go along with them. Ted Cruz has already been running his zealous mouth and he will put the pressure on Mitch to be much more radical than he wants to be. Cruz will use the Senate floor and committee hearings to trash-talk you and gum up the works, which means Mitch will eventually have to make a decision: feed the radicals or marginalize them. Let him swing in the wind as long as you can. Don’t give him any quick and generous deals. After all, Mitch knows 2016 is just a stone’s throw away. He knows that his fortunes today can be gone faster than you can say, “Don’t boo, vote!”—by the way, why didn’t more Democratic folks do that yesterday?

In any case, Republicans may tempt you by attaching crappy amendments to necessary appropriation bills that keep the guv’mint running. They may try to chip away at the Affordable Care Act by making devastating changes and attaching them to legislation you otherwise like. They’re certainly going to dare you to use your veto pen. Well, ink it up, buddy. You’re probably going to need it, after Mitch gets things in order in the Senate. I mean, if he gets things in order. Among other things, he’ll have to get that ball-clipper Joni Ernst—a radical extremist whose extremism the media largely ignored in favor of her folksy castration fixation—to be more pig-friendly, as well as keep her from droning on about that Agenda 21 conspiracy and how zygotes are people too.

Oh, before I forget: don’t worry about that impeachment stuff. Unless you go really crazy on your executive orders on immigration and climate change, they won’t dare to risk their majorities in 2016 trying to impeach you. You can thank Bill Clinton for that—and, by the way, the Clintons sure had a bad night, eh? A lot of folks they campaigned for got, as you said in 2010, shellacked! I remember when pundits were saying how Bubba could so much better relate to those rednecks, I mean, Southern Gentlemen. Didn’t work out that way. Ask Mark Pryor, an Arkansan like Bill, and Ms. Grimes, who sort of considered Bill her political papa. And neither Clinton was all that effective in Iowa, as Senator-elect Ernst will tell ya. Rand Paul has already been rubbing their noses in it, as he makes plans for what he thinks will be his epic battle with Hillary. That’s another problem Mitch will face: keeping presidential aspirants Paul and Cruz and Marco Rubio from stooge-slapping each other in front of the cameras.

But, hey, back to impeachment. In case you’re in a fightin’ mood, go ahead and go balls-to-the-wall on the immigration thing. Free as many of those folks as you want to and sit back and enjoy the three-ring circus in Congress that ensues. I, for one, would pay to see that show. Dammit, the more I think about it the more I want you to do it. Come on, Barack. Let loose a little bit and have some fun! The worst that could happen is that Joe Biden would have to light the White House Christmas tree. In the mean time millions of undocumented immigrants will have a Merry Christmas!

Look, your biggest worry is that the God Of Mercy will call some Supreme Court justice home, or to that big courtroom in the sky, in the next two years. Man, what if Clarence Thomas drowns in Rush Limbaugh’s hot tub? Have you thought about that? That would be a real problem. It would be hard for you to sneak a nominee by that wily farmer-not-a-lawyer from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, who will be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That guy can smell a liberal a corn field away. You’d be lucky to get Sam Alito confirmed. But, hell, try it anyway. Dare the bastards to deny you your choice. And if they do, send them an even more liberal nominee. And if they deny that one, send them Bill Maher. That would be a trip. Point is, don’t give in and nominate someone you, and history, will regret. Be bold. Ronald Reagan got Antonin Scalia on the Court for God’s sake. Try to one-up him. Do it for the Gipper!

Finally, you have to look on the bright side. Even though a lot of dopes won last night, dope did too. Recreational pot won handily in Oregon and Alaska and, uh, in Washington, D.C. You and the fellas ought to light up a blunt and rest easy for awhile.

The burden now is all on the Republicans. And 2016, where we will have all the advantages, is only 25 full-moons away.

Your faithful friend,
Duane

Here’s What Democrats Losing The Senate Would Mean For The Country

I watched in amazement on Monday night, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes put in perspective what the repercussions will be if Republicans regain control of the U.S. Senate and thus completely control the legislative branch of government.

The reason I was so amazed is that Hayes is the first one I have seen who has gone into any detail about what a GOP victory today, in this mid-term election, would mean. Why haven’t Democrats made the case so comprehensively? Why haven’t they told people, as Hayes did, that “it is a dangerous delusion” to believe “it doesn’t really matter what happens” in today’s election? Beats me. I wish I knew. Maybe it is just too hard to wedge into 30-second commercials the danger involved.

In any case, here is most of the transcript of Hayes’ informational and, to be honest, depressing segment last night:

I get it, after watching the least productive Congress in U.S. history, it is in fact hard to get invested in the idea that four or five Senate seats changing parties will make that much of a difference. So I think a lot of people, understandably, have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what happens tomorrow. The next two years will be the same, more or less, no matter what.
2014 mid term election interest
And it is tempting to believe that. But it is not true. In fact, it is a dangerous delusion, because which party controls the United States Senate matters a lot.

It is pretty grim to talk about, but four of the nine Supreme Court justices…are over the age of 75. So there is a very real, actuarial possibility of a vacancy on the court in the next two years and the Senate needs to confirm whoever fills that vacancy, which means that tomorrow, the Supreme Court, one third of the branches of the U.S. government, is on the ballot.

And not just, I should add, the Supreme Court in some abstract sense—that building there with the columns and the justices firing questions during oral arguments. There are specific, big cases we already know about right now that are very likely headed to that building you see there on your screen.

threat to obamacare in 2014 electionsLike the case, for instance, that threatens to destroy the new ObamaCare insurance exchanges in 36 states. Or the case that will decide whether Texas can potentially disenfranchise some 600,000 voters, many of them black and Latino, under the state’s new voter ID law. Or the biggest case on abortion rights, frankly, since Rowe v. Wade was decided. Which could determine whether it’s okay for states to regulate abortion clinics almost completely out of existence and still pass constitutional muster, as Texas has just done, passing a law that shuddered 80% of its clinics.

So, health reform for millions of people in 36 states, voting rights not just in Texas but across the South and throughout the country, abortion rights not just in Texas but throughout the country, they’re headed to that court and that court is on the ballot tomorrow, which means all of those are very much on the ballot tomorrow. 

Also up for a vote tomorrow, the way the government spends money, which sounds banal or whatever, but is more important than you might think. The real victory of the 2010 Tea Party wave, let us recall, the wave that was brought into power during the last midterms when conservatives came out to vote far great than liberals and progressives, the greatest victory of that wave election was taking a hatchet to that part of the government that happens to spend money on lots of public goods and a lot of people who don’t have much power.

Congress—the Congress produced by that election—Congress cut $8.7 billion from the food stamps budget. The National Institutes of Health alone lost $1.71 billion during sequestration, a process put into play in 2011 after those conservatives were elected. Those cuts, they were big and they were real. And they might be just the start. Because if Republicans control the Senate, they will have two key pieces of leverage the next time they want to go after programs they don’t like and cut them.

