Hanoi Huckabee And Hanoi Hannity

In 1972, actress Jane Fonda, at the height of her youthful popularity, went to North Vietnam, against whom we were still warring, and toured the country for two weeks. While there, she denounced U.S. military policy and did something she later said “was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done.” That something was posing for pictures on an anti-aircraft gun outside of Hanoi. “I will go to my grave regretting that,” she said in 2005, adding,

The image of Jane Fonda, Barbarella, Henry Fonda’s daughter—just a woman—sitting on a enemy aircraft gun, was a betrayal. It was like I was thumbing my nose at the military. And at the country that gave me privilege. It was the largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine. I don’t thumb my nose at this country. I care deeply about American soldiers.

Fonda did not apologize, though, for being photographed with seven American POWs and for making broadcasts for Radio Hanoi:

Our government was lying to us, and men were dying because of it. And I felt that I had to do anything that I could to expose the lies, and help end the war. That was my goal.

Obviously her trip to Hanoi earned her the lasting ire of many veterans, who would refer to her as “Hanoi Jane” forevermore. Many still consider her a traitor and many lies have grown up and multiplied around that trip in 1972, including a vicious lie, still circulating on the dark side of the Internet, that some POWs passed to her notes to take back home that she allegedly turned over to the North Vietnamese, who then supposedly beat to death some of those POWs.

Fonda’s trip to North Vietnam also made her a legend in the conservative movement, if only as a poster child for all that was wrong with liberals and leftists, all that was wrong with radicals who did not necessarily embrace the idea that if America was doing it, it must be right. Many conservatives over the years have used Fonda as an example of someone who portrays their own country as the “enemy,” and who is either unpatriotic or treasonous for doing so.

Now we come to Mike Huckabee. By now you have heard him say the following, uttered this past weekend at a gathering of Obama-hating right-wing extremists called the New Hampshire Freedom Summit:

Freedom of speech in this country, that for which the men grabbed their muskets off the mantel, did never mean that we’re to have fewer voices, but more voices…My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States…

Especially in context, those remarks should offend and outrage any American, whether you like Barack Obama or not. I don’t think that Jane Fonda ever said anything as offensive or outrageous as comparing the United States unfavorably with a despotic shit hole like North Korea.

But before he said those offensive and outrageous things, Huckabee said something that I find even more outrageous. Read the following demagogic commentary the law-and-order-loving Huckabee gave on the dangerous drama going on in Nevada—where a delusional rancher has been illegally grazing his cattle on federal government land for twenty years and who says he doesn’t “recognize [the] United States Government as even existing” and who is essentially leading a group of crazed people with guns who are willing to kill federal authorities trying to enforce the law:

There is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that some blades of grass that a cow is eating is so an egregious affront to the government to the United States that we would literally put a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him over it. [Interrupted by applause.] Here’s what I’d have to ask: Is this government more interested in some cows eating grass in Nevada than they are as to why Brian Terry was murdered with guns that our government provided drug dealers in Mexico? [More applause.] Somebody help me understand that? Is this government more concerned about a few hundred head of cattle grazing on some land than they are as to why four Americans were murdered in Benghazi? And nobody answered the phone at three o’clock in the morning! [More thunderous applause.] The threats and affronts to our liberty today are so incredibly frightening…

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what Mike Huckabee is saying here. Besides his attempt to appeal to the worst elements of the Republican base—those who think Barack Obama and Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton are essentially murderers or complicit in murder—he is essentially saying that the government should ignore a freeloading lawbreaker in Nevada, a freeloading lawbreaker who has become a folk hero on the right, because that lawbreaking rancher’s crimes aren’t worth enforcing the law. When Huckabee made those remarks he knew that right-wing groups, including Americans for Prosperity, had been championing rancher Cliven Bundy’s cause to the point that reactionary militia members from all over the country were on the scene in Nevada with their guns in order to provide an “armed response” to what the Bureau of Land Management was trying to do. Huckabee knew that. And yet he ignored all that and focused on Fast and Furious and Benghazi. I remind you that besides being a former governor, the man is a bleeping Baptist minister, for God’s sake.

Now enter Sean Hannity. After the Bureau of Land Management decided to wisely back down and not get into a shootout with hysterical reactionaries at this time, Hannity offered the Bundy family yet another opportunity to make their case against the federal government’s authority over the land in Nevada, the land that the Bundys had been profiting from by grazing their cattle on it for free (some dare call that welfare). I will provide you with part of the transcript of that disgusting Fox “News” segment, a transcript that appeared on Fox Nation under the headline:

Cliven Bundy on Harry Reid: ‘I Don’t Think There’s Any Hope for Him, He Needs to Be Kicked Out of Office’

HANNITY: This is a “FOX News Alert.” The federal government has caved to public pressure in the battle against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over cattle grazing rights. Now, in just a moment, Cliven, his two sons will join us for their first exclusive interview since the siege ended.

But first, the government surrendered this weekend after tensions escalated in the week-long standoff between Bundy family, supporters, and of course, federal agents. Now, the Bureau of Land Management released the 400 cattle that it seized from Bundy and removed its heavily-armed agents from the ranch.

Get that? The federal government “caved” and “surrendered.” Hannity was siding with the armed resistance. He was siding with the lawbreakers who believe the federal government is their enemy. And it was as if Hannity and Friends were cheering for a different outcome, one with, say, blood and death. Hannity even went so far as to claim that Democrats were involved:

HANNITY: …From my perspective, as somebody that follows politics very, very closely, I think that they — I think the politicians were watching this, Democrats in particular, and that they knew if something bad happened here, and they were the ones ratcheting this up – - I mean, we have rapist and murderers and bank robbers and pedophiles out there, and they’ve 200 agents, you know, surrounding your ranch because your cows are eating grass on land that they don’t even want or need and that you’re arguing isn’t even theirs.

So they realized, I think, at some point, politically, that this was going to backfire on them. So I think this was done for political reasons.

As outrageous as Hannity’s promotion of these right-wing extremists was, as outrageous as his claim that Democrats, presumably in Washington, surrendered to gun-toting lawbreakers in Nevada to avoid bad publicity, there was another outrageous thing that happened on his show. Cliven Bundy, the man at the center of this right-wing sanctioned freeloading and lawbreaking, had the following exchange with the Fox host:

HANNITY: Well, let me ask you, because Harry Reid just spoke earlier tonight and he said that, well, it’s not over. He said, quote, “We can’t have American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

What is your response to Harry Reid?

CLIVEN BUNDY: I don’t have a response for Harry Reid, but I have a response for every sheriff across the United States, every county sheriff across the United States. Disarm the federal bureaucrats. Take the federal United States bureaucrats’ guns away. That’s my message today.

What? “Disarm the federal bureaucrats?” Take their guns away? Sheriffs are suppose to walk up to federal agents and take away their weapons? Huh?bundy ranch sniper

Now, one would expect that Sean Hannity, who thinks people here without citizenship are lawbreakers who should pay fines and not get federal subsidies and should be forced to learn English and suffer other penalties for not being legal Americans like him, one would expect him to tell Cliven Bundy that he was out of his mind for thinking that sheriffs could and should disarm federal officials. One would expect Hannity, who refers to President Obama as lawless, to tell the disturbed rancher that this is a nation of laws and that no law gives a sheriff the right to take a gun away from a federal official who is authorized to possess it, and certainly no law gives people the right to get into a gun battle with government agents carrying out their official duties. But no. Our law-loving conservative host responded with this:

HANNITY: You said that to the sheriff, Cliven. You said to disarm the Park Service, meaning the Bureau of Land Management. I mean, there were, what, 200 people surrounding your ranch and there were snipers and — I mean, it was really a precarious situation there all weekend up until this got resolved, right?

CLIVEN BUNDY: Yes. And if the county sheriff had have taken away the weapons from the BLM, those pickets (ph) would not have to march before these guns. And that was — that’s a terrible thing to put American people in that situation, and — but they did.

And we didn’t have a county sheriff. We didn’t have a state government. And we the people marched, and the BLM backed down. Now, they backed down — let me tell you how they backed down. They backed down. They run. They got on the freeway and went to Mesquite and grabbed their stuff and moved out of the state. Now, the state — towards the state of Utah. Utah County sheriff’s finished this job that Gillespie didn’t do, take the guns away from these federal bureaucrats.

HANNITY: Is your contention that this is state land and that they have no authority or business being there?

CLIVEN BUNDY: They have no authority.

HANNITY: All right, let me ask you about…

“All right.” That’s it. No lecture to Mr. Bundy about the need to obey the laws. No admonition that he and his family were putting government officials in danger. No scolding him for picking and choosing which laws he would like to obey. No moral sermon about how awful it is for the Bundy family to be part of Mitt Romney’s 47% who are mooching off the federal government. No, none of that. In fact, Bundy later spoke again of disarming the enemy, the federal officials trying to enforce the law:

CLIVEN BUNDY: …They might have took over our Clark County sheriff, but they never took over we the people, the sovereign people of this nation. We’re standing and we’re going to stand until we take the guns away from those bureaucracies, and then we’ll start making America great one more time.

To that, I swear to God, our Constitution-loving, Obama-is-a-lawbreaking-radical-who-pals-around-with-terrorists Fox celebrity said:

HANNITY: Did you lose many cows? I understand that some of your cows died.

It’s all about the cows.

Conservatives, those who tacitly defend or openly promote what the Bundy family and their gun-packing fellow travelers are doing in Nevada, at the very least owe Jane Fonda an apology.

In the mean time, if you want a look at real stupidity and lawlessness and mob mentality, I suggest you watch the following video in its entirety (beware: the reactionaries call federal officials some vile and profane names), a video recorded by someone who is proud of what happened in Nevada:

bundy headlines

The Right Ronald Reagan

I am proud to be a Democrat, as I have said many times. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the Democratic Party, at least in principle, has stood for the little guy against the big guy, even if the big guys have at times been able to get a lot of little guys to vote for the big guys’ interests.

In case you didn’t know, long before Ronald Reagan became the champion of the big guy, he was an outspoken critic of the big guy’s political protector, the Republican Party. And if you have never heard Ronald Reagan’s 1948 campaign statements supporting Democrats and criticizing, rather severely, Republicans, Lawrence O’Donnell did a great job presenting those statements on his “Rewrite” segment last night. It’s something everyone should hear:

You, Too, Can Phone Wobbly Republicans And Tell Them To Say No To Beggars Wages In Missouri

“So-called “Right to Work” laws are an attempt by CEOs and multinational corporations to eliminate unions and stack the deck even more in their favor. It’s a power grab by the same people who ship our jobs overseas and offshore their profits—and it would hurt all working people in Missouri.”

Missouri AFL-CIO

First it was Grover Norquist sticking his icky head in Missouri politics. Now comes FreedomWorks, the reactionary Tea Party group first funded by a Koch Bro, brazenly attempting to alter lives here in the Show-Me State. Extremists Going 'All In' to Make Missouri the Most Anti-Worker State in the U.S. We Can Change That

In Missouri FreedomWorks is targeting those it considers to be wobbly Republican House members, those few right-wingers in our Republican-dominated state house who may not yet be ready to decimate labor unions by voting for Right-to-Beg legislation.

“Right-to-Work protects Missouri workers from oppressive union tactics and cuts off funding to Big Government politicians,” says a post on FreedomWorks’ website. “It’s simple. No one should be forced to pay dues to a union.” No, it’s simple: People who lie should be ashamed of themselves.

Right-to-Beg laws actually don’t do anything except undermine the one thing that serves to protect workers, which is a union-negotiated and union-enforced contract. By allowing workers to get union benefits without paying for union representation, such laws threaten the very existence of the union and—the real point of such laws—do away with the voice of the worker in the workplace. That is why the efforts to pass such laws here in Missouri and elsewhere are supported by business interests, who enjoy the fact that they can pay their employees thousands of dollars a year less in Right-to-Beg states.

freedomworksWhen FreedomWorks or any other right-winging group or individual says that “No one should be forced to pay dues to a union,” they are purposely ignoring the fact that employees covered by a union contract aren’t forced, cannot in fact be forced, to join the union and pay union dues. What they can be required to pay is their share of the union’s cost of representing employees in that bargaining unit, including those employees who don’t want to join the union. Federal law mandates that unions represent all bargaining unit employees whether they pay union dues or not, and it is simply common sense that says if you get something from the union you should have to pay for it. If you don’t want to be represented by a union then you don’t have to go to work at a place where workers are represented by a union. But if you do take such work, then you should have to pay your fair share of the costs of providing you with and policing an employment contract.

In any case, the Republican targets of the FreedomWorks campaign in the Missouri House are listed below. If you want, you can counter the right-wing attempt to destroy unions and lower wages in Missouri by phoning them and urging them to oppose HB 1770:

Rep. Wanda Brown…Office Phone: (573) 751-3971

Rep. Sue Entlicher…Office Phone: (573) 751-1347

Rep. Chuck Gatchenberger…Office Phone: (573) 751-3572

Rep. Ron Hicks…Office Phone: (573) 751-1470

Rep. Bart Korman…Office Phone: (573) 751-2689

Rep. Jim Neely…Office Phone: (573) 751-0246

Rep. Donna Pfautsch…Office Phone: (573) 751-9766

Rep. Bryan Spencer…Office Phone (573) 751-1460

Rep. Kathy Swan…Office Phone (573) 751-1443

It’s Cheap To Be Rich

Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight blog posted a piece by Ben Casselman this morning with the title,

Inflation May Hit the Poor Hardest

Yeah, well, Mr. Casselman, everything hits the poor hardest. A bad economy. A good economy. Everything. You know why? Because they’re bleeping poor, that’s why. But to be fair to the author, he was making a point about the fact that not everyone experiences the same rate of inflation. He begins his piece with this:

It’s getting more expensive to be poor.

