Kill On Your Own Dime, Says Hobby Lobby

The Supreme Court’s two decisions yesterday, one permitting some businesses to operate just like they were flesh and blood, tongue-talking Bible-toters, the other damaging labor unions by making freeloading legal, should be seen as a fairly big return on the investments that business interests have made in the political system and the courts, especially in getting five conservative justices in place to make these kinds of decisions that ultimately diminish workers’ rights and favor the moneyed class. As Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center noted, the Chamber of Commerce has had a very good year.

In any case, what I want to quickly focus on is that Hobby Lobby case. I don’t want to rehearse the legal arguments or the long-term effects the decision may have. Whether the ruling is read narrowly or broadly in the future, what it comes down to is this naked reality: the “sincerely held religious beliefs” hobby lobby iudthat the Court says it is protecting are beliefs that assert that women who use emergency contraception or IUDs are murdering their children.

Yes. That’s what the owners of these businesses believe. These women are killing their kids, if they use certain methods of contraception that the owners, falsely (here and here), claim are abortifacients. And the owners want no part of it. Mind you, it is okay for these murdering women to keep their jobs at the owners’ businesses, so long as the killers pay for the murder weapons themselves.

Weird, no? Well, yes, but that’s what happens when religious conservatives own businesses and, well, own a majority on the highest court in the land.

 

 

Joplin Businessman Is Happy With Hobby Lobby Decision, Are You?

A Joplin businessman said the following about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, as reported by KODE and KSN TV:

JOPLIN, MO.— “I just don’t like the government telling me what to do,” said David Starrett, The Medicine Shoppe Owner.

That’s the stance Hobby Lobby owners have taken. Today, the Supreme Court ruled five to four in favor of Hobby Lobby stores. This means the company doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage under Obamacare. 

“This family says, stood up and said ‘Hey, we’re not going to take this. We have reasons why we’re making our decisions, and we don’t want the government.’ You know, I thought it was a victory for them, American liberty,” said Starrett.  [...]

“Religious liberty, I’m happy to see it too because again, I don’t think the government needs to be involved in telling a person what they can or can’t believe, or have strong feelings about it,” said Starrett. 

medicine shoppeIt happens that I used to use Starrett’s pharmacy. That changed sometime back, as I am sensitive to what business owners have on their for-public-viewing televisions during business hours. It tells me something. Thus, when I went to Starrett’s Medicine Shoppe and was forced to endure Glenn Beck’s program while I waited—he was still on Fox at the time—I vowed to change pharmacies, which I did sometime later.

And after I saw Starrett’s appearance on KODE TV on Monday night, I was compelled to find a way to express to the giddy pharmacist how I felt. Even though it appears that the “Guestbook” page on his website isn’t working, just in case I sent the following message to David Starrett, who, along with his wife, owns Joplin’s Medicine Shoppe:

David,

I saw you on local TV tonight praising the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Thanks for confirming my decision to drop you as my family’s pharmacist several years ago. I had a feeling, after walking into your business on 20th street one day and seeing Fox “News” on your TV, that you didn’t really care if you served people like me. Turned out I was right. I will tell every non-right-wing person I know that your Medicine Shoppe is not worthy of their business.

R. Duane Graham

The Shining City On A Molehill

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

—Jesus of Nazareth

This allegedly Christian nation is apparently full of hypocrites. And in a weird sort of way, that is a good thing. It tells us something we need to know.

I have often heard evangelical religious leaders, including some I used to admire when I was an evangelical, assert that the United States is a Christian nation. You’ve heard that claim, too. These days it comes mostly in the form of, “We have turned our backs on God and God will punish us for it.” Yeah, well, maybe he is. From an article in NewsOk:

Since October, more than 52,000 children from Central America have been apprehended, more than double the previous year. White House officials said that while they are often fleeing extreme violence and impoverished conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, they are also acting under the misinformation that once they arrive here they essentially get a free pass to stay. Purveyors of the misinformation are thought to include people making money by smuggling them across the border.

Of course, President Obama is to blame. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin sums up the charge:

President Obama’s policies — including his decision two years ago that his administration would stop deporting young illegal immigrants as proposed under the DREAM Act — are directly responsible for the current border crisis that is now spilling over to facilities such as the one at Fort Sill.

Slightly more abrasive was a Breitbart piece (“THE NUCLEAR OPTION: OBAMA IS PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR RIPPING APART IMMIGRANT FAMILIES“) that began:

“Death trains” rumbling through Mexico teeming with children, headed for the U.S. border. Teenage girls raped. Unspeakable violence at the hands of ruthless coyotes, carrying out President Obama’s stunningly reckless new foreign policy.

Worst still was a charge I heard myself, while talking to a local businessman I ran into recently:

That nigger signed an order allowing all those kids to stay in the country.

Yes. He said that. Welcome to my world.

Obviously President Obama isn’t responsible for the misinformation that people-smugglers down south are putting out in order to make a fast buck. Neither is he responsible for honest misunderstandings by some migrants that the U.S. “was offering some kind of entry permit” for those seeking asylum, as The New York Times reported. The memorandum Mr. Obama signed in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, only applies to those undocumented immigrants who have lived here since June 15, 2007, among other requirements.

children detaineesNow, I won’t pretend that I have any answers regarding what should be done (as opposed to what is being done) about the thousands of mostly kids fleeing their own countries and coming to the United States (many of them are also seeking asylum in Mexico and other places), hoping against hope that not only will they be able to stay, but that they will be welcomed by a wealthy and generous and, uh, Christian, people. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has any answers, if by answers one means anything beyond putting them back on buses and shipping them home today (which is what many Republicans seem to want to do, contrary to a Bush-signed law by the way).

I am looking at all this from the perspective of a former evangelical Christian and a former conservative admirer of Ronald Reagan. The thousands of young people who have flooded into our country recently (the flood began in 2009 and has accelerated the last two years) headed here largely because they essentially believed in the idea that Ronald Reagan expressed halfway through his presidency: “Every promise, every opportunity, is still golden in this land.” At the end of his second term, bidding farewell to the nation, Reagan, hero of Christian conservatives, said:

The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the ‘shining city upon a hill.’ The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

Just 25 years have passed since Reagan said America’s “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” And there is still plenty of will, still plenty of heart. We see it in the hopeful eyes of those who have struggled to get here from unimaginably poor and violent societies, “from all the lost places hurtling through darkness.” Their faces are full of the possibilities of this land. The will and heart to get to the United States are all most of those desperate folks have. But after only 25 years it is obvious that the will of welcoming Americans, especially of “Christian” Americans, has weakened and the heart has grown cold. Our doors-are-open vision is much cloudier these days. Hardly a shining city on a hill. We are not standing strong and true on any granite ridge. Our glow is low. What we see are “illegals.” What we behold are “lawbreakers” who need to be sent back as soon as possible. The faces we see coming over the border are full of impossibilities.

I’m not naive. I know that if Ronald Reagan were president today he would not welcome these unfortunate people in from Central America any more than Barack Obama is. I know nogales arizona shelterthe hazard that would be created if we were simply to welcome without condition the thousands of desperate people who have come here so far. I also know that Reagan’s idea of America as a shining city on a hill was, like so much of what we tell ourselves about ourselves, just a way of idealizing who we are and what we are supposed to stand for, and not an accurate picture of the real America.

That real America is all mixed up. In many ways we are a contradiction. We brag about the genius of our Republic, even as we watch its governing apparatus purposely brought to a miserable and grinding halt at a time when so much needs to be done. We claim we are a nation of Christians, of people who supposedly follow a man-God named Jesus, who told us first to love God then to love our neighbors as ourselves. “There is no commandment greater than these,” he said. But even the most zealous conservative evangelical Christians, from the pulpit to politics, have decided, at least in the case of our poor and desperate neighbors, that such does not apply to the country as a whole. America as a nation is apparently not subject to their God’s commandments. And that is as it should be. We do, indeed, live under a secular government. Acting as a nation, we are not, and should not be, bound by any religious doctrine or decree.

Thus, leaving aside the larger moral question of what should be done with all the kids we are now caring for temporarily, we can see that this present humanitarian crisis demonstrates, hopefully once and for all, that we are not, and never have been, a Christian nation in the sense that conservative evangelicals have previously claimed. That may be the only good thing that comes from our failure to have a coherent immigration policy. No longer can anyone with a straight and self-righteous face claim, as most evangelicals believe, that “America is uniquely blessed by God” and “should be a model Christian nation to the world.”  Such a model Christian nation would have welcoming borders. Such a model Christian nation would not turn away tens of thousands of young people—from countries where Christianity is dominant and evangelical Christianity represents about one-third of the population—who believe they have no better place to go in order live a decent life. Such a model Christian nation would at least register outrage that we might soon be turning away thousands of children who obviously need our help, children who had the misfortune of being born outside the borders of Ronald Reagan’s shining, God-blessed land.

There isn’t much outrage. Heck, for the political party of the Christian Right, the outrage is going the other way:

For their part, Republicans appear to be taking an increasingly hard line on how to treat young illegal immigrants. A string of GOP members of Congress has denounced the president’s leniency toward those already in the U.S. and said the policy should be rescinded. Some in the party are backtracking from legislation that would give legal status to young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

At least those reactionary politicians are talking about the issue. For the professional evangelical right, there isn’t much discussion going on. I went to the website of the famous and very vocal Christian Right group, Family Research Council, whose self-described vision includes “a culture in which human life is valued” and where “families flourish.” The top story is about how President Obama is “giving special workplace benefits to the sexually confused.” I couldn’t find one story about the thousands of Christian kids seeking asylum in the United States. Not one story. The silence is damning.

For conservative evangelicals, perhaps God-damning:

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Unprecedented: More than 160,000 immigrants have been<br /><br /><br /><br /> apprehended in Texas' Valley sector in the first eight months of this<br /><br /><br /><br /> fiscal year, eclipsing the total for all of last year

The U.S. Leads The World In Disputing Key Scientific Facts About Global Warming And Here’s Why

Earlier this week I wrote about the Risky Business Project, which produced an informative, if frightening, report on climate change that I said,

expressed the problem in terms of “a common language of risk that is already part of every serious business and investment decision we make today.”

I started that piece (“Humid Heat Stroke Index And Other Climate Change ‘Hoaxes'”) with a quote from the head of the Republican Party’s Know Nothing Wing (which is pretty much the entire party these days), Rush Limbaugh:

“It is a hoax.  All of it. I don’t know how else to say it.  All of that is just wrong, and these people know it’s wrong.”

Well, you might say, that’s just Rush being Rush. No serious players pay any attention to that kind of right-wing, science-denying bullshit. Oh, yeah? How about this:

cnbc and global warming hoaxMedia Matters confirmed that Cindy Perman, working as the “commentary editor of CNBC.com,” mistook a blog that specializes in rebutting climate change deniers (called DeSmogBlog) for one that is, let’s just say, friendly to the know-nothings on the right. DeSmogBlog had written a short (and critical) profile of an MIT economist (not a climate scientist) named Alan Carlin, who claims “there is little evidence for significant human impacts on climate.” And being a sloppy journalist, or being a journalist with an ax to grind, or being a journalist who wants to keep her job at CNBC.com, Cindy Perman sent the following message to DeSmogBlog:

Hi there. Given this new report on the cost of climate change, wanted to extend an invitation to Alan Carlin to write an op-ed for CNBC.com. Can be on the new report or just his general thoughts on global warming being a hoax.

You want to know why not much of ultimate consequence is getting done in this country regarding climate change? It’s because journalists, or journalistic enterprises like CNBC purports to be at times (when it is not attacking the Obama administration for being “anti-business” or providing misleading coverage of climate change), decide that it is necessary to solicit the Limbaugh- and Glenn Beck-friendly views of someone who doesn’t believe humans have all that much to do with what is happening to the planet’s climate in order to counter the scientific consensus, a consensus that right-winging zealots just don’t like, that we are negatively changing our world by our fossil fuel-driven behavior.

Finally, let me cite Wikipedia for a summation of the state of the science vis-à-vis climate change:

In the scientific literature, there is a strong consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and that the trend is caused primarily by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. No scientific body of national or international standing disagrees with this view, though a few organizations hold non-committal positions. Disputes over the key scientific facts of global warming are now more prevalent in the popular media than in the scientific literature, where such issues are treated as resolved, and more in the United States than globally.

Yes, sadly, we apparently lead the world in disputing “key scientific facts of global warming.”  And right-leaning media, including CNBC, are the main reason why.

Humid Heat Stroke Index And Other Climate Change “Hoaxes”

“It is a hoax.  All of it. I don’t know how else to say it.  All of that is just wrong, and these people know it’s wrong.”

—Rush Limbaugh on global warming

A after Earth just had its warmest May on record, after the northern Midwest just received two months worth of rain in about a week, yet another Republican vying for office has decided that questioning climate change is good politics. Unfortunately, that news is pretty ho-hum these days. It’s sort of like saying that somebody said something stupid on Fox and Friends this morning. Not much news there.

But what isn’t ho-hum is the latest report on what is happening to our climate and what will happen if we allow Republican know-nothings to run the government.

The report is called “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.” You can go check it out for yourself. It will wow you, if you can be wowed about bad news from scientists. Here I will publish only a portion of the report having to do with heat and humidity in the Midwest, a nagging problem for those of us who live here in Missouri about this time of year. The heat-humidity combo plate can sometimes keep you indoors for days—and nights for that matter.

First, the report makes clear that because of climate change, we Midwesterners will have “fewer winter days with temperatures below freezing.” I suppose that’s the good news. But we will “experience an additional 7 to 26 days above 95°F each year by mid-century, and 20 to 75 additional extreme-heat days—potentially more than 2 additional months per year of extreme heat—by the end of the century.” And, no, that’s not the bad news. This is:

But the real story in this region is the combined impact of heat and humidity, which we measure using the Humid Heat Stroke Index, or HHSI. The human body’s capacity to cool down in the hottest weather depends on our ability to sweat, and to have that sweat evaporate on our skin. Sweat keeps the skin temperature below 95°F, which is required for our core temperature to stay around 98.6°F. But if the outside temperature is a combination of very hot and very humid—if it reaches a HHSI of about 95°F—our sweat cannot evaporate, and our core body temperature can rise until we actually collapse from heat stroke. Even at an HHSI of 92°F, core body temperatures can get close to 104°F, which is the body’s absolute limit.

To date, the U.S. has never experienced heat-plus-humidity at this scale. The closest this country has come was in 1995 in Appleton, Wisconsin, when the HHSI hit 92°F. (At the time, the outside temperature was 101°F and the dew point was 90°F.) The only place in the world that has ever reached the unbearable HHSI of 95°F was Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in 2003 (outside temperature of 108°F, dew point of 95°F). Our research shows that if we continue on our current path, the average Midwesterner could see an HHSI at the dangerous level of 95°F two days every year by late century, and that by the middle of the next century, she or he can expect to experience 20 full days in a typical year of HHSI over 95°F, during which it will be functionally impossible to be outdoors.

That scares me, even though I likely won’t be around when things get that bad. I don’t think I’m going to live to be 200, unless that cryogenic storage kit I found on a right-wing huckster’s website pays off (I got a really good deal on it, and it came with a pair of X-ray sunglasses!). But even if I’m not around, there will be somebody here, somebody who will experience such extreme heat and humidity, among other troubling things like rising sea levels. And all of us living today, who may have a chance to do something good for those we will never meet, should be interested in investing in a future we will never know because so many before us invested in futures they never knew. Funny how that works.