One, they will be able to pass spending bills with a simple majority through a process known as reconciliation. And that is important because it means they don’t have to meet the 60-vote filibuster threshold. They just need a simple majority. And, number two, they will be able to control the amendment process, which sounds obscure and boring but is actually the most powerful thing you can do in the United States Senate, because they can add whatever they please to a spending bill and send it right to the president’s desk.

And the president will then be presented with a choice, veto a bill chock-full of GOP amendments and thereby risk a big, messy government shutdown that hurts millions of people—many of the people that are his supporters and  constituents—or sign a bill chock-full of GOP amendments and potentially do great damage to his own agenda and lots of struggling Americans who are counting on him.

mitch and 2014 consequencesAnd this isn’t just my pet theory of how this will play out. Mitch McConnell made an explicit promise to do exactly, precisely what I`m describing, if Republicans do in fact get a Senate majority tomorrow, telling Politico over the summer, Obama “needs to be challenged and the best way to do that is threw a funding process. He would have to make a decision on a given bill whether there’s more in it that he likes than dislikes.” A “good example,” McConnell said, is adding restrictions to regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Let me be clear for a second. The regulation the EPA is issuing right now for coal-fired power plants is basically the most important thing the government is doing right now, the biggest part of the Obama domestic policy legacy since he was reelected. And those regulations are set to
reduce emissions and more importantly could permanently alter the trajectory of American power generation towards renewables and away from coal and the carbon pollution that is threatening mass catastrophe and all civilized life.

And that, that signature achievement, hangs perilously in the balance. That is very much on the ballot tomorrow. The Republicans have told you it is.

Here’s What Really Should Be Pre-Election News

In a better world, that is, in a world where journalists weren’t obsessed with ultimately meaningless and self-serving polling results, the Sunday news shows before Tuesday’s elections would not have been all about the results of this or that poll, or the likelihood that Republicans are going to take over the Senate, or the idea that people have turned on President Obama. Nope. In a better world the Sunday shows would have featured a stunning—and depressing—investigative news report titled, “Jim Crow Returns: Millions of Minority Voters Threatened by Electoral Purge.” Here’s how that report, which was released last week, began:

Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America.

Now, that’s news. That’s the kind of stuff journalists ought to be doing and the kind of reports that ought to be the focus of endless hours of pre-election political chatter on TV, including Sunday shows like NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week with jim crow returns from al jazeeraWhoever’s Turn It Is, or CNN’s State of the Union. I mean, if Al Jazeera America’s report isn’t worthy of at least a segment on any of the pre-election Sunday news programs, then one has to wonder just what kind of democratic values do TV journalists respect or give a damn about?

Without going into too many details (you should read the report for yourself, written by Greg Palast after a six-month investigation), the person in the middle of this absolutely anti-democratic scandal is Kris Kobach, the ghastly but influential Republican from Kansas whose day job is supposed to be secretary of state. He apparently invented a system called the Interstate Crosscheck program, “which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names,” supposedly representing “legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.” Problem is, it’s all bullshit.

The original selling point of the program was that it “would match possible double voters on multiple points: first, middle and last name; date of birth and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.” Turns out that most of the matches were of names only, and the program even mismatched middle names and Social Security numbers. As Greg Palast noted:

In practice, all it takes to become a suspect is sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state.

The result of that intentionally sloppy practice is that the purge lists disproportionately include African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. Why? Because, for cultural reasons, “a sixth of all Asian-Americans share just 30 surnames and 50 percent of minorities share common last names, versus 30 percent of whites.” Here’s what the results look like in graph form:

crosscheck program and minorities

That’s no accident, folks. Blacks (93%), Hispanics (71%), and Asian-Americans (73%) overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2012. In 2008, it was 95%, 67%, and 62%, respectively. Republicans had to do something about such numbers, since changing their extremist ideology wasn’t an option. So, they figured out a way to purge as many minority voters as possible from the rolls under the cover of preventing non-existent “voter fraud.” Pretty slick. And pretty sick.

Here’s the way it affects three states, including important battleground states this election cycle:

tagged minorities as double voters

In close races, like the Senate races in North Carolina and Georgia, those numbers can mean the difference between victory and defeat, between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. Yet, not a word about the Interstate Crosscheck program or the extensive Al Jazeera investigation on Sunday’s “news” shows. Apparently, unless such reporting comes from The New York Times or The Washington Post, it ain’t worth talking about.

NBC’s Chuck Todd did mention voter ID laws to his guest Rand Paul, as did CBS’s Bob Schieffer. Both of them, though, let Paul escape rather easily (Paul claims he generally favors voter ID laws, but thinks the GOP shouldn’t make it a “big issue.” What the hell does that mean? They have made it a big issue.). CNN’s Candy Crowley allowed Paul—is it just a coincidence that Paul, who is trying to snuggle up with African-American voters, appeared on three Sunday shows in order to explain how friendly he is to them?—to advertise his very good idea about restoring voting rights to millions of convicted felons who have served their time, many of them African-Americans. Fine. That would be a great accomplishment. But what’s the chance of getting a majority of Republicans, especially House Republicans, on board? Zero. Ain’t gonna happen. In the mean time, what about the efforts by Republicans all over the country to purge minorities from the rolls? Huh? Silence.

But we did hear from Jonathan Karl, a conservative pretending to be an objective correspondent for ABC’s This Week, that,

in a bid to boost the African-American vote, some Democrats are resorting to scare tactics.

The only reason Republicans like Kris Kobach can get away with voter suppression efforts is because of shitty journalism like that.

As a final note, the state of Missouri is listed by Al Jazeera America as a participant in Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program. Our secretary of state is a Democrat, Jason Kander. I have met him and like him very much. So, I called the media contact for the secretary of state’s office, Laura Swinford. I talked with her about the Al Jazeera article and Crosscheck. She didn’t think Missouri was utilizing the program in the same way that Kris Kobach of Kansas and others were doing so, but she said she would get back with me after I sent her the link to the article. I’ll let you know what I find out, if anything.

More Disturbing Ebola Hysteria

Now the Ebola panic has moved to a new level. Science magazine reported yesterday:

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH says that the annual meeting is its “flagship event” and “is the premier forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health.” The jindal and doctororganization also says it “is proud to be the professional home for scientists, clinicians and program professionals who lead the fight against infectious disease – in the lab and on the ground.”

Yet, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—whose Secretary was appointed by the very right-wing Governor Bobby Jindal—and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has taken the position that if anyone shows up, say, someone with expertise in Ebola transmission and who has actually been to West Africa, they will be given the Chris Christie treatment and quarantined for 21 days.

It’s bad enough that an Ebola-fighting nurse was imprisoned in a tent in New Jersey, now we have scientists and other infectious disease experts being treated like they are a threat to public health in Louisiana.

ASTMH had little choice but to warn those who were planning on attending the important event:

We deeply regret that some of our attendees are affected by Louisiana’s travel advisory and as a result, we have requested that people planning to attend the Annual Meeting cooperate with the state’s policy.

