Turn To Page 1 In Your Hymnbook

Gene Lyons, whose column appeared in today’s Joplin Globe, as usual, gets it right:  

Increasingly, one of our two great political parties appears to be governed by what Charles P. Pierce calls the “Three Great Premises” of talk radio: “First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units … Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough … Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.”

No doubt, if we could measure the fervency of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s beliefs, we would have one whopper of a Truth.  A couple of days ago, I heard Paul say the following on Dylan Ratigan’s show:

I think the debate is going my way…When the financial bubble burst—and the housing bubble burst—all of a sudden Austrian, free-market economics gained a lot of credibility…

Yep. In the mind of Ron Paul, all we need to solve our troubles is more of the same stuff that caused our troubles: free-market economics.  And, of course, he is not the only one singing from the Gospel According to Ayn Rand hymnal.  Nearly every Republican leader, and potential presidential candidate, is singing from that hymnbook, which really only has one song: An Anthem to Greed.

Fortunately, though, in a moment of repentance, the contemporary high priest of Randian economics, Alan Greenspan, put down his free-market hymnal in October of 2008.  Contrary to Ron Paul and the Republican Party, he said the following to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — “I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked.” That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

How Fox Is Hurting America

As if a thinking person needed any more reason to see the Fox “News” empire for what it is, try the following video clip of conspiracy tramp—and “official blogger for the Republican National Convention in 2008—Pamela Geller, from her appearance on Eric Bolling’s “show” on something called FOX “Business” Network.  I said “business” network.  Most of us know, though, that the real business of Fox is destroying President Obama.

I warn you, if you have one cell of decency in your body and you love your country, this will piss you off:

In case you don’t know much about Pamela Geller, besides her Sharia-law-is-coming crusade against Islam, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about her blog, Atlas Shrugs:

Controversial postings on “Atlas Shrugs” have included a number of false claims,[47][48] including that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (who is Jewish) supports Nazi ideology (accompanied by a fake picture of her in a Nazi uniform),[49] a video suggesting that Muslims have sex with goats, a doctored photo showing President Obama urinating on an American flag[12] and false claims that Obama’s mother was involved in pornography and that Obama “was involved with a crack whore in his youth”.[50][51] Geller has also posted accusations against President Obama of anti-Semitism and doing the bidding of “Islamic overlords,” while her site posted a posting by another writer who, inter alia, suggested without any evidence that the President is the “love child” of Malcolm X (Geller herself says she does not believe that Obama is Malcolm X’s love child, and never did).

Geller is, come to think of it, a perfect fit for Fox.

He’s Proud To Be An Okie From Manhattan

I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Ed Shultz on this blog, and some of you aren’t going to completely understand today’s offering, but here it goes:

Last night Shultz said something about the birther issue that may strike some folks as odd:

The President of the United States has had to put up with this honky-tonk conversation in the media for too long.

What a brilliant description of the goings-on regarding, among other things, the racist-infected doubts about President Obama’s birthplace, his college experiences, and essentially his love for his country.

“Honky-tonk” can be defined simply as, “a cheap, noisy bar or dance hall,” but in my (considerable) experience, there is a certain ethos that prevails in the kinds of bars I have known as honky-tonks. In terms of the politics of the patrons, they were, and remain, very conservative institutions.

Let me put it this way:  Honky-tonks aren’t the kind of places in which one would expect to find Barack Hussein Obama bellied-up to the bar.

While part of the etymology of the term honky-tonk is a little cloudy—”tonk” may refer to the brand name, Ernest A. Tonk, on the upright piano used in the old Tin Pan Alley bars—here is how Wikipedia describes the “honky” portion of the term:

The term honky was, as a term for whites, derived from bohunk and hunky. In the early 1900s, these were derogatory terms for Bohemian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants. According to Robert Hendrickson, author of the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, black workers in Chicago meatpacking plants picked up the term from white workers and began applying it indiscriminately to all whites. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy wrote of “Negroes and hunkies” in his autobiography.

Wikipedia further notes that, “honky tonk eventually became associated mainly with lower-class bars catering to men.”  The piano was replaced, for the honky-tonks I frequented, by a juke box, a juke box mostly loaded with country music. 

And the politics was, well, you can imagine.  Mostly uninformed, bigoted noise, spouted by people who don’t know what they don’t know, many of them I could politely call reactionaries, but because I’m still aggressively saddened about the events yesterday, I will call them classic rednecks.

Okay, so you get what Ed Schultz was trying to say. Which led me to thinking about Donald Trump, who I have called an Ugly American. I think a better description of him would be a Manhattan redneck.

Yes, a redneck from Manhattan.  They exist. And Donald Trump is their hero.  In fact, he’s a hero of rednecks everywhere.

I like this definition of the term redneck from the Urban Dictionary:

A glorious absence of sophistication (Part time or full time)

For the record, Donald Trump is “full-time.”

In his press conference yesterday, Donald Trump said,

I am so proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish.

It’s as if Trump was in a honky-tonk in 1964 Meridian, Mississippi, bragging to his buddies, “I showed that uppity negro. That’ll teach him to wink at a white woman.

And there on the bar stool next to Trump was his honky-tonk angel, Sarah Palin, egging him on:

Media, admit it, Trump forced the issue.

Which reminds me of an old Conway Twitty honky-tonk song, sort of Donald Trump’s plea to the world:

So tell me if you think it’s over,

And I’ll leave it up to you how it ends. 

‘Cause if you don’t want the love I can give you, 

Well, there’s a honky-tonk angel who’ll take me back in.

Makes me want to pop the top on another can.

Sad Day For America


President Obama succumbs to the worst angels of American nature and releases his long-form birth certificate, thereby empowering conspiracists everywhere, especially the Ugly American, Donald Trump. 

For their part, journalists, who have been fascinated with a fool, can’t wait until Donald Trump’s helicopter lands in New Hampshire, so they can find out what he “thinks” about the latest development. 

It’s a sad day in American history. 


*UPDATE:  Just as I figured, Trump gets off his helicopter, walks up to the multiple microphones waiting for him, and takes credit for forcing President Obama to do something no one else could get him to do.

It’s hard to know who is the biggest fool in this episode, Trump or the press.

But I’m now hopeful that all this empowerment will go to Trump’s head and he will actually decide to run for president, and perhaps there are enough fools in the Republican Party–after all, more than half of them don’t think Obama was born in America–to get him the nomination.

Then Americans can see this buffoon in all his glory, and hopefully see how far into buffoonery the Repubican Party has fallen.

Maybe that’s why Obama caved in.  It’s really a scheme to get Trump the nomination.


*UPDATE UPDATE:  Trump’s a “carnival barker,” said the President. Why didn’t I think of that?

Robert E. Lee And The Romance Of Rebellion

Like a lot of newspapers I suppose, the Joplin Globe has been running a series of articles on the Civil War, in this the 150th anniversary year of the war to end slavery and secure the notion of an indissoluble United States.

Perhaps before too long, a story will appear that tells the truth about Robert E. Lee. 

Not being a Civil War romantic, I don’t share the fascination some people have with the war’s obscure battle sites or memorabilia, or with the vast body of literature out there about that tragic and nation-defining event.

But I have always wondered why it is that so many people considered Robert E. Lee a hero, this disloyal Union officer who betrayed his country, who owned slaves and led men into battle to preserve the right of white men to buy and sell black families like cattle. 

Suppose for a moment that Lee fought for the right to molest and maim children, out of some misplaced principle of “states’ rights.”  Would there be statues of him in state parks anywhere in America?

I suppose not being from the South, I don’t understand why it is okay to nearly worship such a man, around whom many myths have been constructed to hide the truth.  Thanks, though, to writers like Elizabeth Brown Pryor, who recently authored a piece about Lee for The New York Times, a clearer picture is emerging. 

One example:

…on April 18, presidential adviser Francis P. Blair unofficially offered Lee the command of the thousands of soldiers being called up to protect Washington. Fearing that such a post might require him to invade the South, Lee immediately turned down the job. Agitated, he went to tell his mentor, Gen. Winfield Scott, the Army’s commander in chief. Another dramatic scene followed. Scott, though a proud Virginian, had dismissed as an insult any hint that he himself would turn from the United States. When Lee offered to sit out the troubles at his home, Arlington, the general told him bluntly: “I have no place in my army for equivocal men.” Greatly distressed, Lee returned to Arlington to contemplate his options.