The Risky Business Project that produced this report is rather unique in that it looked at and then expressed the problem in terms of “a common language of risk that is already part of every serious business and investment decision we make today.”

From the report:

Our research also shows that if we act today to move onto a different path, we can still avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change, particularly those related to extreme heat. We are fully capable of managing climate risk, just as we manage risk in many other areas of our economy and national security—but only if we start to change our business and public policy decisions today.

Given what we know about Republican politics today, it may seem like a fantasy to think that we could change our policy decisions in any meaningful way. But I want to publish a graphic from the Risky Business report that should be used at every congressional hearing, every think-tank seminar, on the subject of climate change. If you have ever experienced the misery of high heat and high humidity, this map should make you demand from your legislator some action:

humid heat stroke index

A Thousand Guns For Jesus

On Friday morning, I took this photo in Joplin:

 20140620_083748 (1)

That sort of gives you an idea of what it is like to live in Southwest Missouri. Here, some folks like to advertise, quite openly, just how smart they are.

Or aren’t.

Over the weekend, the Joplin Globe furnished us with another example of what it is like to live here in Hooterville:

Ignite Church attempts to recruit young men by giving away AR-15

ignite church photo

According to the article,

The give away was part of an outreach by Ignite Church to a specific demographic group: males age 18 to 35.

Apparently, Jesus-loving church officials couldn’t think of anything that would draw more young men to the Savior than an assault weapon. That tells you a lot about what they think of the young men in and around Joplin, not to mention what they think of Jesus. Oh. I forgot to mention: the gun giveaway was on, uh, Father’s Day. Jesus loves you, dad, and pass the ammo! These semi-automatic babies sure eat up the lead!

The pastor of this strangely innovative New Testament church said:

If we get people in the door, we get to preach the gospel. If we can get more people to follow Jesus, I’ll give away 1,000 guns. I don’t care.

Using your logic, pastor, I have an idea for you. How about taking a page out of the jihadist hymnal and offer up 1,000 virgins? That’ll get ‘em in the pews! You’ll have more “males age 18 to 35″ than you can shake an assault rifle at. We would soon have our own mega-church right here in Joplin!

shoot if you love jesus

Hillary Clinton Has Something To Learn And Elizabeth Warren Is Her Best Teacher

If, as I did, you were able to watch Hardball with the ridiculous Chris Matthews (you will see why in the clip below) on MSNBC yesterday, you now know why Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist progressive from Massachusetts, is so admired by those of us on the left, those of us who know that Hillary Clinton will get the nomination if she runs, and those of us who know that Hillary Clinton is not, and never will be, an Elizabeth Warren Democrat.

Before we get to Chris Matthews’ strange and stupidly aggressive interview of Warren (I think Reince Priebus, the High Priest of GOP Voodoo, cast a spell on Chris before the show), we must first go to the transcript of Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Fox recently. Most of the questions posed to her during her Fox interview were, of course, about Benghazi. She did fine with those (so fine that many on the Right were pissed that Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren didn’t hang her on the set for “murdering” those Americans). But one non-Benghazi question that was asked, one that was designed to put a wedge between Clinton and Obama, elicited a typical Clintonesque answer that bothered me. No, it pissed me off:

BAIER: Last thing, quickly. The Real Clear Politics average of major reliable polls, not just one, the average polls, has the “right track/wrong track” breaking this way: 29 percent right track for the country, 64 percent wrong track. That’s the average of polls. So, do you agree with the 64 percent?

CLINTON: What I agree with is that many Americans are still feeling that they have not recovered from the Great Recession. They are still worried about their future, the future of their children. We could go down all the reasons why from — you know, student debt to, you know, stagnant or decreasing incomes to income inequality, all of these factors that Americans are living with and they look and they say what happened to the American Dream? I was raised with that. I’m a product of it. I am proud to be a product of it. I had a great upbringing. I had a family that supported me. Great public education. All these opportunities as did my husband. And now, people are saying well, we think it’s over. So, of course they are going to say, regardless I would argue who is president, I would say that most people are saying wait a minute, it’s not working for me anymore. What do we do to get back on track toward people living up to their own God- given potential in this country that we love?

Huh? What? If Hillary Clinton wants to inspire people to go out and work to get her elected, she is going to have to do better than that. I don’t care if she is trying to sell books to right-wingers or not, she has to do better.

I don’t know why I expected more from someone who so clearly wants to be, first, the Democratic Party presidential nominee, and, second, leader of the country. But I did expect more. Something like telling people the real reason the country is in the condition it is in:

You know, Bret, I understand why so many people, so many hard-working people, feel the country isn’t working for them. That’s because the Republican Party, guided by a pathological dislike for President Obama, has not only done nothing to help people in the last five and a half years, they purposely stood in the way of any progress that the President and other Democrats tried to actively achieve. I could give you countless examples, but let me just mention what happened recently in the United States Senate regarding student loans and billionaires—

Here I will interrupt my imaginary Mrs. Clinton’s response and provide you with the real Elizabeth Warren on MSNBC, responding to perhaps one of the dumbest questions that Chris Matthews has ever asked anyone (and that is saying something), let alone a Democrat in Congress who can’t do a damn thing because of Republican obstructionism:

 

That, my friends, is how you inspire people to follow you. You start by telling them, clearly and forcefully, about the politics behind the failure of government to address our many problems and the failure to make any progress: “At least you got one side who is trying to fight for it!”

My suggestion to Hillary Clinton is learn something from Elizabeth Warren. Either that or just stay home in 2016 and enjoy your grandma time.

“That Was Our Policy,” Dick Said

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Aeschylus

sick to his Obama-hating core, Dick Cheney and his intellectual clone, daughter Liz, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal (“The Collapsing Obama Doctrine”) that featured this not-meant-to-be-ironic line:

Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. 

In his final press briefing before leaving the Administration, Jay Carney was asked about that comment and replied,

Which president was he talking about?

But Harry Reid did one better. Today on the Senate floor he said:

If there’s one thing this country does not need, is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history. To the architects of the Iraq War who are now so eager to offer their expert analysis, I say…thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, we have already tried it your way and it was the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.

Now, it is common for those who championed the Iraq war to dismiss critics like Reid by rubbing in their faces that infamous vote in 2002 to go to war. Harry Reid, along with 28 other Senate Democrats including Hillary Clinton, did indeed vote in favor of authorizing military action against Iraq. But unlike Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary, Reid isn’t afraid to say he was wrong. Today he told Sam Stein:

“Do you know how I feel about that?” Reid asked during a sit-down interview in his office with The Huffington Post. “I’m sure this is no big surprise,” he said, pausing for ten seconds before continuing in a muted voice: “What a mistake.”

“I should never have voted for that,” Reid went on. “But I accepted what [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell and the others said. But it took me just a matter of a few months to realize it was a bad mistake, and my record speaks for itself. I’ve spoken out against what was going on, not once, not twice, but lots of times. And I’m sorry that I was misled, but I was, and it was a mistake for me to vote for that war.”

Mistake, indeed. Heck, even sellevangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson gets it now. So does the survivalist-baiter and gold-seller and slanderer Glenn Beck. But that Cheney-Cheney editorial never mentioned anything about pre-war mistakes, only alleged post-war ones. The Cheneys said not a word about misleading intelligence reports or faulty evidence. They did say, though, something that deserves more scrutiny:

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Leave aside that part about al Qaeda being largely defeated. Until our invasion of Iraq, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq to defeat. They came there to fight us. But did Obama abandon Iraq? You hear that all the time from those who want desperately for Obama to validate their monumental mistakes by continuing them, by keeping, I guess forever, American troops in a hostile environment like Iraq.

But I want to take you back to 2010, when a happier Dick Cheney, if there is such a creature, was basking in his Iraq “victory.” On ABC’s This Week, Jonathan Karl asked Cheney about Joe Biden’s foolish remarks in 2010 regarding how Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration,” and Biden’s wise remarks about how “the war in Iraq was not worth it”:

CHENEY: I believe very deeply in the proposition that what we did in Iraq was the right thing to do. It was hard to do. It took a long time. There were significant costs involved.

But we got rid of one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. We took down his government, a man who’d produced and used weapons of mass destruction, a man who’d started two different wars, a man who had a relationship with terror. We’re going to have a democracy in Iraq today. We do today. They’re going to have another free election this March.

This has been an enormous achievement from the standpoint of peace and stability in the Middle East and ending a threat to the United States. Now, as I say, Joe Biden doesn’t believe that. Joe Biden wants to take credit — I’m not sure for what — since he opposed that policy pretty much from the outset.

KARL: I think what he wants to take credit for is taking resources out of Iraq, the fact…

CHENEY: That’s being done in accordance with a timetable that we initiated, that we  that we negotiated with  with the Iraqis. I mean, that was our policy.

Yes, that’s right. It was their policy. That was about the only thing Cheney got right in that exchange. Pulling out the way we did in 2011 was their policy. But now that things don’t look so good, it is suddenly Obama who “abandoned Iraq.” Horseshit. Just how long were we supposed to leave our troops there? A hundred years? A thousand?

I want to cite a right-winger (and senior staffer under Bush-Cheney) who said “George W. Bush warned that if America withdrew from Iraq, American troops would eventually have to return.” Yeah, well, he’s right. Bush did warn us about “withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready.” The problem is that Bush said that in 2007. And we stayed until 2011. And we left then because Bush, presumably because his commanders told him we would be ready, signed in 2008 the Status of Forces Agreement that Obama followed. Only in the strange brains of conservatives, most of whom were wrong about Iraq from Day One, can all of this mess be Obama’s fault.

But the Cheneys have a profound hatred for the President. Predictably, their tribute to family delusions that The Wall Street Journal eagerly published, came with this:

…President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.

And to end their hit piece, the Cheneys wrote:

President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.

That is what it has come down to, ever since Barack Obama dared sit his pigmented posterior on the Bush-Cheney-stained furniture in the White’s House. Obama means to do the country harm. He is, as Liz Cheney said last year, “working to pre-emptively disarm the United States.”

Whenever I hear talk like that, I regret that the newly inaugurated President Obama didn’t start his first term by ordering his attorney general to investigate Liz Cheney’s dad for possible war crimes. That would have been one way that Obama could have proven to all Americans that rather than desiring to take America down a notch, his intention was to elevate our moral standing.

 cheney behind bars

Iraq And The Folly Of Sovereignty

Sovereignty, in political theory, is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.”

Wikipedia

It was inevitable, of course.

John McCain, who still can’t believe voters thwarted his Commander-in-Chief aspirations six years ago, appearing on MSNBC this morning, blamed President Obama for what is happening in Iraq:

What about the fact we had it won?…Gen. Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. And if we had left a residual force behind…we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won and we had a stable government…But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.

This blame-Obama-first reaction we all expect from Republicans whenever anything at all goes wrong, but it is utterly and demonstrably false in this case. Republicans forget that the original agreement with the Iraqis to pull out of their country was signed by none other than George W. Bush in 2008, an agreement that specified we would “withdraw from all Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” We did withdraw in December of 2011. So, how all the latest developments are Obama’s fault is beyond me, but not surprising, given the level of hatred for the president among right-wingers.

What seems surprising to me, though, is McCain’s “we had it won” claim, which is beyond ridiculous. George Bush famously thought we had it won when he spoke on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, saying,

In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

Yeah, well, people should remember that most of the dead and wounded became dead and wounded after those infamous words. Bush also told us in that 2003 speech:

The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on…The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have removed an ally of al-Qaida, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.

Leave aside that lie about the Iraqis being “an ally of al-Qaida”—former CIA Director George Tenet took care of that by admitting that the Bushies “could never verify there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaida for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period”—and focus only on the claim of victory, a claim that was not only unsupported by the evidence at the time, but a claim that could never have come true under any circumstances. Obviously, in terms of defeating the Iraqi military and putting ourselves into a position of occupying the country, we were successful. That’s what we are good at. We are the best. The Iraqi army, knowing we are the best, didn’t really fight, and the much-vaunted Republican Guard decided they weren’t going to die, 72 virgins or no 72 virgins, for their fellow tribesman, Saddam Hussein.

But that U.S. military triumph wasn’t the real victory that the Bush and his neo-conservative allies envisioned when they undertook the very stupid and very costly war against Hussein’s Baathist regime. In their heads were “the images of celebrating Iraqis,” as Bush noted in his celebratory speech, grateful folks who would welcome us with open arms for liberating them from “their own enslavement.” But Iraq as we knew it then and Iraq as we know it now was and is never going to be a place where, in Bush’s words on that aircraft carrier eleven years ago, we could “stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.”

For his part, President Obama, although much more restrained, said some things to Americans in 2011 about the end of the eight-year-long Iraq war that don’t sound so good today:

It’s harder to end a war than begin one.  Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq — all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering — all of it has led to this moment of success.  Now, Iraq is not a perfect place.  It has many challenges ahead.  But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.  

So much for a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. This morning I heard Iraq’s ambassador to the United States essentially begging for more help from Americans, dismissing the fact that his country’s Shia leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, failed to reach a deal with the Obama administration on a status of forces agreement that would john mccain and iraqhave kept, perhaps unwisely for us, thousands of U.S. troops in his country. But worst than that, Maliki failed to govern the divided country in a way that had any chance of success. He did nothing to make sure the rights of the Sunni minority were protected. In fact, as Vox.com noted, he ordered the mass-arrest of Sunni civilians and the killing of peaceful Sunni protesters. He essentially “built a Shia sectarian state.” All of which allowed a violent Sunni insurgency to grow and strengthen.

As I said, it was the subsequent occupation of Iraq that cost us so much in lives and treasure. And it was during that occupation, if not before, where all of us should have realized that there would never be anything happen in Iraq that we could call a victory and truly claim mission accomplished. Patrick Cockburn, who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 and who has written four books on the contemporary history of Iraq, said of the American occupiers that we “were in a mood of exaggerated imperial arrogance” and failed to see what was coming:

In that first year of the occupation it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. Whenever there was an American soldier killed or wounded in Baghdad, I would drive there immediately. Always there were cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark bloodstain on the road. After one shooting of a soldier, a man told me: “I am a poor man but my family is going to celebrate what happened by cooking chicken.” Yet this was the moment when President Bush and his Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, were saying that the insurgents were “remnants of the old regime” and “dead enders”.

Cockburn also makes an important point that it wasn’t just Americans who were willfully blind about the nature of the Iraqi state: “There was also misconception among Iraqis about the depth of the divisions within their own society.” Objective outsiders should have seen that Iraq is not a real country. Force has held it together since the British (without going into why, but it had a lot to do with oil) first tried to weld into one country the old Ottoman-controlled provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. Keeping these people, the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shias, under one nation-state roof has proved to be impossible without lots and lots of oppression and killing. And the killing continues today, as we see in the news.

Leaving aside all of the Republican nonsense about blaming Obama for the ongoing disintegration of Iraq, the question, obviously, is what should the U.S. do now? And that, like almost all foreign policy questions, is not John McCain-simple. I have heard some people, including some Democrats, say do nothing. Let the Iraqis handle their own problems. But as President Obama said today, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos. The United States will do our part.”

Okay. Let’s start with what might be part of a long-term strategy. It appears to be time to reconsider Joe Biden’s old proposal, which he made while still a U.S. senator in 2007. Biden sponsored an amendment to a defense bill, which passed the Senate 75-23, that James Oliphant, no friend of Democrats or progressives, summarized this way:

The amendment requires the United States to work to support the division of Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, each governed locally by its dominant ethnic and religious factions, the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The regions would have dominion over police protection, jobs, utilities and other municipal functions, supported by a weaker federal government in Baghdad. All three regions would share in the country’s oil revenues.