Science magazine quoted Daniel Bausch, a researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, as saying, “This policy is fundamentally flawed and not evidence-based.” Who is surprised at that, given the dominance of the anti-science party in Louisiana? The magazine also offered us this quote from Peter Hotez, who is Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine:

It’s very unfortunate and could potentially be counterproductive by preventing health care workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea from sharing their experiences and findings at one of the most important tropical disease meetings globally.

Yes, it is unfortunate. But it seems more than potentially counterproductive. It seems obviously counterproductive.

All of this Ebola fear and hysteria, all of this haste to quarantine healthy people, reminds me, for some reason, of the post-Pearl Harbor internment of U.S. citizens who happen to have had Japanese ancestry. That sad episode happened because large numbers of people, including people in power,  suspected that tens of thousands of Japanese Americans might actually have had some American-killing blood in their veins. That infamous interment order was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, but a commission authorized by Congress in 1980 found that the order  “was not justified by military necessity.” Further, the commission said:

The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. 

There may not be race prejudice involved in Americans’ reaction to Ebola here at home, but there is a whole lot of hysteria and a blossoming failure of political leadership, especially Republican leadership.

The Anti-Science Party And Ebola Politics

“I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.”

Kaci Hickox, nurse for Doctors Without Borders

Much of the Republican Party is at war with science, as its last political platform and other sources of Republican opinions would indicate. Consider:

♦ A majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax, therefore drill, baby, drill.

♦ The 2012 GOP platform expressly opposes embryonic stem cell research because, as many conservatives believe, embryos should be constitutionally protected people.

♦ That also means, of course, that the creation of surplus embryos used for in vitro fertilization is a no-no.

♦ Many religious conservatives falsely believe that IUDs and emergency contraception pills are abortifacients and, thus, baby-killers.

♦ Anti-choice Republicans also claim that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth, which is not only not true but its opposite is overwhelmingly true.

♦ A vast majority of white evangelical Republicans don’t believe in evolution and many want to teach a version of creationism in science classrooms.

So, because he wants to be his party’s presidential candidate in 2016, it should come as no surprise that Chris Christie is the first Republican governor in the country to do something utterly anti-scientific, if politically popular, regarding Ebola.

Not only did Christie forcibly quarantine Ebola-fighting super-nurse Kaci Hickox in a tent outside a hospital in New Jersey, but after receiving some fairly intense criticism from medical and health professionals, he actually defended his actions by appealing not to other health professionals in his state or elsewhere, but to the American people, who have been scared out of their wits by people like Chris Christie:

The American public believes this is common sense and we’re not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.

It doesn’t matter that Christie and his policy of forcibly quarantining someone without symptoms of Ebola infection lacks any scientific or medical justification. Nor does it matter that forcibly quarantining Ebola-fighters might make it more difficult to fighkaci hickoxt the virus at its source in West Africa. What matters is that he has a frightened public behind him.

But this would be a great time for Christie to demonstrate his much-touted leadership skills and lead his party, and the American people, away from fear and misconceptions about the transmissibility of Ebola. Instead, he feeds those fears and, worse, feeds off those fears.

He ought to be ashamed of himself. But he won’t be, obviously. Maybe some journalist should shame him by asking him whether he would have ordered Kaci Hickox, who was not sick and did not test positive for Ebola, shot and killed should she have tried to leave that tent.

 

Worst Than The Willie Horton Ad, Or Why You Should Vote Against Sam Brownback, Even If You Like His Reactionary Politics

It’s no secret that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is a reactionary who is hell-bent on taking the state backwards in time. And it is no secret that many Kansans, including many Republican Kansans, don’t want to go back in time as far as Brownback wants to take them. Thus, his reelection is in some doubt, even in such a conservative state.

And that is why this weekend, as I watched local TV here in Joplin, Missouri (just a few miles from the state line), I finally saw Willie Horton come to Kansas.

As essential background for understanding the point of this post, a little history is in order. Willie Horton and two of his criminal friends robbed and brutally murdered a 17-year-old service station attendant in northeastern Massachusetts in 1974. The young man was stabbed 19 times and bled to death in a trash barrel where his body had been stuffed. Horton, who had previously served time in South Carolina for assault with intent to murder, was eventually convicted of actually committing murder in Massachusetts and sentenced to life without parole.

Except that as part of a weekend furlough program, which was designed to help rehabilitate criminals other than first-degree murderers (the state’s highest court eventually decided the program should also apply to those criminals too), Willie Horton was released in June of 1986 for a weekend of unsupervised freedom. It was his tenth such weekend out, and it was at that time he decided he wasn’t going back to prison. He fled instead.

The next year, still a free man, Horton went to a home in Maryland one evening, in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and pointed a gun at the man who came to the door. For seven hours, Horton tormented the 28-year-old by punching and kicking him and whipping him with his gun. He also sliced his torso multiple times with a knife. Horton bound and gagged the man, who then listened as his fiancée unfortunately came home during this horrific episode. Horton similarly abused her for four hours, but added to her torments by raping her. Twice.

Horton was eventually captured, after a police chase and shootout. He is still in prison today in Maryland, a judge there refusing to send him back to Massachusetts for fear officials would let him out again on another furlough.

It was in 1988 that Willie Horton was introduced to the nation via the following infamous—and effective—ad produced by a man who used to work for Roger Ailes and put out by supporters of the George H. W. Bush campaign that year:

After that ad was taken down, the official Bush campaign ran another one, which did not use Willie Horton’s image or mention his name. But the message was already out there. A vote for Dukakis was essentially a vote for Willie Horton’s freedom.

Now, the original ad makes two claims about Michael Dukakis, who was governor of Massachusetts from 1975-1979 and from 1983-1991. One, that Dukakis “opposes the death penalty,” and, two, that he “allowed murderers to have weekend passes.” Famously, Dukakis did (and presumably still does) oppose the death penalty, having hurt himself in the 1988 campaign by too-soberly answering a question related to the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife. But did he also allow murderers, murderers like Willie Horton, to have weekend passes?

Well, sort of. Like other states at the time and still today, Massachusetts had a furlough program in place when Horton killed that young service station attendant. And that program was signed into law by a Republican governor in 1972, although it was understood that the program would not be open to killers like Willie Horton who were serving life terms without the possibility of parole. No state had such a furlough program, all of them sensibly denying the benefit to first-degree killers.

As I mentioned, though, the state’s highest court ruled that the language of the law that established the program did not specifically prohibit first-degree murderers from benefiting from it. Soon after that ruling, the legislature passed a bill in 1976 that would have unequivocally prohibited Willie Horton-type criminals from getting weekend passes. But Michael Dukakis vetoed that bill and therefore the court’s interpretation of the law stood, resulting in Willie Horton’s tenth state-sanctioned weekend of freedom in June of 1986.