He says that “families earning less than $20,000,” because they spend a disproportionate amount of their money on things like rent and utilities,

are experiencing a higher rate of inflation than the public at large even as their wages have stagnated…

The poor experience a double whammy: stagnating wages and a higher rate of inflation that eats away a disproportionate share of their purchasing power. And it is even worse than that. Just watch last night’s 60 Minutes segment on the working poor in Virginia’s part of Appalachia. Those folks are not only victims of a faltering local economy, but they are victims of the Republican Party in Virginia, a party that refuses to allow those poor working people to get the health insurance they are entitled to under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision.

So, you’re damned right it is expensive to be poor in America.

But it is damned cheap to be rich.

Sheldon Adelson, from whom God sometimes has to borrow money till payday, is looking to buy himself a Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 race. Last time he spent almost $100 million in a losing effort. But don’t feel sorry for him. He made almost that much in two special hours last week. In any case, he told Forbes that this time he will “spend whatever it takes” to win. And whatever it takes will still be cheap for him.Republican Billionaire Sheldon Adelson

Unfortunately there are plenty of Republicans who want to be bought by Sheldon Adelson, including presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and the groveling Chris Christie, who if Adelson buys him will be getting a bargain, somewhere around $250,000 a pound—and that’s if Adelson only gives another paltry $100 million. Very cheap for a commander-in-chief who could blow up your enemies.

The Supreme Court, staffed by five conservative Republicans who believe that rich people should have a megaphone that matches their money, have now made it easier for Adelson and other moneyed folks to buy up what is left of American democracy. And although there ain’t much left to buy, thanks to Citizens United, what is left won’t cost those wealthy folks all that much. Last year Sheldon Adelson made about $22,000 a minute. In eleven short minutes he made enough to buy a pound of Chris Christie or a half-pound of Jeb! No problem! Cheap, cheap, cheap.

In the mean time, it remains very expensive to be poor, especially in western Virginia where, because of Republicans, folks have to rely on the occasional visits of two saintly nurses driving a raggedy 13-year-old Winnebago-turned-”Health Wagon” in order to stay alive.

health wagon2

The Reality Behind “Noah”

“Drowning itself is quick and silent, although it may be preceded by distress which is more visible. A person drowning is unable to shout or call for help, or seek attention, as they cannot obtain enough air. The instinctive drowning response is the final set of autonomic reactions in the 20 – 60 seconds before sinking underwater, and to the untrained eye can look similar to calm safe behavior.  Lifeguards and other persons trained in rescue learn to recognize drowning people by watching for these instinctive movements.”

—Wikipedia, “Drowning”

Judging by all the criticism coming from conservative Christians regarding the latest superhero movie, Noah, anything short of a Children’s Bible version of the story of Noah and the Ark would be unacceptable.

Locally, a man named Ronald Cansler, a conservative Christian who used to pastor the First United Methodist Church in Joplin but now shepherds students through Missouri Southern State University’s English department, said the following in the local newspaper the other day:

Some guy named Noah, a lot of water and a bunch of animals on a boat are the only similarities between the movie “Noah” and the account in Genesis 6:9.

Pastor/Professor Cansler is worried that “one aspect of the movie greatly offends against the biblical account.” He is referring to the movie supposedly misrepresenting “God’s plan,” which, according to Bible believers, involved Noah’s three sons and their wives dutifully bonking each other in order to “replenish the earth” after the flood.

As the makers of Noah are finding out, there simply is no pleasing biblical fundamentalists, although the attempts to try—the worst example being the attempt to appease Glenn Beck—indicate that this movie, for all the high-brow claims of its creators, is at least partially designed to get Bible-believing Christians interested enough to spend their money on the film ($44 million opening weekend in America, but no numbers on how many were true believers).

That is why, despite the fact that livelier Babylonian accounts of a destructive flood by vindictive gods are available for movie-making, the biblical version of the Noah-flood story is the basis of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I suppose there just aren’t enough Babylonians around these days from whom a big-time movie studio can extract a buck or two.

Now, let me declare that I haven’t seen the movie and have no plans to do so. I know there are reportedly some so-called progressive themes running through it, especially involving how we treat our environment and the other creatures we share it with, but this piece of criticism you are reading isn’t about the movie per se.

Nor is this about the absurdly unscientific story upon which Noah is based—come on, people, the Genesis account says that Noah was “six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth” and that “and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” with water for nearly a year and that the implausible ark housed “two of all living creatures” and that after Noah and his family and the animals were all safely inside the large vessel, the “the Lord” closed the doors!

No, this piece isn’t about all that. It is about the lack of attention that movie reviewers are paying to the apparently acceptable premise of the movie: that it was okay for an angry and disappointed God to destroy the face of the earth and everything living on it—babies and young children, included—save for Noah and a few family members that the Bible quite arbitrarily considered “righteous.” Such a stunningly immoral premise needs examination, if only because some people take all this quite seriously and most of those who do would never raise a moral objection to the purported actions of God, a being they claim is unquestionably good and just. We cringe today at any display of murderous human rage, so why isn’t everyone cringing at the disturbing display of murderous divine rage that serves as the background for the movie Noah?

Our local movie reviewer, Mr. Cansler, who despite his theological objections found the movie “a fun two-plus hours,” said that its presentation of God’s purpose for the flood—“that only the innocent animals are to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ while the family of zookeepers will be a dead end for humankind”—made the God of the Bible “appear bloodily anti-human, a misanthropic hyper-Malthusian.” Those of us familiar with the Old Testament know that the God of the Bible doesn’t need any help from filmmakers in order to make him appear like a human-hating brute. Just read the book, especially the entire biblical account of the flood.

Just before we are introduced to the non-Hollywood Noah in the Book of Genesis, we find this declaration:

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.

That is a reaffirmation of Genesis 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

But just what is that image? Is it an image of one seeking ultimate vengeance? Of one using violence to squash perceived enemies or rectify one’s mistakes?

After strangely informing us in Genesis Chapter 6 that humans were increasing in population and that divine beings called “the sons of God” were having sex with “the daughters of humans,” (and after introducing the Nephilim, a race of “giants” who may have been the offspring of fallen angels and humans!), the Bible tells us:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.

Ignoring the theologically untenable claim that an all-knowing God had “regrets,” or the morally untenable assertion that a just God took his unlovely wrath out on all living things, guilty or not, here we see that God’s anger with mankind was stirred by “the thoughts of the human heart,” which were “only evil all the time.” Did little babies, who also perished in the flood, have evil thoughts in their hearts? All the time? How about four-year-olds? Teenagers? Shriveled-up old folks?

And even if one granted that all humans in Noah’s days, no matter their age or station, did have such evil thoughts in their hearts all the time, from where could they have obtained such thoughts? Or,  from whom could they have obtained them? Is it true that all of those whom God decided to murder with a mountain-topping deluge were created in his image, too? Yes. Of course. The Bible says so. But not in the way I was taught in Sunday school. The clues that reveal the nature of that imaging are in the reason given in the Bible for God’s drowning his image-bearers and the subsequent record of behavior of those post-flood folks God would bless with his army-conquering presence.

I suggest to you that, to the extent one takes the Bible’s claims seriously, those evil thoughts that God found so offensive were frequently manifested in much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, substantiating that well-known “God created mankind in his own image” claim in Genesis. In other words, those evil human beings whom God regretted making and then whom he murdered by drowning, actually reflected, quite accurately, the image of God we find in the Old Testament and, to some degree, in the New. That is why some critics claim that it appears the God of the Bible was actually created in man’s image.

Just read Joshua 6, for instance, where the conquering Israelites not only knocked down the walls of Jericho with trumpet blasts, but,

They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Like father, like son. That matches nicely with 1 Samuel 15, where God tells Saul and the Israelites to, “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” 

And it matches with other events recorded in the Old Testament. Long after the great flood in which God left no human survivors, except for Noah and his family, an Amorite king named Sihon would not let the ancient Israelites, who after escaping Egypt were on their wilderness-wandering way to the Promised Land, pass through his territory. Too bad for the king. God wasn’t in the mood to negotiate. According to Deuteronomy:

When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors. 

We left no survivors. The Israelites even murdered the children. Sort of like God did in the flood. Created in his image, indeed.

All of this is not to deny the existence of God. I have no idea whether there is a God or whether we are winging it as human beings. But I do say that those who claim that the God presented to us in the Bible is a good and decent and moral being whom we should emulate have to explain why he cold-bloodedly slaughters the innocent people he creates and encourages or supports others who cold-bloodedly slaughter them. And if the movie Noah has any redeeming value, it will be found not in providing us “a fun two-plus hours,” but in forcing some people to come to terms with the ugly and disturbing picture of divinity imprinted on the pages of their holy book.

An Erstwhile Conservative Exclusive: The Devil On ObamaCare

Tonight, of course, is the soft deadline for getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. I have been trying for months to get an interview with Satan himself so that I could get his take on all the controversy surrounding the new health care law. Finally, after a lot of effort, I was able to get the old devil to sit down for what I hope is only one of many interviews to come:

THE ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: Thank you for your time. I know you’re busy on this important day for America, so I will make this quick. I guess my first question is: How hard have you been working to make sure the Affordable Care Act fails?

SATAN: Well, I’m glad you ask me that. Obviously it is in my interest that this plan fail and fail miserably. And because of that, I assigned several divisions of demons the task of destroying what we in hell sarcastically refer to as “ObamaCare”—a term your president, in what some thought was a moment of tactical brilliance, adopted in order to dull the force of the point, even though I think we have still succeeded, as the polls show, in dirtying the thing with his name.

I have put so many of my demonic assets into this massive and massively negative effort that we are a little short-staffed in other areas, like helping to deny people unemployment benefits and food stamps or making sure they don’t vote this fall in the mid-term elections. But I think we’ve done such a good job in the House the last few years that we’ll be okay. I just had to be sure that we were doing all we could to make sure people don’t sign up for affordable health care. The sicker and more fearful people are the better, as far as I’m concerned.

TEC: I see, I see. Just what do these anti-ObamaCare demons do?

SATAN: Well, the largest number of them get people to do things like lie about the law in print and on the Internet and on television. I think you know where I’m going here—

TEC:—Yes, yes, I do know where you’re going and I wanted to ask you about that—

SATAN—Oh, I’m happy to tell you about it. Journalism, or what passes for journalism these days, is very important in my business. We specialize, as you know, in using the trade to spread false information about a lot of things, from Obama’s birth certificate to Benghazi to phony vaccination controversies. The latter disinformation campaign has allowed us to gain back valuable ground we RougeoleDP.jpglost to those damned scientists who have found ways of combating many of the wonderful diseases I’ve been spreading around. Thanks to all the disinformation work we do, measles is making a comeback!  

TEC: Yes, you have done a great job in terms of spreading harmful lies, I must say.

SATAN: Yes, I have. And I’m damned proud of it. Jesus called me the Father of Lies, you know. 

TEC: Yes, I know that. He also said you were “a murderer from the beginning.”

SATAN: I know, I know. He is too kind sometimes! I’m very proud of the work I do and it feels great when you get recognized for doing a good job. Thank you, Jesus!

TEC: Besides spreading lies and misinformation about ObamaCare, what else are you doing to kill health reform?

SATAN: Well, obviously, merely lying about what the law is supposed to do and is actually doing isn’t enough because the other side has those awful truth-tellers out there who are always working against us. For that reason I assigned some Special Forces units—Rulers of Darkness we call them at home—to take the good news about ObamaCare out there and, like magic, turn it into bad news! Those Rulers of Darkness are amazing little devils!

TEC: Can you give us an example of how these Rulers of Darkness work? That sounds fascinating.

SATAN: Of course I can. Just the other day on Fox and Friends—God, how I love that show!—we had the co-hosts suggest that Obama is signing up Mexicans to get the enrollment numbers up! 

TEC: Mexicans?

SATAN: Yes! Mexicans! Isn’t that awesome? The fiendish discussion was an attempt to turn the positive fact that more than 6 million have signed up into a negative fact that the only reason the number is so high is because “illegals” are signing up at Mexican Consulates. Amazing isn’t it?

TEC: That is amazing.

SATAN: One of the co-hosts even mentioned some work I did back in 2009!

TEC: What was that?

SATAN: Don’t you remember when congressman Joe Wilson shouted out “You lie!” during Obama’s 2009 address to Congress? It was during the part where Obama said that the new law “would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Come on, I got personally involved in that one. You have to remember. Next to getting Sarah Palin to use the term “death panel,” that whole Joe Wilson thing was the best political work I did that year. You have to remember—

TEC: Of course I remember. Who could forget that?

SATAN: Well, the Fox host said that maybe Joe Wilson “had a point” when he shouted “You lie!” at the President. I tell you those Rulers of Darkness demons know how to put on a show! And you know what effect this kind of stuff is having? Let me give you an important example. There are families out there where either the husband or wife are not U.S. citizens, but their children are. And these folks are scared that if they sign their kids up for health insurance coverage that the government will move in and destroy their family through deportation. Thus, Latino enrollment in ObamaCare is far behind their population numbers and, as a hellish bonus, the kids are going to go without health care! Isn’t that awesome! I mean, trying to kill ObamaCare has featured some of hell’s finest work! People may actually die!

TEC: Speaking of that, how were you able to get all those Republican governors and legislatures to not expand Medicaid? I mean it makes good economic sense to expand insurance coverage and it certainly makes good Christian morals sense to do so, and since Republicans consider themselves to be economic and moral savants, it must have been hard to get, so far, 24 states controlled by Republicans to shut the door on the poorest of Americans and deny them health insurance, right?

SATAN: Wrong. It was pretty damn easy to tell you the truth (which I rarely do). All we had to do was make sure people connected the whole thing with that Scary Negro in the White’s House, and then talk radio and Fox, where some of our top-notch lying spirits are employed, took it from there. The result is that Republican politicians in all those states would not now dare expand Medicaid and make health insurance available to those who need it. And, again, more people will die! But I don’t want talk radio and Fox to get all the credit for the whole Medicaid expansion thing. I want to give a shout out to the demons we have assigned to the Supreme Court.

TEC: Huh?