The wisdom of that difficult-to-implement proposal only increases with time. It appears to be the only realistic solution, if there is a solution, to an otherwise insoluble problem. But that is a possible long-term solution. For now, while a rather violent and venomous group of jihadists are capturing Iraqi cities one by one and headed for Baghdad—due to, once again, widespread desertion by the “national” army—we can’t stand by and do nothing. We do have a national interest in making sure, as best we can without engaging in another war, that the utterly brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which, as The Washington Post points out, now “effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory,” does not take over the entire place.

The Post also says the militant Islamic group “has become a far more lethal, effective and powerful force than it was when U.S. forces were present in Iraq,” and quotes a former adviser to both Bush and Obama on Iraq:

This is a force that is ideologically motivated, battle hardened and incredibly well equipped. It also runs the equivalent of a state. It has all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognized one.

Just what effective actions the U.S. could take in the short-term isn’t clear to me. But it isn’t clear to war-hawk John McCain either. For all his bluster, he is reduced to saying there are “no good options.” Yeah, well, thanks for that sage advice, Senator. And, thank God or Allah, you are still only a senator.

Sharing intelligence with the Iraqi government, such as it is, is obviously a good place to start. Perhaps drone strikes and other air attacks are in order. Perhaps other forms of aid will do some good. But one thing we know, despite what the logic of John McCain’s criticisms entails,

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.

Those are the words of, thankfully, the real Commander in Chief.

The Las Vegas Cop Murders: Rhetorical And Philosophical Chickens Coming Home To Roost

miller the cop killer

Just about a month ago, speaking in support of a proposed radical amendment to the Missouri constitution that would attempt to nullify all federal gun laws, a state legislator from the Joplin area named Charlie Davis tried to explain to a local right-wing radio host what was the purpose of the radical amendment:

Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.

That last part, that part about an individual having the right to protect himself from an overextension of government, is what ran through my head when I heard the news about the cold-blooded execution of two policemen and a civilian in Las Vegas on Sunday. What Rep. Charlie Davis was advocating, when he implied that people should have the right to use weapons against over-the-limit government officials, sounds a lot like what people in the “sovereign citizen” movement are advocating: individuals are the final authority regarding any law created or any action taken by government, especially the federal government.

Let’s face it. Charlie Davis’ comments about using weapons “to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government”—comments he made not long after the freeloading rancher Cliven Bundy inspired militia freaks to come to his aid armed against the federal government—do not conflict with the philosophical views of Bundy or those two anti-government cop killers in Las Vegas. Here’s how the Las Vegas Review-Journal described the radicalized murderers:

Before going on a shooting rampage that left five people dead, including two Las Vegas police officers and themselves, Jerad and Amanda Miller displayed the classic ideological leanings of the anti-government patriot movement, according to nationally known experts who track extremist groups.

Their ambush of officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo was the latest in a growing number of shootouts, some deadly, between right-wing extremists and law enforcement authorities, the experts say.

“It’s showing no sign of slowing down,” said Mark Pitcavage, the widely known top researcher for the Anti-Defamation League. “It’s almost inevitable there will be more confrontations between right-wing extremists, and law enforcement needs to be prepared for that.”

I would like someone to explain to me how what Tea Party-loving Charlie Davis said is different from “the classic ideological leanings of the anti-government patriot movement” that inspired the two creeps who decided to go on a government-hating killing spree in Las Vegas, draping one of the police victims in the Tea Party-adopted Gadsden flag and pinning a note to the other police victim claiming that the killings were “the beginning of a revolution”?

Please someone explain to me how it is possible to neatly separate what Jerad and Amanda Miller believed about government from what so many Tea Party extremists say they believe?

Reportedly, a witness at Walmart, where Amanda Miller killed a civilian trying to stop her husband, said he heard Jerad Miller reiterate that, “This is a revolution!” If you go to YouTube and watch a two-minute tribute to the first Joplin Tea Party rally in 2009, you will see at the end of that tribute the following:

joplin tea party 2009

This isn’t unique to Joplin. We all know what language teapartiers have used throughout the presidency of Barack Obama. We’ve heard what the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys and countless others, including countless politicians, have said about what Charlie Davis called the “overextension” of government. I don’t have to dig up and publish all the ridiculous things that have been said. But what we all should understand is that a form of radicalism very close to the radicalism that infected the minds of murderous extremists like Jerad and Amanda Miller has become an important part of mainstream conservatism these days.

Facebook can reveal a lot about people and what is in their heads and where they are getting what is in their heads. Just look at some of the “likes” on Jerad Miller’s Facebook page:

National Rifle Association
American Patriot Media Network
Rand Paul 2016
Ron Paul
Allen West
Washington Examiner
Heritage Foundation
FreedomWorks
American Crossroads

Now, none of these people or groups—who are well within the mainstream of today’s Republican Party—obviously are directly responsible for what Jerad and Amanda Miller did on Sunday. What I am interested in pointing out is how the language and basic philosophy of the Tea Party movement, at least the most influential parts of it, is similar to the language and philosophy embraced by violence-prone haters of government, including the Millers, who were armed participants in the Bundy standoff against the feds and, like other right-wing extremists including Sean Hannity, considered the outcome a victory. In fact, Hannity, using his Fox program to promote Bundy’s efforts until Bundy revealed himself as a racist, defended his actions on behalf of Bundy by first condemning the rancher’s racism and then saying,

The ranch standoff that took place out in Nevada was not about a man named Cliven Bundy. At the heart of this issue was my belief that our government is simply out of control. 

You see? It is an out-of-control government that justifies the armed citizen response to what the Bureau of Land Management was trying to legally do to bring justice to Bundy—a response that caused a U.S. Republican senator to label those armed citizens “patriots.” If, as Hannity insists, the “heart” of the issue at Bundy’s ranch, where radicals were armed and ready to gun down federal agents, was a government out of control, then the heart of the issue in Las Vegas, at least for the two radicals who were armed and actually gunned down agents of the local government, was also a government out of control. There’s simply no way to separate the two, except that one was a potential tragedy and the other a real one. The underlying philosophical ideas are essentially the same: the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to protect themselves against overreaching government.

As for Charlie Davis, in a report he published about that radical and obviously unconstitutional nullification amendment to Missouri’s constitution (the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which barely failed in the last few minutes of this year’s session, but will certainly come back again), Davis called the legislation, “a crucial bill that prevents federal overreach.” He based his argument on some of the Founders who “were understandably wary of a centralized government with no checks on its authority.” Most notably, Davis quoted Patrick Henry:

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.

What can citing that quote in the context of the proposed “Second Amendment Preservation Act” mean, if it doesn’t mean that people have the right to use violence against the government, which ultimately means government officials? Again, I want you to carefully read what Rep. Charlie Davis said to a local radio station in defense of amending the Missouri constitution so as to nullify federal gun laws:

It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.

You tell me why Jerad and Amanda Miller couldn’t use that notion to support what they did a few days ago, so long as they believed in their own minds that government was overextending itself?

I’m not saying that those who believe in small government or fiscal restraint or an 18th-century concept of governance are to blame for what those two cop-killers did in Las Vegas. I’m not saying that conservatives or conservatism or any philosophical stance that advocates for shrinking the size of government, or for limiting the reach of government in our lives, are responsible for those violent extremists who take what they say seriously enough to arm themselves and begin shooting at the first agent of government they see. I’m not saying Charlie Davis endorses the killing of cops.

What I am saying, and I want to be clear about this, is that when contemporary conservatives and libertarians make an unmistakable connection between their small- and limited-government views and what some call “Second Amendment remedies”—using your constitutional right to possess firearms as a means of acting on your philosophical beliefs—then they are contributing to the environment in which people like Jerad and Amanda Miller think they are on the verge of a revolution to take their country back from people who believe in government and its role in our modern society.

In effect, marrying Second Amendment radicalism to the anti-government radicalism of the Tea Party, as, for example, local state representative Charlie Davis did, is part of a very serious problem we have in this country. Mixing gun supremacy with a philosophy that questions the legitimacy of government, again, as Charlie Davis did, should not be a philosophical concoction that Americans embrace in the 21st century.

But as the stunning and historic defeat last night of Tea Party-friendly House Majority Leader Eric Cantor demonstrated, there is an active, animated group of uber-Tea Party extremists who have taken over the Republican Party and who will, eventually, either ruin the party or ruin the country.

The man who defeated Eric Cantor is named Dave Brat, an economics professor at a private, Methodist-operated liberal arts college in Virginia. Let me give you a line from Brat’s issue statement on the Second Amendment:

The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution for a reason – it provides the people with the ultimate guarantee of sovereignty.

What can sovereignty mean in this context but “freedom from external control”? And what can it mean in this context but the right to use weapons against government officials who, in the opinion of the so-called sovereign individual, are exercising unlawful actions on behalf of the state?

Dave Brat also has an opinion on President Obama’s health insurance reforms:

Obamacare has proven to be an economically disastrous law and an unconstitutional power grab by our Federal Government.

Get that? The Affordable Care Act is an unlawful “power grab” by government. That opinion standing by itself isn’t all that remarkable or disturbing for a conservative-libertarian to hold. But mix that opinion with language that insists that unrestricted access to guns give individuals the “the ultimate guarantee of sovereignty” when they believe government is grabbing unlawful power, and you have, in short order, provided nourishment for cultural cancers, like the movement that infected the minds of Jerad and Amanda Miller.

The great Charles Pierce wrote a few days ago about the Millers:

…these two jamokes allegedly marinated themselves in the stew of guns and paranoia that bubbles daily in the conservative media from fringe radio hosts and chain e-mails all the way up to the polite precincts of the National Review Online and the Fox News Channel. That shouldn’t surprise us any more. The enabling of dangerous loons and the empowerment by firearms thereof is simply a staple of conservative politics in this country, yet another fetish object, yet another set of conjuring words for the conservative priesthood…

That is absolutely the truth of it, no matter how painful it is to admit it.

Along those lines, I want to note that I am the only one (as far as I can tell) who has publicly challenged Charlie Davis for what he said. I posted two pieces on this blog (including his lame response) and sent a letter to the Joplin Globe, which was published, along with another letter written by Anson Burlingame, who gave me credit “for posing a good question.” I essentially asked Davis, “what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty”?

Yet, I have not otherwise seen one word written in the local paper about the radical statement Davis made, nor have I seen an example of one local television or radio reporter asking him about it. And that tells you a lot about the quality of journalism where I live, and perhaps it says a lot about how so many people, including many journalists, have sort of become used to such radical statements since the birth of the Tea Party. As Charles Pierce says, this stuff does not surprise because it has become “a staple of conservative politics in this country.”

Remarkably, and sadly, it appears it is not newsworthy these days when a politician strongly implies that citizens unhappy with the reach of government can take the law into their gun-toting hands and execute their own brand of justice. But, at least for now, it is still newsworthy when some unhappy, and sociopathic, citizens actually do it.

The Speech President Obama Should Give—And Soon

My fellow Americans,

I want to be honest with you and tell you that I did not do as the law required and notify Congress 30 days in advance before I authorized the release and transfer of five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, as part of an effort to secure the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from nearly five years of captivity. But there is a reason for my failure to so notify Congress, and I want to explain why I did what I did, as well as explain to you what is happening to the conservative movement, and by extension the Republican Party, in this country, particularly as it relates to this whole episode.

The 2013 version of the National Defense Authorization Act is the law that specifies that I notify Congress well in advance of releasing anyone from the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But when I signed that bill into law, I noted that, “Section 1035…in certain circumstances, would violate constitutional separation of powers principles.” And this is one of those certain circumstances. I am the Commander in Chief and I have a solemn obligation to protect the interests of not only the country, but the troops we put in harm’s way. Securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl, which helps preserve a sacred tradition of not leaving any soldier behind, also helps the morale of the troops by letting them know, unequivocally, that their country will never forget them and do all that is possible to get them back home, if they are captured by the enemy. And this is irrespective of what they may or may not have done to be captured.

So, no, I did not give Congress the 30-day notice the law specifies, when I authorized the release of the detainees in Guantanamo, partly because Congress does not have the constitutional right to create a statute that restricts not just my own personal power as Commander in Chief, but any president’s power—Democrat or Republican—to do what I did in this case: secure the release of the last prisoner of war from our protracted efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by transferring Taliban detainees from Guantanamo. Whatever the young Bowe Bergdahl may or may not have done, it was necessary to act quickly to bring him home. It will be up to the Army to determine, after looking at all the facts, if any official action will be taken against him. But he will face American justice, rather than, as some commentators have suggested, have his fate determined by the Taliban.

I also want to note that in all likelihood, given that we are ending our combat efforts in Afghanistan and as a matter of international law, those five prisoners we released and transferred to Qatar would have to be released at some point in the near future anyway. Does anyone think that after we have essentially ended our part of the war in Afghanistan that we could indefinitely hold Taliban POWs that we captured on the battlefield? Does anyone think they could be tried in a federal court somewhere?

I also want to address another issue you might have heard discussed by the various pundits. Given all the criticism I’ve received regarding my alleged hypocrisy on the issue of signing statements and George W. Bush, I’d like to remind everyone what I said when I was running for this office back in 2008: “I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” In this situation, I am not doing an end-run around Congress. Congress, when it passed a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, was trying to do an end-run around the Constitution and the powers it exclusively grants to the executive branch. The Constitution is very clear that there is only one Commander in Chief.  And certainly no one could argue that a prisoner exchange, as we are winding down the longest war in our history, is not part of the powers inherent in a president’s role as Commander in Chief. Clearly it is part of those powers.

That’s not to say that I think the President of the United States is above the law. That’s not to say that I think I have unlimited powers to do whatever I want, even as Commander in Chief. But I do think that in this case, in the case of making sure we don’t leave behind one of our soldiers being held as a prisoner of war, I had the power to act without notifying or consulting with Congress.

Now I want to move on to what I consider to be a disturbing development, as far as the conduct of a lot of conservatives and Republicans these past several days relative to my decision to bring an American POW home. I don’t use the word “disturbing” lightly. What I have seen, what many of you have seen, should disturb every American who cares about the integrity and destiny of this country. This is serious business.

In 2009, not long after Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl was captured and a Taliban-produced video of him surfaced, a so-called strategic analyst for Fox News, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel—I don’t want to dignify him by saying his name—suggested on a Fox program that Bergdahl was a “liar” and that he was “collaborating with the enemy,” no matter whether he was “under duress or not.”  This Fox analyst went on to suggest that if the imprisoned soldier had deserted his unit, then “the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.” I think it is fairly clear the suggestion was that the Taliban simply kill this American soldier. Let me repeat that: the suggestion by an analyst on Fox News, a former soldier himself, was that the Taliban would do the country a favor by executing an American soldier. This reprehensible on-air conduct so outraged a group of congressmen that they sent a letter to the chief executive of Fox News demanding “an apology to PFC Bergdahl’s family and to the thousands of soldiers who put their lives on the line for our country.”

There was no apology. In fact, in recent days that same analyst has been on Fox saying even more reprehensible things, including attacking the mother and father of Bowe Bergdahl. It is clear from his past and present remarks that this Fox analyst has a profound hatred for me, and that kind of rhetoric sells very well on Fox News. But his past and present remarks about an American soldier, one who has been in captivity for almost five years, should be unacceptable for a paid contributor to a legitimate news organization. That his remarks are not unacceptable, that he still holds a job at Fox, should tell Americans all they need to know about that network and how far the conservative movement in our country has fallen.

