Heretic Hunters And The Hunted

Steve Schmidt, who was the senior campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, made an insightful comment this morning on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown about the unexpected retirement of a frustrated Olympia Snowe:

The Republican Party I think is inarguably stronger with its moderates in the party. Is the Republican Party a stronger party with Olympia Snowe a member of the United States Senate? I think the answer is yes.

We’ve heard so much talk over the last couple of years, purging the party of its RINOs, purging the party of its moderate members.  And there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

Ronald Reagan talked about the fact that someone who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my political opponent, you know, they’re my ally. And it was a stronger party with Olympia Snowe in it, and what the likely result’s gonna be now is that it is gonna be harder for Republicans to get the majority in the U.S. Senate and almost impossible for Republicans to serve the state of Maine in the United States Senate.

All I can say to that is,

Thank you, Olympia Snowe!

I am not one of those who celebrated Senator Snowe’s so-called moderation, since she was a part of nearly all Republican obstructionism in the Senate over the last three years.

I remember her saying she urged President Obama to “take the public option off the table” in his address to Congress in September of 2009, implying that she could support the bill without it. She said back then,

I don’t support a public option and none of my Republican colleagues do.

Well, there was no public option and Senator Snowe still did not vote for the health care reform bill, a piece of legislation largely crafted (and weakened) to get votes from Republicans like her.  You may remember that she famously supported the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, using the now-ironic words,

Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.

Apparently, when history came calling for a vote on final passage of the Affordable Care Act, Snowe was in her garage painting a Tea Party placard. She knew then that uber-conservatives would excoriate her for a “yes” vote and raise up a candidate to challenge her in this year’s primary.

How sad that Ms. Snowe, who gets a lot of credit—only some of it deserved—for being a reasonable, moderate Republican, chose to say no to history, when history came not just calling, but begging for her support.

And given her behavior related to one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent memory, and given her support for Republican filibusters during Obama’s first term, how strange for her to say about her pending retirement:

Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term…I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern…we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.

To repeat what Steve Schmidt said,

…there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

And there are those, like Olympia Snowe, who herself never hunted heretics in her party, but who sat in the pews keeping the seats warm for those who did.

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Here is Olympia Snowe’s “take the public option off the table” moment:

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Republican Lies In Triplicate

Apparently, Republican presidential campaign lies come in threes.

Rick Santorum said last night during his post-loss falsehood-fest in Michigan:

…we have a government that is crushing us every single day, with more taxes, more regulations, and the idea that they know better than you how to run your life.

Let’s count ’em up: Obama’s government is crushing us with (1) more taxes (2) more regulations and (3) run-your-life superiority, a trifecta of untruths.

Mitt Romney said last night during his post-win lie-fest in Michigan, that Barack Obama,

put us on a path toward debt and deficits and decline.

Admittedly, Romney’s unholy trinity of falsehoods sounds good to Obama-hating ears, but the only way it could be true is if it were said about George W. Bush.

Romney engaged in another tall-tale threesome:

We’ve seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don’t need another five years of President Obama—he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution, he’s unresponsive to the will of our people, and in a second term he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection. If there’s one thing we can’t afford, it’s four years of Barack Obama with nothing to answer to.

Let me reiterate: Obama (1) “he thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” (2) “he’s unresponsive to the will of our people” (3) “he would be unrestrained by the demands of reelection.”

Keep all that stuff in mind as you read on.

Remember the controversy at the end of last year over the National Defense Authorization Act and the provision that allows the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects—including Americans?

For now, thanks to Obama—who did what he promised when he signed the bill—apparently there is at least some reason to relax, if only while Mr. Obama is in office:

WASHINGTON — The White House released rules Tuesday evening waiving the most controversial piece of the new military detention law, and exempting U.S. citizens, as well as other broad categories of suspected terrorists…

Naturally, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham (and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire) are not exactly excited about the waiver and the temporary protection of our civil liberties:

“We are particularly concerned that some of these regulations may contradict the intent of the detainee provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress last year.”

All three senators were adamant that all terrorism suspects — American citizens or otherwise — should be taken into military custody.

Now, what we have here is an Administration, headed by a man who is supposedly “crushing us every single day” and who “thinks he’s unchecked by the Constitution” and is “unresponsive to the will of our people,” trumping three Republican senators whose disregard for the Constitution and the will of the people may one day be legendary.

Another Way To Think About Iran

Here is a headline from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Clearly, coordinated sanctions are putting pressure on Iran, but no one knows what that increased pressure will ultimately bring. In the mean time, we have the political dynamics here at home to digest and to understand and quite possibly to fear.

Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, began a piece on The Huffington Post last month with this line:

The drums are sounding for war on Iran.

He noted that “Republican presidential candidates pledge military action as soon as they cross the threshold of the White House,” and that the Obama administration accompanies its policy of “coercive sanctions” with sharp rhetoric and pressure on our allies to join us “in confrontation.” Israel, he says, is pushing “the United States into war mode.”  The media is working hard “to stoke fears in a manner reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq invasion.”

All true, as far as I can see. What is missing, Brenner argues,

is a sober assessment of the problem and what are suitable approaches to addressing it.

The following is a brief outline of his assessment and the approaches he suggests. I would urge all readers to follow the link for more details, because what Brenner says, right or wrong, is not a point of view on the Iran dilemma that you will encounter very often, especially on television news:

1) “Iran will never forego the option of developing a nuclear capability that is crucial to their objective security needs.”

