Gay Conservatives Want More Dick Cheney

Among the more perplexing terms, not to say oxymorons, in the world of politics is “gay conservative.”  I know they’re out there because Obama only got about 75% of the gay vote.  But in today’s GOP, just how does that work?

Reports are surfacing that Chris Barron, a former political director of the well-known gay conservative group, Log Cabin Republicans, hasn’t had enough of Dick Cheney.  He has begun the effort to “draft” Dick for the next presidential campaign cycle:

We hope that you will join our effort to convince former Vice President Richard Cheney to run for President of the United States in 2012. No other Republican leader has the stature or experience of Dick Cheney. He alone can lead the Republican coalition to victory in 2012!

And I thought Sarah Palin was a gift from God.

Barron, who says the 2012 race “will be about the heart and soul of the GOP,” is now affiliated with GOProud, yet another gay Republican organization, because apparently the Log Cabin Republicans just weren’t conservative enough for his tastes.

The mission statement for GOProud says the group is “committed to a traditional conservative agenda.”

Hmmm.  Someone needs to tell James Dobson  and Pat Robertson, who prefer the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to conservatism, that gay Republicans are in their tent and consider themselves to be “traditional” conservatives. 

According to the CNN story, Barron says his Draft Cheney group will target Tea Party events. Tea Parties?  Out of respect for common decency, I will refrain from using tea bagger for the rest of this report.

Seriously, just how do conservative homosexuals, whose sexual orientation is sinful and abhorrent to masses of their political bedfellows, cope with such dissonance?  I bet those Values Voter Summits are a real hoot.

Anyway, back to Dick.  Apparently, gay conservatives aren’t the only ones hankering to put D.C. in D.C. in 2012.  CNN reported:

At an event in Houston for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who’s running for Texas governor, Hutchison was joined by Cheney, who endorsed her bid against fellow Republican incumbent Rick Perry. During the rally, Hutchison yelled out to the crowd “Cheney 2012!” and someone in the audience quickly responded “We need you, Dick!”

Indeed, we do.

Nothing To Heid

Konrad Heid, former bank president and the Ebenezer Scrooge of the Globe‘s editorial page, shouted a big “Bah, humbug!” Sunday at Elliott Denniston, though, quite disrespectfully, he didn’t mention Denniston’s name:

The Joplin Globe has a contributing voice, a retired university professor; some of my friends suggested I should read what he writes. I quickly saw their concerns.

If this is the rhetoric our young people coming out of college hear in the classroom, it is no wonder they have little understanding of fiscal responsibility for our government or themselves.

Fiscal responsibility?  Did Heid say, “fiscal responsibility?”

I know they get tired of hearing it, but I will continue saying it:  Republicans like Konrad Heid have absolutely—absolutely!—no business lecturing anyone about fiscal responsibility, after what they have done to the country. 

Not one, but two—two!—borrow-and-spend wars, both still ablaze; a mammoth prescription drug program for seniors that wasn’t paid for; a massive tax cut, mostly for the wealthy; and Mr. Heid has the nerve to criticize a “retired university professor” for not having an “understanding of fiscal responsibility“? 

You will search in vain for even a smidgen of criticism coming from The Banker about Republican malfeasance, while it was happening.

Of course, all Republicans have suddenly got that ol’ time fiscal religion down in their blessed souls, now, when they are out of power and a Democrat is in the White House.  Such jailhouse conversions should be soundly rejected by anyone who was paying attention the last eight years, especially in the form expressed by Konrad Heid, as he criticized the nameless writer:

The professor was recently quoting some report that 45,000 people die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Wow, they die because they don’t have insurance? How about because they’re ill?

Nice one, Konrad. I bet you and Barbara had a good laugh over that one.  Laughing all the way to the bank, I suppose.  Or maybe to your beloved Joplin airport, which happens to be subsidized by fiscally irresponsible taxpayers, very few of which can afford to use the damn thing.  Ha. Ha.