Now, why is it a “proud Virginian” like Winfield Scott, who “dismissed as an insult any hint” that he would betray his country, could see the moral landscape very clearly, and Lee, “greatly distressed,” could not?  More important, why is a man with such poor moral vision a hero in the South?

The truth is that, in the words of Pryor and against the Lee-as-reluctant-secessionist myth, “Lee made his decision” to betray the United States “despite the feelings of his own wife and children,” not to mention others in his extended family. She wrote:

If even his wife, and most of his children, did not support his stand, Robert E. Lee must personally have wanted very much to take this path. This was not an answer he was compelled by home and heritage to make. It was a choice — and it was his alone.

Pryor also debunks the idea that Lee was some kind of abolitionist:

He complained to a son in December 1860 about new territories being closed to slaveholders, and supported the Crittenden Compromise, which would have forbidden the abolition of slavery. “That deserves the support of every patriot,” he noted in a Jan. 29, 1861 letter to his daughter Agnes. Even at the moment he reportedly told Francis Blair that if “he owned all the negroes in the South, he would be willing to give them up…to save the Union,” he was actually fighting a court case to keep the slaves under his control in bondage “indefinitely,” though they had been promised freedom in his father-in-law’s will.

That’s not the stuff heroes should be made of, especially one that, because of his military prowess, may have extended the war and increased the carnage. Richard Cohen summed up that aspect of Lee’s treason:

Lee was a brilliant field marshal whose genius was widely acknowledged — Lincoln wanted him to command the Union forces. In a way, that’s a pity. A commander of more modest talents might have been beaten sooner, might not have taken the war to the North (Gettysburg) and expended so many lives. Lee, in this regard, is an American Rommel, the German general who fought brilliantly, but for Hitler. Almost until Hitler compelled his suicide, Rommel, too, did his duty.

I don’t think you will find many statues of Erwin Rommel in Germany, or visit any Erwin Rommel High Schools, but in the American South, there are plenty of monuments to Robert E. Lee.

One has to wonder why that is.

Racial Politics in Three Acts


Yesterday I happened upon Lou Dobbs’ radio show (I didn’t know he had a radio show; I thought God had called him to heaven.). His guest at the time was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist—that award is obviously not what it used to be—Michael Goodwin, of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

Dobbs had been upset that Obama had not offered an official acknowledgement of Good Friday or Easter. “Surely this must not be an accident,” he said. That “story” was first noted by Fox “News,” which put it this way:

President Obama failed to release a statement or a proclamation recognizing the national observance of Easter Sunday, Christianity’s most sacred holiday.

By comparison, the White House has released statements recognizing the observance of major Muslim holidays and released statements in 2010 on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha.

Just in case a Foxer didn’t get the message, the story added this:

By contrast, former President Bush traditionally included Scripture passages in his Easter messages and made a point to explain what Easter is about.

How nice of Mr. Bush to do that for all the Christian folks out there who may not know what “Christianity’s most sacred holiday” means.

Dobbs mentioned to columnist Michael Goodwin that his callers had been demonstrating that they didn’t just disagree with Obama’s policies, they actually believe he is actively working against our national interests. To which the Pulitzer-blessed Goodwin responded that such a sentiment was “fairly common.”

What did Goodwin offer as evidence for that assessment? Emails. He has received lots of emails from folks who think Obama is purposely trying to screw up the country. I guess that seals it.

Dobbs asked Goodwin, “What’s the point of offending Christian Americans?” Goodwin replied:

It’s almost at times, Lou, like he wants to show how different he is…that he alone is the redeemer of America’s morality.

It’s unimaginable to me that if Barack Obama were white, with a name like William Jones, such talk, between a former CNN television host and a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist, would take place on national radio.



The latest journalist-victim of Donald Trump’s mythical run for president is CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

I watched part of his Trump segment last night, which involved Trump talking over Cooper on the racially-pregnant birther issue, and it was, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t Cooper’s finest hour.

But he deserves embarrassment for having Trump, who at this point would give an interview to Sam Drucker at the Hooterville World Guardian, on his show to merely repeat what he has said a thousand times to anyone who is foolish enough to to seek his opinion.

It’s three years past the point now that honest people can, with their heads held high, ask a legitimate question about the birthplace of Mr. Obama. We are in racially-tinged territory these days, as there remains no legitimate reason for people to continue questioning whether our president is an American citizen.

There simply is nothing left to the issue but race, despite claims to the contrary. If our president were white, named William Jones, and born under the same circumstances, there would be no so-called “controversy.”

There would be no Anderson Cooper interviewing a lying or confused or stupid Donald Trump about a “missing” birth certificate, or the Associated Press interviewing him about how a “bad student” like Obama managed to get into an Ivy League school.

And it’s pretty much the same with the “Is he a Christian?” issue.



Enter the Reverend Franklin Graham.

Obama has said repeatedly that he is a believer in Jesus Christ, that Jesus is his savior, and all that stuff. Yet there persists a profound disbelief among folks who themselves claim they are Christians that Obama is a Muslim, a Muslim sympathizer, or a phony Christian.

The latest, of course, was evangelical middleman, Franklin Graham, son of God’s favorite Republican evangelist, Billy Graham. I watched his appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night, which was really an attempt to undo the damage Graham did to himself on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

Here’s part of the transcript from This Week:

AMANPOUR: Does it bother you that people like Donald Trump for instance right now, are making another huge big deal about birth certificates and whether he’s a Muslim or a Christian and where he was born?

GRAHAM: Well, the president, I know, has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don’t — I was born in a hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born.

I don’t know why he can’t produce that. So, I’m not — I don’t know, but it’s an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.

Sound familiar? That echoes exactly the repeatedly discredited claims of one Donald Trump, the Ugly American, who, by the way, Graham came close to endorsing on Sunday:

AMANPOUR: Well, there are people in right now. Would you support Mitt Romney, would you support —

GRAHAM: I’ve met —

AMANPOUR: — Donald Trump?

GRAHAM: I’ve met Mitt Romney. No question he is a — he’s a very capable person, he’s proven himself. Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke. But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know? Maybe the guy’s right. So, there’s a —

AMANPOUR: So, he might be your candidate of choice?

GRAHAM: Sure, yes, sure.

Sure. Yes. Sure.

On The Last Word Graham tried to clean up his mess, but he failed:

O’DONNELL: Joining me now, possible Trump endorser, the Reverend Franklin Graham. Thank you for joining us tonight, Reverend.

GRAHAM: Lawrence, it’s good to be with you. And first, I want people to know that I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want people everywhere to know, not about Donald Trump, but I want them to know of God’s son, who came to this earth to take our sins and died on a cross and rose again. I want you to know that and every viewer to know that God loves them.


GRAHAM: …first of all, if he was vetted, and if he’s a nomination [sic]for the party, I certainly would be interested in him. There’s a long way to go, and I haven’t endorsed him, and I’m not going to endorse any candidate, but I find that he’s got some interesting things to say, and you have to say to yourself, sometimes, you know, maybe a guy like this is right for our country…

Here we have a “man of God,” who supposedly believes in family values and the Bible—including Jesus’ general condemnation of divorce—essentially blessing an F-bomb dropping political candidate who is working on his third marriage, owns casinos, and has made egotism an art form.

And most egregiously, this evangelical minister—who admitted to O’Donnell that he has never—never—voted for a Democrat for president—raises doubts about the citizenship and Christianity of the President of the United States, who has but one wife, who is responsibly raising his two daughters, and who has admitted to the world that he believes in the gospel that Graham so proudly peddles across America.

There is absolutely no chance that a white man, named William Jones, who has lived the kind of conservative family life that Barack Obama has lived, who has been as public about expressing his trust in Jesus as his Savior as Barack Obama has been, would be treated as a virtual alien, both in terms of his Americanism and his religion.


Colonel Billy And The Marshmallow Media

I’ve sometimes criticized local media, print and broadcast, for its “give me your press release and I’ll be on my way” approach to local politicians. 