But that isn’t all. If this kind of behavior were limited to a retired Army officer who despises me personally, or to a for-profit cable channel that traffics in all kinds of outlandish extremism about me and my administration, that would be one thing. I’m fair game. But it goes deeper than that. Almost the entire conservative movement in our country today has morphed into Fox writ large.  That movement, as well as many of the politicians it supports, has allowed its hatred for me to become so pervasive and controlling, that it poisons every position its members take, including their position on an American soldier held captive by our enemies.

Once upon a time there was a demand from the right that Bowe Bergdahl be brought home, that no soldier should be left behind. And when I did just that, suddenly Bowe Bergdahl is a traitor. Suddenly I should be impeached. If you think I exaggerate, you don’t know what is happening among a lot of people out there, many of them your neighbors with Twitter accounts. But it is more than everyday conservatives who are poisoned by disdain for me. Republican politicians are, too, or at least they are heavily influenced by the hatred of others in the conservative movement who find everything I do, no matter what it is, reprehensible.

I will tell you the truth. I never thought I would see the day when any American, not to mention a fairly significant group of conservative Americans—without knowing all the facts—would rather have one of our captive soldiers, a prisoner of war, executed by our enemies, or else left to rot under their control, than be brought home to face whatever consequences he deserves under our military justice system. I am appalled at such thinking, to be sure. But more than that I am worried about the collective mental and moral health of those Americans who call themselves conservatives today.  And I am worried about what the deterioration of the conservative movement means for our larger society.

I want to ask all Americans to think about what the strange reaction to the release of Bowe Bergdahl means for our national well-being. I am asking all of you to think about what the attacks on his mother and father say about many of our right-leaning fellow Americans and where they want to take the country. Something dark and ugly is emerging from a movement that has as its basis a very disturbing and pathological ideology.

Finally, regarding where we go from here, I will say that if Republicans in the House of Representatives don’t like what I have done relative to an American POW, if they don’t like the fact that I am preserving the doctrine of separation of powers rooted in our Constitution, they can impeach me. If they would have preferred that one of our soldiers die in the hands of the Taliban, let them say so openly. If they would have preferred that the America-hating Taliban execute justice for a young American soldier, let them come forth and speak boldly. If they want to critically damage the long and essential tradition of making sure our captive soldiers know they will never be forgotten by their country, then let them explain that to the American people, including to our troops and their families.  If that is the ground they want to stand on, let them stand. As the twice-elected Commander in Chief of the greatest military in the history of the world, I will also stand my ground, my constitutonal ground.

And welcome any impeachment proceeding.

________________________________

[AP Photo]

Reince Priebus’ Letter To Mr. And Mrs. Bergdahl

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl,

Hello. You probably don’t know me, but my name is Reince Priebus. I am head of the Republican Party, when Rush Limbaugh is off the air or under the influence of narcotics. I am the guy who, along with Mitt Romney, began exploiting the Benghazi tragedy before we even knew what happened or how many had been killed. I told the world how pathetic it was that President Obama “sympathizes with attackers.” Heck, I said that before I knew any of the facts. That’s how propagandistically efficient I am, when it comes to The Scary Negro.

Now, it has probably come to your attention that my party is pedal-to-the-metal exploiting the release from captivity of your son, Bowe. I heard a Fox host say this morning, with jubilation in his voice, that “This story is just getting rolling, really.” Isn’t it nice to have friends? And it isn’t just Fox. Today on MSNBC—Allah love ‘em!—the talk has been about how questionable it was for the President to do what he did to get your son back. You know, “Was it too much of a price to pay?” Or “Did Obama negotiate with terrorists?” and all that stuff. It’s a beautiful thing, ain’t it? We have spent years criticizing Obama for not calling this the War on Terror and when he obviously treats it like a real war, with POW swaps and everything, we get to criticize him for that, too! Awesome!

In any case, I wanted you to know why my party has no shame in using the occasion of your son’s release to slam him and the President, even if, like with Benghazi, we don’t have all the facts. Indeed, we have gone to a lot of trouble to provide the media with plenty of soldiers who knew your son and who say they are angry he was swapped out for five Taliban prisoners in Gitmo. And we are generating a lot of rumors and half- and quarter-truths surrounding the disappearance of your boy and the subsequent search for him. It doesn’t really matter what the facts are at this point, what matters is that we smear President Obama. And if that means ripping apart your son, so be it. I hope you know what I mean.

Look, we’re desperate. We’ve been out of power now for a long time. We have only received the majority of the popular vote in a presidential election once in our last six tries. And that year we only got 50.7% of the vote. So, perhaps you can see why we find it necessary to do anything we can to get back in power, including trashing your son and the President who secured his release. Yes, we know that normally we are rah-rah guys when it comes to the military. Normally we would cheer at the keeping of a long military tradition of not leaving any soldier, no matter the circumstances of his disappearance, in enemy hands.

But you have to understand that these aren’t normal times. And President Obama is not a normal president. He is a weak leader—we claim. We have to keep telling people how weak he is because if they ever stopped and thought about it, if they ever checked into it, they would begin to see that the President has been pretty damned tough on the international scene, especially when it comes to hunting down and snuffing out terrorists. Since he took office, he has killed all kinds of al Qaeda leaders. And I’m not just talking about Osama bin Laden. He has killed top al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Kenya, and elsewhere. At one point they were dropping like drone-dead flies. He’s been so good at it that left-wingers have compared him to Dick Cheney, for God’s sake!

And besides all that, there is a possible long-term upside to negotiating, directly or indirectly, with the Taliban. Maybe it will prove to be a useful thing in the future, as we pull most of our troops out of Afghanistan. Maybe it will prove to be a brilliant strategy that will help save lives over there and help us better manage the transition, even possibly reduce the intensity of the conflict. If that’s the case, it is even more imperative that we Republicans poison the well right now. Before Americans start thinking about the good that might—I said might—come.

Thus, you can see, I hope, that it was necessary to use the tragedy in Benghazi—oh, yes, we are still using it—to put doubts in the minds of the American people about this president’s leadership and that of his obvious successor, Mrs. Clinton. And, unfortunately for you and your soldier son, the release of Bowe Bergdahl is another opportunity that we simply couldn’t pass up. And this one is even better than Benghazi! Some journalists are already starting to talk about impeachment! That’s efficiency, I tell ya!

I do want to warn you about something, something kind of delicate. In the course of our campaign to exploit this incident, it will sound like we think President Obama should have let your son, the last POW from those interminable Bush-authored wars, rot in the custody of the Taliban. It will sound like we think the Commander in Chief should have said to hell with the long and nearly sacred tradition of “no soldier left behind” and let your son die in captivity. Well, not only does it sound like that, that is what our position entails.

You see, we can’t be happy that your son is back at home, no matter what he did or didn’t do. That would mean that we are happy that President Obama did what he did. And admitting that, Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl, will never happen. It just isn’t possible. It is not in my or the GOP’s DNA to give President Obama a jot or tittle of credit, no matter what he does. We can’t even credit him for good intentions. Hell, he’s in Europe right now, and if he decided to execute a flying forearm smash in the face of Vladimir Putin and take back Crimea single-handedly, you know what we’d do? We would have a segment on Fox five minutes later questioning whether flying forearm smashes erode the dignity of the office! More propagandistic efficiency!

Finally, I wanted you to know that there is a way of handling all this that might be good for everyone, depending on your politics. Your son, by some accounts (that we provided, of course!), was kind of, uh, different. He didn’t want to “drink beer or eat barbecue and hang out with the other 20-year-olds.” Apparently he spent a lot of time in his bunk reading books and “learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.” Someone said he “wrote Jason Bourne-type novels,” casting himself in the leading role. We know that you, as devout Calvinists, home-schooled your son and taught him “ethics and morality.” You said, “Bowe was definitely instilled with truth.” And that leads me to a little scheme I’ve been thinking about.

When your son finally comes home, maybe you can instill in him a new truth. One that would make your entire family heroes to all those who are bashing you guys now. It is simple really: Convince Bowe to say that, yes, he walked off his base. Yes, he was uncomfortable with the war effort. But the real reason he was uncomfortable with it, the real reason he left his fellow soldiers that day, was because he did not respect President Obama’s leadership. All he has to say is that the President was so weak as a Commander in Chief that he, Bowe Bergdahl, couldn’t take it anymore. He had to get away, even if it meant capture by the enemy.

If he says that, I guarantee you that I and Rush Limbaugh and other leaders of the Republican Party will forgive him—forgive you!—and welcome all of you back as patriotic Americans on a special one-hour Sean Hannity program. It is that easy. I promise.

Sincerely,

Reince Priebus

[Photo of Bowe Bergdahl provided by Bergdhal family, via Rolling Stone]

Guess Who Said About Climate Change, “The Most Relevant Question Now Is Whether Our Own Government Is Equal To The Challenge”?

captain planetLet’s play a guessing game on this historic day of addressing climate change.

Who said the following:

Whether we call it “climate change” or “global warming,” in the end we’re all left with the same set of facts. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.

Oh, come on. Guess. It shouldn’t be that hard. Here’s another one:

When we debate energy bills in Washington, it should be more than a competition among industries for special favors, subsidies, and tax breaks. In the Congress, we need to send the special interests on their way – without their favors and subsidies…

This one should give it away:

We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them. Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge.

Nope. It wasn’t Al Gore. Try again:

Like other environmental challenges — only more so — global warming presents a test of foresight, of political courage, and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next. We need to think straight about the dangers ahead, and to meet the problem with all the resources of human ingenuity at our disposal.

Of course it wasn’t Barack Obama! That would have been too easy. Here’s another one:

Some state local governments have already begun their planning and preparation for extreme events and other impacts of climate change. The federal government can help them in many ways, above all by coordinating their efforts, and I am committed to providing that support.

Give up? How about one more? Try this:

We know that greenhouse gasses are heavily implicated as a cause of climate change. And we know that among all greenhouse gasses, the worst by far is the carbon-dioxide that results from fossil-fuel combustion. Yet for all the good work of entrepreneurs and inventors in finding cleaner and better technologies, the fundamental incentives of the market are still on the side of carbon-based energy. This has to change before we can make the decisive shift away from fossil fuels.

Move away from fossil fuels? Huh? That has to be a wild-eyed lefty. Ding! Ding! Ding! You’re right, if you knew those quotes came from that old left-winger, John McCain. In 2008. When he was running for president. Back before Republicans and their sympathizers went completely nuts:

republicans and climate change

 

Missouri, And America, Apparently Need Some European Socialism

Everywhere you look, Republicans fear what they often call “European socialism.”

Here in Missouri, right-wingers, who dominate the legislature, are cutting taxes mostly for corporations and wealthy folks. And then they are asking voters to approve a regressive sales tax. They refuse to expand Medicaid (socialized medicine!) and give health insurance to folks who need it. Meanwhile, look at this:

When it comes to measuring health systems, Missouri is 44th among the states and the District of Columbia in terms of “access and affordability, prevention and treatment, potentially avoidable hospital use and healthy lives.” Get that? This state is almost at the bottom. The only states below us are Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. Think about that. Missouri isn’t that much better than Mississippi, in terms of our health system. Yikes. And people are dying because of it. The Commonwealth Fund estimates as many as “86,000 deaths a year would be avoided if some states improved their health systems.” Yikes, again. (For an “estimated impact of improving performance” for Missouri, go here.)

Mittens Romney tried to use socialism to scare Americans in 2012, when he told us that President Obama was “taking us down a path towards Europe.” Would that be so bad? some might ask, especially some in Missouri who don’t have health insurance. To answer that question, I will end with an extensive quote from a recent column by Robert Reich, in which he explained how bad the Canadians and Europeans have it:

Most of them get free health care and subsidized child care. And if they lose their jobs, they get far more generous unemployment benefits than we do. (In fact, right now 75 percent of jobless Americans lack any unemployment benefits.)

If you think we make up for it by working less and getting paid more on an hourly basis, think again. There, at least three weekspaid vacation as the norm, along with paid sick leave, and paid parental leave.

We’re working an average of 4.6 percent more hours more than the typical Canadian worker, 21 percent more than the typical French worker, and a whopping 28 percent more than your typical German worker, according to data compiled by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

But at least Americans are more satisfied, aren’t we? Not really. According to opinion surveys and interviews, Canadians and Northern Europeans are.

They also live longer, their rate of infant mortality is lower, and women in these countries are far less likely to die as result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

But at least we’re the land of more equal opportunity, right? Wrong. Their poor kids have a better chance of getting ahead. While 42 percent of American kids born into poor families remain poor through their adult lives, only 30 percent of Britain’s poor kids remain impoverished – and even smaller percentages in other rich countries.

With results like that, it is too bad that President Obama isn’t “taking us down a path towards Europe.” I know some folks in Missouri who wish he would.

“Until We Reckon With Our Compounding Moral Debts, America Will Never Be Whole”

reparation: the making of amends for wrong or injury done…restoration to good condition.

Dictionary.com

Late Wednesday night, I saw a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that linked to an article at The Atlantic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is the magazine’s national correspondent and a fantastic writer and thinker. And today I am going to ask readers of this blog to spend some time this holiday weekend and read the lengthy article, “The Case for Reparations.”

The reason you should read it is because it will enlighten you. It will make you think. It will make you smarter. It will tell you things about American history that a lot of people, particularly a lot of white people, either never knew or want to forget these days. It may even change the way you feel about the kind of commitment our 21st-century American society should make in order to attempt to right some of the wrongs that were done to African-Americans so long, and not so long, ago.

Coates explains in a blog post (“An Intellectual Autopsy”) that he has changed his mind about reparations. He once opposed the idea. Now, after doing a lot of reading and talking to people, and especially after spending a lot of time in Chicago (“where the history, somehow, feels especially present,” he says), he has changed his mind. When you read his essay, you will see why. Give it a chance. Take the time to read this amazing piece. And if you would be so kind as to give me some feedback as to what you thought about it, we can have a conversation.

reparations

The Tea Party Was The Big Winner Last Night

If you want to know how Republicans manage to keep winning elections despite what they have done to the country, you need look no further than this headline:

mitch mcconnell

That may be the dumbest headline in the history of journalism. But it serves the purpose of portraying Mitch McConnell and other Republican winners last night as being less extreme than those radical Tea Party nuts. And sadly that headline pretty much captures what passes for the common wisdom among “objective” pundits on television and in print—that the Tea Party went down to defeat in last night’s primaries.

Fortunately, the body of the story gets to the truth of the matter:

Republicans can outfox their own: Call it the Orrin Hatch Rule, named for the Utah senator who won a seventh term in 2012. When conservatives on Hatch’s right came out hard to defeat the veteran GOP lawmaker, he focused early to win their support. The same can be said for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who assiduously courted his Kentucky colleague (and Tea Party darling) Rand Paul and hired a campaign manager with Tea Party cred.

In other words, those “GOP incumbents” did not “beat” a bunch of rebellious teapartiers as that headline would lead you to believe. Those GOP incumbents actually joined the rebellion. Almost the entire Republican Party has joined the Tea Party. And if almost all Republicans are teapartiers, the rebellion is over and the rebels won.

The USA Today article pointed out what one of the most radical right-wingers in the country had to say about last night’s so-called defeat of the Tea Party:

Tea Party ally Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks for America, which was out to defeat McConnell, argues that conservatives won the war by getting mainstream Republicans to embrace their agenda. “It’s clear that there is a larger cultural shift happening here,” Kibbe said.

Here’s Kibbe’s entire statement from the FreedomWorks website:

When the establishment runs on our issues, it’s clear that there is a larger cultural shift happening here. Constitutional conservatives and libertarians are setting the agenda in the Republican Party.