There is something in Heid’s ridicule of Professor Denniston’s citation that sounds so much like Scrooge, upon being solicited by a couple of Christian do-gooders at Christmastime:

At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir….What shall I put you down for?

 “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

 “You wish to be anonymous?

 “I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned–they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

 “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

 “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” 

The similarities in spirit, if not the letter, of Scrooge’s words, is striking, but our local Ebenezer had even more Scrooge-like wisdom for us in his column: 

If we are not willing to face up to fiscal responsibility for our nation, we are on a path to bankruptcy. Too many decisions are being made on emotion and compassion; how about reality for a change?

I didn’t know reality and compassion were mutually exclusive.  Apparently, in the mind of The Banker, they are.  In any case, to whose reality is he referring? His? Mine?  One of the thousands destined to die this year due to a lack of health insurance?

I’m sure a former bank president does have a separate reality from most of the rest of us.  But Heid should remember what happened to his apparent mentor, as he pondered the possible death of the unfortunate Tiny Tim:

God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all. 

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

 “Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.” 

I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” 

No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”

If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief. 

Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!

Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Magic

Scott Meeker’s well-composed article in Thursday’s Joplin Globe was about a courageous 26-year-old, Curtis Almeter, from Anderson, who is preparing for a double lung transplant to counter the ravages of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease he shares with his 18-year-old brother, Tim.

The article focused on Mr. Almeter’s ability to maintain his love for photography while struggling with his disease, but I want to focus on this:

Last week, Almeter went active on the transplant list. He and his mother are staying at Barnes Lodge [at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis] and will soon move to a duplex near the hospi­tal. The call informing him that a donor has been found could come at any time. Today, perhaps, or maybe a year from now.

On a TV near where the mother and son sit, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is talking about his thoughts on the health care reform bill.

Almeter qualifies for Medicare and Medicaid, which will cover much of the transplant cost.

“We didn’t know that initially,” says Karen Almeter [Curtis’ mother]. “It was good news…one less thing to stress over.”

God only knows what this family would do, were it not for those magic words, Medicare and Medicaid, which will cover most of the estimated $600,000 cost of the lung transplant.

Those “magic” words, which, of course, are really just the product of our collective agreement that folks like the Almeters shouldn’t have to choose between treatment and bankruptcy on the one hand and suffering and death on the other.

But these days, in the minds of some, those words, Medicare and Medicaid, stand for bloated, wasteful, “socialist,” government programs, and are used as props for intense criticism of Democratic efforts to reform our health care system.

At least part of those Democratic reform efforts are directed at people who don’t qualify for Medicare and Medicaid—people who fall between the cracks of our system—who have jobs but no or inadequate insurance, and who have to worry about bankruptcy when faced with their own $600,000 bill for medical treatment or who simply have to waive treatment and suffer through until the end.

And, of course, many do suffer through until the end, as studies show.  Thousands of Americans die each year for lack of health insurance, and we need to fix the system that tolerates such outcomes, instead of carrying swastika-emblazoned placards to tea parties and singing the word “socialist,” as part of the Pale Face Choir.

Since Scott Meeker’s article referenced Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, our Kansas neighbor, who not only opposes the Democratic plan, but who happened to enjoy more than $500,000 in contributions from “medical interests,” in his last campaign, I thought it would be nice to watch Stephen Colbert adeptly skewer the senator, a few months ago: 

Vodpod videos no longer available. 

[Globe Photo: Roger Nomer]

The Truth Behind The Fear

A story on the front page of the The New York Times the other day sent fear waves throughout the country.  “Wave of Debt Payments Facing U.S. Government,” said its headline.  It began:

The United States government is financing its more than trillion-dollar-a-year borrowing with i.o.u.’s on terms that seem too good to be true.

But that happy situation, aided by ultralow interest rates, may not last much longer.

Ostensibly, the most troubling part of the story was this:

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

But more sober-minded people have stepped up to challenge this view. 