I’ve especially criticized the Springfield News-Leader for its mostly uncritical reporting on Colonel Ozark Billy Long.  Don’t believe me, though.  Just go to the paper’s website and do a search for “Billy Long,” and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m guessing that before interviewing Long, the News-Leader provides the Colonel with an edible marshmallow lounger, then fetches him a fluffy down pillow made from the under plumage of the most pampered white swans in Europe, offers him unlimited quantities of Valrhona chocolate, then brings in a shy reporter to ask him velvety-soft questions. 

That’s just my guess.

While I’ve grown use to the mostly friendly treatment of pols from our local press, I do expect the national folks to be a little tougher.  After all, what harm can a congressman from southwest Missouri do to folks at, say, National Journal?

I read a Q&A piece in the National Journal, titled, “Colonel of Truth.”  Nope. I didn’t make that up. Colonel of Bleeping Truth.

In any case, the piece, under the byline of Ben Terris, obviously featured Ozark Billy, and I must say, when I read the intro, I thought I had mistakenly linked to the Springfield News-Leader:

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., is becoming a larger-than-life figure in Washington. And it’s not just because of his large figure. The Missourian rode the smaller-government, less-spending wave into Congress last November despite (or perhaps because of) his lack of legislative experience.

Reporter: “Would you like a Valrhona chocolate, Billy?

You know you’re in for the marshmallow-lounger treatment when a piece of “journalism” is introduced with a description of the subject as “larger-than-life.” 

The piece informed me that Billy had a “booming voice,” that he is “not afraid,” that he is a “straight-talker,” and, most curiously, that,

the House GOP leadership has taken a shine to him.

Reporter: “Take as many Valrhona chocolates as you want, Billy.”

I’m going to list the questions Long was asked for this exercise in downy-soft journalism:

♥ How did being an auctioneer prepare you for Congress?

♥ Which do you prefer—colonel or congressman?

♥ Can you cite an example of where your salesmanship came into play?

♥ You also didn’t like the short-term budget deal. How did you feel about John Boehner as a negotiator?

♥ You’ve come across as a true tea party kind of guy, but you haven’t joined the Tea Party Caucus. Why is that?

♥ What are the prospects for the next budget negotiations?

♥ How do you feel about Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan? (We already know how Long “feels” about the plan. He voted for the damn thing. And there was no follow-up question.)

But there was a potentially news-making question:

♥ Will you vote to raise the debt ceiling?

Now, finally, there’s a question a journalist should ask and then follow-up with some aggressive questioning.  Long’s answer:

We are going to have to get some extreme, not extreme—we’re going to have to get some good-sized spending cuts before I’d even look at it. It’s going to be another negotiating thing.

Just being a lowly blogger here in Long’s district, I can think of some quick follow-ups:  

♦ What do you mean, before you “even look at it”? Have you studied the ramifications of not raising the ceiling?  Do you think the Treasury Secretary is exaggerating the potential effects on the economy—and on your constituents back home—of failing to raise the limit?

♦ And what do you mean by “good-sized spending cuts”?  How much? What are you holding out for?

♦ Since you didn’t vote for Speaker Boehner’s last budget deal, what makes you think he can negotiate a good deal on the debt ceiling?  Do you trust him to do that “negotiating thing”?

As I said, these are just a blogger’s ideas about follow-up questions for a politician. Naturally, a big time publication like National Journal had even better ones, right?

Wrong.  No follow-ups.

There was this, though:

Reporter: “How were those Valrhona chocolates, Billy?

Finer than a frog’s hair split four ways,” said the bigger-than-life, unafraid, straight-talking auctioneer with the booming voice.

Some of McCain’s Heroes Today Were Bush’s Terrorists Yesterday

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who pulled his head out of John McCain’s rectum long enough to talk to CNN, said of the U.S. involvement in Libya:

I like coalitions: It’s good to have them, it’s good to have the U.N. involved.  But the goal is to get rid of Gaddafi…So, I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.

In other words, to hell with the rest of the world, we’ve got bombs to drop!

For his part, John McCain, who seemed to be enjoying his Graham-free rectum, said on Sunday that a stalemate in Libya “would open the door for Al Qaeda to come in.”

Whoops!  It may be too late.  McCain, who on Friday called the Libyan rebels the “legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and his “heroes,” also said,

I have met these brave fighters and they are not al Qaeda,” he said. “To the contrary, they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation.

Except that the New York Times reported this weekend that a former Guantanamo detainee—he was released by the Bushies in 2007—who was “judged ‘a probable member of Al Qaeda’ by analysts there,” and deemed a “medium to high risk” as a threat to the United States, is now leading a “ragtag band of fighters” in Libya.  And the paper reported that,

American officials have nervously noted the presence of at least a few former militants in the rebels’ ranks. 

None of this gives Lindsey Graham or John McCain (or Israeli representative, Sen. Joe Lieberman) pause, however.  They want the U.S. to engage more aggressively in Libya, with Graham urging Obama to bomb Libya’s capital. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley:

My recommendation to NATO and to the administration is to cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gaddafi’s inner circle, their compounds their military headquarters in Tripoli. The way to get Gaddafi to leave is to have his inner circle break and turn on him, and that’s going to take a sustained effort through an air campaign.

Apparently NATO was listening.  This morning comes word that NATO aircraft bombed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, which renewed charges that the good guys are trying to assassinate Gaddafi. 

Whether we are, or whether we’re just trying to put the fear of Allah in him or his “inner circle,” as Graham suggested, it is clear that there will be no stalemate in Libya, even though a stalemate might be the best possible outcome, in terms of short-term regional stability.  Gaddafi’s days are numbered. 

What remains is the obvious question: What happens after Gaddafi is gone?  

Nobody, not Barack Obama or, Allah knows, not even John McCain, can give us a credible answer to that question.  Somehow, though, I suspect that whatever happens, President Obama—who is under pressure from the militaristic Right to step us his Libya game—will never get any credit for a good outcome, only blame for a bad one.

“Conservatism Can Cure Classroom Cancer, Blah, Blah, Blah”

George Will’s column in Saturday’s Joplin Globe touted the efforts of John Kline, a Minnesota congressman who is on a crusade—or is it a Marine expedition, since Will makes a major issue of Kline’s military background—to use his position as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee to, oddly, get the federal government out of education.

Yes, I know. That’s nothing new.  Will’s column touted the usual conservative chestnuts: Teachers’ unions are the root of all education evil, charter schools “operating outside union restrictions” are the answer, conservatism can cure classroom cancer, blah, blah, blah.

But one of those blahs had to do with No Child Left Behind and that law’s decree “that schools shall achieve 100 percent proficiency by 2014.” Will suggested that states, which are nearly en masse failing to meet the current proficiency targets, have “a powerful incentive” “to define proficiency down,” much like the state of South Carolina, heaven-on-earth for conservatives, has.  Then Will wrote this:

There also are reasons to suspect that NCLB‘s threat of labeling schools as failures constitutes an incentive to cheat. In a number of jurisdictions, including 103 schools in the District of Columbia, machines that grade the tests have detected suspiciously high levels of erasures as test-takers changed incorrect to correct answers.

Now, George Will doesn’t say so, but any “cheating” that occurred in the District of Columbia occurred under the tenure of D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, currently a conservative hero (don’t give me any of that, “but she’s a Democrat” nonsense; she is openly cheerleading for Republican governors who are attacking teachers and their unions). 

Rhee—Will once praised her for being “constructively confrontational“—is the leader of the so-called “education reform” movement, which should really be called the “get professional teachers out of education” movement.  

I last saw Rhee, who resigned after her boss, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, was defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, on the IQ-eroding Fox and Friends, where she exclaimed: “I’m a huge fan of Governor Christie,” referring to the current political champion of right-wingers everywhere, the governor of New Jersey. 

Indeed, it was Rhee, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, who made it safe for Republicans like Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to bash teachers and trash their unions.

But, because there is still such a thing as journalism, USA Today did an expose of sorts on Michelle Rhee and her alleged success in dramatically improving the standardized test scores in Washington, D.C., most notably of a formerly low-performing school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus.

Using some old-fashioned authoritarianism, as well as her laissez-faire formula for education success, Rhee fired teachers and handed out awards and bonuses for improved performance, especially using Noyes as the poster-school to validate her approach.