SATAN: Yes, I know. Most people forgot what happened in 2012 when the Court unfortunately found ObamaCare constitutional. Under the original law, states were required to expand Medicaid or else lose Medicaid funding. But our guys, having failed to get Justice Roberts to strike down the damned law, made a nice recovery—I was about to come down hard on them— in getting him to agree to give states a choice in participating in the Medicaid expansion. And that opt-out has worked much better than we could have imagined.

TEC: How so?

SATAN: Well, I brought with me something that I’d like to read to you, if you don’t mind. It’s from the website Health Affairs, which was started by a bunch of worthless liberal do-gooders with the disgusting name of Project HOPE—damn how I hate that name! Anyway, I usually get all goose-pimply reading this, so bare with me, but it explains the effects of the failure to expand Medicaid:

Based on recent data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, we predict that many low-income women will forego recommended breast and cervical cancer screening; diabetics will forego medications, and all low-income adults will face a greater likelihood of depression, catastrophic medical expenses, and death. 

Isn’t that juicy? Isn’t that wonderful? I am so proud of that and of our guys at the Supreme Court.

TEC: I can see it in your face. Look, I know you have to go, and again I thank you for your time on this important day, but I want to ask you one more question: What do you think is your biggest achievement related to the Affordable Care Act?

SATAN: Man, that’s a hard one. There are so many. Let me see. Some would say that getting the Republican Party to cheer for the failure of the law would be a big accomplishment. Others might say that getting the news media to ignore how much effort Republicans have put into seeing to it that the law fails is a big deal. But I would have to say it comes back to those deaths I mentioned. We’re all about suffering and death where I come from and I admit I’m a bit prejudiced, but the probable fact that thousands of people suffer and die each year, at least partly because they don’t have health insurance, is something those of us on our side celebrate daily. I don’t much care if the number is 45,000 a year or something lower—obviously I want that number to be as high as possible—but as long as people are suffering and dying unnecessarily I am as happy as any devil has a right to be.

TEC: Thank you. I hope we can talk again real soon.

SATAN: I’ll be looking forward to it.

Lucifer

How To Get A Job On Fox “News”

I watched President Obama’s press conference on Tuesday at The Hague. Man, oh, man. What is it about those ABC News guys?

First, a little background:

When Fox “News” first opened up its fairly unbalanced doors in 1996, a 23-year veteran of ABC News, Brit Hume, joined them. Hume had been ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent, and at Fox he was the anchor of Fox’s “Special Report” for ten biased years.

In 2003, another prominent ABC News correspondent, Chris Wallace, joined Fox. Wallace, son of Mike, still hosts the closest thing−and sometimes it isn’t that close−to a real news show on the network, “Fox News Sunday.”

John Stossel, who for years was a correspondent and co-anchor of ABC News’ 20/20 program, left ABC in 2009 to join Fox “News” and Fox “Bidness” Channel, where he preaches his libertarian ideas to, if not the choir, at least the gullible.

Earlier in 2009, Michael Clemente joined Fox as a Senior Vice President of News, after spending 27 years at ABC News, including a stint as senior broadcast producer for ABC’s World News Tonight and later for 20/20. His last job at ABC News was as Senior Executive Producer of the ABC Digital Media Group.

If you happen to watch Fox “News,” you will see Rick Klein, who is a “regular guest.” Except that Rick  Klein is the Political Director for, uh, ABC News! Now, I understand that ABC does not have its own cable news platform, but why allow your Political Director to appear so often on Fox? Is it because occasionally Fox promotes his stuff for ABC? If so, ABC News ought to be ashamed of itself.

All of which leads us to Tuesday’s press conference at the Hague. Jonathan Karl, who is currently ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent, actually asked President Obama these questions:

Mr. President, thank you. In China, in Syria, in Egypt and now in Russia we’ve seen you make strong statements, issue warnings that have been ignored. Are you concerned that America’s influence in the world, your influence in the world is on the decline? And in light of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical foe? If not Russia, who?

If that sounds to you like something John McCain might ask, or something that Reince Priebus might ask, or something that Sean Hannity might ask, you have good ears. Karl is apparently auditioning for Roger Ailes and, as a long-time Fox monitor, I’d say he is well qualified for a job on the network. Or just about any reactionary operation. Here’s how a few right-wing sites reported on Karl’s performance at The Hague:

right wing responses to karl

And my personal favorite, posted by Jonathan Karl’s Fox friend Greta Van Susteren, includes a proud shot of the ABC News correspondent:

greta and jon karl

As you can see, Karl is something of a journalistic hero on the right. But that’s not just for what he did at The Hague yesterday. When you examine Karl’s body of work, you see why the right-wingers love him so.

He started his reporting career in a right-wing organization created to promote conservative journalism on college campuses, the same kind of collegiate journalism that gave us people like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Karl also worked for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which is basically Fox “News” in print. He has written articles for the right-wing Weekly Standard (including this embarrassing piece), a publication that helped bring us the Iraq War.  At ABC News, if you watch his reporting, you see a clear bias in favor of Republican talking points, including the need for austerity and tiny tales of government waste. Because I like Diane Sawyer, I frequently watch her newscast, and the best one can say about Karl’s reporting is that it slants to the right; the worst one can say about it is that, well, Karl is an undercover reactionary.

Nothing demonstrates his conservative bias better than his infamous mishap involving the Fox-created Benghazi scandal. Karl went on the air last spring and unethically fed into the Fox Benghazi narrative by erroneously “quoting” from an email that he himself had not read. The false quotes, presented as “exclusives,” made it appear that the White House (read: Barack Obama) and State Department (read: Hillary Clinton) had “dramatically edited” the famous Benghazi talking points used by Susan Rice on all the Sunday news shows. We found out later that Karl was fed his false information by, uh, congressional Republicans. He sort of apologized for the error and ABC News should have sort of fired him, but on he goes.

Given Karl’s track record, you have to wonder why President Obama, who has publicly compared Jonathan Karl to Fox’s Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry, didn’t answer Karl’s question this way:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Wow, Jonathan! Isn’t ABC treating you well? Aren’t they paying you enough? Did Roger Ailes promise you a job and a raise if you came here to the Netherlands and tried to claim how weak I am on the world stage? Isn’t that Fox’s “Obama meme du jour”? No, wait. They’ve been saying that for some time now. But, congratulations anyway! I think you’ve got the job you obviously want whenever you want it. I look forward to not calling on you at my next presser. Oh, and tell Mittens that Mr. President said “hey.”

Instead of that, President Obama, soberly and thoughtfully, answered in a way that demonstrated what real strength is and why we are fortunate the American people chose him to lead the country in these perilous times:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jonathan, I think if the premise of the question is that whenever the United States objects to an action and other countries don’t immediately do exactly what we want, that that’s been the norm, that would pretty much erase most of 20th century history.

I think that there’s a distinction between us being very clear about what we think is an appropriate action, what we stand for, what principles we believe in, versus what is, I guess, implied in the question, that we should engage in some sort of military action to prevent something.

You know, the truth of the matter is, is that the world’s always been messy. And what the United States has consistently been able to do, and we continue to be able to do, is to mobilize the international community around a set of principles and norms. And where our own self-defense may not be involved, we may not act militarily. That does not mean that we don’t steadily push against those forces that would violate those principles and ideals that we care about.

So yes, you’re right, Syria — the Syrian civil war is not solved. And yet Syria has never been more isolated.

With respect to the situation in Ukraine, we have not gone to war with Russia. I think there’s a significant precedent to that in the past. That does not mean that Russia’s not isolated. In fact, Russia is far more isolated in this instance than it was five years ago with respect to Georgia and more isolated than it was certainly during most of the 20th century when it was part of the Soviet Union.

And what we have to make sure we’re…putting all elements of our power behind finding solutions, working with our international partners, standing up for those principles and ideals in a clear way.

There are going to be moments where military action is appropriate. There are going to be some times where that’s not in the interests — national security interests of the United States or some of our partners, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to make the effort, or speak clearly about what we think is right and wrong. And that’s what we’ve done.

With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia’s our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that, you know, America’s got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness.

Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades — since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

And so my response, then, continues to be what I believe today, which is Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that’s been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way.

Let’s All Drink To Ozark Billy! He’s Made The Big Time!

What does a resident of Southwest Missouri and a Las Vegas gazillionaire have in common?

Billy Long.

Congressman Long, far from the Ozark hills he sort of calls home, will serve as master of ceremonies and will be introducing Dick Cheney at gazillionaire $heldon Adelson’s $uck-up-a-thon in Las Vegas this weekend. In what many are calling the “Adelson primary,” several GOP presidential hopefuls are prostrating themselves before Adelson, a major GOP donor, hoping against hope that they will get his very important vote and subsequently stuff their campaign pockets full of casino cash. (The overtly Jewish* Adelson reportedly “earns” $32 million each and every day from his gambling empire. Praise God).

billy long poker2Speaking of gambling, we all know Ozark Billy, the “citizen legislator” from Springfield, Mo., is fond of the poker tables in Las Vegas and elsewhere. And, of course, part of the Adelson suck-up-a-thon festivities are, uh, poker tournaments! Congratulations, Billy! You’ve died and gone to heaven!

In case any of you low-dollar locals want to celebrate with your congressman, well, don’t bother looking into it. As Time reported:

Most of the action will be taking place behind closed doors, as the speakers meet with Adelson and other top-tier donors privately.

As thousands of Southwest Missourians relax at home this coming weekend, many of them after putting in grueling hours at low-paying jobs and many of them enthusiastic Billy Long voters, may they rest peacefully knowing their family-values congressman is hard at work playing poker, drinking, and rubbing bellies with $heldon Adelson and Dick Cheney, much of the fun on donors’ dollars I’m guessing.

Life is good, if your name is Billy Long and if you have convinced a bunch of working stiffs from the Ozarks to vote Republican.

____________________________

adelson* The event is officially a leadership conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which describes itself as “the voice for Jewish Republicans” and “the most trusted and sought-out Jewish advisor to Republican leaders.” Sheldon Adelson is on the Board of Directors.

Limbaugh, Noah, And Neil deGrasse Tyson

I suppose in a time when Rush Limbaugh may win a children’s book award—yep!—and in a time when a major Hollywood film is coming out about Noah’s ark—yes, I said Noah’s ark, for God’s sake!—we shouldn’t be surprised that the updated (and awesome) version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, is causing a stir among conservative science-haters who believe the universe was created about six months ago (or was it six thousand years ago? I forget). Now they are demanding equal airtime for their creationist nonsense.

But Tyson, who is handling the job of Carl Sagan quite well, isn’t falling for the logic behind that ridiculous demand. Further, he is making an it’s-about-time demand of his own, directed at journalists:

I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that, I think, was in principle a good one, but it doesn’t really apply in science. The ethos was, “Whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced.”…You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say, “Now, let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick. You know, I said this once and it’s gotten a lot of Internet play, I said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Alright?

I guess you can decide whether to not believe in it, but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.

Thwack! Go ahead, book world, and hand out a children’s book award to a reactionary creep like Rush Limbaugh. And go ahead, Hollywood, make a Pope-blessed movie essentially about God drowning men, women, and children in a fit of pique and Noah and his imaginary ark full of animals cruising the world until God cools off.

But you will not get your hands on science, if Neil deGrasse Tyson has anything to say about it.

neil degrasse tyson quote

Buried Or Burnt, Fred Phelps R.I.P.

“Dying time is truth time, and so we preach truth to you regardless of who has died.  Your vitriolic bilge is of no concern to us, and we indeed rejoice in it since every article written, every tweet tweeted, every talking head spouting off about this death puts forth this one blessed theological maxim – God Hates Fags.”

—Statement from The Westboro Baptist Church, March 22, 2014

I was all prepared to write a blistering condemnation of Fred Phelps, the fundamentalist preacher who founded a strange church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps will be defined, at least publicly, by his hate-filled crusade to rid the world of gay people, and I couldn’t wait to lash out at the man whose church-family uses the funerals of dead American soldiers to spread a gospel of scorn. I was ready to send off Phelps to the same place that he and his followers have joyously sent countless others—to an imaginary hell.

But then I read this:

I feel bad for his family. We have to remember he was a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather first. Some people do crazy things and just because they do crazy things doesn’t make them less human.

That was said by Rebecca Laubengayer, who was visiting her father in Topeka when Phelps died. Her father took her to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church because Rebecca wanted to see it. She lives in California, where homosexual marriage is legal and where she is able to marry her partner, which she will soon do. And I suppose if anyone had reason to vehemently condemn Fred Phelps, it would be someone like Rebecca Laubengayer. Why didn’t she?

Maybe for the same reason that Phelps’ granddaughter, Megan Phelps-Roper, didn’t condemn him. There is, after all, more to people than what we see in public, even if what we see is unquestionably reprehensible. Before her grandpa died, Megan Phelps-Roper wrote a letter to him, which included this:

To the whole world you were only ever the face of an evil entity. But of course to me you were always my Gramps. My kind, sweet, adoring Gramps. I miss you so much. I wish the sisters & I could meet you & Granny for another shake party up in your room (we’ll even bring your favorite strawberry one from McDonald’s).

I’m sorry for every second we’ve been apart this last year and four months. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you more when you were mine. I’m sorry our human frames are so weak & we couldn’t spend an eternity together on earth in perfect health. I’m sorry for what the church has done to our family. I’m sorry the media rejoices in the declining health of a human being. I’m sorry people reflect back the same hate & judgment that WBC delivers. I’m sorry you got trapped into a deluded way of thinking to the point that you were willing to hurt other people & yourself in order to serve a god out of fear. I’m sorry. I just am. I’m sorry I can’t hold your hand again & cry & reminisce with you as you lay on your death bed.

“You’re my great, big, beautiful doll!” You used to tell me. I wish I could hear you say it once more. This time I promise to know how much you mean to me. I never could have asked for a better grandpa.

– your gracie.

All of that sort of turns Fred Phelps into something other than the “evil entity” we came to know. It makes it hard to write a Phelps-goes-to-hell obituary after thinking about the way his granddaughter, who obviously doesn’t subscribe to his horrific theology, saw him. He was her “Gramps” and she refused to “reflect back the same hate & judgment” that Phelps specialized in. Good for her.