So, as far as raw electoral advertising goes, it was plausibly true that, as that ad claimed, Dukakis “allowed murderers to have weekend passes.” In politics, it is close enough to the truth to say he did, considering that if he had not vetoed that bill, it is quite unlikely that Willie Horton would ever have been out in 1987 to commit those awful crimes in Maryland. (By the way, Dukakis eventually gave into pressure and in 1988, the same year he was running for president, the questionable furlough program was abolished.)

But the point of that ad was, as Republican political strategist and “Southern strategy” proponent Lee Atwater said later, to make Willie Horton “Dukakis’ running mate.” The ad would not have been nearly as effective, in terms of appealing to the fear and angst of white people, if Willie Horton had been as white as they were. It is incontrovertible that Willie Horton’s likeness, more than the crimes he committed or the situation in which he was able to commit them, was the main reason that ad was conceived. The ad, after all, was initially limited to running on cable channels and ended up in the mainstream because of press attention to its overtones.

Having said all that, let’s look at the latest ad from Sam Brownback in Kansas, attacking his Democratic opponent Paul Davis with a Willie Horton-style ad:

Is there any doubt that the following image is really what this ad is all about:

carr brothers

No, there is no doubt. It is more their complexions than their crimes, as brutal and as awful as they were, that make them perfect stars of a Republican political campaign ad in mostly rural and mostly lily-white Kansas. And make no mistake about it, their crimes were bad, as The Wichita Eagle described them:

The brothers were convicted of murdering five people, including a brutal execution-style quadruple murder, during a weeklong crime spree of killing, rape and robbery in Wichita in December 2000.

But here is the reason why I went to all the trouble of explaining the context of that original Willie Horton ad. There is absolutely no connection between what the Carr brothers did and Paul Davis. Unlike what Michael Dukakis did, which was veto a bill that would likely have kept Willie Horton in prison forever, Paul Davis had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the Carr brothers. As the Wichita paper reported, here is Brownback’s defense of the ad:

Brownback said during and after a debate Tuesday that he thinks it’s justified to link Davis to the Supreme Court decision because Davis would appoint judges who are more liberal than those Brownback would pick.

You see? Davis can be married to the Carr brothers in a political ad not for something he did as an elected official or as a lawyer, but because of something he might do as governor of Kansas. But of course that is not the real reason Brownback is using that ad. He is in a tough campaign. He needs every white vote. And as the Willie Horton ad proved so long ago, there isn’t a better way for a white candidate in a challenging campaign to get those extra white votes than by featuring images of psychopathic black killers in the same 30-seconds of air time in which your Democratic opponent also appears. It has become a classic sign of desperation.

If this ad doesn’t disgust even white Republicans in Kansas simply as a cynical attack on their intelligence, not to mention as a cynical appeal to their implied fear of black people, then all hope is lost in my old, fast-declining home state. The Brownbacks will have their way.

Finally, I must note that the former district attorney who prosecuted the Carr brothers, Nola Foulston, said this about Brownback’s ad:

It is beyond disgraceful that Sam Brownback would exploit this tragedy and make the victims’ families relive that horrific crime every time they turn on their television just for the sake of getting re-elected.

And I must note that the Carr brothers are not out roaming the streets of Kansas. They will spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison. The state supreme court, despite finding flaws in their sentencing, upheld a count of capital murder for each of them.

Dumb Republicans

Conservative Republicans, it being their nature, say and do some dumb things. Take, for instance, this one:

A Michigan Republican with a criminal record for breaking into cars and masturbating is urging residents to move out of state to avoid the “homosexual agenda.”

You’ll be happy to know that this guy is running for a seat in the Michigan legislature. And, if you live in Michigan, you’ll be happy to know that he thinks “as long as there are those that love God here, we can win souls and see God move in this city and state.” Yes, in case you didn’t know, legislating is all about winning souls watching God “move.”

And speaking of God moving, mysteriously he was moved yesterday to reveal to the Huffington Post a video he shot of Joni Ernst, the testicle-hating senatorial candidate from Iowa, telling folks at some gun rally in 2012 that she packed heat and reserved the right to use it against “the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” As many have now pointed out, this is the same wacky ball-hater that wants to castrate the rights of women to control their own reproductive health.

But even slightly more sober conservatives say and do dumb things. Chris Christie recently said to his Chamber of Commerce pals that he is “tired of hearing about the minimum wage.” Then, after he realized how dumb it was to say something so dumb, he said something equally dumb:

My comments are never almost universally interpreted the way I mean them.

And we can see why.

But some Republican conservatives not only say dumb things, they say dumb and dangerous things, things that scare and mislead people. Rand Paul, plagiarist and self-certified ophthalmologist, said recently that the Obama administration has inaccurately described Ebola to the public and has “tried to downplay the transmissibility” of the disease, when, in the opinion of the self-certified ophthalmologist, Ebola “is something that appears to be very easy to catch.”

Man, that level of numb-headed irresponsibility makes Chris Christie look good, which is no small feat.

Speaking of small feats, there is my congressman Ozark Billy Long. Let me show you a still from a campaign commercial that is airing here in Hooterville, and I should tell you this commercial was actually “Approved by Billy Long. Paid for by Billy Long for Congress”:

billy long commercial

Shouldn’t the Democrat running against Long, Jim Evans, be running that ad? I mean, Long is bragging that he did something 56 times that failed. He was recently accused of being an ineffective legislator and it turns out his own ad proves it! Brilliant stuff that.

On the darker side of local politics around these parts, I present to you a scene from a campaign commercial running here in Joplin put out by Rep. Lynn Jenkins. She is a Republican from Kansas who represents my old home town and who, in August of 2009, told Kansans that “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope.” Here is a screen shot of the ad I saw last night:

jenkins ad against wakefield

Just who is that woman in the ad? And who is that shifty and scary looking negro standing behind her? Well, the woman is Democrat Margie Wakefield, who happens to be Jenkins’ opponent and who happens to be giving Jenkins a run for her money. And I think you all know who the other guy is. He is The Scary Negro himself. And, man, doesn’t he really look like he’s up to no good? Maybe he has a gun in her back or maybe he’s about to stick a shiv in her. Maybe he’s about to rob her and take her money or, God forbid, something worse like force her to support ObamaCare. What other reason would he be standing so close and looking so creepy?

Sad thing is, this ad doesn’t really qualify as another dumb thing conservative Republicans are saying or doing these days. It’s actually pretty smart, in a Southern strategy political sense, to remind people in mostly rural Kansas that The Scary Negro is out there, ready to do something ugly. But whatever ugly thing that Barack Obama might do between now and the end of his term, it won’t be nearly as ugly as that ad.

Karma, Meet Glenn Greenwald

How ironic it is that Glenn Greenwald has found himself the victim of what he calls “distortions.” Not too long ago, Greenwald was one of those who encouraged the slander of Sam Harris as a “genocidal fascist maniac” for something Harris wrote that was, in my view, misrepresented and distorted. Today Greenwald himself is complaining about being misunderstood, as people read and interpret his latest anti-anti-terrorism piece (“CANADA, AT WAR FOR 13 YEARS, SHOCKED THAT ‘A TERRORIST’ ATTACKED ITS SOLDIERS”) published on his website The Intercept.