But it turns out that, as Will mentioned without mentioning USA Today‘s reporting, the improvement in test scores may not have been real. The paper reported:

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.

Gene Lyons wrote a couple of weeks ago—which is how I first learned of increasing doubts about the Rhee-inspired phenomenon in D.C.—that,  

Although the national media appear determined not to notice, similar testing scandals have taken place in New York, Texas, Georgia, California — basically anywhere school funding and/or jobs have been linked directly to multiple-choice testing. Private charter schools as well as public schools, incidentally.

“This is like an education Ponzi scam,” a teacher’s union official told USA Today. “If your test scores improve, you make more money. If not, you get fired. That’s incredibly dangerous.”

Yes, it’s dangerous.  Test-driven formulas for education excellence, as the conservative George Will and the liberal Gene Lyons both might agree, are not a panacea for the real or imagined ills of our education system. (Lyons points out that over the last 30 years “overall student performance” has actually gone up.)

Now, someone just needs to tell President Obama, who seems to have embraced the idea of test-heavy reforms.

Will says that Rep. Kline,

promises that the current system for measuring “adequate yearly progress” “will not exist when we are done.”

We shall see about Kline’s promise, but if that happens it will be an unwitting repudiation of Michelle Rhee’s effort to, in the words of education historian, Diane Ravitch, “subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice.” 

Ravitch continues:

All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum.

It has also produced a conservative celebrity, sometimes openly promoted by Democrats, Michelle Rhee.

Finally, it needs to be said here that there is no magic in turning ill-nourished kids raised in anti-learning environments, mostly without an intact and interested family, into little Einsteinian prodigies, which, I suppose, is what some Americans expect teachers to do in urban schools and elsewhere.

Standardized tests won’t do it. Cutting teachers’ pay, or taking away their collective bargaining rights, won’t do it.  Devilizing their unions and starting non-union charter schools won’t do it.

Perhaps nothing will do it.

But a start might be to stop blaming teachers and start listening to them. Commenting on the anti-teacher film, Waiting for “Superman,” Richard Kahlenberg wrote in The Washington Post that the movie,

implies that teachers unions are to blame for the failures of urban education and that non-unionized charter schools are the solution. The movie includes no acknowledgment that the things teachers want for themselves – more resources devoted to education, smaller class sizes, policies that allow them to keep order in the classroom – are also good for kids.

Resources devoted to education? Smaller class sizes? Order in the classroom?

Imagine that.  Teachers actually want things that are good for the kids.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Jefferson Was A Koch Head?

Republicans all over the country, in their zeal to destroy the voice of the American worker, have stepped up their persecution of organized labor, and in the case of public-sector unions, they have, among other things, quashed their right to meaningfully bargain collectively.

Now comes word from The Nation that before last year’s election, at least one prominent right-wing employer was already at work—thanks to the gift that keeps on giving, the Citizens United decision from an activist conservative Supreme Court—subtly intimidating its workers:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

According to the article, the Citizens United ruling, which breathed the breath of life into corporate bodies, permits employers like the Kochs—who once were forbidden from doing so—to, in the words of Paul Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette:

“send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

Troubling, indeed.  You can read the whole piece and check out the “Elect to Prosper” package Koch Industries sent out—”for the first time ever“—in order to understand what those of us on the this side are up against during next election season and beyond.

And before some of you lurking conservatives object that union’s have always propagandized their members, the last time I checked, labor unions don’t have the power to hire and fire anyone.  That matters, don’t you think?

Finally, I want to quote something in the so-called  “Elect to Prosper” package—remember this went out to almost 50,000 workers who depend on the Kochs for a job— that illustrates just how extreme and anti-civil is the political philosophy of the Kochs and many in the Tea Party movement, and how these folks will bend the truth to fit their ideology.

In a document titled, “The future of economic freedom,” we find:

Fateful warning

When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated President of the United States in 1801, he warned about a particularly destructive way of thinking. 

It is wrong, he said, to punish someone for working harder or being more successful than someone else.

He warned against “wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them” and taking from some to give to others “who have not exercised equal industry and skill.”

More than 200 years later, the destruction of economic freedom that Jefferson warned against is being vigorously promoted by this administration and many elected officials.

In the United States, the best antidote to this kind of over-reaching government is the power of the ballot box.

It’s probably not surprising that a right-wing publication makes Jefferson sound like a contemporary speaker at a Tea Party rally, but let’s quickly look again at this sentence:

He warned against “wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them” and taking from some to give to others “who have not exercised equal industry and skill.”

The reason that sentence is structured the that way is because the writer is trying to make Jefferson say something he really didn’t say. That first quote is taken from a letter Jefferson wrote to Thomas Cooper in 1802, which you can find here.  The context doesn’t support the use of it above. 

The second quote is taken from notes Jefferson wrote in a section on taxes in an American edition of the French enlightenment philosopher Destutt de Tracy’s* book, Political Economy.

For those of you who don’t want to read the context of that quote, here is a nice summary at LIEPIE.com, that contradicts the Kochian view:

Jefferson was remarking that specific rich individuals should not be targeted by the state for extra taxation, but that taxes should be applied to all individuals consistent with the tax laws on the books.  He then went on to add that inheritance law was the best way to prevent the overgrown wealth of an individual from becoming a threat to the state.  It appears to me that Jefferson was offering advice on how to democratically check the wealth of ultra rich folks!

Imagine what would happen today if an elected official suggested that someone’s overgrown wealth could be a threat to the state.  Let’s face it:  one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, was suspicious of concentrated wealth.  I think Jefferson likely would have supported the “Death Tax!”  If that isn’t bad enough, Jefferson also authored several landmark education bills in Virginia ensuring that the State supplied a free education to the poor funded at the common expense!  Even worse, Jefferson established a free public library!


*Tracy is given credit for coining the term “ideology,” according to Wikipedia.

Dave Ramsey: “I’m Doubt Free!!!!!!”

Dave Ramsey is famous for telling people to get out of debt and live like paupers until they do. Of course, if everyone followed his advice, our economy would look quite different today.  But never mind that.

Ramsey should know something about the subject of debt since he had to file bankruptcy in the late 1980s due to creditors demanding that he pay them back a lot of money he owed them. 

So, how did he become so famous, and so rich, today?  Why, naturally he started counseling folks on how not to end up in bankruptcy like he did, that’s how.  And he wrote books.  And he started a radio show, which is on hundreds of stations around the country.  People call him up and sometimes scream, “I’m debt free!!!!!!

As far as that goes, more power to him.  Everyone should profit from their mistakes in life, as far as I’m concerned.  I wish I could figure out a Ramsey-esque way to handsomely profit from years of slurping up conservative nonsense, but nothing comes readily to mind.

Anyway, along with Ramsey’s mostly common-sense advice, he often mixes in a little Christianity and a lot of dead-certain right-wing political philosophy.

His financial advice column in today’s Joplin Globe was no exception:

Dear Dave,

I recently lost my job due to layoffs. I’m luckier than most, because I’m debt-free except for my house, and I have three months of expenses saved. I’ll also receive a severance package from my former employer, and my wife still has her job. I’m struggling with whether or not to file for unemployment compensation. Do you think it’s morally okay to do this?


Now, I’ve always been curious as to why folks like “Brent” would write a complete stranger and ask him for moral advice.  I find that a little weird.  It seems to me that if you’re morally confused or conflicted about something, you might want to talk to someone close to you, who knows you and your situation a little better than a guy sitting behind a microphone, or who might be hunched over a keyboard in his dark basement clad in Scooby-Doo skivvies with a bag of cheese puffs pecking out Iron Age wisdom with carrot-colored fingers.

In any case, here is part of Ramsey’s reply:

Dear Brent,

I don’t have a problem, morally or otherwise, with accepting something I’ve already paid for. The Social Security system in this country is a complete and abysmal mathematical failure. It’s proof that socialism doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my money out. The government took it from me in the first place!

You will note that poor Brent did not ask for a lecture on the evils of Social Security or socialism, nor did he ask for commentary on government “taking” taxes like a common thief.  He simply wanted to know if it were moral, given Brent’s obvious sympathy with Ramsey’s Christian world view, to apply for an unemployment check.