Kibbe is exactly right. To give you an idea of how right he is, another right-wing reactionary named Erick Erickson, whose RedState site is as Tea Party as it gets, said the following after it was clear that Mitch McConnell would win last night:

I will proudly support Mitch McConnell. 

Proudly, he said. And Erickson started things off with a financial contribution to McConnell’s campaign. That coming from a creepy guy who once said the following:

A while back, Glenn Beck called Barack Obama a ‘racist.’ Given all the terrorists, thugs, and racists Barack Obama has chosen as close personal friends (see e.g. Rev. Wright), it’s not a stretch to say it.

And:

Is Obama Shagging Hookers Behind the Media’s Back?…I assume not. I assume that Obama’s marxist harpy wife would go Lorena Bobbit on him should he even think about it…

About the retirement of Supreme Court justice David Souter, Erickson, with all the class of a teapartier, chimed in with:

The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester ever to serve on the Supreme Court.

And my personal favorite quote from Erick Erickson is one that comports well with what a state representative from my neck of the woods said recently. Erickson didn’t like it when a county in Washington state banned certain kinds of dishwasher detergent:

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?…Were I in Washington State, I’d be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation.

That guy, that Tea Party asshole, will “proudly” give his electoral love to Mitch McConnell. And it is all because Mitch McConnell and so many other Republicans running for office have given their love to him and other right-wing radicals. They are all sleeping in the same bed.

So, no, Republicans did not beat back a rebellion last night. The rebellion ended a long time ago. The GOP is now the Grand Old Tea Party.

 

Democrats Should “Turn Up The Volume” On Social Security Expansion

My favorite U.S. Senator is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Not only does he look like Columbo, but he is as sharp as Columbo. And Greg Sargent quotes him today as being on the offensive on Social Security—a place where all Democrats should be.

Brown, who sits on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, knows that his Republican colleagues in the Senate are set to attack Social Security Disability Insurance. Fox “News” has already fired the first media shots by airing misleading segments on the alleged “Fraudulent Disability Claims Threatening Social Security Program.” The conservative media complex is following suit. The truth is that the only thing that threatens Social Security, whether it be the disability insurance portion or the retirement security portion, is the Republican Party. Brown says:

They want to separate “good” Social Security (retirement security) from ‘bad’ Social Security (disability insurance), to win support for structural reform. The attacks on disability insurance will accelerate. This is how they will try to back-door the dismantling of social insurance. But the public is with us on social insurance.

Sargent points out that Brown is “holding a Senate Finance sub-c0mmittee hearing tomorrow on the overall program” and that he thinks making Social Security an issue in the midterm election could benefit Democrats:

The electorate is older, so the field is fertile for Democrats to talk about this. We should turn up the volume.

Yes! A Democrat who gets it. But what does it mean to turn up the volume? Sargent explains:

Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. Instead of getting drawn into debates about “Chained CPI” and other entitlement cuts, Brown says, Dems should make the case that stagnating wages and declining pensions and savings demand an expansion of social insurance.

Playing offense is the only way Democrats can save themselves this year. But, more important, playing offense on social insurance programs is the only way to ultimately save those programs, particularly when they are under assault by right-wing austerity zealots.

As Greg Sargent notes, Sherrod Brown isn’t alone among Democrats who want to play hardball with Republicans on Social Security:

Two Democrats in tough Senate races — Mark Begich and Jeff Merkley – have already staked out aggressive postures on expanding Social Security. It’s also supported by Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin, and 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Who would have thought that at this point in the process, when many pundits and some polls predict a tough race ahead for Democrats, that our side, at least some on our side, are fighting for expansion—I said expansion!—of Social Security. Brown says:

Democrats win the argument by saying Republicans again are cutting taxes on the rich to deny Social Security beneficiaries the expanded Social Security they should get and have earned. Most of us should be willing to make that argument.

Most should. But will they?

Related to Brown’s be-aggressive campaign argument, I want to point out something amazing about the press, particularly about what conservatives call the liberal or “lamestream” media. Here is the headline from a recent Washington Post article on its latest poll:

Post-ABC News poll shows Democrats at risk in November as Obama’s approval rating falls

That sounds rather gloomy, no? Here’s the lede:

Democrats face serious obstacles as they look to the November elections, with President Obama’s approval rating at a new low and a majority of voters saying they prefer a Congress in Republican hands to check the president’s agenda, according to a newWashington Post-ABC News poll.

Man. That sounds terrible. Except that if you bother to read down to the fifth paragraph, you find this:

Democrats are not without assets as the midterm election campaigns intensify. Americans trust Democrats over Republicans by 40 to 34 percent to handle the country’s main problems. By significant margins, Americans see Democrats as better for the middle class and on women’s issues. Americans favor the Democrats’ positions on raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage and on the broad issue of dealing with global climate change.

That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Why couldn’t the headline have read, “Americans overwhelmingly trust Democrats to handle America’s biggest problems”? Or, “Americans overwhelmingly distrust Republicans to handle country’s biggest problems”? Either of those would have been at least as true as the headline that was chosen. So why wouldn’t the liberal lamestream media use one of those alternative headlines? Because there ain’t no such thing as the liberal lamestream media, that’s why. Republicans and right-wing pundits just pretend there is in order to put pressure on outlets to falsely “balance” the reporting.

Finally, since the Post article left out some of the numbers that demonstrate just how overwhelmingly people trust Democrats over Republicans on several issues, here are three sets of them for your encouragement:

abc poll

As you can see, Republicans trail Democrats by a bunch on some of the most important issues facing us. And these numbers show why Democrats should take Sherrod Brown’s advice and go hard after tax-cutting, Tea Party-drunk candidates and talk about expanding programs and opportunities for all Americans. If we stay on offense, we just might hold our own this November.

And even if we don’t hold our own, at least we will have gone down fighting for the right things.

Christians Using Homophobia To Colonize Africa

Let’s don’t now argue over whether Christianity is, on balance, good or bad for human societies. I can come up with pretty good arguments for both sides of such a debate.

And let’s don’t argue whether or not earnest followers of Jesus, especially those who energetically attempt to convince people that their version of Christianity is the Truth, mean to do good, to improve society, to make the world a better place. Let’s assume at this point that they have the best of intentions.

But let us take a sober look at one case in the world where we know, we absolutely know, that Christianity, in its American evangelical form, has done, and is still doing, a lot of harm.

Let’s look at Uganda.

You probably remember that in February of this year, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed “The Anti Homosexuality Bill” (that’s actually the title of the legislation) into law, which would criminalize “any form of sexual relations between person of the same sex” and would criminalize “the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations.” So, if you do it or get close to doing it, you’re in trouble. And even if you don’t do it but promote it or recognize it you still have a big problem.

I will spare you the definitional details written into the law about what constitutes sexual activity, but you should know that anyone who so much as “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality” can be convicted and thrown in prison, where we know, of course, there is no homosexuality going on. Serial offenders can get life sentences (that is an improvement over the original draft that called for the death penalty, which is why people like Rachel Maddow were calling it the Kill The Gays bill.)

And the crime called “promotion of homosexuality,” which includes anyone who “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices,” can also get you some time in the slammer.

Oh, I almost forgot. The authors of this totalitarian piece of legislation thought of everything. Don’t imagine you are safe if you are a Ugandan who has gay sex or promotes homosexuality outside of Uganda. The government may attempt to get you extradited so you can face justice at home.

Now, there is a long tradition of such anti-gay laws in most of the West. Ecclesiastical courts in Europe once handled such matters, since they were considered offenses against God. But starting with the “Buggery Act 1533,” passed by the English parliament during Henry VIII’s time on the throne, sodomy became a civil offense. And up until 1861 the punishment was death. These days most Western countries have done away with such laws in one form or another (the U.S. Supreme Court officially invalidated sodomy laws in 2003), but in some parts of the world, including in the former British colony Uganda, there is still fierce opposition to homosexuality.

According to the research firm Consultancy Africa Intelligence,

The majority of countries around the world that still criminalise homosexuality are former British colonies or territories.  Sodomy laws are a common feature in 16 of the 18 African Commonwealth nations.

Make no mistake about it, in Western societies and in the colonies and territories they used to control, the opposition to homosexuality was (and is) largely based on biblical literalism, the kind that has pretty much gone out of fashion for all but conservative brands of Christianity.  And those particular expressions of conservative Christianity are motivated by the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded true believers to,

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…

If that sounds like a form of Christian colonizing to you, you are not alone. Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest and human rights activist from Zambia who has documented the attempt by American evangelicals to portray homosexuality as “evil,” has claimed that what American conservative Christians are doing in Africa is essentially “colonizing African values.” He writes:

Over the decades, the U.S. Christian Right has invested vast resources in promoting their ideologies across sub-Saharan Africa through  schools, universities, and perhaps most visibly, in the  television empires of Christian Broadcasting Network  and Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Kaoma notes that we first saw the extent of such influence during the initial controversy, beginning in 2009, over the anti-homosexuality bill that Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed into law this year. Despite worldwide denunciation of the disturbing legislation, conservative Christians were successful in “painting LGBT-rights campaigners as neocolonialist intruders,” and eventually “anti-gay protests, policies, and violence increased.” Kaoma says,

Homophobia proved a powerful rallying point for many established leaders on the continent…These leaders found they could earn easy support from religious factions, while winning nationalist votes for denouncing the West as neocolonial.

God Loves Uganda trailer: http://ow.ly/l8WuaYou have to admit that the whole thing is pretty slick. The evangelicals are really trying to colonize African spirituality and morality by attacking homosexuality, but they are doing so by calling the defenders of human rights the real neocolonialists. And they are largely able to do all of this these days because of a coincidental relationship between African spirituality and American Pentecostal (called “charismatic” in many places) Christianity, which have in common the idea that religion is central to everything in life and that there are unseen forces at work around us at all times. When I was a Bible-believing Christian, I was part of the Pentecostal-charismatic-prosperity gospel movement and I understand what Kaoma means when he writes:

In Africa, Pentecostalism resonates with indigenous African religions and African-initiated churches holding strong belief in spirits and exorcism, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and convulsions when demons are cast out of people.

That explains why American Christians, especially those who believe that demon possession is real, are so popular in Africa and why their proposals to criminalize homosexuality and abortion, demonic to the core, are so popular. A Pew poll found that in Uganda, nearly half of the country has “experienced or witnessed the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.” Exploiting this ignorance, and then tying it to homosexuality (and abortion), is why that same Pew poll found that nearly 80% of Ugandans, for instance, think “homosexual behavior” is “morally wrong” (98% of Kenyans so think).

And that is why when the Ugandan president signed that notorious anti-gay bill this year, the Associated Press published the following photo of “Ugandan pupils from different schools” who were taking part “in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex”:

Uganda Gays

This sad picture, this sad picture that shows kids, African kids who have been brainwashed by American theological colonizers, celebrating a form of hatred is why we here in America must be diligent to, at every turn possible, aggressively challenge the kind of religious zeal and bigotry that leads to such misguided celebrations and such hatred.

In an article posted today at Vox (“The story behind how American Evangelicals exported homophobia to Uganda”), we learn more about one guy who is trying to make evangelical zealots uncomfortable. Roger Ross Williams, a filmmaker who has won an Academy Award, made a movie last year called “God Loves Uganda,” which Vox says,

tells the story of how Americans — both abrasive political leaders and fresh-faced kids from the Midwest — exported their anti-gay culture wars to Ugandan soil.

Those fresh-faced kids from the Midwest are affiliated with an evangelical Pentecostal-charismatic organization—headquartered here in Missouri—called the International House of Prayer, whose founder allegedly heard a voice that told him to raise up a work that will touch the ends of the earth” and who has had Apostle Paul-like experiences of visiting “the throne-room of God.” These are the kinds of people doing such disturbing things in Africa and elsewhere.

Roger Ross Williams says the anti-gay law in Uganda,

is incredibly popular because the Ugandan public has been mislead to believe homosexuals and homosexuality are a threat to their life. But actually, homophobia is the real western import starting with the first missionary and sodomy laws.

He was asked, “Do you really think the average American evangelical is a party to state-sponsored homophobia in Uganda?  He responded:

An American Christian does not want to condone violence or hatred, no matter if they believe something is sin or not. But we need to keep hate out of the collection plate, and challenge pastors: you might think you’re giving money to orphans, but make sure it’s not funding homophobia! Religion is the biggest business in Africa. It’s about exposing this to Americans so they can stop the flow of money to big, massive homophobic churches that throw hate rallies. This is the reality this is what it’s like over there.

I hope Williams is right about American Christians, that if they know what is really going on in Africa that they will “stop the flow of money” behind the homophobic hysteria and direct it toward more worthy efforts. But judging by the evangelicals I have known in my life, it will have to be the younger generation of Bible believers who put a stop to it.

Obama Policy On Ukraine May Be Working: “Putin Is Hanging Himself By His Own Rope”

Charles Krauthammer’s most recent column—which continues the weird conservative criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign on behalf of those kidnapped Nigerian girls—takes a shot at President Obama for doing little about “Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine,” what Krauthammer says is “the rape of this U.S. friend.” He accuses Obama of engaging in “rhetorical fatuousness.” 

The conservative columnist and Fox pundit is among many conservatives who think Obama is to blame for much of the Ukraine crisis and for Putin’s moves there. Senator Ted Cruz, echoing Krauthammer, said President Obama is “hiding behind diplomatic babble.” He told his fellow conservatives earlier this year:

When there is a vacuum of leadership in the world, it is not a good thing for America; it is not a good thing for freedom…What this administration doesn’t understand is weakness and appeasement only invites military conflict.

Hmm. Obama is standing by, weakly, as Russia rapes Ukraine and his weakness invites military conflict. Okay. Except that, so far, as Vox’s Max Fisher tells us, “Obama’s strategy of letting Putin hang himself is working.” Fisher writes:

obama putinThe official US position has been to threaten broader sanctions that seem unlikely to get the European support necessary to make them hurt, while arguing that Russia’s actions will be so self-defeating that the problem would just sort itself out.

It sounded silly, a shrug of a policy. And maybe it even was. But it also turns out to be working surprisingly well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has over-reached in Ukraine, creating problems for himself so bad that they may force him down as or more effectively than plausible American actions alone might have (although they helped). Putin is hanging himself by his own rope.

This has been so effective, and has apparently taken Putin by such surprise, that after weeks of looking like he could roll into eastern Ukraine unchallenged, he’s backing down all on his own. Official Russian rhetoric, after weeks of not-so-subtle threats of invading eastern Ukraine, is backing down. Putin suddenly looks like he will support Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election, rather than oppose it, although it will likely install a pro-European president. European and American negotiators say the tone in meetings has eased from slinging accusations to working toward a peaceful resolution.

As Fisher points out, Most of this is economic.” Global investors are backing away and “doing tremendous damage to Putin’s Russia, nudged along by the US and Putin himself.” While that phrase “nudged along by the US” isn’t likely to win President Obama any medals from Charles Krauthammer and Ted Cruz, it appears that Obama’s soberness, his careful nudging, his “hit singles, hit doubles” diplomacy is paying off. At the end of April, the President said this:

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.  Russia has never been more isolated.  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?

As of right now, Obama was right and his critics were wrong. Let’s hope it stays that way.

And speaking of his critics, not all of them were right-wing cheerleaders for cowboy diplomacy. At least one of them, the left-leaning mega-columnist for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, offered up some ridiculous criticism of President Obama’s diplomacy. In a piece titled as if to please Obama-haters on the right (“Is Barry Whiffing”), she wrote:

…you are the American president. And the American president should not perpetually use the word “eventually.” And he should not set a tone of resignation babe ruthwith references to this being a relay race and say he’s willing to take “a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf,” and muse that things may not come “to full fruition on your timetable.”