Writing about the death of a Canadian soldier on Monday, who, along with another soldier, was deliberately struck by a car driven by a convert to Islam, Greenwald said:

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

If you think that sounds like Greenwald is justifying the attack on two Canadian soldiers, you are not alone. But Greenwald attempted to cover himself:

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether Greenwald adequately insulated himself from claims that he was blaming the Canadian government for not only the attack on Monday, but by extension the attacks yesterday on Canada’s National War Memorial and its Parliament, attacks that coincidentally occurred shortly after Greenwald published his controversial article. But given Greenwald’s willingness to distort the arguments of others, readers are not obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. Referring to the attack on the Canadian soldiers, he wrote:

Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

I’ll let Greenwald in on a secret that most of the civilized world is coming to know: there are violent Islamist extremists, whether primitive or not, whether irrational or not, whether savage or not, who want to kill Westerners simply for being greenwald on twitterWesterners. And Greenwald has become a man at war with those who think that doing something about those violent Islamist extremists is a bad thing, in fact a thing that is perpetuating terrorism.

Greenwald acts as if the terrorists would stop being terrorists if the West walked away from its responsibility to protect itself and others, including Muslims who are most victimized by militant religious extremism, either by death or oppression. He lashes out at the West’s “rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation,” while mostly ignoring the actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation done by Islamists who want to establish a theocratic state. He speaks of “the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack” without distinguishing between the just attempt to pursue the 9/11 killers in Afghanistan and the misguided war in Iraq. He mocks what he calls “the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil,” as if there is no evil to fight.

But there is evil to fight. And people like Greenwald make it harder to fight it.

Ozark Billy Ain’t Doin’ Much Legislatin’

Have you ever heard of the Legislative Effectiveness Project? Yeah, me neither.

Here is how its creators, political scientists Craig Volden of the University of Virginia and Alan E. Wiseman of Vanderbilt University, describe it:

The Legislative Effectiveness Project (LEP) is a joint research project that seeks to understand which members of the United States Congress are the most effective at lawmaking. We use a precise research methodology to calculate a Legislative Effectiveness Score for each member of the House of Representatives, where the average score in each two-year Congress is equal to 1.

Given the title of this blog post, I think you know where I’m going. From the Springfield News-Leader:

Rep. Billy Long was not a very effective legislator in the last Congress, according to a new analysis examining lawmakers’ legislative success.

Among Missouri’s nine House members, Long, R-Springfield, earned the lowest score from the Legislative Effectiveness Project, a new website developed by two political scientists at Vanderbilt University and University of Virginia.

Long scored “well below expectations,” said Craig Volden, one of the website’s creators and a professor at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Volden got one thing wrong. For some of us, Long’s legislative prowess is not “well below expectations.” It is pretty much what we expected. Although I would have to say he is performing somewhat better than I imagined he would. I thought he would be the least effective legislator in Congress. Turns out that among his 245 Republican colleagues, he comes in at 212. So I suppose that’s something he can be proud of. There are 33 Republicans who do less legislatin’ than he does.

He outscores many more, though, when it comes to spending campaign cash on vittles. As Randy Turner has been tracking,

Federal Election Commission (FEC) documents indicate the Billy Long For Congress campaign committee has spent nearly $100,000 for meals since the beginning of 2013, including more than $20,000 in the last three months.

That’s a heapin’ helpin’ of hospitality right there. You could fill Jethro Bodine’s belly on that kind of tab.

As an example, Turner reported that,

On August 27, the Long campaign reported two meals at the Capitol Hill Club, one for $116.12 and the other for $215.10, and a third meal at Nicolas Ristarante in Springfield for $1,062.41, for a total of $1,393.63.

nicolas in springfieldIn case you, like me, can’t afford to eat at Nicola’s Ristarante in Springfield and therefore have never been there, fortunately you can go online and check out its fancy dining room and allow your taste buds to dream of sampling the “Sea Bass with saffron sauce” for a mere $25 or the “8 oz. beef tenderloin with gorgonzola cheese sauce or green peppercorn sauce,” a steal at only $29.

This is not the time to once again remind everyone how depressed wages are in Billy Long’s district, but now is the time to ask out loud, as Deirdre Shesgreen did,

Where is Rep. Billy Long? His campaign won’t say

Shesgreen is the Washington correspondent for Gannett’s Ohio and Missouri papers, including the Springfield News-Leader. Her story began:

Springfield-area residents who want to talk to Rep. Billy Long in advance of Election Day might have a hard time finding the Republican congressman.

highland springsWell, only those residents who can’t dine at fine places like Nicola’s Ristarante or the Highland Springs Country Club in Springfield (where Long’s campaign spent $5,573.50 on August 13th for a “campaign event”) will have a hard time finding Ozark Billy. Those who do frequent such places get plenty of access to the former auctioneer. (For the record, Long was invited to a local event here in Joplin to discuss pending legislation related to the Postal Service. No one from his local office bothered to show up, even though the Postal Service is needlessly closing a plant in Springfield next year that will cost the local economy around 300 good-paying jobs.)

As for the rest of his constituents, Deirdre Shesgreen reported that Long’s campaign manager, no doubt a beneficiary of at least a few of those campaign-financed meals, said that Ozark Billy has many good reasons for not showing up to events—like last week’s League of Women Voters forum—in which he might get asked tough questions about his time in Washington. And according to Shesgreen, Long’s campaign manager “refused to give out any details of Long’s upcoming campaign schedule.”

Now, think about that. Deirdre Shesgreen is the area’s number one political reporter, in terms of telling the locals what their legislators are doing (or, as the study above indicates, not doing) in D.C. and around the district. Yet Billy Long, with the election just two weeks away, won’t even tell her what his campaign schedule is!

That is how politics works here in Republican-dominated southwest Missouri. Long has always had a strategy of lying low and keeping his mouth shut because he knows that come November, the locals will run not walk to their polling places and give him about 65% of the vote. So why shouldn’t he keep bellying up to the buffet and gambling tables and avoiding the press and his non-moneyed constituents?

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Try finding anything in the Joplin Globe about this stuff. You’d have an easier time finding Ozark Billy.

Ebola We Can Handle, But Fox Is Another Matter

Ebola, a nasty virus, is now being used by Fox “News,” a less-nasty virus, to do what it is that Fox usually does: create fear and infect gullible minds.

Bill O’Reilly started his Talking Points segment last night with this:

The Ebola situation gets even worse.

He went on to talk about the “growing Ebola chaos in the U.S.A.” 

As Media Matters reported, O’Reilly a few days ago attacked Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, for being a “chief propagandist,” saying he should resign for not doing what Dr. O’Reilly thinks he should have done.