No doubt, Ramsey gave Brent the assurance he was probably looking for, despite his internal conflict.  Brent knew that his personal right-wing quasi-biblical philosophy obligated him to reject taking “something for nothing,” and getting unemployment benefits seems like getting something for nothing.  But Dave made it okay for him to indulge, just this one time at least.*

But I have the response that Ramsey, if he followed the logic of his worldview, should have given Brent:

Dear Brent,

What kind of deadbeat are you?  You sound like an Obama supporter to me. No wonder your boss cut you loose.  You should just be grateful that your kind and godly employer gave you a parting gift and not participate in that socialistic unemployment compensation scheme.  That’s for losers.

And by the way, that’s what’s wrong with this country.  People like you who want to live at other people’s expense. Why don’t you go find a job?  And don’t tell me there aren’t any jobs out there.  Go down to McDonald’s and ask them if you can clean their toilets for three bucks and hour.  That’s better than sitting around on your liberal keister soaking up funds you don’t deserve.  How long do you think the producers of this world are going to keep taking care of lazy people like you?

God bless,



* Oddly, the Dave Ramseys of the world, who presumably believe in the sacrificial efforts of Jesus to save the world, have no problem with taking salavation–which they didn’t earn themselves–from the Savior.

According to Hoyle

“Sometimes I forget how truly simpleminded the Bushies can be.”

Molly Ivins

The debt ceiling was raised a whopping seven times during the Bush administration.  In 2001, the ceiling was $5.9 trillion and by 2008 it was $11.3 trillion. Throughout all those debt-ceiling raises, Karl Rove was there. 

In a Wall Street Journal article, though, Rove is at present urging Republicans to “push back now—thoughtfully and aggressively” on the issue, seemingly risking a financial disaster.  I say “seemingly” because Rove is not seriously urging Republicans to play Russian roulette with the economy.  He’s only urging them to pretend to play that gloomy game.  In other words, he’s urging them to bluff, confident Democrats will make some kind of deal.

But as I said yesterday, Democrats shouldn’t fall for this play.  Rove, interestingly, laid out exactly what Obama’s strategy on this issue should be:

♦ Warn of catastrophic consequences of not raising the limit

♦ Demand a “clean” debt ceiling increase

♦ Blame Republicans for holding the economy hostage

Rove’s thinking is so simple.  He knows that if Obama pursues the strategy Rove outlined, it will actually work.  But by preemptively challenging it and simultaneously suggesting that Republicans aggressively present “robust spending and deficit caps requiring rescissions and cuts if spending or deficits breach historic norms,” Rove is hoping to get something out of the deal before Republicans ultimately have to cave to save their political hides.

It’s really so transparent—simpleminded—that perhaps even poor poker players like the Democrats can figure this one out.

So, despite the blustery Eric Cantor’s declaration that Republicans will not sign a debt limit increase without major concessions from Democrats, they will.  And even if they don’t, Republicans will still lose, as those Rovian “hiccups in the markets and every bit of bad economic news” start to materialize as a result of Republican recalcitrance.

Call their bluff, Dems, call their bluff.

When Will Democrats Learn?

Sam Stein reported this today:

There is increasing concern among Democratic officials both on and off the Hill that Republicans will draw out negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling in an effort to institute one of several blunter deficit-reduction measures.

In recent days, chatter among operatives and Hill aides has centered on one specific addition the GOP is pushing in exchange for signing off on a debt limit increase. A cap on overall government spending — bringing it to 20.6 percent of GDP over the course of ten years — has been sharply criticized as too crude and potentially damaging for a fragile economy.

Stein says that this so-called “CAP Act” has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Missouri’s own Claire McCaskill is a co-sponsor in the Senate, and Stein mentioned that McCaskill’s office did not indicate whether the CAP Act should be attached to any deficit ceiling vote.

It should not be.

Here’s my point: Whether the spending cap idea is good or bad, it’s preposterous that Democrats should negotiate over the idea while Republicans are holding hostage a raise in the debt ceiling next month. 

Something so serious should not be negotiated at the point of a gun. But Republicans have achieved so much by holding a gun to the heads of ordinary Americans, they naturally want to continue with that strategy.

But this time they would be holding a gun to the heads of Wall Street banksters and Democrats need to understand that Republicans will not pull the trigger because of that.  Therefore they should not make any kind of deal over the debt ceiling that would lock in a cap on government spending or anything else of consequence.  Those kinds of ideas belong in the 2012 budget debate, not in a debate about the full faith and credit of our federal government.

The truth is that no matter what teapartiers in the House demand, Boehner, if he wants to act responsibly, needs only a handful of Republicans to pass an increase in the debt ceiling.  There are plenty of Democrats in the House to get a relatively clean bill passed.

If Boehner cannot get a handful of Republicans, then America should know that Republicans are willing to risk a financial calamity in service to their extremist ideology.

In the Senate, it’s fairly obvious now that no Republican senator is willing to filibuster the debt ceiling bill, therefore only 50 votes are needed to pass a relatively clean one. 

Given these realities, Democrats need to stiffen their spine and tell Republicans that they will not be rolled again.  Sending signals like those Sam Stein reported is not a good strategy.

When will they ever learn?

Corporate Patriotism

ThinkProgress has posted a very revealing chart from a Wall Street Journal article.  Here is the entire set of graphics from WSJ:

As you can see, a dramatic increase in job exporting—outsourcing—coincided with the Bush II presidency.  ThinkProgress on the WSJ article:

The paper notes that this is actually a sharp reversal from trends in the late 1990s, when these major companies were creating more jobs in the United States than overseas. Yet by 2001, things took a turn for the worse, and these corporations have been adding more jobs abroad than at home…

ThinkProgress also posted a pie chart of the results of a survey of “many of the nation’s most powerful corporations” that attended an outsourcing conference in 2009:


Not much patriotism there, ThinkProgress notes, and ends with this:

Unfortunately, for some of these companies, sending American jobs overseas isn’t enough. They also want to bring the profits back into the United States with as little tax liability as possible. Cisco Systems, which had 26 percent of its workforce abroad at the start of the decade but 46 percent of its workforce abroad by the end, is currently involved in a lobbying campaign titled “Win America” calling for a tax repatriation holiday that would let big corporations “bring money they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically lower tax rate.” A similar tax break in 2004 actually increased the amount of money companies store overseas.

It continues to amaze me, as our patriotic military men and women fight overseas, that corporations doing business in America persist in this domestic sin, and should we ever decide to bring our military folks home, we might have to send them back overseas looking for jobs.

Michele Bachmann Wants To Raise Taxes, But Not On The Wealthy

Michele Bachmann, billed as a “Tea Party star,” appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning and said some amazing things.  But before I get to those amazing things, I want to show how George Stephanopoulos set up the interview. 

It began with these revealing graphics created from the newest ABC News/Washington Post poll:

Let’s talk about these poll numbers,” Stephanopoulos began, “that seems to be very strong support for President Obama’s position in this budget fight and a rebuke of the House Republican position.” 

Bachmann responded:

I think if you look at those numbers that would be accurate, but I don’t think that totally reflects where the American people are coming from.  First of all, if we tax 100% of what everyone made who make $250,000 or more—everything they made—that would get us about 6 months worth of revenue—

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every bit helps, doesn’t it?

BACHMANN: Well, but it wouldn’t be enough.  I think that’s what’s shocking. We could take 100% of all the profits of every Fortune 500 company and that would give us 40 days worth of revenue. We could also take 100% of everything that the billionaires in this country own and that wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem.  So it’s really a matter of having everyone involved. Part of the problem, George, is that 47% of all Americans pay virtually no federal income tax.  So, we need to broaden the base.

Let’s stop here and analyze what she has said so far:

♦ The ABC/Post poll numbers aren’t accurate because they don’t fit her view of what the American people believe.

♦ She dodges the issue of the wealthy paying more taxes by turning the conversation to an absurd idea of confiscating all profits and all wealth (no matter how accurate her numbers), a typical Rush Limbaugh trick.

♦ She argues for a tax increase on all Americans.  Yes, she did, my teapartying friends.  She just sat there in front of God and George Stephanopolous and said,

“We need to broaden the base.”