An American president should never say, as you did to the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, about presidents through history: “We’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

Mr. President, I am just trying to get my paragraph right. You need to think bigger.

An American president should never say, as you did Monday in Manila when you got frustrated in a press conference with the Philippine president: “You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”

Especially now that we have this scary World War III vibe with the Russians, we expect the president, especially one who ran as Babe Ruth, to hit home runs.

In the immortal words of Earl Weaver, the Hall of Famer who managed the Baltimore Orioles: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three-run homers.” A singles hitter doesn’t scare anybody.

It doesn’t feel like leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world…

What happened to crushing it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?

Maureen Dowd is one of those lefty pundits who every now and then needs to go against type in order to shock. That’s how she stays relevant, I suppose. But before she applies another baseball metaphor to foreign policy and diplomacy again, she should make sure she understands what she is talking about. She may long for a Babe Ruth Obama, but Ruth struck out 1330 times while hitting his 714 homers. And that doesn’t count all the other outs (4,196) he made in his 8,399 at bats. He failed to get a hit 66% of the time and failed to hit a home run more than 91% of the time.

And the world is just too dangerous a place, the lives of American troops are just too much to risk, on a commander-in-chief home run hitter, when we know that “swinging for the fences” will result in many more failures than successes.

 

Local Missouri Legislator Responds To Charge That He Apparently Condones The Use Of Violence Against The Government

Late last week I posted an email I sent to a local state representative named Charlie Davis. The issue was something Mr. Davis had said on a local right-wing radio station regarding a proposed amendment to our state constitution. Well, I heard from Mr. Davis on Monday.

For the purpose of tidiness, I will post my initial email to Rep. Davis, followed by his complete response, followed by my second email to him:

______________________________________

Representative Davis,

I heard you on KZRG this morning say the following about the proposed new amendment to the state constitution:

“It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Sir, I like to think of myself as one of those “common-sense folks” who lives here in Southwest Missouri. But I’ll be darned if I know what you meant by “overextension of government” in this context or exactly what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty. Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

_________________________________________

Mr. Graham,

I appreciate your email and also for you listening to ZKRG Radio [sic].  I will try to answer your email in as short of a response as possible.  I believe in accountability when it comes to ownership of guns.  Unfortunately it seems like we have been attempting to get law abiding citizens to be accountable and not the criminals.  We pass legislation in this country constantly that attempts to ban more and more items or actions, yet it is only the law abiding citizens that are effected.  Criminals do not follow or comply with the law.  We have had a ban on murder and rape since this country was formed yet criminals continue to commit these horrible crimes.  We have banned the sale of alcohol to minors, yet I can take you to places in our neighborhoods that these teenagers drink and party it up.  We have banned drugs of so many sorts yet we have a severe drug problem in our country.  Simply banning things is not the solution, changing hearts is.  We have to educate our children about the adverse effects of drugs and ensure they are informed and have the opportunity to make the right choices.  We have banned God and morality from our schools, not so much in our area, and kids don’t know right from wrong.  They are taught there are no moral absolutes.  Laws are not the solution, changing hearts is.

We have seen a huge push over the years to ban as many “styles” of weapons, ammo and accessories as possible.  Even here in Missouri, Representative Ellinger filed a bill requiring law abiding citizens to turn in their guns and magazines within 90 days or be charged with a felony.  Who would have turned in their guns?  Law abiding citizens? Criminals?  We know the criminals would not have.  One study indicates that ‘legal’ guns are used 2.5 million times per year to properly and lawfully protect citizens. There’s also a possibility of the gun itself being legal, licensed to someone, but the criminal carrying it had stolen it. Approx. 95% of “gun crimes” are performed with a gun that has been obtained illegally.. Therefore, gun crimes won’t really decrease by not allowing law abiding citizens to carry guns.  You mentioned in your email “a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty… Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.” I am a bit confused, I don’t remember saying we need to kill anyone.  We have a legal right to keep and bear arms, ammunition and accessories because I feel it is our Constitutional right, I never said  we should use them against a specific individual.  Peace through strength.  We have alarm systems in our homes and businesses to deter crime, that is why we put stickers in the windows and in the yard.  I do not like RAP music because of the degrading messages in just about every song but I do believe in the Constitutional right to free speech.  I simply educate my children in the content and they choose to not listen to it.  Education, that’s the key.  Educate our citizens about their responsibilities with the liberties and freedoms our Constitution protects.  Just because something is not against the law doesn’t make it ok to do it or right.

I hope this answers your question.

Regards,

 cid:image001.jpg@01CEA64A.B286C310

Charlie Davis
Missouri House of Representatives
District 162
Room 201BA
Phone: (573) 751-7082
cid:image002.jpg@01CEA64A.B286C310

_________________________________________

Mr. Davis,

Thank you for the timely and courteous reply. 

I will not attempt in this email to address some of the dubious claims you made (like, for instance, “We have banned God and morality from our schools…”). Rather, I want to follow up on the original reason I emailed you.

Your response ended with, “I hope this answers your question,” and I want to tell you that it certainly does not answer my question. In fact, with all due respect, your response seems to, purposely or otherwise, miss the point I was making by asking you the question in the first place.

You say you are “a bit confused” and that you “don’t remember saying we need to kill anyone” and that you “never said we should use [arms] against a specific individual.” Okay, let me attempt to make the issue clearer. No, you didn’t say we need to kill anyone. No, you didn’t say we should use weapons against any specific individual. Of course you didn’t put it that way. But what you did say is that we need to expand our right to keep and bear arms in this state, including the right to keep and bear ammunition, because we need arms and ammunition to protect ourselves “from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Now, presumably, if we are to use guns to protect ourselves from either individuals or from government (in context you were talking about the federal government), that suggests we may possibly have to do so by actually firing the weapons at real people, either individuals acting on their own or acting as representatives of government. We can’t always count on the mere brandishing of arms to do the trick.

I certainly understand what it means to use guns for protection against, say, someone who breaks into your home. I get that. Bang, bang! They’re dead. What I do not understand is what it means to use guns for protection against “an overextension of government.” That sounds a lot like what happened in this country’s Civil War or, more recently, what those Bundy-friendly folks in Nevada did when they chased away federal officials with guns. If that is what you mean, feel free to say so. If you think it is okay for citizens to ultimately settle disputes against the federal government by resorting to arms, admit as much.

But if that is not what you mean, if you really don’t think disputants have the constitutional right to shoot it out with the feds, please clarify what you said on KZRG. Please explain what it might mean to say that someone can use their right to bear arms against “an overextension of government” without actually having the right to fire on a government employee who is representing the interests of the government, of “we the people.” And please explain who gets to decide what “overextension” means.

Or you could simply say that you made a mistake. You could admit that you misspoke. You could tell Missourians that you did not mean to imply that they would—if voters approve the change to our state’s constitution that you champion—have the right to challenge the authority of the federal government by aiming at and, if necessary, shooting at one of its agents. That is up to you. But hiding what you mean behind a maxim like “Peace through strength” simply won’t do.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

Local Missouri State Legislator Apparently Condones The Use Of Violence Against The Government

A local right-winger, who happens to be a state legislator, was on the local right-wing-nut radio station this morning and was talking about a recent vote by our increasingly reactionary legislature to present to Missouri voters this November a new and potentially dangerous amendment to the state constitution. Before I get to what Charlie Davis, of Webb City, said, here’s how the Associated Press described the bill:

The amendment would define the right to bear arms as “unalienable” and require the state to defend against any “infringement” of that right. It would also include keeping ammunition and defending one’s “family” with a firearm as guaranteed constitutional rights.

The state constitution already protects the right to bear arms in defense of an individual’s home, property and person. Supporters contend the measure would force courts to use a higher standard of review when considering the constitutionality of gun controls.

Here’s part of what Representative Davis said on KZRG this morning:

Representative Charlie DavisIt gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.

Hmm. Our local right-wing talk radio jock didn’t bother to ask Mr. Davis what he meant by “overextension of government.” Maybe our local right-wing talk radio jock knew what Davis meant without asking. But I don’t know what he meant. Thus, today I sent the following email to Mr. Davis at charliedavis@cableone.net  and Charlie.Davis@house.mo.gov :

Representative Davis,

I heard you on KZRG this morning say the following about the proposed new amendment to the state constitution:

“It gives the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and also to have your ammunition and any other object that is a normal function of such arms. Because we see what the federal government is trying to do. They say, yeah, you have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. Well, for us common-sense folks here in Southwest Missouri, “keep and bear arms” means arms, ammunition, the things that you need to protect yourself from an individual or from an overextension of government.”

Sir, I like to think of myself as one of those “common-sense folks” who lives here in Southwest Missouri. But I’ll be darned if I know what you meant by “overextension of government” in this context or exactly what kind of overextension of government would justify a Missourian picking up a weapon and shooting and perhaps killing a government official doing his or her duty. Please enlighten me as to a specific circumstance in which you, a state legislator, would condone the use of violence against any government official.

Sincerely,

R. Duane Graham
Joplin, MO

 

Missouri’s Race To The Bottom Gets National Attention: “There`s No Liberal Or Progressive Opposition Really In This State.”

Regular readers know that I have tried, when my mental state permitted, to follow the race to the bottom between Kansas and Missouri. Each state is attempting to outdo the other, in terms of reactionary politics and bad governance. It’s very sad to watch.

Since nobody does it better than St. Rachel, I present the transcript (uncorrected) from her Wednesday show, which went into the god-awful details of what is wrong with not only this state, but so many red states across the country. Please read the following, but try not to get too damned depressed:

MADDOW: In the year 2008, the great state of Missouri got rid of its limits on campaign contributions. They said rachelanyone could give any amount for candidates and election issues in that state. And when Missouri made that issue in 2008, they got — drum roll, please — they got their own Missouri version of the Koch brothers or their own Sheldon Adelson, their own Art Pope.

Once Missouri said anybody could spend anything they wanted on Missouri politics, they got their own homegrown Missouri zillionaire who thought the policies of the whole s state should be remade in his own image. And this is a new species in American politics, right? Since we started getting rid of all the campaign finance rules. We`ve got these zillionaire guys, all of the country, a lot of them operating in national politics, some of them operating in just their home state.

But the one that Missouri got, he turns out to be a doozy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX SINQUEFIELD, RETIRED FINANCIAL EXECUTIVE: You know what, there was a column written, and I hope I don`t offend anyone, but a published column who was a farmer judge in Missouri. He now owns and writes for a newspaper in central Missouri called the un-terrified Democrat. What a name. And it`s is Osage County, Missouri.

And he starts off and it`s something like this. He said, a long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said, how can we really hurt the African-American children, l permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And when they designed was the public school system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That man`s name is Rex Sinquefield, he`s the conservative zillionaire trying to use his own money to remake politics in the great state of Missouri.

He made that remark on tape there in February of 2012 when he explained it must have been the Ku Klux Klan that invented the public school system to really hurt African-American children permanently. The Klan invented public schools. He said that in 2012. He later apologized for it, saying he was sorry for making that reference.

rachel 2But after Missouri got rid of its campaign finance rules in 2008, that guy`s money is the money that has absolutely dominated Missouri conservative politics ever since. “The Wall Street Journal” profiled him in 2012. Actually, it was a few months after he made the Klan comments. “The Wall Street Journal” called him one of the super PAC men, comparing him to Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers.

By then, by the fall of 2012, Mr. Sinquefield had already spent over $20 million of his own money, all in Missouri, all since they dropped the campaign spending limits in that state. So, just between 2008 and 2012, he had already dropped more than $20 million of his own money, with plans to spend a lot more.

And that kind of money goes a long way in a single state. He said at the time that his two priorities for things he wanted to change in Missouri, were schools, which again you heard him say he feared were invented by the Ku Klux Klan to enslave people, schools and taxes.
In 2012, he personally bankrolled a ballot measure that would have basically killed all income taxes in Missouri altogether. No more personal income taxes, no more corporate income taxes. It would get rid of taxes altogether in terms of income and replace them all with a sales tax.

He got — he was working on getting that in the ballot, and unfortunately for him, polling indicated that people in Missouri basically hated the idea. And when the polling turned out really bad for his ballot measure on getting rid of all income taxes, he pulled that ballot measure in Missouri.rachel 3

But at the time, he said he thought he might be able to get Missouri to get rid of all its taxes anyway, even without this ballot measure idea that he had that didn`t work out. And he thought he might be able to get it done in Missouri anyway, because of something that was going on next door in the deep read state of Kansas.

Kansas, you probably know is in almost Oklahoma territory when it comes to how red a state it is. In 2008, President Obama won a grand total of three counties in Kansas. In 2012, he won a grand total of two counties in Kansas.

In Kansas, the Republicans control the statehouse by an almost 3-1 margin. They control the state senate, 32-8, and, of course, the governor is a Republican as well. The governor is former U.S. senator and former Republican presidential candidate, Sam Brownback, who won election in 2010 by more than a 30-point margin in Kansas.

But now, even in a state that is that red, even after Sam Brownback won the governor`s race in 2010 by more than 30 points, Governor Brownback now looks to be at risk of losing his seat this fall. He`s up for re-election in November. He`s running against a Democrat named Paul Davis, who was one of those very few Democrats in the Kansas statehouse.

The Real Clear Politics average of polling on that gubernatorial race shows that Sam Brownback is basically within the margin of error. He`s within 2 1/2 points of this very little-known Democratic challenger he`s got.rachel 4

The last Public Policy Poll in Kansas was in February. It had Paul Davis beating Sam Brownback by two points. Kansas is so red that Attila the Hun ought to be able to win an election in Kansas if he only had an “R” listed after his name on the ballot.

Sam Brownback is apparently no Attila the Hun, because Kansas is against him. His approval rating as governor is hovering around 33 percent. You think in a state that red, President Obama would have a terrible approval rating, you`re right, he does a terrible approval rating in Kansas. But Sam Brownback`s approval rating is even lower than President Obama`s is.

And some of Kansas`s bad feelings about their governor may be about all the recent reporting on a big FBI investigation into Mr. Brownback`s inner circle in state politics, including his longtime chief strategist. The FBI is reportedly looking into whether there`s pay-to-play corruption around Sam Brownback`s way of governing in Kansas, whether lobbying dollars and campaign contributions have been leveraged or even coerced in an illegal way as Governor Brownback has pushed through his legislative priorities.

So, that may be part of it, those FBI stories. There have been no indictments or anything yet, so nobody really knows what that reported FBI investigation is going to come to.
But regardless of whether team Brownback in Kansas got their favored policies passed through some illegal means or not, we`ll find out when the FBI finally speaks about what they`re looking into, whether or not they got those things, the things they got passed, passed by illegal means, the fact is, they did get a heck of a conservative agenda passed. And Kansas really seems to hate that agenda. They seem to hate those policies.

Like, this is from the internals on that Public Policy Poll. “Do you think public schools in Kansas are adequately funded or not?” Not, by a 28-point margin.

“Do you think Sam Brownback`s tax plan has been successful or not?” Not, by another giant 21-point margin.

Kansas is under complete Republican control. It`s Sam Brownback in the governor`s office, Republican control in the House, Republican control in the Senate. Their entire congressional delegation is all Republican as well.rachel5

And even after they had that total Republican control, in 2012, Sam Brownback went on a campaign of cleansing fire and worked actively to get Republicans who weren`t conservative enough ousted from the state Senate. He got nine Republicans in the Senate replaced with more conservative Republicans.