We all know that Fox exists in order to tear down Democrats and promote Republicans. One way it tears down Democrats is by undermining trust in our governing institutions, since Democrats generally favor government and Republicans make a political living off attacking it. Dr. Frieden just happens to be Fox’s target at the moment.

The morning before O’Reilly talked about Frieden being a propagandist, Laura Ingraham had already beat him to it. On IQ-hating Fox and Friends, she shamefully said that Dr. Frieden “is on the verge of becoming the Baghdad Bob of the health care community.” Frieden’s sin, say Fox’s many preachers, is that he trying to sugar-coat what is going on and that the government is not only incompetent, but hiding from the public essential information about Ebola.

But there is one member of the Fox on-air clergy who, time and again, refuses to cast the first stone in situations like this. His name is Shepard Smith and here was his sermon yesterday:

Of course Shep couldn’t say it, but we all know that his message was mostly for his fellow Foxers, who have known little shame in their coverage of Ebola.

But stirring up irrational fear and institutional distrust over Ebola isn’t just confined to Fox. CNN has done it and so has MSNBC, most recently this morning. On Morning Joe—where Joe Scarborough has been mucking up the issue with irresponsible speculation—I heard Nicolle Wallace, former Bushie, ask with utter seriousness that since medical disaster movies like “Outbreak” were made 20 years ago,

Why couldn’t the medical community have had a plan on the shelf for 20 years?

Fortunately, a guest on the show, Dr. Emily Senay, was there to bring a little sanity to the discussion by essentially saying people like Wallace were promoting hysteria. And they should stop.

Here’s how that segment went:

At the center of the government’s response (which has been hampered by the right-wing’s budget-cutting mania) to Ebola is the guy Fox and others have attacked, the CDC’s director, Dr. Thomas Frieden. Guess what he did? He and his people made mistakes. And he was big enough to admit it. He came right out and said so. He has now sent a team of experts to Dallas and said, “I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed.”

 I don’t know about you, but I want a guy like that, who is as competent as they come when it comes to working in public health and who is willing to admit it when he messes up, to be in charge of something as important as fighting Ebola.

As far as the hospital in Dallas where the two health care workers were infected—the only two in the country so far—they have also admitted, better late than never, that they made a lot of mistakes, too. And you know what? That’s the first step towards fixing things, towards getting it right.

And we will get this thing right. This isn’t Liberia or Sierra Leone. But what we may never be able to fix is right-wing journalism.

In Defense Of Sam Harris

I have followed fairly closely the ongoing controversy among liberals on the issue of how to talk about Islam in the context of what we see going on in the Middle East. Unfortunately, there are some contemporary liberals who are so enamored with the ideas behind multiculturalism (which is not a bad thing in itself; but context is everything) that they can’t bring themselves to see that there are precious few Muslim-majority countries in the world that are advanced enough to have accepted what most of us consider to be necessary and universal human rights.

On comedian and commentator Bill Maher’s HBO show recently, both he and Sam Harris, a liberal and a thinker I greatly admire even when I disagree with him, got into a rather heated (and now famous) debate with actor and liberal activist Ben Affleck and left-leaning journalist Nicholas Kristof. The background issue was “Islamophobia,” a term that liberals have invented to describe what they consider to be unfair and bigoted criticism of Muslims and Islam, found mostly among right-wingers. Maher and Harris, nobody’s right-wingers, were essentially accused of racism and bigotry for their outspoken views on the dangers inherent in not just radical Islam, but in its non-radical form.

Below is the segment, which you can watch and then return for my take on it all, but note the key point that Harris tries to make:

The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where criticism of the religion gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. It’s intellectually ridiculous.

“It’s gross and racist,” says Affleck of Maher’s and Harris’ views. To which Harris responds (my emphasis):

Ben, we have to be able to criticize bad ideas. And Islam at this moment is the mother lode of bad ideas.

Affleck says in response:

That’s an ugly thing to say.

Is it? Well, maybe it is. But at this moment it is not as ugly as denying that Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas. Much like Christianity was centuries before, Islam here in the 21st-century is truly the source of a lot of not only bad ideas but a lot of accompanying bad actions. And that is what many liberals find so hard to accept. They want to believe that there is room in the tent of civilization for all kinds of belief systems, and when it comes to Islam, liberals reflexively want to be inclusive. They don’t want to judge Muslim cultures too broadly or too harshly, even though they have little trouble criticizing conservative evangelicals who want to put their fingerprints on government and culture. Perhaps that is because so many conservative evangelicals not only make bigoted judgments about Muslims, but they also make bigoted judgments about liberals.

But the truth is that some belief systems inherently reject our Western notions of civilization, which, for instance, include a profound respect for women’s rights. There are some folks who don’t want to live in any social tent in which women are equal with men. And there are things in Islam, in book-based Islam, that encourage Muslims to shun such Western ideas, that encourage Muslims to not integrate into Western societies too deeply. In the worst cases, there are things in Islam that foster a desire on the part of a minority of Muslims to not just reject universal human rights, but embrace terrorists who want to destroy Western culture—one head at a time.

After the exchange on Maher’s show, Harris wrote:

Kristof made the point that there are brave Muslims who are risking their lives to condemn “extremism” in the Muslim community. Of course there are, and I celebrate these people too. But he seemed completely unaware that he was making my point for me—the point being, of course, that these people are now risking their lives by advocating for basic human rights in the Muslim world.

Harris followed with this:

Although I clearly stated that I wasn’t claiming that all Muslims adhere to the dogmas I was criticizing; distinguished between jihadists, Islamists, conservatives, and the rest of the Muslim community; and explicitly exempted hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t take the doctrines about blasphemy, apostasy, jihad, and martyrdom seriously, Affleck and Kristof both insisted that I was disparaging all Muslims as a group.

I have read most of Harris’ books and listened to many debates he’s been in. I completely understand where he’s coming from, even if many liberals don’t. There is room in liberalism for both critics of Islam and for critics of genuine bigots who lump all Muslims together and condemn them. Harris is the former without being the latter. But some liberals don’t see it that way and are unfairly attacking a fellow liberal. Here’s what Harris has to say about that:

One of the most depressing things in the aftermath of this exchange is the way Affleck is now being lauded for having exposed my and Maher’s “racism,” “bigotry,” and “hatred of Muslims.” This is yet another sign that simply accusing someone of these sins, however illogically, is sufficient to establish them as facts in the minds of many viewers. It certainly does not help that unscrupulous people like Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald have been spinning the conversation this way.

It turns out that Harris had good reason to go after Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald (a man whom I have heavily criticized for his stance on the Edward Snowden leaks and his grossly unfair attacks on President Obama). In a post a few days ago that was titled, “On the Mechanics of Defamation,” Harris wrote:

Let me briefly illustrate how this works. Although I could cite hundreds of examples from the past two weeks alone, here is what I woke up to this morning: Some person who goes by the name of @dan_verg_ on Twitter took the most easily misunderstood sentence in The End of Faith out of (its absolutely essential) context, attached it to a scary picture of me, and declared me a “genocidal fascist maniac.” Then Reza Aslan retweeted it. An hour later, Glenn Greenwald retweeted it again.