What base?  The income tax base.  Those deadbeat Americans who aren’t paying any federal income tax need to cough it up.  How else do you “broaden” the income tax base without making people who aren’t paying income taxes pay them? 

Let’s be clear: In response to a question about widespread support among Americans for raising taxes on the wealthy, a popular Tea Party Republican (potential) candidate for president insisted that instead of the wealthy, the non-wealthy ought to pay more taxes!

Nevermind that most of those who don’t pay federal income taxes are among those with low or moderate incomes, who nevertheless pay Social Security and Medicare and sales and property taxes.

But she wasn’t done:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that everyone has to be involved and I think that’s reflected also in those numbers. A lot of Americans look at those numbers and say it’s wrong for seniors who rely on Medicare to get cuts when wealthy people get tax cuts extended.

BACHMANN: Well, and I think that again President Obama was the one who was behind the tax cut extension bill in December. That was his position.  And I would agree with senior citizens. We’re very concerned.  And I think that’s why a better name maybe for the Paul Ryan budget would be the “55 and under plan.”  Because no one 55 years of age or older will see any change whatsoever to Medicare. That’s an extremely crucial piece of information.

So, we don’t want any senior citizen to feel, or near senior citizen—I’m 55 years old, and so it wouldn’t apply to me either—and so there are no changes to people who are 55 years or older…

Besides the disgusting chutzpah of blaming Obama for the tax cut extension for the wealthy—when Bachmann and her Republican friends were holding hostage the unemployed and the economy last December—here we see, as Bachmann laid it out, the strategy for attacking Obama during the 2012 campaign season and defending the Republican “kill-Medicare and maim-Medicaid” budget plan:

♦ Claim Obama agrees that cutting taxes for the wealthy helps the economy since he signed off on those tax cuts.

♦ Claim that the Republican Party is really the party looking out for seniors since the GOP plan would leave a relatively generous Medicare benefit package in place until those seniors die, no matter how much hurt it places on those under 55.  Thus, Bachmann labels this “an extremely crucial piece of information.” 

It’s “crucial” because those 55 and older show up and vote in droves both in mid-term elections (around 60%) and presidential elections (around 70%).  And those who show up tend to vote for Republicans (in 2010, 59% of them). In fact, in 2010, even though voters 65 and older make up only 13% of the population at large, they accounted for a staggering 21% of the 2010 electorate. 

And the wealthy, of course, are part of the mix, too. A Project Vote study reported that in 2010:

The number of ballots cast by Americans from households making over $200,000 a year increased by 68 percent compared to 2006.

It’s not hard to understand how Republicans are planning their path to victory in 2012.

But despite Bachmann’s extremely crucial piece of information, Democrats have their own, which they need to broadcast night and day:

Republicans will stop at nothing to defend their rich constituents and they want to solve all of our budget problems on the backs of the poor, the disabled, and the working class.

Just think about this: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that those unfortunate folks under 55 today, if the GOP has its way with its budget plan, would be expected to fork over more than two-thirds of the cost for their health care by the year 2030, even while paying current Medicare benefits for those currently 55 and over.

If that crucial piece of information doesn’t get the young and non-wealthy out to vote next year, then nothing will.

Jesus Is Tougher Than Muhammad?

Much is made here in America, and rightly, of extremist Muslim intolerance for anything that might be construed as disrespecting Muhammad.  Some of his followers would kill—have killed—over an unflattering description or portrayal of the apparently thin-skinned prophet.

Now comes word that Dark Age-Christianity has lately emerged in France:

Police in southern France on Monday were looking for two vandals who destroyed New York artist Andres Serrano’s photo of a crucifix bathed in urine that had been a target of Christian hardliners ever since the 80s.

According to the story,

Several hundred conservative Christians had demonstrated outside the gallery on Saturday, while the Roman Catholic bishop of Avignon, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, had called for the “odious” photograph to be removed.

Piss Christ,” Serrano’s work, has been roundly condemned here in the United States, of course, most famously by Jesse Helms and other members of an informal right-wing theocracy.  When the work won a $15,000 prize in a competition in North Carolina in 1988, it became a symbol of not just anti-religious decadence, but of the need to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, which was one among many sponsors of the competition.

But except for a couple of incidents in 1997 in Australia—similar to the incident in France, someone tried to hammer it to death—the work has survived withering criticism from the Christian faithful, who have been mostly content to pound the picture with words rather than hammers.

Not so, though, for a lithograph, “The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals,” created by Stanford professor and artist Enrique Chagoya and displayed in a Loveland, Colorado, art gallery last year.  A woman took up arms—actually, it was a crowbar—against the work because she believed, as some critics claimed but the artist disputed, that it depicted Jesus engaging in a sex act.

(A word to budding artists out there: Jesus + Sex = Trouble.)

Exhibiting a thirst for divine justice reminiscent of the zealous defenders of Muhammad, the truck-driving grandmother from Montana, Kathleen Folden, took her crowbar and smashed the glass protecting the Chagoya print for, as she said, “religious reasons.” 

Ironically clad in a T-shirt inscribed with, “My Savior Is Tougher Than Nails,” she reportedly screamed, “How can you desecrate my Lord?”

Thankfully, here in America, and apparently in France, offended Christian zealots remain relatively disciplined in their rage against the infidels, at least compared to Muslim extremists around the world. A hammer and crowbar are not, after all, improvised explosive devices.

So, perhaps it’s true that, unlike Muhammad, Kathleen Folden’s Lord is truly “tougher than nails,” and he can take a little criticism.

At least I hope so.

Monkey Business Is Business As Usual For Some

Since I have sometimes mentioned the racially-tinged and racist elements that make up some of the hysterical resistance to Barack Obama (D-Kenya), I suppose I ought to mention the Orange County Republican bigwig, Marilyn Davenport, who has now become a part of the “it has nothing to do with his race” racist Right. 

Ms. Davenport has issued not an apology but a defense of her forwarding a racist email depicting the first African-American President of the United States as a child-monkey:  

I’m sorry if my email offended anyone. I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth. In no way did I even consider the fact he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race.

This episode reminded me a little bit of our own Congressman-now-Senator Roy Blunt and his infamous “monkey joke,” which he told before Focus on the Family’s so-called Values Voter Summit in 2009. In Blunt’s case, and I suppose in his defense, at least he never directly tied his joke to Obama or featured an Obama-monkey photo so the folks would clearly get the message.

Marilyn Davenport, who said she would “NOT resign” her “central committee position,” wanted to make sure the recipients of her email did not miss the point: 

Class. Pure Class.

Ayn Rand Would Laugh At Him

Eric Burlison, a state legislator from Springfield, Mo., spoke at Saturday’s Joplin Tea Party rally.  During his speech he mentioned that he couldn’t wait to see the new movie, Atlas Shrugged, which was released last Friday.

As most of you know, Atlas Shrugged is a novel by Ayn Rand, the pro-choice atheist philosopher whose childishly tidy philosophy argues that selfishness is a virtue and altruism is a weakness, a deadly weakness. 

I can’t be the only one who finds irony in the fact that a man like Eric Burlison—a “pro-life” Christian who advertises that he gives back to the community by “serving” and “volunteering“—is behind a podium at a Tea Party event extolling the philosophy of a godless “baby-killer,” who would openly ridicule and scorn Mr. Burlison’s work on behalf of Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Ronald McDonald House.

Except that when you think about it, what is the Tea Party movement about, if not essentially about selfishness?  At the Joplin Tea Party event, the crowd was mostly made up of older folks, many of them, no doubt, on Social Security and Medicare, who nevertheless enthusiastically applauded speaker after speaker who spoke about a too-large government, a government that takes too much and redistributes it to those who don’t deserve it.  These folks essentially epitomize a version of Randian selfishness philosophy:  They’ve got theirs and to hell with everyone else.

Isn’t that what is happening in Tea Party America?

Just look at the Tea Party’s favorite candidate these days.  Donald Trump, the Ugly American, is riding high on a wave of paranoia, perverse pride, and petty grievances.  His appearance this past weekend at a Florida Tea Party event was both clownish and vicious, both absurd and revealing.