He`s not only got complete control in terms of party affiliation, he`s got complete control in terms of conservative Republican affiliation. And with that complete control, he pushed through the most important item in his agenda for the state, the biggest tax cut in Kansas history. By some measures, it is the biggest tax cut of any state in America in multiple decades.

And when Sam Brownback pushed through that really radical tax plan in 2012 and popularity expanded it in 2013, that was the policy move that got Rex Sinquefield, the Klan-invented public schools guy in Missouri, that`s what got him so excited about what might be possible next-door in Missouri.

He called what Sam Brownback did on taxes in Kansas, he said, it was, quote, “unbelievably brilliant.”

Mr. Sinquefield said in “Forbes” magazine that Sam Brownback`s visionary leadership was, quote, “schooling Missouri on tax policy.”

Sam Brownback himself wrote an op-ed claiming that his biggest tax cuts in history would be a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy. And his biggest cheerleader, other than himself, was across the state line to the east in Missouri, this guy, Rex Sinquefield, who wanted Missouri to get rid of all of its taxes, too. And he thought Kansas` experiment, Kansas` Sam Brownback government experiment would go so well that Kansas getting rid of all of their taxes would be such an economic boon to Kansas that the state next door to the east would have no choice but to follow suit.

That was the thinking. And that`s how Missouri was going to get to zero taxes, by watching how wonderfully it worked out in Sam Brownback`s all-red Kansas. That was the plan.
Turns out what Sam Brownback did in all-red Kansas has turned out to be a disaster. In January, a big warning flare was fired by the nonpartisan research service from the Kansas legislature. They found that cutting all the revenue, cutting all the income out of the state budget meant — surprise, that there was no revenue in the state budget. There was a giant hole where the revenue had been. That was the official state report in January.

Then, in March, it got much worse, when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that by law, by the state constitution, Kansas needed to increase what was it was spending on public schools, where is that money going to come from.

And then, in April, there was a huge shock in Kansas state government when the state realized that it was going to be taking in almost $100 million less that month than it expected for the month of April.

Revenues were already down a half billion year to year since last year, and then, oops, in April, it turns out, another $100 million they thought they were getting, guess we`re not getting that. That was last month. That was April.

And then, last week, the real hammer fell, when the Moody`s credit agency downgraded Kansas`s bond rating, citing Kansas` relatively sluggish recovery compared with its peers and specifically calling out Sam Brownback`s magical thinking around these huge, unprecedented tax cuts, for which he apparently had no plan for the impact of. Quote, “Eliminating a tax that`s been in place for many years and has accounted for a large share of revenue entails risks,” says Moody`s.

So, Sam Brownback has created a mess in Kansas. And “The Kansas City Star,” they say he is suffering from a political brownout between the FBI investigation into his inner circle with and his right-hand man, forever, and into how he got all of these policies passed, the state bond rating getting downgraded, the governor`s plummeting popularity. They say, you take it all together, and this amounts to, quote, “new doubts about whether Governor Brownback`s ability to win a second term in a state that is as red as any in the nation.”

On the same day that Kansas got its bond rating downgraded, in the neighboring state of Missouri, the governor there, was named Jay Nixon, he vetoed a Republican proposal to cut Missouri`s taxes the way Sam Brownback cut Kansas` taxes. Missouri is one of the few states in the nation that has a solid AAA bond rating. Governor Nixon said, listen, we`re not going to jeopardize that by doing something as reckless as what Kansas just did when they flushed their economic prospects down the toilet with a tax thing like this. Jay Nixon said Missouri Republicans are, quote, trying to follow Kansas down the fiscally irresponsible path. He said he would not stand for it and he vetoed the Republican tax cut proposal in Missouri.

But now, now, Missouri Republicans overrode that veto. They have thereby forced through a Kansas-style fiscal disaster plan for the neighboring state of Missouri.

Even with a Democratic governor, Missouri has taken a real right turn under the tender ministrations and the tens of millions of dollars of Rex Sinquefield, right? The well-funded, newly emboldened Republicans in the state of Missouri, they blocked Medicaid expansion, which led to this dramatic protest in the state capital yesterday. The protesters actually shut down business in the state senate over the Medicaid decision.

rachel 6Republicans in Missouri are trying to enshrine strict scrutiny for gun rights into the state constitution. And that may not sound like much, but that is such a fundamentalist approach to gun rights that it has really wide implications that have scared other states that have tried this. But Missouri is steaming straight ahead to put that in their state constitution.

Missouri is down to one last abortion clinic in the entire state. This year, Republicans in the Missouri legislature introduced 32 separate pieces of legislation against that one clinic. They`ve got one abortion clinic left, 32 bills this session to try to shut down or curtail the activities of that one last clinic.

With no campaign finance limits anymore and with an eager conservative godfather funding every step they take further to the right, Missouri is doing everything it can to try to turn itself into a deep-south style red state, but with what they just did on this tax issue, did they just make a decision to follow Kansas off the cliff?

Joining us now is David Helling, political reporter for the “Kansas City Star.” Mr. Helling, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate your time tonight.

DAVID HELLING, KANSAS CITY STAR: Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, what did push Missouri lawmakers to proposal these very, very deep tax cuts, even as Kansas was really flaming out because of them?

HELLING: Well, part of it is Rex Sinquefield, as you suggest. He`s been heavily involved for years, Rachel, in trying to push a no-income tax agenda in the state of Missouri, as you suggest. He`s tried to get that on the ballot. He`s really a supporter of turning to sales taxes instead of income taxes.

But part of it is just philosophy. Missouri, as you also point out, really had a choice about ten years ago, will we be Arkansas and Mississippi, or will we be Iowa and Minnesota? Missouri, as you might know, is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in most
years and then about 10 years ago, it started its slide into conservatism and it is firmly there now.

So, you put that sort of ideological approach together with Rex`s money and you get what you got this week in the legislature.

MADDOW: In terms of that path, that sort of decade-long path that you just described there, is there any equivalent force on the left or to strengthen the Democrats` hand in Missouri? Is this a transformation that`s really taken place entirely within conservative politics? Is there any counter-game?

rachel 7HELLING: Democrats have a role in Missouri, unlike Kansas where they`re virtually nonexistent. Democrats in Missouri do have some voice. Claire McCaskill, of course, is the senator, Jay Nixon the governor, both Democrats.

Republicans have not done extremely well at the statewide level. They lost the race for governor. They do have the lieutenant governorship in the state. But Democrats in Missouri have a unique challenge. They must appeal — if they are to win, they must appeal to rural voters as well as urban voters in Kansas City and St. Louis and to some degree in Columbia, in Jeff City. So, even people like Claire McCaskill and Jay Nixon strike a populist, conservative, in some senses, moderate tone with voters in the state.

There is no real — with one or two exceptions, there is no real progressive movement in the state, and that showed up in the last state elections for the legislature, the House and the Senate. Jay Nixon has virtually no working ability in that statehouse at all, Rachel, owner to
sort of convince lawmakers by the sound of his voice, to change their views. And they often listen to Rex Sinquefield, the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, also has a heavy presence in Missouri, as well as Kansas.

So, those are the voices they hear. There`s no liberal or progressive opposition really in this state.

MADDOW: I feel like I have heard that, really, just in my observations of Missouri politics, particularly with Claire McCaskill on the federal level. I continue to believe that she would make a very credible national level candidate for the Democrats.

Not because I agree with her on lots of policies. She`s nowhere near liberal like I am, but simply because she does talk in populist terms, very central terms, and she`s made that case, I think it was the Missouri Democrat way of talking to a big, broad audience.

And that`s why I was so surprised to see Governor Nixon making this case. Hey, we can`t do this. They just got their bond rating downgraded. We`ve got a AAA bond rating, we`ve got to hold on to that. That seems to me like sort of the ultimate fiscal conservative, centrist, kumbaya message, and yet, it just didn`t go anywhere.

HELLING: Right, and for that matter, Jay Nixon is a big fan in some instances of tax credits, tax breaks for big business. He tried to get the Boeing plant to come to St. Louis. He offered a huge package of tax breaks for that. He gave incentives to the auto companies to stay in the state, Rachel.

Again, that`s kind of a traditional country club banker Republican mentality. Give big incentives to big business to create jobs. That`s his approach. Again, he gets a bit of a pass, because Missouri is just that kind of a state. It`s hard to believe that an out-and-out progressive liberal candidate has any chance at the statewide level, and I think Jay Nixon senses that.

Now, a lot of — he`s not really popular among some Democrats. For example, he`s had a sort of a low-level feud with McCaskill for years about who really control s the party in the state. And Jay Nixon, to a degree, like McCaskill, really looks out for himself. You know, his own re-election is more important than electing more Democrats to the legislature so you wouldn`t have to go through what he just went through.

That`s a criticism you`ll hear of Jay Nixon. But, again, there may be a lot of self-preservation in that. Missouri, as I suggested, and as you suggested as well, is much more Southern in its approach to politics than it is industrial Midwest or in north of the state border.

MADDOW: And as you point out, that was a choice. That outlook was a choice and it has been a fascinating transformation to watch.

Dave Helling, reporter with the “Kansas City Star” — I really enjoyed your reporting on this, Mr. Helling. Thank you fore being here. I appreciate it.

HELLING: You bet. My pleasure.

Conservative Justices Rewrite The Meaning Of Government-Sanctioned Prayer

First, a little story:

Two neighbors lived peacefully in a small town. One was a committed atheist and the other a committed evangelical Christian.

It happened that the atheist needed an important favor from his Christian neighbor. The atheist asked if he might come over to the Christian’s house and talk to him about it. “Sure,” said the Christian, “be here tomorrow at 10 o’clock. But I want you to know that I will have a preacher here when you come.” The atheist thought about it for a minute. Did he really want to endure the presence of a preacher? Did he really want to subject himself to what he knew was coming? But the favor he needed was so important that he thought it would be worth it. “Okay,” said the atheist, “I’ll be there.”

The atheist arrived at the Christian’s house on time and was welcomed inside. Before the two neighbors talked about the great favor the atheist needed, the Christian asked the preacher to pray. Here’s what the preacher began to pray:

Heavenly Father, please bless these two men and give them wisdom to do the right thing today. We recognize that your son Jesus came to save us from all unrighteousness and we thank you for sending him to die on the cross for us. 

Obviously the atheist was very uncomfortable with the preacher and his prayer. It offended him and made him sort of feel hypocritical and it also served to bully him. But he needed a big favor and he dare not show his discomfort or disapproval for fear that his Christian neighbor would hold it against him and not grant his request. So, being a practical atheist—he rationalized that his neighbor was a true believer and no amount of objections to the preacher or the prayer would change his mind anyway—he kept his head bowed and his eyes closed and, more important for the task at hand, he kept his mouth shut. The preacher finished: “In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”

The atheist eventually received the favor he sought.

It so happened that the Christian neighbor was also a member of the local city council. And it so happened that some time later our atheist neighbor was scheduled to appear before the council in order to request final approval of a zoning change for some property he owned. And, of course, it happened that when the atheist showed up for the city council meeting he had to endure yet another Christian preacher who opened the meeting by asking everyone, including the atheist, to stand and pray with him. Here was the prayer:

The beauties of spring are an expressive symbol of the new life of the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to the apostles at Pentecost so that they would be courageous witnesses of the Good News to different regions of the Mediterranean world and beyond. The Holy Spirit continues to be the inspiration and the source of strength and virtue, which we all need in the world of today. And so I pray this evening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the city council meets.

After the prayer, some of the council members, along with some of the gathered citizens, made the sign of the cross, and there was a collective “Amen.”

Now, there are two different endings to this story. You decide which one is more likely in the real world, given the circumstances:

FIRST ENDING

“Dammit!” said the atheist to himself, “It is one thing to tolerate my neighbor’s religiosity in his own house, but it is quite another to tolerate such religiosity in this the people’s house. This is as much my government as it is any Christian’s! And I shouldn’t be subtly coerced into participating in this nonsense.”

Thus, the atheist objected to the prayer before he made his appeal to the city to rezone his property and went home to await the results.

SECOND ENDING

“Dammit!” said the atheist to himself, “It is one thing to tolerate my neighbor’s religiosity in his own house, but it is quite another to tolerate such religiosity in this the people’s house. This is as much my government as it is any Christian’s! And I shouldn’t be subtly coerced into participating in this nonsense.”

But, the atheist thought, “If I object to the prayer I might piss off the council members, all of whom profess some kind of Christianity. And I really need that zoning change.” So, the atheist sat there quietly and reverently and kept his mouth shut about the prayer. He made his zoning appeal and went home.

Question: Should the city council be allowed, under our Constitution, to open its meetings with the kind of prayer quoted above?

Answer: Yes! Or so saith five conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway

catholics on courtThis week we found out how important it is that Democrats never lose another presidential election and the accompanying privilege of appointing Supreme Court justices. The Court, peopled by five conservative Christians appointed by Republicans, ruled, by a 5-4 margin, that explicitly Christian prayers (the second prayer I used in my hypothetical story is almost identical to one cited in the opinion) are appropriate for opening local town and city council meetings across the country and do not represent “an unconstitutional establishment of religion.” 

In the main majority opinion, one among many opinions in this case, we find that the supposed purpose of the prayers “is largely to accommodate the spiritual needs of lawmakers and connect them to a tradition dating to the time of the Framers.” As strange as that notion sounds to people who live in an age in which a lot of our horrible traditions have been eradicated (should we accommodate the need for someone to “connect” with the tradition of slavery or Jim Crow, for instance?), we also find a strange dismissal of the kind of intimidation that our atheist friend felt in my little story above:

The analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the five catholicsprayer opportunity. No such thing occurred in the town of Greece. Although board members themselves stood, bowed their heads, or made the sign of the cross during the prayer, they at no point solicited similar gestures by the public. Respondents point to several occasions where audience members were asked to rise for the prayer. These requests, however, came not from town leaders but from the guest ministers, who presumably are accustomed to directing their congregations in this way and might have done so thinking the action was inclusive, not coercive… Respondents suggest that constituents might feel pressure to join the prayers to avoid irritating the officials who would be ruling on their petitions, but this argument has no evidentiary support. Nothing in the record indicates that town leaders allocated benefits and burdens based on participation in the prayer, or that citizens were received differently depending on whether they joined the invocation or quietly declined. In no instance did town leaders signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished. A practice that classified citizens based on their religious views would violate the Constitution, but that is not the case before this Court.

You see, if no town council member explicitly said that, say, a rezoning request was rejected because of a failure to participate in a public prayer, then the possibility of such a thing happening is not worthy of consideration. Apparently the majority on the Court assumes that a Constitution-offending city council would vote to turn down a proposal and then attach language to it that said, “We reject it because the applicant is an atheist.” Maybe there are a few public servants dumb enough to do such a thing, but not many.

But more than that, the majority completely dismisses the idea of the subtle form of coercion involved, especially when the Christian prayers are offered again and again as a matter of established practice. Our atheist friend, who thinks the entire enterprise of religious belief is City Council Meeting -Prayer 13-264.jpgnonsensical, nevertheless knows that if he were to object to the pre-meeting prayer, or merely sit quietly while others are standing during the utterance or offering “Amens” at the end, that his request for rezoning might not be seen in a favorable light by the Christian council members. That isn’t an unreasonable assumption. It’s certainly one that can be justified, knowing what we all know about human behavior. But the Court’s conservative Catholic majority said that because town leaders did not openly “signal disfavor toward nonparticipants or suggest that their stature in the community was in any way diminished,” that there was nothing to worry about.