I know there will be no funeral for Fred Phelps—“No funerals, no wakes, no tributes, no scholarship funds, no public memorials or candlelight vigils,” says the staying-on-message church—but I don’t know whether he will be buried or whether the family will cremate his remains. What is certain is that all of us should bury or cremate the ancient beliefs that support such hatred as Fred Phelps preached and many of his family and church members still preach.

We need to bury or burn such theological trash because too many people, as Megan Phelps-Roper put it so well, get “trapped into a deluded way of thinking to the point” that they  are “willing to hurt other people” and themselves as a way of serving “a god out of fear.” Instead of spending a lot of time condemning Fred Phelps for what he preached, let’s spend a lot of time condemning the ideas in those ancient texts from which he derived his hatred. Let’s bury those old ideas with an avalanche of science or burn them with the fire of reason.

Because it’s not just the Phelps family that is spreading such hate. Prominent evangelicals, like Franklin Graham, son of Billy, are spreading it too, even if they hide behind softer language and employ less confrontational tactics.  As Steve Benen and others have pointed out, Graham recently praised Vladimir Putin for taking “a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

Graham, who has questioned President Obama’s Christian faith and who endorsed Mitt Romney for president in 2012, said that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have “turned their backs on God and His standards” and that “Russia’s standard is higher than our own” here in America. That wasn’t said a year ago or six months ago. It was said after Putin started an international crisis by invading and annexing Crimea. It was said after Putin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov to run the new state-owned media conglomerate, Rossiya Segodnya. Kiselyov has argued, as The Washington Post reported,

that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws should go further, and that homosexuals should be banned from giving blood or donating sperm. When a homosexual dies in an accident, he argued, their heart should be buried or burnt to ensure it couldn’t be used as a transplant for anyone else.

What should be buried or burnt are literal interpretations of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. What should be buried or burnt are anti-homosexual interpretations of the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah. What should be buried or burnt are interpretations of Romans 1:18-32 that take seriously the Apostle Paul’s claim that homosexuals are “worthy of death.” All of that and more should be put away from among us here in the 21st century.

And we can begin to take such action even without wishing the worst for deluded people like Franklin Graham or, now dead, Fred Phelps. Because, as his granddaughter put it,

One way or another, he’s at peace. There’s only Heaven or peaceful nothingness. That’s what I think.

westboro and lorde

How Much Voter Fraud Is There In Kansas? This Much: 0.00001156069

On a local radio show in Wisconsin, a retiring Republican state senator, Dale Schultz, told the truth about his party and its desire to keep voter turnout as low as possible. He said that the so-called “reforms” that Republicans are fixated on and are ramming through legislatures, including his own, are “all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities,” but that is something that his fellow Republicans “have failed miserably at demonstrating.” Then Schultz really dug down to the heart of the matter:

It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.

The only idea the Republican Party has any faith in at all happens to be how to suppress the vote more efficiently. And one is tempted to admire the tenacity with which Republicans pursue that one anti-democratic, anti-American idea, even if one is disgusted by it.

And speaking of disgusting, Kansas’ secretary of state, Kris Kobach, one of the most disgusting politicians in the country, won a major, but hopefully temporary, victory  for voter suppression, as the AP reported yesterday:

Federal officials must help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to document their U.S. citizenship, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, in a decision that could encourage other Republican-led states to consider similar policies.

Kobach said,

This is a really big victory, not just for Kansas and Arizona but for all 50 states. Kansas has paved the way for all states to enact proof-of-citizenship requirements.

Mind you there is exactly no evidence that hordes of non-citizens are voting in Kansas or anywhere else. Okay, that isn’t quite right. Kobach himself admits that he has found “20 or so” of those mysterious non-citizens on Kansas voter registration rolls. I’ll leave you to do the math as to what percentage of 1.73 million registered voters that number 20 represents. On second thought, no I won’t. Here’s the percentage:

0.00001156069

That tiny number, which roughly corresponds to the amount of patriotism found in all of the GOP kill-the-vote measures around the country, is what Kris Kobach wants you and me to think is motivating him. But even without looking at that tiny number we know better. Even without Wisconsin Republican Dale Schultz, we know the truth. Republicans are fresh out of policy ideas that appeal to a majority of Americans. Fresh out. The only thing they have left, as part of a desperate effort to stave off the coming demographic tide nationwide, is to make it harder for folks, many of them potential Democrats, to vote.

And needless to say, the extra proof-of-citizenship requirement, that unnecessary hindrance to voting that Kobach is so proud of, will make it tough for some poor and elderly voters to comply with. It’s not easy for some people to come up with the money to produce, if they even exist, the documents that will assure Kobach that they are white Republicans, or excuse me, American citizens. And some of those people, perhaps many of them, won’t even bother to try. It’s hard enough to get citizens who have all their papers in order to exercise their right to vote, let alone get people to register who don’t have the paperwork handy to prove they’re Americans.

All of this is just one example of why this polling chart on political party ID looks like it does:

party id

Down, down, down, goes that red line. And as far as I’m concerned, it can go all the way down to hell, where the Republican Party, as we know it today, certainly belongs.

What Pulaski County, Arkansas, Tells Us About The GOP And The Press

On the surface, it seems like such a small controversy.

In Arkansas, last Tuesday, there was a special election in Pulaski County. The issue was whether the public would approve a tax increase to fund Pulaski Technical College, the state’s largest two-year school. It’s the kind of election that has much to say about local communities and what kind of places they are (for the record, the tax increase lost by a 3-1 margin). But this election, and the controversy attached to it, has much to say about the Republican Party, not only in Arkansas, but across the country. You see, what happened last week is the direct result of the profound fear conservatives have of democracy, of the people. As Think Progress reported:

In 2013, the Arkansas legislature enacted a voter ID law containing a provision requiring absentee voters to include a copy of their ID along with their ballot. The result, according to a statement Pulaski County Election Commissioner Chris Burks gave to the Arkansas Times, is that 76 of the 384 absentee ballots cast in last Tuesday’s election were not counted. Burks added that, “[i]n my opinion, those absentee ballots returned without ID were 76 real people’s votes that would have otherwise counted but for the sloppily drafted Voter ID bill.”

That sloppily drafted Voter ID bill, which robbed some people of their fundamental right to speak in an election, was vetoed by Arkansas’ Democratic Governor Mike Beebe. Republicans, firmly in control of the Arkansas legislature, if not their American senses, overrode the governor’s veto, claiming, as they do all over the country where this anti-democratic spirit thrives, that the law would prevent the non-existent problem of “voter fraud.”

Of course, the only fraud going on is the notion that Republicans give a damn about free and fair elections. They don’t. What they care about is winning elections without appealing to a wide swath of the electorate. And it is an absolute fact that the more people there are who participate in elections, the less likely it is that Republicans will win them. Thus, it is not a scandal in the Republican Party to disenfranchise as many voters as possible, particularly voters who might vote for Democrats. Disenfranchising potentially Democratic voters is the only way Republicans can survive in the short term, as the deadly combination of Tea Party dominance of the party and changing demographics doom the future prospects of the GOP as it is now constituted.

But we Democrats know all that. What we don’t know is this: Why has the mainstream press largely ignored the anti-democratic spirit that now animates the Republican Party? Why isn’t it front-page news that Republicans all over the nation are essentially trying to change the outcomes of elections by making it harder for people to vote? And why don’t those 76 voters in Pulaski County, Arkansas, whose vote didn’t count last week, have their faces on the evening news?

john lewis

Short-Term, Long-Term Hope For Democrats

Republicans are still trash-talking Democrats over the results of that special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district—you know, the one in which Republicans held on to a seat they had won for the last gazillion years, in which they beat a Democrat who didn’t really live in the district, and in which they beat her by a measly two points. But in order to hold on to that seat Republicans had to resort to lying about Democrats cutting Medicare, which is an old scam that will still fool large numbers of geezers—nearly 25% of residents in that Florida district are 65 or older—who hate big government except when it comes to their Social Security checks and Medicare coverage.

In any case, as David Axelrod pointed out last night on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, the key to this Republican victory, much bigger than the lies about Medicare cuts and ObamaCare, is that people inclined to vote for Democrats just don’t show up to vote in special elections or in off-year, non-presidential elections. In 2012, voter turnout in Florida’s 13th District was well over 70%. For this election it was an underwhelming 39.43%. And we know that people axelrod and hayesmotivated by fear or hate, or a devilish combination of both, are much more energized to go to the trouble of voting in low-profile elections than folks who are trying to scratch out a living every day. Thus, Democratic candidates suffer.

Axelrod said:

If Democrats are going to hold their own in the midterm elections, Democrats have to figure out a way to get turnout up or you’re gonna see defeats all over the map.

When asked what Democrats could do to fix the turnout problem, particularly in this coming election, Axelrod, the great political strategist for two winning Obama campaigns, offered this:

…we have to apply some of the technology, and some of the approaches that we used to get up turnout in battleground states, and really use analytics and research to identify where our voters are, to communicate with those people who we think we have the best chance to motivate. That’s point number one.

Point number two: For all this talk about how the President is radioactive, in many of the states that are in contention, particularly in the Senate race and in the South, the ability to motivate minority voters, African-American voters, is going to be very, very important. And using the President, First Lady, and others, surgically, to increase that turnout is going to be very, very important. 

And then finally I think we got to go at them. I don’t think we should be back on our hind legs on healthcare. I don’t think we should let them define that fight. I think we should go at them on the minimum wage and some of these economic issues that go right to the heart of people’s pocketbooks. I think we ought to talk directly to women, who are very receptive to the Democratic message.

So, there are a series of things we have to do, but this should be a warning sign that if we don’t change the nature of  turnout in the fall, we’re gonna have a big problem. 

Turnout, turnout, turnout. That has to be the focus or we lose. But leaving that aside for a moment, the message is important, too. And as an example of going at Republicans and not backing down, of not being on our hind legs on healthcare, I quickly offer what Missouri’s Attorney General, Chris Koster—who will likely be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2016—said recently:

The Affordable Care Act was a Republican idea, for goodness sakes. They’re just pissed that we stole it…We Democrats believe in a basic bargain: Our children should be educated, our sick should have medicine, and our seniors should never live in poverty. 

Koster, a former Republican, also said:

There may be no issue with which I disagree more with my former party than the issue of public health. On issues of medical research, on access to contraception, on expansion of health care to low- and moderate-income citizens…I am still frustrated by my former party’s 1950s-style public-health policies.

Yes! That’s the way you fight back against the attacks on ObamaCare. Call the reactionaries what they are: people who want to turn back the clock and endanger the country by doing so. And as far as Medicaid expansion in Missouri, which will help some 300,000 folks and create some 24,000 new jobs in the state, Koster was equally aggressive:

Put aside the lives that this will save. Put aside the healthy outcomes that will result. Put aside the emergency room visits that never should occur. This expansion proposal is still the best darn economic development proposal that this state has seen in the last 25 years. And for no other reason than because Barack Obama passed it, this legislature is willing to deny the health and economic benefits of  expansion simply to spite a president.

That is the way you fight in the short term. Go on the offensive. Don’t back down or apologize for doing what is right. Fight.

But even if we fight, even if we stay aggressive, the reality of low voter turnout still may doom us this year. And should that happen, I want to now offer up a little hope for the future, a cushion to break the fall this fall.

Amid all the strangeness that went on at last weekend’s CPAC circus, I saw a panel discussion involving conservative Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who is one of the top dogs among right-wing political consultants. He was trying to tell Republicans the truth about their electoral future, namely that if they don’t open their eyes to the changing demographics of America, they are doomed as a national party. To a mostly white audience of conservatives he said:

The percentage of the national electorate that is white is declining at an increasing rate. 

He presented this graph:
whites as a percentage of the electorate over time

Ayres pointed out to the gathered palefaced Palinistas that, yes, Republicans will have a very good year in 2014, mainly because “the white proportion of the electorate is about 5 percentage points higher in midterm elections.” (Whoopee! White = right!) But then he dropped the news that the 2014 midterm election “is only a temporary respite, because the ethnic makeup of younger Americans differs dramatically from older Americans.” (Uh-oh.) He presented a chart of the ethnicity of people alive today:

ethnicity of people alive todayAs you can see, and as Ayres told the faithful, white people under five years of age make up only 52% of the population. And the trend is down from there. He finished up with this graph of future reality:

white non-white composition of population

That declining number of whites, as a percentage of our population, represents not only the reason why we see so much white fear and anxiety associated with Barack Obama, but it represents the declining fortunes of a reactionary, Tea Party-controlled GOP. The future of the Republican Party looks bleak, if things don’t change. The long-term prospects for Democrats, no matter what happens this year, look good.

But, as David Axelrod reminds us, if Democrats can’t figure out a way to get our folks out to vote in every election, every year, then the reactionaries will continue to muck up our politics and our country for many—too many—years to come.

Joplin’s Ron Richard And Why Missouri Is Headed “South”

All you need to know about the state of politics here in Missouri is found in this lede today from the Associated Press:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Federal agents would be sent to jail for enforcing some federal gun control laws under legislation endorsed by a Missouri House panel.

The ridiculous and unconstitutional quasi-secessionist legislation passed the state senate last month. In the mean time, Joplin’s Ron Richard, who is the Senate Majority Leader and who helped craft this revised version of a bill that he voted against last year, said this recently:

We’re the poster child for the second amendment in the country. 

No, we’re the poster child for stupidity, legislative malfeasance, and wasting government resources, since many millions will be needed to defend this nutty idea in court, if it ever becomes law.

In the mean time, to give you a further idea of what it is like here in regressive Missouri, made so with a lot of help from Joplin’s most important state legislator since Moses was floating on the Nile, try this:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said Thursday he support using a rarely used Senate procedure to force a vote on legislation that would triple the current 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

Richard’s response to those who thought that Democrats, what few there are, in the state senate might not like his use of this procedural tactic—which hasn’t been used since 2007, and then, too, on an anti-choice bill—was a classic authoritarian impulse:

We’ve gotten along very well. We’re just in the majority, and I want to do what I want to do.