Notably, on the same day that the Times published this story, its Nobel Prize-winning columnist, Paul Krugman, wrote this:

A funny thing happened on the way to a new New Deal. A year ago, the only thing we had to fear was fear itself; today, the reigning doctrine in Washington appears to be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Arguing that the Obama administration has been “intimidated by scare stories from Wall Street,” Krugman says this:

Most economists I talk to believe that the big risk to recovery comes from the inadequacy of government efforts: the stimulus was too small, and it will fade out next year, while high unemployment is undermining both consumer and business confidence.

Krugman argues that the government ought to do more to prevent a “collapse of confidence among ordinary workers and businesses.” He also argues that Wall Street fears of soaring interest rates, based on sinking investor confidence over our huge budget deficits, are overblown:

…spikes in long-term interest rates have happened in the past, most famously in 1994. But in 1994 the U.S. economy was adding 300,000 jobs a month, and the Fed was steadily raising short-term rates. It’s hard to see why anything similar should happen now, with the economy still bleeding jobs and the Fed showing no desire to raise rates anytime soon.

Krugman challenges Wall Street’s ability to forecast the future:

And shouldn’t we consider the source? As far as I can tell, the analysts now warning about soaring interest rates tend to be the same people who insisted, months after the Great Recession began, that the biggest threat facing the economy was inflation. And let’s not forget that Wall Street — which somehow failed to recognize the biggest housing bubble in history — has a less than stellar record at predicting market behavior.

Besides Krugman, other voices are doubting the fear mongering represented by the Times article. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (and author of the wonderfully titled book, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer) wrote sarcastically:

In Just a Decade the U.S. Interest Burden Could Be as High as It Was in 1992!!!!!!!

Baker claims that the Times story is wrong and that:

There is no evidence presented in this article that the rise in interest rates will place the U.S. government in a situation where it will be unable to pay its bills and no one cited in this article makes such a claim.

The article is also completely unbalanced in not presenting the views of any economist who could put the deficit/debt issue in perspective for readers.

Just to put Baker’s take on the U.S. interest burden in perspective, here is a comparison of interest payments on the national debt, taking past inflation into account:

1992 Fiscal Year Interest Expense:    $292 billion ($450 billion in 2009 dollars) 

2009 Fiscal Year Interest Expense:   $384 billion

2019 (projected) Fiscal Year Interest Expense: $700 billion

So, adjusting for inflation—both past and future—and assuming some degree of economic growth over the period, the scary number of $700 billion some ten years out, doesn’t seem quite as scary, does it?

A Peculiar Institution

The United States Senate is a peculiar place.  Particularly in a nation that fashions itself as a beacon of democracy.

But there it is, unable to do the people’s business because of that nasty filibuster threat.  Essentially, if recalcitrant conservatives in the Senate want to continue to gum up the works, they can.  Liberal and moderate Democrats don’t have 60 reliable votes to invoke cloture.

Florida’s Rep. Alan Grayson has begun a futile effort to urge the Senate to change its rules and require only 55 votes to invoke cloture.  Fat chance.

Since Democrats regained control of the Senate in 2007, conservatives have used the filibuster in record-shattering numbers, and their efforts have allowed them to do what their minority status would otherwise forbid: impede the march of progress.

But we shouldn’t be surprised at conservative efforts to thwart America’s march toward a more perfect union.  Read this from the U.S. Senate’s Website:

Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a fifty-seven day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964 [sic].

Yesterday conservatives were protecting racist thugs; today they’re protecting health insurance thugs.

And just as we critically look back now and marvel at conservative opposition to the Civil Rights Act, someday Americans will critically look back and marvel at conservative opposition to meaningful health care reform.

In the mean time, the Democrats should not back down from the already-weakened public option, and at the very least they should make conservatives actually conduct the filibuster, and not give them an easy win.