Here is the Tweet:

You can read for yourself, in context, what Harris meant by the statement that was nicely fitted onto that eerie photograph of him and sent to millions of people around the world. But Harris points out,

Both Greenwald and Aslan know that those words do not mean what they appear to mean. Given the amount of correspondence we’ve had on these topics, and given that I have repeatedly bored audiences by clarifying that statement (in response to this kind of treatment), the chance that either writer thinks he is exposing the truth about my views—or that I’m really a “genocidal fascist maniac”—is zero. Aslan and Greenwald—a famous “scholar” and a famous “journalist”—are engaged in a campaign of pure defamation. They are consciously misleading their readers and increasing my security concerns in the process.

That two liberals would do this to another liberal is unconscionable. Harris ends his blog post with this:

Aslan and Greenwald know that nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes. And yet they (along with several of their colleagues) are doing their best to spread this lie about me. Nearly every other comment they’ve made about my work is similarly misleading.

Both Aslan and Greenwald are debasing our public discourse and making honest discussion of important ideas increasingly unpleasant—even personally dangerous. Why are they doing this? Please ask them and those who publish them.

And that is why I decided to write about this issue. Last night, on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes, the host did a segment featuring Reza Aslan in which they discussed these issues. And he did that segment without once mentioning the slanderous tweet that both Aslan and Glenn Greenwald (who also appears as a guest on Hayes’ show from time to time) retweeted and disseminated around the world. I don’t know if Hayes knew about the tweet. But I was sorely disappointed in the liberal commentator, whom I much admire. If he did know, shame on him. If he didn’t know, he or his staff should have done better research.

Sadly, it is quite likely that Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald will continue to enjoy the support of liberals in the media, and Sam Harris will continue to endure the slander that is represented by that offensive tweet.

And liberalism is the lesser for all of it.

Is Representative Democracy Dead?

A challenging comment from a thought-provoking contributor to this blog, Herb Van Fleet (who also writes op-eds for the Joplin Globe), has prompted me to post the following.

Among other things, in his response to my piece on the Republican voter suppression scandal, Herb offered this:

Being the malcontented, cynical, outlier that I am, it seems to me that just because a person is a U.S. citizen of the right age, who is ambulatory enough to get to the local polling booth, that is not a justification for a “right” to vote.

Should we allow those who are illiterate to vote when they can’t even read the ballot. Should we allow those with very little education to vote if they can’t understand the issues? Should we allow those who are ignorant of our political system — who can name the Three Stooges but not the three branches of government — to vote?

My reply:

Herb,

Of course I have to challenge your suggestion that a U.S. citizen “of the right age, who is ambulatory enough to get to the local polling booth, that is not a justification for a ‘right’ to vote.”

Oh, yes it is. You know why? Because the alternative is unthinkable in a democracy. Just who would get to decide if “those with very little education” can “understand the issues”? Or who would measure the level of ignorance “of our political system” and by what standards would they measure it? Would you apply your Three Stooges test or some other test?

We all agree that it is generally a good idea for folks to be informed and to make use of their rational faculties before doing anything, including casting their votes. But that tells us nothing, when you think about it, about how people might vote or whether they would cast what you or I might consider to be the right vote.

johnson on votingLet’s say we could devise a test that served the purpose you suggested. Then let’s suppose we gave our test to someone like Rush Limbaugh. He would likely pass such a test. Yet, he would certainly disappoint me and around half the country on his choice of candidates. Rush Limbaugh would vote for the dumbest, most clownish Republican on the planet if the alternative was a Democrat. I can guarantee you that, after two decades of listening to him. So, I would ask you: what would be accomplished by such a test? And how significant, in terms of one’s desired electoral outcome, is any testable notion of being “informed”? Therefore, why bother with such a test?

Maybe we could devise a test to sort out people whose minds have been poisoned by fundamentalist religion. We could call it the Ted Cruz or Michele Bachmann test. But what kind of democracy would we have if we arbitrarily decided that this person or that person shouldn’t vote? As much damage as I think the Ted Cruzes and Michele Bachmanns of the world are doing to our politics, in a democracy they both get to vote. And they should. The informed and the misinformed, the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the Christians and the pagans, all get to vote—if they want to. Who knows? Perhaps there is safety in numbers.

That leads me to this stunning argument you made:

It seems to me that an important predicate for a fully functional representative democracy is an informed electorate. On that point, I would argue that that is exactly what the founders gave us.

I had to read that a couple of times before I could react appropriately. The founders did not give us “an informed electorate,” since no one could guarantee that anyone casting a vote was informed (and, again, if being an “informed” voter is essential to good governance, why doesn’t it lead people to vote and think the same way? Why were there Federalists and Democratic-Republicans in our system as early as 1792?)

But even if the Founders could have given us such an informed electorate, please explain to me how limiting the vote to literate property owners—no blacks, women, or native Americans need apply—constituted a “fully functional representative democracy”? What it amounted to was essentially a fully functional oligarchy. Now, if you personally prefer oligarchies, just say so!

Which leads me to your point about what you call “the tyranny of the minority,” regarding the relatively small number of eligible people who actually vote and decide issues. Now, that is a strange kind of tyranny, don’t you think? I mean what you are describing is essentially a tyranny that people who don’t bother to vote foist on themselves, year after year, election after election. You can call that a lot of things, but it isn’t a tyranny of the minority, unless the minority (as Republicans are now doing) is actively and successfully engaged in voter suppression.

Finally, while I largely agree with you that in many ways, “Public policy is set by special interest groups, lobbyists, and the top one percent,” I think you go too far when you say,

…we have long since slipped from being a liberal representative democracy into a plutocracy.

Well, yes, there are plenty of plutocrats among us. Yes, those plutocrats have outsize influence over our politics. Yes, we are slouching toward something one might call a plutocracy. But as both Roosevelts demonstrated, the plutocrats don’t always have to win. They don’t “rule” in the sense that they control it all. They can always be defeated in a democracy. If we don’t think they can, if we have lost all public confidence in our electoral process (and Citizens United went a long way in undermining that confidence, I’ll admit), and if we no longer believe the people we elect are ultimately responsive and accountable to voters, then the American experiment is over. 

And if you think this great experiment is over, then you will have to admit that “a liberal representative democracy” is simply impossible to maintain. I, for one, am not ready to toss in the towel, and with all due respect, I hope there are more citizens like me than “malcontented, cynical” ones like you.

Duane

P.S. I read your recent and mostly admirable op-ed in the Joplin Globe, Herb. I agree with you that “our democracy is broken” and I would be the first to entertain “another form of government,” possibly a parliamentary republic just to name one I am fond of. But I was amazed at two things about your piece. One was that you managed to complain about the brokenness of government without mentioning the real culprit these days: the Republican Party. You tend to do that when you write op-eds for the Globe.