Some day, God or Allah or demographics willing, the reactionaries won’t be in the majority here in Missouri. But they are in the process of winning the race to the bottom and help better arrive real soon.

A Black Congressman Has No Rights That A White Congressman Is Bound To Respect, Or What Darrell Issa Was Hiding

By now everyone has seen the confrontation between Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House’s Invent-A-Scandal Committee, and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on what used to be the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But as usual most of the television press is focusing on the confrontation, which was bad enough and embarrassing enough, but not on what Mr. Cummings was trying to say when Issa tried to shut him up.

I saw Darrell Issa’s appearance on Fox last Sunday and I cringed. Watching Fox do journalism is sort of like watching my wiener dog do the Watusi. After a while you just want to hide your eyes and hope it will soon be over. It just ain’t natural. In any case, Issa was given a chance to roll back his vicious lie about Hillary Clinton—that during the Benghazi attacks she told the military “to stand down”—and Chris Wallace didn’t put up much of a fight when Issa said he didn’t mean to be “explicit” and was just “answering questions in a political fundraiser.” Okay, Darrell, good enough for Fox!

But what interested me about Issa’s appearance was when he told Wallace that Lois Lerner, who was director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division when the trouble with tax-exempt political groups flared up, was apparently willing to testify, after previously pleading the Fifth. Her lawyer told Issa as much, said the chairman. Yippy! I said to myself. Maybeissa and cummingsshe will finally shut up those scandal-mad Republicans (even though her emails should have shut them up already) and Fox can get back to its phony Benghazi scandal full-time. Except that the lawyer says he didn’t tell Issa that. And except that when she appeared yesterday she still hung on to the Constitution.

Issa tried to embarrass Ms. Lerner by forcing her to not answer all of his questions, by forcing her to once again say the magic words regarding our precious Fifth Amendment. And that is when the fight with Elijah Cummings comes in. Below is a partial transcript of that sorry episode, which goes beyond what most of us saw on television replays of the event. This transcript tells you all you need to know about why Darrell Issa did not want to respect Mr. Cummings’ right to speak (go to Media Matters for more excellent reporting on the whole thing):

CUMMINGS: Mr. Chairman, I have a procedural question…Mr. Chairman, you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this. We’re better than that as a country. We’re better than that as a committee. I have asked for a few minutes to ask—(interrupted by Issa)—I am a ranking member on this committee and I want to ask a question. What are you hiding? What’s the big deal? May I ask my question? May I state my statement?

ISSA: You’re all free to leave. We’re adjourned. The gentleman may ask his question.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I have one procedural question. And it goes to trying to help you get the information by the way that you just asked.

ISSA: What is your question?

CUMMINGS: No, no. Let me say what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for the last fifteen or twenty minutes. Let me say what I have to say. Chairman, I have one procedural question—

ISSA: Ms. Lerner, you’re released. You may…

CUMMINGS: But first I would like to use my time to make some brief points.  For the past year, the central Republican accusation in this investigation [microphone cut] has been—

ISSA: We’re adjourned, close it down.

CUMMINGS: — that this was political collusion directed by, or on behalf of, the White House. Before our committee received a single document or interviewed one witness, Chairman Issa went on national television and said, and I quote, “This was the targeting of the President’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year.” End of quote. He continued this theme—

ISSA: Ask your question.

CUMMINGS: If you will sit down, and allow me to ask the question, I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this. We have members over here each who represent between them 700,000 people. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is absolutely something wrong with that! That is absolutely un-American!

ISSA: We had a hearing. Hearing’s adjourned. I gave you an opportunity to ask a question, you had no question.

CUMMINGS: I do have a question.

ISSA: I gave you time for…you gave a speech.

CUMMINGS: Chairman, what are you hiding?

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN: He’s taking the Fifth, Elijah. (Laughter.)

CUMMINGS: He continued this theme on Sunday, when he appeared on Fox News to discuss a Republican staff report, claiming that Miss Lerner was quote, at the center of this effort to, quote, target conservative groups. Although he provided a copy of his report to Fox, he refused my request to provide it to the members of the committee. The facts are, he cannot support these claims. We have now interviewed 38 employees, who have all told us the same thing. That the White House did not direct this…or even know about it at the time it was occurring. And none of the witnesses have provided any political motivation. The Inspector General, Russell George, told us the same thing. He found no evidence of any White House involvement, or political motivation.

No evidence of White House involvement? No evidence of political motivation? But who needs evidence when you’ve got Fox doing wiener-dog-Watusi journalism!

Exploring The Left’s Own Obsession

I said on Monday that there is “something seriously wrong” with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as others on the right who are suffering from an Obama-induced detachment from reality. Graham had blamed the invasion of Ukraine on the President, saying, We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

Whatever is wrong with Senator Graham (and, please, let’s stop blaming it on his primary election and the need to please radicals in his party; that makes what he’s doing worse, not better), the disorder has deepened. Yesterday he tweeted:

graham tweet

In comes the bizarre conservative obsession with Benghazi, which means that rational thought is on vacation. Even in times that call for some semblance of national unity, in the face of thuggish behavior by a thuggish despot, we get Benghazi. How sad that is.

But I don’t want to just pick on conservatives, when it comes to foreign policy obsessions. On the far left we have an equally strange and disunifying foreign policy obsession: Barack Obama and George W. Bush are the same people, just different colors.

A long-time follower of this blog, and a man of the left, Gerry Malan, commented on my piece on the right-wing’s hysterical reaction to what happened in Ukraine. He said,

We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.

When I asked him to provide such proof, he responded with this:

Not sure how you missed the Nuland recording where she and our Ukraine ambassador discussed cutting out the EU and putting in our own selected thugs. Here it is from Foreign Policy on Focus:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/21-8

Today on Common Dreams Ray McGovern explains more of the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/03/02-2

I highly recommend reading more from RT and less from Morning Joe.

So, I spent some time following those links and reading the content. And I’m still waiting for “proof” that the Obama administration tried to install “our own selected thugs,” or that there is any such thing as “the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea.”

On the day it was released, I listened to the famous secretly-recorded phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (hear it here or read a transcript here). That call featured Nuland saying “Fuck the EU.” Besides that one bit of profanity, what I heard during that call is not what some liberals, way too many I’m sad to say, heard in it.

As Gerry Malan’s comment makes clear, and as the writers he references also make clear, what some folks heard was a secret and grand attempt at American imperialism, executed by “neoconservatives” in the Obama administration. But what I heard was not some worrisome conspiracy to bring down a democratically-elected president, but two people discussing events in Ukraine that were not started by the United States, nor part of a plot to set up a “client regime” in that country, but events that lent themselves to some democracy- and better government-favoring manipulation by the United States. And I’d be disappointed if we were not doing that kind of “meddling” in such events, since I have a fondness for democracy and good government and believe we should help those Ukrainians who also have a fondness for those things. Especially when it doesn’t involve American troops and trillions of dollars.

As for that Russian-leaked phone call, let’s remember what Jonathan Marcus pointed out was the reason for it:

The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

“For audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message.” I don’t want to be in that audience. I tend to side with my own guys when a Russian thug is hard at work trying to embarrass them. I’m sorry that some liberals don’t have that same disposition. Unlike too many lefties, I will need a whole lot more than what I heard in that phone call to get me to buy what the Russians, and to some extent folks in the far-left press, are selling.

And one guy on the far left trying to sell this conspiracy is Patrick Smith, who wrote one of the articles that Gerry Malan linked to and presumably helped him conclude that, “We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” Smith is a long-time journalist and foreign correspondent, but to give you an idea of the kind of pieces he writes these days, he recently wrote an article for Salon.com titled, The world is right to hate us: Arrogance, ignorance and obscene foreign policy,” and subtitled, “This White House was supposed to be different. But our arrogant foreign policy has been the same since the 1950s.” That sort of gives you an idea where Smith stands.

Now, on to what he writes about that intercepted phone call and the recent events in Ukraine:

…we get to hear two American diplomats talking about Washington’s plan, already in motion, to install a client regime in the Ukraine.

Ah. There is that “install a client regime in Ukraine” stuff. But think about it. Even if there were proof of such a plot, it is hard to see just what we would do with such a client regime, especially when the opposition who would lead such a regime are, in the words of Patrick Smith, full of “oligarchs of the new Russian model.” Just why would we want to get mixed up with those guys in such an intimate way?

But even Patrick Smith isn’t quite bold enough to make the claim that there is “proof” that such a vast neocon-led conspiracy was and is going on:

With Kiev again erupting in violent confrontation, an understanding of the possible role of covert activities is essential to a complete picture.

“Possible role of cover activities”? Possible? Proof is more than speculation. Proof is more than saying it is wise to have “an understanding of the possible role of covert activities” in the confrontation going on in Ukraine and in what Gerry Malan and other liberals are calling a “plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” If there is proof, present it. That intercepted phone call is not proof. But there is evidence all over the place that what led to the fall of the government in Ukraine was homegrown frustration with corruption and malfeasance. Whether the protesters went too far and committed their share of violence, and whether there are neo-fascists and other miscreants among their ranks, is another question. We are debating here whether the United States government deliberately toppled a democratically-elected president.

I admit I am suspicious of anyone, like Patrick Smith, who tries to make the case for a conspiracy to install that new client regime but who also says that “demonizing Yanukovich is a distraction.” What? Viktor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, caused turmoil in the country, ordered the killing of civilians, and looted the treasury. I don’t find demonizing him a distraction and I’m suspicious of the motives of any writer who could so cavalierly dismiss his role in the mess.

I also find suspicious the writer’s motives when he says things like this:

There is a tendency among the East European nations to idealize the West, as if westernizing is the solution to all problems. I see this among the Kiev demonstrators. It is a mistake. Disillusion is never far when people follow this line of thought to its end.

That sounds like good old-fashioned lefty-loathing of Western civilization, a disease that some liberals just can’t shake. And for some of them the disease gets worse when a Democrat is in the White House. I wish I had the cure for such an illness, but I don’t. Western civilization, for all its faults, is better than the alternative. Therefore I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. I wish all Westerners did.

As for the actual speculation on this client regime stuff, Mr. Smith writes:

More interesting by far are the machinations Nuland and Pyatt describe. The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovich government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception.

And what exactly is wrong with such manipulation, so long as it is not accomplished at the point of a gun? I’d like for any liberal to explain to me why it isn’t a proper component of our foreign policy, as part of a larger Western strategy, to attempt to curb the appetite of a Russian despot? Mr. Smith also says:

The West unites around the thought of undermining Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions and pushing institutions such as NATO up to his doorstep.

So? Isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t “undermining” people like Putin a worthy objective? Or have liberals become so critical of Western civilization that they can no longer distinguish between the good and the bad? At one point Ambassador Pyatt says during the phone call with Assistant Secretary of State Nuland:

I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together.

Is that some awful conspiracy? Keeping those “moderate democrats together.” What next? Will we have the gall to advocate for a chicken in every Ukrainian pot? Seriously, this left-wing criticism is surreal. Since when are liberals opposed to democracy and good government and thwarting the ambitions of thugs? So what that we publicly said we were peace-loving brokers regarding the uprising, while behind the scenes we are trying to make good things happen more than we dared to publicly admit. God, I hope we do that stuff all the time. We have national interests, even if sometimes they President-elect Putin watches the tactical exercises of Russia's Northern Fleet in the Barentsevo Sea on April 6, 2000. He has been at the helm during a decade of Russian economic growth fueled by natural resources of gas and oil.are only what should be non-controversial interests (at least for Americans) in seeing to it, the best we can, that good democratic governance has a chance to flourish where it is wanted. To me, that is better—and much different—than invading Iraq and forcing it on people, like the real George W. Bush did.

What I find appalling about all this is the idea that what the United States was trying to do, shape events as best they could in favor of better democratic angels in Ukraine, is worse than what the Russians were and are doing, including endorsing the use of deadly force against Ukrainian civilians and still implicitly threatening such force. If this is what hard-core liberalism has become, count me out. I think I can still tell the good guys from the bad ones, even if, in this case, one of the “good guys” is Victoria Nuland, a career foreign service officer who, after she worked for Bill Clinton, then worked for neocons like Bush and Cheney, before working for Barack Obama. In any case, even if we were talking about bad guys, we aren’t exactly talking about torture or starting a war on false pretenses here, even though one of the commenters on Smith’s piece wrote,

Obomba is a thug who heads a thug state (see Engelhardt’s article of yesterday here at CD), and it seems that by now this ought to be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to his appointments, his bellicose foreign policy, and assassination program. No different in fact from Bush the Lesser and an entire lineage of U.S. presidents who threw their weight around all over the planet, plundering, occupying, killing, etc. That is (why) Nuland was appointed as she was. She is the perfect agent of a rogue state.

What a load of America-loathing bullshit. But this thinking, engendered by the kind of writing Patrick Smith does these days, represents what some folks on the far left think. They fail to differentiate between bad, better, and best. It sounds so much like what I hear a lot of Obama-hating conservatives say. As I said, count me out as wanting to join that kind of liberalism, which I find every bit as darkly conspiratorial as anything Glenn Beck could fantasize into existence. And thank God or Allah that Obama isn’t that kind of liberal either, just like he isn’t the same kind of neoconservative thinker that led us to a foolish war during the Bush administration.

For the record, as many mistakes as America has made in its foreign policy, and believe me there have been a lot, trying to seek out and help “moderate democrats” in Ukraine doesn’t rise to the level of the “assassination program,” for God’s sake. Those of us on the left, who value the principles of good-government democracy, shouldn’t let an obsession with misguided neo-conservative “regime change” philosophy get in the way of appreciating the fact that we, as a nation of freedom-loving democrats, should still be friends of liberty everywhere, even if we screw things up now and then.