What Trump’s well-received appearance in Florida—as well as his other public statements that have impressed teapartiers—reveals is a disturbing development in American politics. That there are people who take this egotistical, uninformed fool seriously says more about America than I care to acknowledge.  The fact that he is cheered as he denigrates America and brags about his intelligence and his business acumen—despite much contrary evidence—is symptomatic of how far a significant slice of the American electorate has fallen into a sort of Randian trance, where all but the self-described “producers” are leeches who deserve an ill fate.

And here in Joplin I watched a conservative Republican from Springfield, a man who boasts of his volunteer spirit and his “pro-life” credentials, a man who claims he shows “humility and humbleness in an open setting,” salivate over the release of a movie based on the philosophy of a woman who would mock him and his Christian beliefs.

As I said, absurd and revealing.

Ozark Billy Snubs The Erstwhile Conservative

On Saturday, I continued my tradition of attending the annual Joplin Tea Party rally.

Unfortunately for organizers, though, there weren’t that many teapartiers who were willing to continue their tradition of attending.  This year’s contingent was much smaller than last year’s, which was much smaller than the year before. 

But the sparse crowd—maybe 150 folks—was nevertheless thrown lots of blood-red meat from the speakers, which besides the usual locals, included would-be senator Rep. Todd Akin, who has never met a Democrat who wasn’t also a socialist, and, of course, Colonel Ozark Billy Long.

Now, I happened to be standing in the back of the crowd, when I spotted Colonel Billy trying to slip away from the area where the speakers were huddled:

Sensing a chance to talk to the Colonel one-on-one, I hurried over to where I thought he was heading, camera in tow.  I was prepared to make and post a newsworthy video for my faithful readers.  As I was walking, I looked up and saw Ozark Billy staring at me as I approached, with an unwelcoming look on his face. Nevertheless,  I pressed on, again, with camera in tow.

As I walked up to my congressman, my representative, I introduced myself and told him I was from Joplin, clearly identifying myself as one of his constituents.  I asked him if he minded if I interviewed him with my camera on.  No, he said.  Really? I asked.  No, he said, I don’t want you to do that.  Well, I protested, why can’t I use it?  He anxiously looked around as if he were waiting on someone, then responded again that he didn’t want me to use the camera. He said, what is it you want to ask me?

Okay, I thought. No camera, thus, no record of our conversation, but I must soldier on.

I told him I wanted to talk about his vote on the Ryan budget plan the previous day, which essentially does away with Medicare while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.  I asked him how he justified that vote.  We have to do something, he said. He told me that what the plan does is merely give people a “cafeteria” plan like he gets as a government employee.  Since Ozark Billy didn’t know I had been a government employee, I suppose he thought that his response would suffice to shut me up.  But, of course, it didn’t.

I hurriedly explained to him—he was getting fidgety waiting— that the Ryan Medicare plan would end Medicare as we know it, and the so-called voucher proposal for those under 55 would not be sufficient to purchase insurance and people would have to pay much more out of their pockets.  I added that those under 55, even while receiving reduced benefits themselves, would be forced to pay for the current Medicare system, the beneficiaries of which will continue to receive the current generous benefits for many, many years.

He didn’t dispute that but merely reiterated that something needed to be done because the system was designed when people only lived to be “48 years old.”  Aghast at that, I responded with a “that’s simply not true,” and was poised to explain why.  Except that a vehicle—the one Ozark Billy had been so anxiously awaiting—pulled up beside us. And without even saying goodbye, in went the Colonel and off went the car. 

I, one of Congressman Long’s constituents, was left standing on the sidewalk, camera in tow.

Long returned a short time later and gave a speech that was mostly a repeat of an interview he gave to local right-wing radio station, KZRG.  He even gave us another rendition of his now-famous “auction chant.”  The small crowd cheered.  I turned red with embarrassment.

But toward the end of his speech, Ozark Billy said the following to the crowd, and to me, the camera-toting constituent he had earlier snubbed:

We’re just having a lot of good success helping people. But it is the House of Representatives. Never forget that. It is the House of Representatives.

I’ve got a Bozo on the front of my truck—a lot of people say how come you got Bozo on the dash?—that’s to remind me—and I’ve had it on there for years—that’s to remind me not to take myself too seriously. I’m doing your work in D.C., and I was standing right down there last year with ya and I’ll be back down there in a minute…

Good! I thought to myself. He’s doing “our” work. And he’s coming down “here” among “us,” the folks. That would give me a chance to continue my conversation with him. What a man of the people!  Colonel Ozark Billy Long, man of the people!

Except that after he finished his speech,  I watched him leave the podium, walk over to his Bozo-guided truck, and get in the passenger side. Then I watched someone drive him away. 

Still holding my camera, all I could think to say was, Bye-bye, Colonel Billy! Thanks for stopping by and chatting with your constituents!

“Colonel” Ozark Billy Long Had A Tough Week

It’s been quite a week for “Colonel” Ozark Billy Long:

Last Saturday he voted to shut down the government. 

On Wednesday, the auctioneer took a few minutes on the House floor to give a scintillating speech that lauded auctions, auctioneers and auctioneering, saying that the first bill he would introduce in his fledgling legislative career would be one that makes the third Saturday in April “Auctioneer’s Day” across these United States. 

I, for one, have always wondered why we’ve never had an auctioneer’s day, and after Long’s speech, now I know.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the dazzling speech, you missed Ozark Billy doing his auctioneer routine on our national debt.  He has talents most legislators only dream of.  If you want to feel proud of southwest Missouri and our newest representative, I suggest you don’t go to YouTube and watch it. If you want to know why I now begin to refer to Ozark Billy as Colonel Ozark Billy, I suggest you do.

On Thursday, despite a plea to start listening “to folks in the middle” (!) from a supporting local newspaper, the Springfield News-LeaderOzark Billy voted against the 2011 budget deal, using a rationale that Long’s own leader, John Boehner, called “total nonsense.”

Today, Friday, Colonel Billy voted to kill Medicare and disfigure Medicaid, and give his rich friends another tax break.

My guess is that, after such a trying week, the proud auctioneer will—belly-up or belly-down—slink to some D.C. bar for a celebratory toast to the end of socialism in America and the possibility of enacting America’s first Auctioneer Day.

Congratulations, Colonel Billy!  And congratulations to all you southwest Missouri voters who made such an obviously inspired choice last November. Rejoice and make merry on your new Auctioneer Day.

But for those of you under the age of 55 who aren’t independently wealthy, pray to the Republican gods that either you die young or that Democrats win in 2012.

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?


Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

Remarks And Asides

The press secretary for Vice President Joe Biden said that Biden was not really napping during Obama’s budget speech yesterday, merely auditioning for a job as an air-traffic controller.  Good luck, Joe!


The Right’s fixation on Islam and Sharia is finally bearing fruit here in the talk radio-saturated Ozarks.

According to the Springfield News-Leader,

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Springfield say they received a threatening letter targeting Muslims on Sunday and earlier that day found charred remains of three Qurans.

In January, someone painted on the walls of the center, “You bash us in Pakistan. We bash you here.”  The paper also reported that “other messages were sexual, including drawing of a penis near the women’s entrance and a reference to Allah being gay.”

That’s nice. The extremists have figured out a way to get the most out of their graffiti dollar by insulting Muslims and gays in one spray.

Jamil Saquer, a board member of the Islamic Center and a professor at Missouri State University, had this to say about the perpetrators:

They are just acting out of darkness.

What a perfect description of the Right.


Speaking of talk radio saturation and acting out of darkness, yesterday Rush Limbaugh called Obama supporters “savages” and “walking human debris.”  Not one Christian Republican will utter a word of criticism of this man, however.  Praise Jesus.


It’s hard to tell whether Missouri Republicans in the state legislature are treating the unemployed like dogs or the dogs like the unemployed, but one thing is clear: neither the dogs nor the unemployed can count on Missouri Republicans to do the right thing.

Republicans—including every one of our local legislators—have sided with Missouri’s extensive puppy-mill industry and against the welfare of the animals.

And they have sided with Missouri’s extremists in the right-wing ideology industry and against the welfare of the unemployed.

From two stories in today’s Joplin Globe:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers capped an emotional debate about dog breeding and gave final approval Wednesday to legislation replacing many of the provisions in a law approved by voters to tighten regulation of the industry.