The other thing that amazed me was that you ended with a dubious quote from Abraham Lincoln, who allegedly trembled for the safety of the nation because of the reign of “the money power of the country.” As far as I can tell, Lincoln never said that. I wish to God he had because it would be the greatest prophecy in American history, given what the Republicans on the Supreme Court have lately enabled via Citizens United and other decisions. Next time, rather than leaving them with the impression that both sides are equally guilty for our broken system, maybe you can explain that partisan fact to your readers, as well as the fact that gumming up government has been a deliberate GOP tactic since 2009.

 

Krugman: “In Defense Of Obama”

Paul Krugman, of all people on the left, has done what should be done. He has actually come out with an in-your-face defense of President Obama.

The subhead for the excellent Rolling Stone piece is,

The Nobel Prize-winning economist, once one of the president’s most notable critics, on why Obama is a historic success

If you are a regular reader of Krugman you know very well that he has, at times, been fairly critical of the Obama administration. And I actually mean “fairly” critical. He hasn’t just taken cheap shots, as so many on both the right and left have done.

Now, after first admitting that he has “always been out of sync” with the President, Krugman says,

Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.

Yes. And here is why in a quick summary:

His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

It’s too bad that other Democrats, including Allison Lundergan Grimes, who wants to unseat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, don’t feel free to embrace Obama’s achievements, if not Obama himself. Grimes, famously now, couldn’t even bring herself to admit to the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board that sgrimes obama vote answerhe actually voted for the President, even though she was born and raised a Democrat, and even though some 500,000 Kentuckians are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, the same law that has driven Republicans nuts and the same law that McConnell wants to kill.

Yes, I understand she is running in Kentucky. I understand that Obama is very unpopular in that state. But Grimes didn’t help herself by being so obviously frightened to admit she voted for The Scary Negro. She even went so far as to say that she was a “Clinton” Democrat. We all know what that means, of course. There’s no mistaking either Bill or Hillary for an African-American.

But abandoning President Obama has become quite fashionable among Democrats and liberals these days, even if you don’t live in the Deep South and even if you’re not paper-white. Krugman mentions Cornel West, a black professor at Union Theological Seminary, who this summer was the subject of a Salon interview by lefty Thomas Frank. Frank, who wrote the influential book, What’s The Matter With Kansas, introduces West as,

one of my favorite public intellectuals, a man who deals in penetrating analyses of current events, expressed in a pithy and highly quotable way.

That being said, let’s look at what this public intellectual offered as penetrating analysis of President Obama:

Dr. Cornel West…the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. 

The black public intellectual actually called Obama “a brown-faced Clinton. Another opportunist.” And Thomas Frank baited him with elitist nonsense:

FRANK: There’s a lot of disillusionment now. My liberal friends included. The phrase that I have heard from more than one person in the last year is they feel like they got played.

WEST: That’s true. That’s exactly right. What I hear is that, “He pimped us.” I heard that a zillion times. “He pimped us, brother West.” That’s another way of saying “we got played.”

That’s just a sample of criticism coming from Obama’s left. Krugman answers it:

They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ”neoliberal” economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.

No, it’s not hard to take such claims seriously. It is impossible.

“It Is Enough To Make You Swear”

Last night I was researching yet another piece on the disgraceful Republican effort to suppress the vote (I have written about it many times because it profoundly pisses me off, and in the mainstream press Republicans mostly get a pass) and, voilà, on comes Rachel Maddow with a segment on the same thing. Oh, well. I will go on with what I was doing and steal some of St. Rachel’s stuff, including noting the success Republicans have had in reducing voter participation. But first, here are a few headlines and information from the accompanying stories:

Republicans Are Trying to Make Sure Minorities and Young People Don’t Vote This November

In a way, Barack Obama can be blamed for this. In 2008, his historic campaign inspired record turnout, drawing more people to the polls than the country had seen in 40 years. Almost all of the record increase came from black, Hispanic, and young voters, who tended to vote Democratic. Republican governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures, not surprisingly, saw this as a problem. They responded by throwing up a host of new obstacles to voting that disproportionately affect black, Latino, and low-income voters.

Chart of the Day: Kansas Successfully Reduces Voting Rate of Blacks, Young People

Here is a graphic Rachel presented on her show that helps explain the motivation of muck-the-vote right-wingers behind those preceding stories:

2012 exit poll on young voters and blacks

You can see why Republicans went to a lot of trouble to make it harder for young folks and black folks to vote. And we must not forget that Hispanics gave President Obama 71% of their votes in 2012, after he received 67% of their votes in 2008. It was, of course, the 2008 election that first put the fear of Obama’s Allah into Republicans, who saw how powerful those young people, blacks, and Hispanics can be, when it comes to electing Democrats and shutting the door on reactionary politics.

In 2010, capitalizing on a backlash against The Scary Negro in the White’s House, Tea Party-energized Republicans took control of the entire legislature in 25 states, for a gain of 11. The last time they controlled that many statehouses was in 1952. Republicans decided to put to use their new-found state political power by throwing electoral spike strips in front of constituencies who would surely flee from the right-wing governance the GOP was about to unleash. And, as Saint Rachel pointed out, they have been successful. Here is a map she presented:

voting restriction states since 2010

Regarding that depressing reality, Maddow said this:

This is meant to be a Republican-tilted system of voting. If you care about small “d” democracy and the right to vote and everything that went into securing it, it is enough to make you swear.

Yep. I have done a lot of swearing since 2010. I can’t think of anything Republicans have engineered, and they have engineered a lot of bad things—including now politicizing Ebola, for God’s sake—that is worse than their attempts to make it difficult for people to vote. Obviously, they know their message doesn’t have majority appeal. But rather than tailor their message to attract a majority, they would rather retain their parochial vision and use raw and rare political power to discourage their political enemies from exercising what should be, in a still-experimental democracy, their sacred right to vote.

There is some good news in terms of the court battles over these dishonorable and anti-democratic tactics adopted by Republicans. On Thursday night, the U.S. Supreme Court—over the objection of its most committed reactionary members, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito—blocked Wisconsin’s voter ID law from going into effect for the upcoming election. The same night we learned that a federal judge in Texas—an Obama appointee; it matters who gets to appoint judges—struck down that state’s voter ID law, known as SB 14.

Noting that the right to vote “defines our nation as a democracy,” U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos didn’t shy away from describing what Republicans in the Texas legislature were doing when they passed their squash-the-Democratic-vote law:

The Court holds that SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. The Court further holds that  SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.

One day, perhaps not too far in the future, we won’t have to battle the kind of reactionary nonsense that Judge Ramos struck down. But for now, the fight must continue because Republicans have no shame. They fear young people, blacks, and Hispanics. They see them as their enemies. And they will, apparently, try anything to keep their enemies from the battlefield.

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