The deal about all this “fuck the EU” business is that the U.S. diplomats were expressing frustration at the slow-walking EU folks, who want to avoid a confrontation with Russia and a mean-spirited despot like Putin, who controls much of their energy needs. In that context, we all should be applauding what these two U.S. diplomats were trying to do, not accuse them of evil. It’s not exactly like they were trying to establish the Ukrainian version of the bleeping Third Reich.

As for Gerry Malan’s other link to an article by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern—who was a daily briefer for George H. W. Bush but who now thinks Julian Assange is a “hero”—I will only quote one passage:

In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

What? There is no evidence, not to mention proof, that the United States pushed “the putsch” that ended Yanukovych’s presidency. Protests in Ukraine initially began in November of last year, after Yanukovych backed away from signing a free trade agreement with the European Union, mostly under pressure from Putin. There were also issues with the Ukrainian constitution. But, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out, wanting closer ties with Western Europe wasn’t enough to get “[m]iddle-class professionals, blue-collar workers, students and retirees” out to “form ranks of street fighters armed with Molotov cocktails.” The biggest reason for the unrest was a familiar one:

The demonstrations reflected the appalling state of governance in Ukraine. The Yanukovych government was a kleptocracy. Policy goals were subordinate to the enrichment of the president and a privileged elite, known colloquially as “the family.” In international rankings of corruption, Ukraine was recognized as one of the most corrupt regimes on Earth.

There you have it. The tumult in Ukraine was not a coup d’état (as Russian expert and Putin apologist Stephen Cohen claimed) plotted by Barack Obama and the U.S. government. And if someone, anyone, claims it was then they have to offer up more evidence than a Russian-provided telephone call between two American diplomats.

“Another World” Of Obama-Hating Hysteria (UPDATED)

Vladimir Putin is nuts, as far as German honcho Angela Merkel is concerned. At least that is what The New York Times reported regarding her telly talk with President Obama:

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.

Well, speaking of another world and being out of touch with reality, we have the strange universe of Republican politics and punditry. Let’s start with a representative sample from Senator Lindsey Graham. CNN’s Candy Crowley interviewed him on Sunday about the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

CROWLEY: …the president has come out and spoken very forcefully on Friday about consequences. The U.S. has made it clear that it disapproves of what Russia has done. You’ve been tweeting about strong statements. What more do you want from President Obama at this point?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.

“Invites aggression.” Now, speaking of nuts, speaking of a disassociation from reality, that statement is textbook. For a powerful U.S. Senator, right in the middle of a serious international crisis, to essentially blame that crisis on the President of the United States, while making fun of the Commander-in-Chief and calling him “weak and indecisive,” is indicative of something seriously wrong not only with Lindsey Graham, but indicative of a schizophrenia on the right that is so deep, and so potentially dangerous, that we all should be concerned as much with the present mental state of some conservatives as we are with the mental state of Vladimir Putin.Main Entry Image

Let’s move on to right-wing Fox pundit-god Charles Krauthammer. Four days ago, after President Obama said, “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” the Fox know-it-all said:

The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement. I find it rather staggering.

Staggering? He found it staggering? What Krauthammer didn’t find staggering, as Dorian De Wind points out, is a statement given by George W. Bush in August of 2008, five days after Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded Georgia with civilian-killing bombers and jet fighters. Bush said pretty much the same things that Obama is saying now, including things like this:

Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century…These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russians’ relations — Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe. It is time for Russia to be true to its word and to act to end this crisis.

I remind you that was five days after the invasion and reported estimated deaths of 2,000 people. Was that George Bush’s fault? Did Senator Graham go on a Sunday talk show and call Bush a weak and indecisive president? Did he say Bush invited the aggression? Was their a peep of criticism from easily staggered people like Charles Krauthammer, whose disdain for President Obama has become a personality disorder? No and no and no and no.

Here is the end of a column that Krauthammer wrote on August 14, 2008:

President Bush could cash in on his close personal relationship with Putin by sending him a copy of the highly entertaining (and highly fictionalized) film “Charlie Wilson’s War” to remind Vlad of 12623580-12623583-slargeour capacity to make Russia bleed. Putin would need no reminders of the Georgians’ capacity and long history of doing likewise to invaders.

Bush needs to make up for his mini-Katrina moment when he lingered in Beijing yukking it up with our beach volleyball team while Putin flew to North Ossetia to direct the invasion of a neighboring country. Bush is dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France and Georgia. Not a moment too soon. Her task must be to present these sanctions, get European agreement on as many as possible and begin imposing them, calibrated to Russian behavior. And most important of all, to prevent any Euro-wobbliness on the survival of Georgia’s democratically elected government.

We have cards. We should play them. Much is at stake.

Can you believe that? Krauthammer cites “Bush’s close personal relationship with Putin” without so much as any criticism of Bush for misreading the Russian leader. No language about weakness or weak responses. Nothing like that. Remember Bush had said about Putin that, “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul.”* Can you even imagine what Krauthammer would have written if Barack Obama had made that same statement prior to Putin invading Ukraine? Just last September Krauthammer said Obama “has been played and continues to be” by Putin. Such hypocrisy is off the charts.

Let me also remind you that George Bush said the following about the Russian invasion of Georgia:

We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.

“We insist,” the Commander-in-Chief  said in 2008. Well, thousands of Russian troops still occupy about a fifth of Georgia to this day. Russia has declared the disputed territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to be “independent states.” So much for George W. Bush’s “close personal relationship” with the thug.

And so much for expecting any semblance of sane commentary from people like Lindsey Graham and Charles Krauthammer. As Angela Merkel might say, they, like so many Obama-hating conservatives, are truly in another world.                                              [AP photo]

[UPDATE:Appearing on Fox's "Your (another) World with Neil Cavuto," former New York City mayor and current Chris Christie apologist, Rudy Giuliani, said that,

Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day. Right? He decided he had to go to their parliament, he got permission in 15 minutes...he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. President Obama, he's gotta think about it, he's gotta go over it again; he's gotta talk to more people...

rudy and putinNow, even forgetting that the Russian parliament is not the U.S. Congress, in the sense that it is not a democratic body with a mind and real power of its own, the fact that a Russian thug is praised by a prominent Republican for acting like a thug, even a decisive one, is enough to turn one's stomach. And if the American people had any sense at all, they would tell not only Rudy Giuliani, but the entire Republican Party that harbors such stupidity, such undeniable nuttiness, to go straight to hell and never come back.]

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* Speaking of souls: It wasn’t that long ago when some culture-war right-wingers were singing the praises of the Russian thug, who was going to save Christianity from the homosexual heathens. From Pat Buchanan to the American Family Association to The American Conservative to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute to the World Congress of Families to Sean Hannity—who actually said in September that he would take the word of Putin over Secretary of State John Kerry.

What Dave Camp’s Tax Reform Proposal Tells Us About Our Political System

Most people, until a few days ago, hadn’t heard of Dave Camp, the Republican chairman in charge of the House Committee on Ways and Means. That powerful committee has, among other things, jurisdiction over Social Security, Medicare, unemployment bennies, food stamps (TANF), and federal tax policies.

And regarding those tax policies, the committee chairman has been working on tax reform for a long time. This week, to the chagrin of many Republicans in the House and elsewhere, Dave Camp, who will soon be term-limited out of his continuing chairmanship of the committee, released his work product, the Tax Reform Act of 2014. And, somewhat surprisingly, some on the left are taking it seriously, even if it is revenue neutral and has other flaws. But not so surprisingly, partly because some on the left can take the proposal seriously, is that the usual money-holding suspects on the right are pooh-poohing it.

You can see the details of the proposal all over the place (here is a relatively thoughtful conservative critique), but liberal commentator Jonathan Chait began his short analysis of the plan by saying that Camp’s tax-reform proposal,

does something remarkable: It actually reforms the tax code. It doesn’t use the pretense of reform to shift the tax burden off the rich, as Republican “tax reform” plans usually do, and it does not use hand-waving to gesture in the direction of reform without following through. Camp has actually plunged his hands into the guts of the tax code and pulled out item after item. It may be the most impressive and ambitious domestic policy proposal crafted by a major Republican in a generation.

Chait notes how folks like the writers of The Wall Street Journal editorial page have “spent decades building a shrine to the spectacular wrongness of supply-side economics,” and then he gives Camp credit for not championing that spectacular wrongness:

The evidence suggests that cutting tax rates, financed by deficits, does little or nothing to spur economic growth. But Camp’s plan doesn’t do that. It instead reduces tax rates by eliminating preferences in the tax code. Subsidies for home mortgage debt and employer-sponsored insurance, among others, would be radically scaled back. And eliminating these kinds of favoritism encourages workers and businesses to instead follow market signals, and likely to make more market-friendly decisions.

Of course, Chait, as a liberal, notices all kinds of things wrong with Camp’s plan. Camp, after all, is a Republican, so it is no surprise that no new revenues will be raised if his plan were to become law, or that “oil drillers” are taken care of while “green energy” suffers. But Chait also points out something in Camp’s plan that has pissed off Wall Street banksters:

His plan would impose a new fee on large banks (which enjoy an implicit subsidy by virtue of being so large they’re apt to receive a bailout if they fail) and caps the value of tax deductions, both goals embraced by Obama. It eliminates the carried interest loophole. It sets the top tax rate at 35 percent, not the fantastical 25 percent rate proposed by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans. Camp is actually committed to the goal of reforming the tax code in a way that maintains (rather than reduces) revenue levels, and holds the relative burden on the rich and poor constant.

The reaction to this part of Camp’s legislation is at once predictable and disturbing. Just look at this headline from Politico yesterday:

Wall Street threatens GOP on bank tax

First line: “Wall Street is warning Washington Republicans: The money spigot is turning off.”

Then: “Rep. Dave Camp’s tax proposal — which jacked up taxes on banks and threatens the bottom line of big bankerssome major private equity players in New York — has infuriated donors in high finance.”

As I say, that reaction is not surprising. But it ought to disturb all Americans, including Tea Party Republicans, whose 2009 movement began, at least ostensibly, as a populist reaction to the bailout of the financial industry, a group of greedy folks who helped wreck the economy. None of us should put up with the kind of extortion suggested by that Politico headline. None of us should tolerate the idea that people with lots of money can buy our politicians like they were buying shares in a widget company. None of us. This is our democracy we are talking about, for God’s sake.

The Politico article continues:

Lobbyists for Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan and others are meeting privately with lawmakers to explain what the bank tax would cost and how it would function.

Big banks want to turn Republicans against the bank tax. The situation puts the party at risk of seeing a reliable source of campaign cash dry up right in the middle of a critical election year.

And:

Without Wall Street, Republicans risk their coffers emptying. The securities and investment industry is the largest contributor — besides candidate committees — to the National Republican Congressional Committee this cycle, directing $3.5 million to the party committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2012 election cycle, the financial services industry ponied up nearly $9.9 million.

Let’s be clear: Democrats, most of whom favor campaign finance reform, also take money from rich people. They have to, if they are to survive in this money-driven, anti-democratic system. But all of us, even the most rabid Tea Party “patriot” out there, ought to get angry over what money has done and is doing to our political system. An earnest Republican comes along with some ideas that are not completely based on phony trickle-down economics, and he, or rather his proposal, is shot dead on the spot by people whose guns don’t shoot bullets but big bucks.

Let me leave you to contemplate what Roll Call’s David Hawkings said about what the new reform proposal, not even considering its policy ideas, will do:

The Camp bill may be properly cited as The Tax Lobbyists’ Full Employment and Economic Stimulus Act of 2014.

Even though the measure is highly unlikely to make it onto the House floor — and will struggle to get a majority from the roster of 23 Republicans and 16 Democrats during its not-going-to-be-scheduled-anytime-soon markup at Ways and Means — law firms and K Street shops will generate countless billable hours just by parsing the bill’s language and coming up with strategies for preserving all the niche deductions, exclusions and exemptions that have only theoretically been placed in jeopardy.

If those lobbyists didn’t have connections to moneyed interests who give tons of dough to our politicians, and if our politicians worked in a system where they didn’t depend on rich people giving them tons of dough to get elected, then our politicians perhaps would properly weigh the input of those lobbyists, rather than give them all the influence that money can buy.

And shame on us—all of us—for putting up with it.

“If My Love Could Have Saved Him, He Would Have Lived Forever”

In this strange existence, in a world where people are trying to live as best they can and pursue happiness in countless ways, sometimes our—my—obsession with politics yields to a different kind of reality.

Chris Price, a man you never heard of, lived in Wales.

He met a girl named Ceri when both were teenagers. Nothing significant came of their meeting until January of 2012, when both were older, he in his mid-twenties and she almost thirty. They moved in together. Then Chris found out he had esophageal cancer three months later. Because the cancer had spread, doctors operated and removed a portion of his stomach. All was good until a year later. The cancer had spread further into his liver and lungs. No cure available.

Not wanting to waste a moment, Chris proposed to Ceri, who had four kids, including a set of triplets. “He loved me and took me on with four children as if they were his own,” Ceri said. “They loved him so much too.” She explained:

It was as if Chris wanted to spend his last days making me as happy as he could. We did such a lot in those last six months. He was so positive he never talked about dying, he just wanted to see me and the children happy in the time he had left.

Chris took Ceri and her four children to Disneyland Paris. A couple of weeks later the couple went to New York to see the sights and to shop. He bought her fancy boots and a high-dollar handbag she had wanted. He planned to take her to Las Vegas for her birthday.

Except, as Emily Dickinson told us, because Chris could not stop for death, death kindly stopped for him. Before the trip to Las Vegas with the love of his life. “His illness made him live completely in the moment and he taught me to do the same,” Ceri told us. “My heart is broken losing him and I still spray his Aramis aftershave and wear his clothes to feel close to him. He died in my arms and I felt his last breath.”

Last breath. The fate of us all.

The grieving woman, speaking of the compressed moments of happiness they had together, and expressing the mournful reality of this fragile and fleeting existence we, we the living, all share, said in stunning simplicity:

If my love could have saved him, he would have lived forever.