From Time: In 1994 Lieberman, then a Democrat, called the filibuster “an obstacle to accomplishment” and “a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today.” Today Lieberman, now an independent, backs Republicans on health care reform and plans to filibuster the bill when it makes it to the Senate floor.


“She’s Like A Rock Star…”

Some of us won’t soon forget how the right-wing denigrated Barack Obama for his alleged “rock star” status last year, as a candidate for president.  And some of us won’t forget how the right-wing media stars sent out their minions to interview Obama supporters, asking them questions about Obama and broadcasting their sometimes uninformed answers.  The whole idea was to diminish not just Obama, but people who supported him.

Chase Whiteside and Erick Stroll of “New Left Media” interviewed several Sarah Palin supporters outside a bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, and you judge whether this 8-minute video fairly represents them, compared with the typical Sean Hannity man-on-the-street interviews of Obama supporters conducted during the campaign last year: 

As an aside, there are plenty of bubbabots on display, but two in particular caught my eye and I now nominate them as candidates for The Erstwhile Conservative‘s first-ever Bubbabot of the Year Award

Born-Again Christians Shouldn’t Drive

Globebloggers Johnny Kaje and Anson Burlingame have had a dispute over the issue of “faith is crap,” culminating in Anson blogging about it and Kaje writing a humorous piece about her trip to Springfield to the Skepticon II event.

All of which has made me think about one of the most bizarre beliefs in the fundamentalist world.  There are some weird and disturbing interpretations of the Bible, and then there is the doctrine of the Rapture.

For those of you out of tune with modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism, here is the Rapture in one sentence:  At some point in the future—usually in “our lifetime“—Jesus is going to return to the Earth to “gather” his born-again followers, who will be “taken up” into the air to be with him, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves in the dark days ahead, which Christians call the Tribulation.

Now, as bizarre as this seems, apparently more than 40% of all Americans believe in some version of it.  I don’t mean they believe in Jesus’ return in general (most Christians so believe), but in the specific idea of the Rapture, the one in which a car on I-44, full of people, could have its driver raptured into heavenly bliss while its other, less saintly passengers, would end up smashed against an oncoming big rig, the driver of which was also the recipient of a ticket to ride. 

So, what does this have to do with politics?  Well, I have suggested that some Republican candidates, like Mike Huckabee for instance, sometimes appear to be unable to make a distinction between American foreign policy and Israeli foreign policy, as when the Huckster visited Israel recently and criticized Obama’s position on Jewish settlements in occupied territory.

Since Huckabee is a born-again Christian who believes in the Bible as the Word of God, his biblical views obviously have some impact on his political views and thus on his political decisions, particularly involving the Middle East.  And so do the biblical views of millions upon millions of other Americans.

As Sam Harris put it:

It really is not an exaggeration to say that some significant percentage of the American electorate, which if they turned on their television today and saw that a mushroom cloud had replaced Jerusalem, they would see a silver lining in that cloud.  In so far as people like that elect our presidents and congressmen and in so far as they get elected as presidents and congressmen, that’s a terribly dangerous state of affairs.

Dangerous, indeed. 

Just to remind you of how dangerous, here is a clip of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson—just two days after 9/11—discussing their religious view of America—again, one with which many Americans concur:

Now, that is why these bizarre beliefs must be challenged and ridiculed. 

Faith in a “higher being” is one thing, but specific beliefs that lead to the kind of reasoning employed by wildly popular evangelists like the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is another.


Fox 31 TV in Denver posted a story on yet another right-wing Christian, this time a car dealer just outside of Denver, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, who posted this billboard:  

A reporter for Fox 31 interviewed the car dealer:

“Since Fort Hood, I’ve had it,” owner Phil West* told FOX 31 News Friday. “You can’t suggest things. You can’t profile. You gotta call a spade a spade.”

“Everything I have read about Mr. Obama points right to the fact that he is a Muslim. And that is the agenda of what Muslim is all about. It’s about anti-American, it’s about anti-Christianity,” West said.