…Backers of that law argued that Missouri’s existing laws were too weak, allowing breeders to keep dogs in stacked cages and exposed to excess heat and cold.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.— Thousands of Missouri residents cut off from long-term unemployment benefits will soon get federal payments again..but anyone laid off beginning next week will see reduced state jobless benefits… The cut in state benefits was part of deal to end a filibuster against the federal benefits by four Republican state senators upset about federal spending and deficits.

It’s too bad the dogs can’t vote, although given the prevailing politics in this part of the state, more than half of them would vote Republican.  I’m sure clever GOP canine operatives could convince a majority that living in stacked cages, exposed to the heat and cold, is a small price to pay for allowing breeders to make a fast capitalist buck.


There’s No Such Thing As Rich Or Poor

“George Orwell said that some ideas are so foolish that only an intellectual could believe them, for no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society


Conservative intellectual Thomas Sowell’s column in yesterday’s Joplin Globe contained a weird redefinition of rich and poor:

It so happens that many—if not most—of those called “the rich” are not rich and many, if not most, of those called “the poor” are not poor. They are people who happen to be in a particular part of the income stream as of a given moment in their lives when statistics are collected.

Now, I hate to make fun of a high-powered right-wing intellectual like Thomas Sowell, but his new and tortured definition of rich and poor could be modified in all kinds of neat ways.  For instance,

It so happens that many—if not most—of those called “the employed” are not employed and many, if not most, of those called “the unemployed” are not unemployed.  They are people who happen to be in a particular part of the job stream as of a given moment in their lives when statistics are collected.


It so happens that many—if not most—of those called “smart” are not smart and many, if not most, of those called “dumb” are not dumb.  They are people who happen to be in a particular part of the knowledge stream as of a given moment in their lives when statistics are collected.

You get the idea.

Ironically, Sowell, in his book, Intellectuals and Society, sums up perfectly such nonsense, albeit he certainly wasn’t thinking of himself when he wrote,

The term “pseudo-intellectual” has sometimes been applied to the less intelligent or less knowledgeable members of this profession.  But just as a bad cop is still a cop—no matter how much we may regret it—so a shallow, confused, or dishonest intellectual is just as much a member of that occupation as is a paragon of the profession.

Thank you, Dr. Sowell.

Two Visions Of America

Not long before President Obama’s address to the nation today on the budget, I heard John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor speak. 

Actually, I didn’t have to hear them speak.  I could read their lips: NO NEW TAXES!

Boehner gave Paul Ryan’s dead-on-conception budget plan a big bear hug.  Eric Cantor said Obama’s only deficit-reduction plan was to raise taxes.  And Mitch McConnell suggested that there are “doubts out there” as to whether America is declining or rising.

Thanks, Mitch.

That gloomy GOP view—expressed routinely now by nearly all Republicans—is not characteristically an American one, and Obama’s speech made that point clear.

How different from McConnell’s sour statement was President Obama’s tenor this afternoon.  In fact, the President, in offering blazing criticism of the newest Republican budget plan, said the plan—and the vision it supports—offered a “deeply pessimistic” view of America’s future.


He said that the Paul Ryan budget plan, “championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates,”

would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history. 

The Republican-embraced vision, Obama said, is one which “says that the United States of America—the greatest nation on earth—can’t afford” to fix our roads and bridges or send poor bright kids to college or invest in infrastructure or care for our seniors or insure that the most vulnerable among us have health insurance.

Worst of all,” the President continued,

this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. 

Think about it.  In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined.  The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?  They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty-three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs?  

That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Obama made plain Republican intentions, when he said,

The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. 

As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan.  There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. 

And this is not a vision of the America I know.  

The America Obama knows is “generous and compassionate,” and “a land of opportunity and optimism,” and he said,

We take responsibility for ourselves and each other; for the country we want and the future we share.  We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness.  We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.  We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. 

This is who we are.  This is the America I know.  We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country.  To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms.  We will all need to make sacrifices.  But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. 

And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

Obama’s upbeat view is that America is the greatest country on earth and we can still afford to remain a country in which we can prosper financially, preserve our individual freedoms, and keep our commitment to each other, our fellow citizens:

This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling.  It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea.  It’s patriotism.

Finally, Obama outlined four steps designed to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years, which you can see here for yourself.  While I found two of them wanting (Steps 1 and 3), he did lay out a way to navigate the future that in comparison to the alternative makes some sense.  His plan is not hysterically austere and irritatingly negative, although only $1 trillion in savings comes from raising revenues.  I suppose that is political reality, given the last election.

And he made clear that he would “refuse to renew” the “tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”  That’s progress.

But more than his vision of America or his panic-free outline for dealing with deficit spending, President Obama demonstrated why those hard-core liberals out there, who have entertained ideas of sitting out the 2012 election in protest of Obama’s failure to properly execute liberal strategy, couldn’t be more wrong.

He addressed his base supporters today:

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments.  If we believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective. 

That’s something to think about. And no matter what any of us think of Obama’s negotiating strategy or his seeming lack of passion for some of our pet causes, imagine where we would be these days, if there were no Democrat in the White House.  Especially one who bothers to address those of us with a “progressive vision.”

Really, it’s unimaginable.

Joplin Globe Opinion Page: Fantasia

fan·ta·sia 1. A free composition structured according to the composer’s fantasy.—2. A medley of familiar themes, with variations and interludes. [The Free Dictionary]


For their daily dose of misinformation and silliness, conservatives have Fox “News” and talk radio, and local conservatives have those sources plus a bonus source: the editorial page of the Joplin Globe.

Today’s dose of deception comes from frequent letter-writer and former professor in the computer information science department (!) at Missouri Southern State University, John Cragin.* Here is part of what the learned professor wrote:

The pitiful cries of extreme stalwarts in the most socialistic administration in our mutual history is a case of the pot calling the tea kettle black.  On is hard-pressed to view as not extreme the deliberate case of a highly partisan president who wept about inheriting a $3 trillion debt from President George W. Bush, going back as far as Herbert Hoover.

Having wept about his inherited debt, he proceeded to run the national debt from $3 trillion up to $14 trillion in less than two years.

Did I mention that this man was once a professor at our local university? 

Let’s get straight what Cragin is saying: In less than two years, Barack Obama has added $11 trillion dollars to the national debt!  Get that?  That kind of dishonesty makes the Rush Limbaugh Show sound like NPR.

Nevertheless, that’s the kind of stuff that regularly appears in my local paper, mostly coming from letter-writers who apparently have untethered themselves from reality, seeking the comfort of interpreting their own sets of facts.

In any case, here are the reality-based particulars:

When George W. Bush took office in January of 2001, he inherited Clinton-era budget surpluses.  Along with those surpluses, he inherited a cumulative national debt of almost $6 trillion.  When he left office, the national debt was around $10 trillion.  That’s ten trillion. Mr. Cragin’s three trillion wasn’t even close by conservatives’ standards.

But that’s not the whole story.  During the first two months of Obama’s presidency, more than $400 billion was added to the debt due to the federal bailout of the finance industry, and almost a trillion was added to the debt in order to counter the effects of Bush’s Great Recession by stimulating the economy.  So, it’s wildly unfair to blame Obama for all the spending needed to avoid an economic depression that was looming largely due to years of Republican misgovernance.

Finally, we should all take note of this: According to an article on Wikipedia titled, National debt by U.S. presidential terms, when Bill Clinton left office, he had trimmed the federal debt as a percentage of GDP from 66.1% to 56.4%.  George Bush took that 56.4% debt ratio and increased it to 83.4% of GDP.  And that doesn’t count all the spending that was necessary to pull the economy out of the sinkhole that his administration left it in.

So, now we have people like John Cragin, who apparently slept through the profligate and socialist Bush years (remember Bush’s expansion of Medicare, Mr. Cragin?), creating his own facts and labeling Obama a socialist and crying for fiscal responsibility, as if Democrats invented the national debt.

Here is a chart from the Wikipedia article which shows the various presidencies since WWII and the percentage of debt to GDP.  Notice that all the red numbers are under Republican presidents:


*I’d supply a link to Cragin’s letter, but mercifully someone neglected to post it on the Joplin Globe website.

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