Some of us hope that a force, we may call it love or something else, will have the last word over death. As we think about this profound mystery, as we wish for something that will conquer all our fears of drawing our last earthly breath, let us hope against hope that the words of the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich are true:

Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our period of history. But death is given no power over love. Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes everything. It is at work where the power of death is strongest, in war and persecution and homelessness and hunger and physical death itself. It is omnipresent and here and there, in the smallest and most hidden ways as in the greatest and most visible ones, it rescues life from death. It rescues each of us, for love is stronger than death.

“When It Is In Your Power To Act”

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—
when you already have it with you.”

—Proverbs 3:27-28

medicaid expansion is not yet a reality here in Missouri, if it ever will be. But it is also struggling in Virginia and Arkansas (which already has a privatized version of it that needs reauthorized in order to continue). Expansion is struggling in those states even though both, like Missouri, have Democratic governors and even though a majority of people in both states favor expanding the program:56 to 38 in Virginia, including 55% support among Republicans, and 47.5 to 32.5 in Arkansas. (And there is good evidence that Missourians favor expansion too).

The Washington Post editorial page a couple of days ago featured this explanation of what is going on in Virginia, part of which I highlight for your contemplation:

In Richmond, House GOP lawmakers have made it clear they are not interested in compromise, nor do they wish to be bothered much with the facts. Mr. McAuliffe (D), in office barely a month, has tried schmoozing and executive mansion hospitality; he is nothing if not a deal-maker. The Republicans have responded with derision and fighting words. For them, it is enough to demonize Medicaid expansion as a function of Obamacare, and hope the resulting slogans carry the day — no matter what the cost to hundreds of thousands of struggling state residents who have no health insurance.

Demonizing Obamacare, the only thing Republicans can do effectively these days, has become, of course, a way of demonizing Obama. And it works in some places. In fact, it is working very well in Arkansas, as Seth Millstein points out (which I also highlight for your contemplation):

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questionsArkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Sad, no? And what is sadder is the fact that the only clear demonstration of competence on the part of Republican officeholders and their mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox TV is their skill in transforming Obama into Satan in so many supposedly God-fearing places.

And speaking of God-fearing places, look at this graphic based on polling done by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

medicaid expansion in the south

Hell, where the Bible says eternal torment awaits “all liars,” will freeze over before Republican politicians in the Jesus-loving states listed above pay any attention to such polling. Because lying about President Obama, in the strange and dark religion of conservative politics, covers a multitude of sins, especially the sin of ignoring the basic needs of so many disadvantaged Americans.

From Jailbait To Hate

Well I don’t care if you’re just thirteen,
You look too good to be true
I just know that you’re probably clean
There’s one lil’ thing I got to do to you

—Ted Nugent, “Jailbait

I spent the morning thinking about writing something on Ted Nugent’s stupid and racist comments. I mean it isn’t that often that a Republican will confirm for us the racism we are pretty sure flows, mostly in subterranean channels, through the party.

So, when news got out that Nugent recently labeled President Obama, among other things, a “subhuman mongrel” and “chimpanzee,” and when important Republicans were quite reluctant to put a lot of distance between themselves and the elderly rocker, it was tempting to write another piece about how far the Republican Party has fallen, not only in moral terms, but as an intellectual force in our national politics.

But then what’s the point? The dissipation of the GOP is sort of becoming boring.

Wendy Davis, the Texas Democrat running for governor against the state’s attorney general—who invited Ted Nugent to Texas to campaign for him—released this statement about Nugent’s remarks:

Greg Abbott’s embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan — every man, woman, husband, and father. If this is Greg Abbott’s idea of values, it’s repulsive.

Would to God that “every Texan” was insulted by Ted Nugent or Greg Abbott’s embrace of him. But it ain’t so. Even though outside of Texas most people know that Ted Nugent is nuts, that he’s a hate-sick cat, that he is a racist freak, inside the state he is something of a folk hero for palin and nugenta disturbing number of people. But then in the Lone Star State it isn’t a good day unless some Republican legislator, state or federal, talks about impeaching President Obama or questions his citizenship or doubts his allegiance to the country. And that is when they are being Sunday Christian nice.

The party of family values in Texas and elsewhere has essentially embraced Nugent, a man who has said many vile and unprintable things about Democrats, a man who has written a song about having sex with 13-year-old girls—heck, a man who has admitted he had sex with underage girls—a man who has a pathological hatred for Barack Obama. It isn’t therefore strange that the man who wants to be the next Republican governor of Texas refuses to strongly and unequivocally condemn Nugent or his comments. And the sad part of all of this is that Greg Abbott is politically smart not to do so.

I suppose, as monotonous as all this is getting to be, that tells you all you need to know about how sick the Republican Party is, especially in Texas.

In case you haven’t seen the transcript of Nugent’s remarks, here is what he said during an interview on January 17 given to Guns.com:

NUGENT: I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago, communist raised, communist educated, communist nurtured, subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America. I am heartbroken but I am not giving up. I think America will be America again when Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Michael Bloomberg and all of the liberal Democrats are in jail facing the just due punishment that their treasonous acts are clearly apparent.

So a lot of people would call that inflammatory speech. Well I would call it inflammatory speech when it’s your job to protect Americans and you look into the television camera and say what difference does it make that I failed in my job to provide security and we have four dead Americans. What difference does that make? Not to a chimpanzee or Hillary Clinton, I guess it doesn’t matter.

I will end this sad post by telling you that those words were spoken during the interview after Nugent talked about “the gifts God gave me.” Yes. He talked about God blessing him with gifts. All I can say to that is this: If God is handing out those kinds of gifts, then faithful tithers should demand all their money back because God has obviously been misspending the collection plate booty on booze and behavior-altering pharmaceuticals. If gifting Ted Nugent with the ability to call the African-American President of the United States a subhuman mongrel and chimpanzee is the best God can do these days, then folks should spend their tithing dough more productively, like, say, giving it to the Democratic Party.

Why The Republican Party Is What It Is

“A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society.”

Wikipedia

I often use the term “reactionaries” to describe those folks on the right who have a problem living in the 21st century, a problem coming to grips with present reality. I sometimes differentiate between reactionaries and conservatives because conservatism doesn’t necessarily involve reactionary politics, though it often does, especially as we watch conservative behavior today. Most of the conservatives we see dominating the Republican Party these days are—without the slightest doubt—reactionaries.

As most of you know, I was born and raised in Kansas. I lived there until I was about 30 years old. I worked there. I played there. I became a conservative there. I was baptized into an evangelical faith there. The political Kansas I knew was mostly a right-of-center place, with pockets of leftish resistance here and there, and for the most part its politics was not radical or reactionary. Today, though, like a lot of red states Kansas has been radicalized and has turned into one of the most reactionary places in the country.

Nothing could better demonstrate the change from a mild, if not moldy, conservatism into a radical and fiery reactionaryism than what emerged in Kansas recently. Last week, as nearly everyone knows by now, the Kansas House passed a bill that, according to Time,

would permit businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious principles. 

That Jim Crowish bill, which has been condemned far and wide by progressives, passed 72-49 and is now being considered by the state senate, which is expected to either water it down significantly or kill it. Apparently there are some Kansas Republicans left who haven’t been completely radicalized by religious zealots in the state. But the fact that such a reactionary piece of legislation passed one side of the legislature in 2014—2014 for God’s sake—says a lot about not only about the Republican Party, but it speaks to why it is that our national government is so profoundly, if not dangerously, divided.

At the heart of this ascendance of a rabid reactionary politics in Kansas and elsewhere—there is an anti-gay bill in Idaho that is even worse than the one in Kansas—is the anxiety that (mostly but not entirely white) evangelical and fundamentalist Christians feel deep in their bones over the loss of cultural dominance they and their Iron Age theology once enjoyed. Most of the theological angst started with the Supreme Court ruling in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) that government-composed prayers could not be used in public schools, then just after that blow came atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s victorious lawsuit in 1963 (consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the Supreme Court put the kibosh on the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in government schools.

If I heard it once, I heard it a gazillion times from the conservative church folk I knew back home: “They kicked God out of the schools! Why do you think things are so bad!”

So, it started with those two court rulings, but other rulings followed that were specifically related to Bible-based anxiety over a rapidly changing culture. There was Griswold v. Connecticut (which found that because of the Constitution’s now strangely controversial “right to privacy” states could not prohibit the use of contraceptives by married people; later this freedom was extended to all couples via Eisenstadt. V. Baird; and now we are fighting over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate). Skipping over the landmark 1973 Roe V. Wade case (which isn’t necessarily—even though it has mostly become—a case involving evangelical theology), we come to Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case that effectively struck down all sodomy laws in the country and paved the way for the eventual legitimation of same-sex marriage, which is now driving right-wing Christians into convulsions not seen since the Gadarene Demoniac.

Along with—perhaps partly because of—these culturally significant court cases, public opinion has evolved in the direction of progress and against the forces of Bible-inspired conservatism. Holy Book-believing Christians have essentially lost the fight over whether the Bible or a secular Constitution will be the ultimate law of the land. This has led to a backlash, a serious and divisive backlash, among folks who take the Bible seriously and who genuinely—I repeat: genuinely— believe that America is going straight to hell because it has turned its back on God and his Word.

More important, though, than all the talk of cultural anxiety and ancient theology is what these Bible-believing folks have been up to lately. In order to turn their biblical notions and reactionary tendencies into public policies like the one proposed last week in Kansas, they have increasingly and fanatically turned to grassroots politics.

These religious reactionaries have educated themselves and essentially taken over the Republican Party’s organizational structure. One such reactionary lives right here in Southwest Missouri. I used to go to the same evangelical church he did and used to believe a lot of the same things he believes. His name is John Putnam. He’s from Carthage and he is the Chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party.

Mr. Putnam has essentially written his own bible on how to take over and transform the Republican Party from the ground up. He notes that there are some “183,000 precincts in the 50 states” and he outlines how the system works:

putnam's patriotsThe voters of each precinct, according to their state’s laws, can elect or appoint one man and one woman to represent the people of that precinct in their political party’s organizational structure (sometimes called the party “machine”).  The precinct chairs/executives become members of their county committee and elect their county committee’s Chair and Vice-Chair who, in turn, help elect their Party’s State Committee; plus, they largely influence which candidates will run (and most likely be elected) in their party’s primary election and who, subsequently, will carry their party’s banner in the November General Elections. 

All of this represents the nuts and bolts of party organization. It is how a political party can be commandeered by a zealous minority and how such zealotry can come to represent the face of the party. It it why the Republican Party is so schizophrenic. It is why its national leaders are so afraid to actually lead. It is why Washington is suffering from legislative paralysis. You think I am exaggerating? Putnam goes on to point out that,

Nationwide, half of these positions sit empty and most voters no longer even know they exist.  If Constitutional conservatives will fulfill the precinct leader’s role and elect Constitutional conservative chairs and vice-chairs to their county committees, we can cleanse our representative form of government in very short order.  This is assuming the men and women who fill the precinct position have the wisdom of  Cleon Skousen gleaned from The Five Thousand Year Leap and the virtue of George Washington (see Glenn Beck’s Being George Washington).

If that stuff about cleansing doesn’t scare you, then you don’t know who Cleon Skousen and Glenn Beck are. Perhaps now you can see why the Republican Party looks the way it does. This kind of tactical action is going on, has been going on, all over the country. Mr. Putnam provides local zealots everywhere, those who have a biblical ax to grind, with essential knowledge of how to go about that grinding. Become “party officials” at the local level, he says. Why? Because:

…party officials have a strong influence on who wins the Primary because of their influence in recruiting and endorsing candidates. They also influence whether the Party stays philosophically true to its platform. There is no reason why YOU cannot become a Precinct Patriot and be one who influences these decisions. 

If you ever wondered why a disturbed and disturbing man named Todd Akin became the Missouri GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate in 2012, now you know why. Even after Akin was disgraced, even after his horrific views on women and rape were revealed, even after the Republican establishment abandoned him, John Putnam came to his defense and supported him. And even with that robust defense of a man clearly out of touch with reality, perhaps because of that robust defense, John Putnam remains in charge—in charge!—of the Jasper County Republican Party.

That tells you all you need to know about what is wrong with the GOP. At the ground level, where it often matters most, the reactionaries are running the asylum.

Watch It Again. And Again. And Again.

I know we have talked about income and wealth inequality a lot on this blog. And I know that many of you, like me, have already seen the video posted below. But every time I watch it I am amazed. And every time I watch it I am encouraged that if enough of us pay attention, close attention, to the message presented, and if enough of us make ourselves and others aware of what is happening to the country in terms of the lopsided (and dangerous) distribution of income and wealth, then maybe we can (eventually, alas) change our political system enough to make real reform possible.

Last week, mocking those who dare to champion the cause of people who don’t earn but a tiny share of the nation’s income and who don’t have but an atom-thick slice of our national wealth, Chris Christie, whose demagoguery has not been slowed down by all the scandals whirling around him, claimed that Americans don’t want “income equality” and that Democrats and liberals do. Lying through his scandal-plagued teeth, he said people on the left want everyone to “have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Well, of course no one wants that, and no one wants the government to enforce some kind of standard of income equality. What we want, besides the obvious equality of opportunity for those willing to seize it—and besides a strong safety net for those who can’t work or who have fallen or will fall through the cultural cracks—is an economic system that rewards hard work with at least enough money to pursue some Founders-ordained happiness, including a decent place to live, healthful food, and access to affordable health care.

And we want a tax system that attempts to mitigate the damage being done to the country by an over-concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority of Americans, as demonstrated so well by this video (h/t to : Jo Ann Brown):

Would Jesus Expand Medicaid In Missouri? I’ll Let Him Tell You (UPDATED)

“Missouri’s low income and vulnerable citizens will have access to excellent health care in order to maximize their quality of life and independence.”