As I said, there are political implications of bizarre religious beliefs.  In fact, I’m surprised John Putnam, local birther, born-again Christian, and Captain of the Jasper County Morality Police, hasn’t erected such a sign on I-44.

*I believe the gentleman’s name is Phil Wolf.

Sarah Palin, Butch Cassidy, And The Sundance Kid

Gene Lyons, in today’s Globe, discussed the “hurry, hurry” philosophy expressed by so many opponents of Obama’s think-before-you-act methodology, as applied to the Afghanistan war. Lyons criticized a comment by David Broder, who had written:  

It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision — whether or not it is right.

Lyons’ response to that was:

Read that again. Better to do something stupid, the man says, than for President Obama to ask too many tough questions.

Later Lyons made this observation:

Time was when Republican politicians sneered at “nation­building” — particularly in remote places like Afghanistan that aren’t nations to begin with. Today, however, to think is to “dither.”

Nothing illustrates better the metamorphosis of the conservative movement’s foreign policy, from its anti-Wilsonian roots to today’s “give McChrystal whatever he wants” philosophy, than what Sarah Palin said to Barbara Walters recently regarding the Afghanistan War:

Walters: What should the U.S. goal in Afghanistan be?

Palin: To listen to McChrystal, to listen to the appointee that President Obama asked for, the advice from, McChrystal gave the president the advice, and said, we need essentially a surge strategy in Afghanistan so that we can win in Afghanistan. That means more resources, more troops there. It frustrates me and frightens me and many Americans that president Obama is dithering around with the decision in Afghanistan.

Walters: With what goal? What should be our ultimate goal? [Since she didn’t answer the question the first time.]

Palin: Afghanistan, the people there, the government there, should be able to take over and to have a more peaceful existence there for the people who live there without American interference, if you will.

Now, leaving aside the Palinesque syntax and the fact that she is merely repeating boilerplate Republican criticism, what the Wasilla Wonder is saying is that the goal—the goal!—of the war in Afghanistan is not to pursue terrorists and to protect U.S. interests, but to make Afghanistan the Bella Vista of the Middle East, or something like that. 

God, please let Republicans anoint her in 2012!

As an aside, all of this Broder/Palin nonsense reminds me of one of the great scenes from one of the great movies of all time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

A Cry For Help: The Use Of Violent Metaphors In Conservative Punditry, By Sigmund Freud

Demonstrating its cultural value, Media Matters has provided the following collection, which offers much to ponder for the few Freudians still left in the world:

Missouri’s Rich Are Different From You And Me

FiredUp!Missouri alerted us today to a new study released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in which Missouri’s grossly inadequate tax situation (we’re near the bottom nationally in per-capita revenues) is now indisputably skewed in favor of the wealthy. From FiredUp!Missouri:

Low- and middle-income families in Missouri pay a far higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the richest families in Missouri, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy…

When all Missouri taxes are totaled up, the study found that:

  • Missouri families earning less than $17,000 — the poorest fifth of Missouri’s non-elderly taxpayers — pay 9.6 percent of their income in state and local taxes.
  • Middle-income Missouri taxpayers — those earning between $31,000 and $50,000 — pay 9.5 percent of their income in Missouri state and local taxes.
  • But the richest Missouri taxpayers — with average incomes of $1,170,600 — pay only 6.6percent of their income in Missouri state and local taxes.

Actually, the situation is even worse than described above.  Missouri happens to be one of the few states in the country that provides a tax deduction for federal income taxes paid, a deduction that naturally makes the tax system more regressive. 

As the chart below shows (provided by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy), the Federal Deduction Offset makes the total state tax burden much higher for the poor and middle class than for the wealthy [highlighting mine]:

While there’s not much hope that our Republican-dominated legislature will do anything to address this inequity, Democratic candidates all over the state should use it as a campaign issue to make voters understand that at least part of Missouri’s economic difficulties are related to our tax policies.

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