Worse still, the two extra-extreme extremists on the Court, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia (who can’t even remember the meaning of his own opinions), went further and dismissed the legitimacy of coercion in these circumstances. Thomas wrote:

Thus, to the extent coercion is relevant to the Establishment Clause analysis, it is actual legal coercion that counts-not the “subtle coercive pressures” allegedly felt by respondents in this case…The majority properly concludes that “[o]ffense . . . does not equate to coercion,” since “[a]dults often encounter speech they find disagreeable[,] and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum.” [...] I would simply add, in light of the foregoing history of the Establishment Clause, that “[p]eer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion” either.

I find that a breathtakingly naive understanding of human nature, or a mind-blowing misrepresentation of how the real world works. Peer pressure by definition is a subtle form of coercion. In fact, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

Peer pressure is influence that a peer group, observers or individual exerts that encourages others to change their attitudesvalues, or behaviors to conform [to] the group norms

Here’s Dictionary.com’s definition:

social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.

Yet, we have judges sitting on the highest court in our land who have, or pretend to have, no understanding of what peer pressure means or how powerful a force it can be in certain situations.

Writing for the four dissenters, Obama-appointed Justice Elena Kagan (herself a Catholic) presented her own hypothetical cases involving such peer pressure:

A person goes to court, to the polls, to a naturalization ceremony—and a government official or his hand-picked minister asks her, as the first order of official business, to stand and pray with others in a way conflicting with her own religious beliefs. Perhaps she feels sufficient pressure to go along-to rise, bow her head, and join in whatever others are saying: After all, she wants, very badly, what the judge or poll worker or immigration official has to offer. Or perhaps she is made of stronger mettle, and she opts not to participate in what she does not believeindeed, what would, for her, be something like blasphemy. She then must make known her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations. And so a civic function of some kind brings religious differences to the fore: That public proceeding becomes (whether intentionally or not) an instrument for dividing her from adherents to the community’s majority religion, and for altering the very nature of her relationship with her government.

That is not the country we are, because that is not what our Constitution permits. Here, when a citizen stands before her government, whether to perform a service or request a benefit, her religious beliefs do not enter into the picture…The government she faces favors no particular religion, either by word or by deed. And that government, in its various processes and proceedings, imposes no religious tests on its citizens, sorts none of them by faith, and permits no exclusion based on belief. When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceedingI could go on: to a zoning agency, a parole board hearing, or the DMVgovernment officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americansnone of them different from any other for that civic purpose. Why not, then, at a town meeting?

Why not? Because five conservative Christians on the Court said it is okay for local municipalities to essentially endorse Christianity by repeatedly invoking the name of Jesus at official government meetings. That’s why not.

[Photo credit: Laura Greene/HPE (city council at prayer)]

The Fight Against Oligarchy: “Don’t Give Up Hope On This”

Recently a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota (unfortunately Democrat Tim Johnson is retiring), a doctor of medicine for God’s sake, posted on her Facebook page the following viral image with a typical Tea Party message:

How hilarious. A real knee-slapper.

That a doctor, who says that “God is calling her to serve a higher purpose and to fight back against an intrusive federal government,” would subscribe to such stupidity—military families are increasingly using food stamps and 83% of the money spent on the food stamp program goes to households with “a child, an elderly person or a disabled person”—says either a lot about the God she worships or about the God she wants to worship or about how evangelical Christianity mixed with Republican politics can stain the mind with a glorious Technicolor of ungodliness.

Sadly, the idea behind that viral message is shared not only by a lot of Republican candidates and politicians holding office, but a lot of average folks, some of whom benefit from government programs, like the food stamp program, and some of whom will not walk but run to a polling place in November and gladly vote for people like this doctor-candidate in South Dakota.

Why is that?

Let’s start with Thomas Piketty, whose 700-page book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” is all the rage. Piketty’s book, which essentially is a look at the changes in the concentration of wealth over time, has surprised a lot of people, including the venerable liberal economist Paul Krugman. Here’s what he said to Bill Moyers (I highly recommend watching or reading the entire interview):

BILL MOYERS: Inequality’s been on the table for a long time. You’ve written extensively, others have, too. I mean, it’s a familiar issue, but what explains that this book has now become a phenomenon?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Actually, a lot of what we know about inequality actually comes from him, because he’s been an invisible presence behind a lot. So when you talk about the 1 percent, you’re actually to a larger extent reflecting his prior work. But what he’s really done now is he said, “Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on. You’re living in the past. You’re living in the ’80s. You think that Gordon Gekko is the future.”

And Gordon Gekko is a bad guy, he’s a predator. But he’s a self-made predator. And right now, what we’re really talking about is we’re talking about Gordon Gekko’s son or daughter. We’re talking about inherited wealth playing an ever-growing role. So he’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth, “patrimonial capitalism.” And he does it with an enormous amount of documentation and it’s a revelation. I mean, even for someone like me, it’s a revelation.

BILL MOYERS: I was going to ask, what could– what has Paul Krugman had to learn from this book?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Even the title, the first word in the title, “capital.” We stopped talking about capital. Even people like me stopped talking about capital because we thought it was all about human capital. We thought it was all about earnings. We thought that the wealthy were people who one way or another found a way to make a lot of money.

And we knew that that wasn’t always true. We knew that in the Gilded Age or in the Belle Époque in Europe, which he prefers to talk about. That high incomes were mostly a result of having lots and lots of assets. But we sort of said, “Well, that’s not the way things work anymore.” And he says, “Oh yeah? It turns out that you’re wrong.” That’s true, that right now, a lot of high incomes in America are people who didn’t start out all that rich. But we’re rapidly moving towards a state where inherited wealth dominates. I didn’t know that. I really was– I should’ve known it. I should’ve thought about it, but I didn’t. And so then here comes this book with– I mean, it’s beautiful– absolutely analytically beautiful, if that makes any sense at all.

BILL MOYERS: As you know, I’m no economist, but I found this book, as I said in the opening, just very readable and suddenly there would be this moment of epiphany.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah, it’s a real “eureka” book. You suddenly say, “Oh,
this is not– the world is not the way I saw it.” The world in fact has moved on a long way in the last 25 years and not in a direction you’re going to like because we are seeing not only great disparities in income and weakrugman on moyerslth, but we’re seeing them get entrenched. We’re seeing them become inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagine we’re nothing like.

BILL MOYERS: Here’s Piketty’s main point: capital tends to produce real returns of 4 to 5 percent, and economic growth is much slower. What’s the practical result of that?

PAUL KRUGMAN: What that means is that if you have a large fortune, or a family has a large fortune, they can — the inheritors of that large fortune — can live very, very well. They can live an extraordinary standard of living and still put a large fraction of the income from that fortune aside and the fortune will grow faster than the economy.

So the big dynastic fortunes tend to take an ever-growing share of total, national wealth. So once you– when you have a situation where the returns on capital are pretty high and the growth rate of the economy is not that high, you have a situation in which not only can people live well off inherited wealth, but they can actually pass on to the next generation even more, an even a higher share.

And so it’s all, in his terms, “r” the rate of return on capital, and “g” the rate of growth of the economy. And when you have a high r, low g economy [r > g], which is what we now have, then you’re talking not– you’re talking about a situation in which dynasties come increasingly to increasingly to dominate the top of the economic spectrum and a tiny fraction of the population ends up very dominant.

Not only does that “tiny fraction of the population” dominate the economic spectrum, but those same folks are dominating the media, with messages like the one spread by our Christian Republican candidate in South Dakota. Krugman says that,

…there’s a very effective apparatus of TV and print media and think tanks and so on who hammer against any suggestion of redistribution. It’s just, they’ve managed to convince a lot of people that it is somehow un-American.

Which actually, if you look at American history, that’s not all true. But they– it’s just been pushed very hard. I think also the United States, look, we have to admit, race is always lurking under almost everything in American life. And redistribution in the minds of a lot of people means taking money from people like me and giving it to people who don’t look like me…

That media “apparatus” is how a lot of people, who are either benefiting from government programs or who would benefit from an expansion of government programs, become sympathetic to that “don’t feed the humans because they’ll grow dependent on government” meme represented by that ridiculous viral image spread by a doctor who wants a seat in the U.S. Senate. Average folks are being manipulated by the moneyed class, a class of people who somehow feel oppressed:

BILL MOYERS: You wrote something the other day that’s hard to forget. You said, “We live in such an ugliness in America right now.”

PAUL KRUGMAN: Yeah. This is one of the things that puzzles me actually about my own country, which is it’s one thing to have disparities of income and wealth and to have differing views about what we should be doing about it. But there’s a level of harshness in our debates mostly coming from the people who are actually doing very well.

So, you know, we’ve had a parade of billionaires whining about being– you know, the incredible injustice that people are actually criticizing them. And then comparing anyone who criticizes them to the Nazis. You know, it’s almost a tic that they have. This is– this is very strange. And it’s kind of scary because, you know, it’s one thing if someone without a lot of power seems to be going off and into a rage for no good reason. But these are people who have a lot of influence because of the amount of money they control.

Influence. Money buys influence. It always has and, thanks to the Supreme Court, it can buy more influence than ever. Here is one definition of influence:

the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something…

That is why we find so many average people supporting candidates who perpetuate such hateful nonsense about food stamps and government dependency—and who perpetuate the myth that we all can have the American Dream, if we’ll just keep working our asses off at two or three jobs and keep our heads down and our mouths shut. These average folks are actually doing the bidding of billionaires.

Obviously, if the rich have the means and the permission to buy tons of influence and thus effect the “character, development, or behavior” of people, the very idea of democracy is undermined. If what we see going on right before our eyes continues, we are just kidding ourselves that “we the people” actually rule.

But regular readers know that I try to find hope in and for the future and refuse to say that all of this depressing stuff dooms us forever. Refreshingly, Paul Krugman does the same:

BILL MOYERS: Given what you just said and given the fact that there’s this ugliness, what do you think it’s going to take? A mass uprising? Consistent demonstrations? Insurgent politics? How are we going to stem the tide that he says is taking us into oligarchy?

PAUL KRUGMAN: There’s a negative and there’s a positive take. Piketty argues — seems to argue through much of the book that we only escaped the old oligarchy for a while thanks to really disastrous events. Thanks to wars and depressions, which disrupted the system. That’s an argument you can make.

On the other hand, if you read histories of the New Deal, you know that it didn’t come– it didn’t spring out of nowhere. That we had a progressive movement and a lot of proto New Deal programs building for quite a long time.

There was, in fact, a move in America. There was an increasing political, philosophical readiness to take on inequality of wealth and power long before FDR moved into the White House. And so, I think there are better angels of our nature. That there is this ugliness which can be frightening. But there is also a redemptive streak in — here and in other places.

And that– don’t give up hope on this. That given consistent argumentation, given events, and perhaps you know, as people become more aware of what is actually going on, then there is a chance of changing things. Do we know that? No. But there’s nothing in what we know now that says you should give up hope of being able to change this even without a catastrophe.

If it is any consolation, and I admit it isn’t much, the doctor in South Dakota who posted that ignorance-inspired message on Facebook is losing in the polls. The problem is she is losing to a Republican man who will likely be the next U.S. Senator from South Dakota, former governor Mike Rounds, who right-wingers are accusing of being a RINO on repealing the Affordable Care Act, and who said in response,

Obamacare is bad for the country and I have always opposed it.

I didn’t say it would be easy to keep hoping.

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Another Erstwhile Conservative Exclusive: The Devil On Oklahoma’s Death Penalty Debacle

The devil was kind enough to take time away from his busy schedule to sit down with me for a short discussion on Oklahoma’s hurry-up-and-kill-‘em execution fiasco. Here’s the unedited transcript:

THE ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: Thanks again for making time to talk about this important topic.

SATAN: No problem. I was here in your state anyway.

TEC: Oh, yeah? Why?

SATAN: I had some work to do in Jefferson City. Here, let me read to you what I got done yesterday: “Missouri senators have passed legislation that seeks to nullify some federal gun laws and punish federal agents who enforce them.” Isn’t that awesome? I’m pretty proud of that.

TEC: I bet it was hard to get—

SATAN: —Hard? Hardly. I thought it would take a real pro, which is why I came to Missouri, but it turned out that getting Republicans in your state to pass nullification legislation was so damned easy that I probably could have left it for them to do all by themselves. If we devils ever start thinking about starting another civil war, next to Texas Republicans, I can’t think of a more solid group of folks we could count on to fire the first shot.

TEC: That’s fascinating, but I really want to talk to you about that botched execution in Oklahoma on Tuesday.

SATAN: Botched? Did you say botched? It wasn’t botched, my man. The guy is dead, isn’t he? I checked myself and believe me, he’s dead. So Oklahoma didn’t botch a damn thing. They killed him as sure as I’m sitting here. In fact, they essentially tormented him before he had that heart attack, so I say kudos to Oklahoma! We should have more executions like that one! My only problem with what they did was they waited too long to close the blinds.

TEC: What do you mean?

SATAN: They waited 16 minutes. Look, people don’t need to know what their government is doing, especially when what their government is doing is so messy. When the government does good things like killing people, citizens shouldn’t be able to watch what is being done in their names. That’ll just make them a little squirmish about it all. Let’s say that this execution had been on television. (What a show that would have been!) People could have seen Clayton Lockett’s body struggle against the drugs he was given; they could have heard him moan and groan as he was writhing on the table. From my perspective, who wouldn’t want to see that? Forty-three minutes of sheer joy as far as I’m concerned. But I know what those do-goody liberals would do with those images. They’d make a big propaganda war against the death penalty and before you know it juicy killings like this one would stop. So, dammit, they should have closed those beige blinds sooner, or better yet, done it all behind closed doors.

TEC: But even if they couldn’t see what is going on, don’t people who support the death penalty just want it done humanely? Even for convicted killers like Clayton Lockett?

SATAN: Humanely? Are you kidding me? There ain’t no way for the state to kill someone humanely, son. However it’s done, it is killing plain and simple. And I love it. You can cut their heads off, hang ‘em from a tree, shoot ‘em in the heart, gas ‘em, or you can stick needles in ‘em and do it that way. I don’t care as long as death is the result. But there ain’t no such thing as the government humanely killing a prisoner, a guy they have locked up. All I’m saying is the stuff should be done out of sight of the public, lest the public start thinking, “Man, we tortured that guy like he tortured his victim. Aren’t we better than that?” You did know that Lockett put his 18-year-old victim through hell before he shot her and had her buried alive, right? And if the people start thinking that the state’s killing of Lockett looked more like revenge for his crimes than justice, then they might get all wobbly-kneed on the death penalty. And that would be a shame.

TEC: Well, I don’t know—

SATAN: And, look, besides all that, the truth is starting to seep out that more than 4% of people sentenced to death in America are actually innocent. I have a legion of demons assigned to the task of keeping that information from getting wide distribution to the public, because there ain’t nothing better than the state killing an innocent man! I get all goose-pimply just thinking about it. But it so happens that the latest study by liberal do-gooders came out in conjunction with the killing of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma (and don’t think demonic heads won’t roll over not preventing that). So, that makes it all the more disturbing that those damn officials in Oklahoma left the blinds open long enough so that those liberal journalists could write sensational stories about what went on in that prison death chamber and make a lot of noise about how “inhumane” killing a prisoner is. Now we’ve really got our work cut out for us, dammit!

TEC: I have one more—

SATAN: Sorry, but I’ve got to go. I’m due at a meeting with my top advisers on how to keep pushing the Benghazi scandal even when there is no evidence. ABC and Fox “News” here we come!

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