—The “vision” statement of Missouri’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet Division

I swear the following story is in your Bible:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jefferson City to Joplin, when he found out his job was being outsourced to China. All in one moment he lost his income and along with it his health insurance, which he needed because his wife had a serious health condition. A Religious Right preacher happened to be going down the same road on his way to vote for a Republican, and when he saw the uninsured man on the side of the road in much distress, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Teapartier, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side, as he was also on his way to vote for a Republican.

But a Samaritan, a man who believed in the social safety net, came by where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and told him not to worry. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure that he and his wife had affordable health insurance, whether he had a job or not. He told him that he was voting for someone who would make sure his unemployment benefits wouldn’t dry up before he had a fair chance to get another job. Then he put the man in his car, registered him to vote, and brought him to the polling place. 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who lost his job and his health insurance?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Here in Missouri, Republicans have blocked the expansion of Medicaid, which would have been fully paid for by the federal government for the next three years. After that the state would eventually pay no more than 10% of the cost, as the program is fully phased in by 2020. The point is that it wouldn’t cost the state a dime—not a dime—until 2017, and even then it wouldn’t cost much. It is estimated that in 2015 Missouri would receive $1.7 billion to help expand the program and bring insurance to more people who can’t now afford it, which could be somewhere between 260,000 and 310,000 Missourians.

Here is a look at just who would benefit if the program were expanded today, again at no cost to the state:

medicaid expansion in missouri

Right now, without Medicaid expansion in this Jesus-loving state, if you are a parent or parents in a family of four and can’t afford private health insurance but have an income over $4,475 a year (19% of the 2013 Federal Poverty Level), you aren’t eligible for Medicaid. Yes, you read that right. If you preside over a family of four and make over $4,475 a year (a bleeping year!) but don’t make enough to buy health insurance, as a parent you are not eligible for Medicaid in Missouri. If you’re wondering, that cutoff for eligibility is the lowest allowed under the federal law that initially established the national program.

Under expansion, your family situation wouldn’t matter. Neither would your disability status. If you were parenting a family of four and earned up to $31,322 a year (based on 133% of the federal poverty level for 2013), you would be eligible for help if you didn’t otherwise have health insurance. If you were a single adult, you could earn up to $15,282 a year and qualify for health insurance under Medicaid. And as a comprehensive study indicated, the expansion is not only good for the entire state (it would actually bring in more dough to the treasury), but it is especially good for folks who live in places like where I live here in the southwest corner:

medicaid expansion map

See that? Just in our part of the state more than 60,000 of our New Testament-toting neighbors would get health insurance. Hallelujah!

Except that here in this Jesus-loving town of Joplin, here in God-fearing Southwest Missouri, lives the Majority Floor Leader of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard. I don’t know if he loves Jesus or not, but I do know he is opposed to Medicaid expansion and voted against it last week, as did every single Republican in the Senate. Here are the duties of his august position:

The Majority Floor Leader sets the schedule of bills up for consideration by the full chamber, the time spent on floor debate for legislation, and the meeting times and dates of the Missouri Senate, among other duties.

As you can see, Ron Richard is a powerful man. He can change the dynamics of the debate on the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri in less time than it would take a House Republican to say, “Impeach the socialist in the White’s House!” Below are ways to contact him:

Jefferson City Office, Pattie: 573-751-2173

Joplin Office, Gwen: 417-623-0022

Or send him a message:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/D32WebApps/Contact.aspx
http://ronrichardmosenate.com/contact.php

You can use one or all of the above methods in order to a) ask him if he loves Jesus, or b) ask him if he wants to treat his fellow Missourians like a good neighbor, or c) do what I did and send him a message like this:

ron richard websiteI respectfully ask that Sen. Richard lead the charge on expanding Medicaid in Missouri and bring some relief to hundreds of thousands of Missourians who need health insurance. We are leaving billions of dollars on the table, money that is needed here in our state to care for our own. Do the right thing, please.

_________________________________

UPDATE: Here is the email response I received from Sen. Richard. Based on this response, it wouldn’t hurt for all of you who are interested in this issue to let him know where you stand:

Thank you for your email. This was brought up on the Senate Floor for debate. This was just the first discussion on the floor and I believe there will be a lot more before we have a chance to vote on the bill. I will keep your thoughts and comments in mind as this bill becomes perfected and we vote on the measure.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Ron Richard
Senator District 32

Roy Blunt’s Moocher Talk And What’s Wrong With It

Not only has the Affordable Care Act been attacked by Republicans for being a government takeover of the healthcare system or for creating death panels that will kill your grandparents in their sleep or for busting the federal budget and your own or for limiting your choice of policies and doctors, now the GOP has a new line of attack: ObamaCare is creating more moochers!

Even though that whole moocher thing didn’t work so well in the 2012 presidential election, it is so much a part of the right-wing’s dogma about Democrats and Democratic constituencies that they simply can’t let it go.

Roy Blunt, my own senator, appeared on this week’s Fox “News” Sunday. And, of course, he followed the newest ObamaCare’s-a-moocher-maker script on what Republicans should say in response to the release of the CBO’s analysis of some of the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s labor supply.blunt on fox

Before we get to what Blunt said, let’s look at the question Chris Wallace asked him and the way that question was set up for him and the way the reactionaries want us all to understand the issue. Wallace played a cherry-picked clip of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf’s testimony before the House Budget Committee last Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of the clip Wallace played:

DOUG ELMENDORF, CBO DIRECTOR: By providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work, relative to what would have been the case in the absence of that act.

Wallace stopped the clip there. What Fox viewers (and Roy Blunt) didn’t hear was what Elmendorf said next:

Now these subsidies, of course, makes those lower income people better off.

Yes. He said that. Right after he talked about the disincentive to work. He said that these folks would be better off. And he continued to explain:

This is an implicit tax, not the sort of tax we normally think about where if the government raises our taxes, we are worse off and face the disincentive to work more. Providing a subsidy, people are better off but they do have less of an incentive to work and I think they would respond to that by working somewhat less.

As you can see, the whole idea that folks would stop working or reduce the time they spend working is essentially based on what economists “think they would respond to” in terms of being better off because of the ACA. And it turns out that the CBO’s number-crunchers were influenced by the work of a conservative economist, as Jonathan Chait (“How Obamacare Became the New Welfare”) notes:

The Congressional Budget Office’s budget update last week surprisingly adapted an analysis, advocated by conservative economist Casey Mulligan, that Obamacare would induce the equivalent of two million full-time jobs in reduced labor. Now, in addition to its previously recited horrors, Obamacare was taking money from hard-working Americans to finance indolence.

Mr. Mulligan has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act from the start. Last October he criticized it for—sound familiar?—creating “a reduction in the reward for working” and suggested that its full implementation this year might cause “a recessionary double-dip.” So, he’s not a fan of the law, and it is unclear why the CBO embraced some of his thinking as to the effects it will have on the labor supply.

politics 1984 IS HEREBut such thinking is part of the long-time conservative critique of Democrats and their fondness for safety-net programs. On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked former-intellectual-turned-Fox-commentator George Will: “is giving people a cheaper way to get health insurance without working so much — is that a good thing or a bad thing?” As he always does, as he is no doubt required to do to get his big paycheck from Fox, Will took aim at liberals:

People forget Social Security was advocated, Chris, in the 1930s, as a way of getting people to quit working, because they thought we were confined to a permanent scarcity of jobs in this country. Second, it is the point of progressivism to put in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptation to dependency on government. In order to change social norms and eventually national character, the president said, “I want to fundamentally change America,” and these disincentives to work are part of it.

Of course! President Obama and the Democratic Party want people to be dependent on government. They want people to stay in what Paul Ryan called the “poverty trap.” They want all Americans to quit working and become moochers. Makes perfect sense, right? That idea, which Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio personalities have aggressively pushed for more than two decades now, is what Republicans want voters to now specifically associate with “ObamaCare.”

But what about that idea? What about that poverty trap? You might be surprised. Jonathan Chait writes:

What’s more, as Jared Bernstein and Edwin Park point out, by lifting the threshold for who gets subsidized insurance, Obamacare actually reduces this poverty trap. Before Obamacare expanded it, Medicaid had extremely low income thresholds. It varies state by state, but the average state cut off Medicaid to people earning just 61 percent of the poverty line, a pitifully low sum. If you’re a single parent in Texas, you lose your Mediciad if you earn more than $3,600 a year. A family of two in Alabama loses its Medicaid once its income, after deductions, hits the lofty sum of $2,832 a year. That’s a severe incentive to keep poor people from obtaining full-time work.

Of course, Texas is boycotting Obamcare’s Medcaid expansion, and is thus keeping in place this strong incentive for its poorest citizens to stay out of the workforce. (If conservatives are worried about fostering a culture of dependency in these Obamacare-boycotting red states, they are keeping their fears very, very quiet.) The states choosing to expand Medicaid are correspondingly increasing the incentive for the very poor to enter the workforce.

As the above-cited economist Jared Bernstein makes clear:

During a hearing today on the latest CBO report, Rep. Paul Ryan declared the health care law to be “a poverty trap.”  He’s way off base.  In fact, he’s got it backwards…

None of this is to deny the CBO’s point that some people with incomes above the poverty level will choose to work less to avoid reductions in their premium subsidy.  But those choices are not the ones faced by the poor who live in states where the ACA is the law of the land.  In those states, the law has thoroughly reversed the poverty trap.  Rep. Ryan should know that and correct the misimpression he’s created.

Of course Paul Ryan, Roy Blunt, or any Republican for that matter, will not correct any of the misimpressions, not to say lies, they have created. And many mainstream journalists will continue to promote a false equivalence by reporting Republican misinformation and Democratic attempts to correct it as if both are morally equal and just part of the game of politics. Thus, if Democratic politicians want to keep their jobs and keep health insurance reform alive, it is up to them to get very aggressive in their defense of the ACA, especially with people like Roy Blunt running around and making mischief on television.

Which leads me finally to Blunt’s appearance on Fox yesterday. Chris Wallace, after playing the partial Elmendorf clip, asked Blunt this question:

WALLACE: Now, Republicans say this proves that ObamaCare is a job killer. Democrats say it means that fewer people will be locked into jobs. Senator Blunt, what is wrong with that, the idea of fewer people locked into jobs?

Now, of course Wallace knows that ObamaCare is not “a job killer.” The CBO report made clear and Elmendorf testified that the law would actually create jobs not kill them. But Wallace chose to set the question up by contrasting a Republican “job-killer” lie with a Democratic truth, to wit: the law allows some people to opt out of jobs they are locked into because of their need for employer-provided health insurance. And Blunt took the bait and further muddied the waters:

SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-MO.: Well, I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?

This number is about three times as big as the number that was on the table when people that voted for the president’s health care bill voted for it in 2009 and ’10 when the estimate was it would cost the equivalent of 800,000 full time jobs. Now, they’re saying 2.3 million, and the best face can you put on that is that means people that don’t want to work don’t have to work. Surely, that’s not what we want to encourage. And that’s what this law does encourage.

Let’s start with his first declaration: “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea.” Oh, yeah? The Social Security law discourages people from working. Lots and lots of them. And lots of them are Republicans. Is Social Security a bad idea, Senator Blunt? Is Medicare a bad idea because it also discourages people from working? Apparently, Blunt thinks that making it possible for people who have worked all their lives and simply want to exit the labor force into retirement is a bad thing. No wonder he supported the infamous Paul Ryan Medicare-mutilating budget plan. I guess people should just work until their dead.

But more than that, notice how Blunt, like all Republicans are now doing and will continue to do until election day this November, focuses on those alleged 2.3 million” people who “don’t want to work” or “don’t have to work.” That is essentially the argument that was made more generally during the 2012 election. Paul Ryan said the following at a fundraiser in June of that election year:

Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers?

The only difference now, in this election year, is that Republicans are targeting a specific effort by Democrats, embodied in the Affordable Care Act, to help low-income folks get affordable health insurance. And they think they have the CBO on their side this time.

elmendorfBut what about that CBO report and Director Elmendorf’s seemingly common-sense claim “that by providing a somewhat smaller incentive to work, somewhat fewer people would work”? Nobody argues that there won’t be some number of people who will do exactly what Elmendorf suggests they will do. As Jonathan Chait makes clear:

It is true that any means-tested government benefit will discourage some class of people from working. If a subsidy is available only for people below a certain income level, then people whose income approaches that income level will lose some incentive to earn more.

By its very nature, the concept of means-testing—which Republicans themselves have always embraced—involves people calculating whether working more actually makes them better off. People do that all the time when, for instance, they reach retirement age. The issue here is how many people will do what Elmendorf suggests. And relative to that issue Suzy Khimm (who used to be with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog) makes an excellent point:

It’s also worth taking the CBO’s findings with a grain of salt. The office had previously forecast that Obamacare would reduce the total hours worked by the equivalent of 800,000 workers, then updated its forecast based on more recent research. But one new study that CBO cited in its report actually “found no significant effect of Medicaid on employment or earnings” when Oregon expanded the program in 2008.

Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute, says such evidence makes him skeptical that Obamacare’s effect on the labor market will be as large as the CBO predicts. “I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of reductions in labor supply that Elmendorf is talking bout today,” says Nichols. “We have also evidence from Massachusetts that doesn’t show a large impact.”

Paul Krugman wrote that the “reduced labor supply” noted by the CBO and exploited by dishonest Republicans does in fact add to “the true cost of health reform.” But he demonstrates, through what he calls “some pretty prosaic economics,” that the effects are fairly modest. He ends:

Should you care how much other people work? Yes, a little – but not so much that it should change anyone’s views about health reform.

The truth is that at this point nobody really knows, with any degree of legitimate certainty, what direct and indirect effects the Affordable Care Act will have not only on the labor supply, but on other areas of the economy. As I have said many times, the ACA is an experiment. Much more time and evidence is needed to figure out whether the law will work as designed, whether it will need significant changes, or whether it should be scrapped altogether. But we have one political party that does not want it to work, will not lift a finger to fix any problems with it, and wants only to kill it before it has had a chance to prove or disprove itself.

Unfortunately for Missourians—especially for those Missourians who could get health insurance were it not for Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion—Roy Blunt is part of that one political party.

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