2) “Therefore, sanctions and other means short of war will not work.”

3) “The undeclared war by other means that we are conducting confirms the security imperative and solidifies a national consensus [in Iran] on the nuclear issue.

4) “Somehow neutralizing the potentially destabilizing effects of the Iranian nuclear program requires reaching a set of understandings and putting in place arrangements that satisfy the basic security interests of all parties in the Gulf region.”

5) “Talks on the nuclear question that ignore the above are doomed to failure.”

6) “To paint the Islamic Republic as the epitome of evil and to pursue a veiled strategy of regime change makes serious negotiation impossible.”

7) “This logic holds despite the Islamic Republic being a noxious regime that has abused its citizens.”

8)  “Consequently Washington’s tiptoeing to the brink of conflict puts us in the position of either backing away and thereby losing face and credibility (along with votes for Mr. Obama in November) or taking military action whose effects would be disastrous.”

Conclusion: if you feel it is imperative to deny Iran a nuclear capability, then get ready for a costly war and chaotic aftermath. More and more aggressive coercion short of military action has no hope of resolution; it could bring on war unintentionally, however. Let’s be honest about what we want and the full implications of going after it.

American post-9/11 imperial ambitions have been driven by the belief in absolute and total security. That has meant military and political domination of the Greater Middle East. In reckless pursuit of this delusional goal, our schemes have founded against the harsh realities of international life. It would be tragic if the curtain falls on a scene of a cataclysmic failure of our own making.

Get Serious About Getting Serious

I had high hopes when I saw this editorial in Sunday’s Joplin Globe:

Ah, I thought, the paper is finally coming around to the truth about Republicans. The editorial even included this paragraph about our future debt to GDP ratio under the various budgets proposed by the presidential players:

Under Obama’s proposal, it will rise to 80 percent by 2021. Mitt Romney’s policies would push that to 86 percent of GDP through 2021. Rick Santorum’s policy would take it to 104 percent and Newt Gingrich would have us at 114 percent, the group concluded…

In this group, Obama is the fiscal hawk, which should at least earn him some drive-by love from the Globe, which endorsed him in 2008. But nope. No love for Big O was forthcoming. But what was forthcoming was something that made the title of the editorial—”Get serious!”—seriously ironic:

Cutting taxes is the right medicine, if for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the spending junkies in Washington. Still, that won’t be enough — deep cuts are called for, too.

Now, it is hard to overstate the utter unseriousness behind these two sentences. The paper is saying that we should cut taxes—even though federal revenue is already at a 60-year low—andStill, that won’t be enough…” What? Without argument, without evidence, the writer, enchanted by some sort of supply-side fantasy, assumes that cutting taxes automatically results in increased revenue.

Haven’t we seen that movie enough times to know by now how it ends? Does anyone watch Gone With The Wind thinking that maybe this time Rhett and Scarlett will live happily ever after together?

In any case, the government is starving for additional revenue. We are in fact a low-tax country. Here are total federal receipts and total federal outlays as a percentage of GDP for the years 2009-2011:

YEAR               RECEIPTS            OUTLAYS

2009                 15.1                          25.2

2010                 15.1                           24.1

2011                 15.4                          24.1

Since WW II, only the years 1949 (14.5%) and 1950 (14.4%) saw years in which receipts were less than any of the above three years. And those years saw outlays of only 14.3% and 15.6% respectively.

The Globe editorial suggested that a “fundamental change” is needed “in the vision the American people have for their federal government.” No, it is not. People already have a vision for their federal government, much of which they like. What they lack is a second vision of how to pay for their first vision, and unserious editorials from the Joplin Globe won’t help them form one.

If tax increases are off the table, if tax cuts and the necessarily drastic spending cuts they would necessitate are instead offered as “the right medicine,” then the patient will never get well.

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Here are some helpful charts from the Center for American Progress:

Mitt Is No Massachusetts Moderate

Everyone by now has heard that when he was asked if he followed NASCAR, Mitt Romney said:

Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.

Now that, along with his comment that his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” is how Romney appeals to everyday Joes (without the six-pack, since Mittens doesn’t drink). He may not take a lunch bucket to work, but he has some great friends who own lunch bucket factories.

While I know that no one is going to actually believe Mitt Romney is Joe the Plumber, what I fear may end up happening, particularly since Rick Santorum is hell-bent to run as an unelectable theocrat, is that Romney comes off looking like a political moderate. I heard him so referenced twice in one hour on Monday morning—on MSNBC!

Sure, compared to Santorum, he appears slightly more reasonable. And by slightly I mean, well, slightly. The difference between them is like the difference between a humid 100-degree day here in the Midwest and a humid 99-degree day. Both days make you miserable, and it would take a person with preternatural discernment to meaningfully distinguish the two.

The biggest difference is Romney’s unwillingness to openly discuss his fondness for policies inspired directly by his so-called Christian faith. And the reason for that is clear: he understands that a goodly number of GOP voters think he is only a “so-called” Christian, so why bring it up at all?

Other than the religious angle, there just isn’t that much to convincingly argue that Romney’s political philosophy is significantly less wacky than Santorum’s, especially since Mittens hasn’t gone out of his way to distance himself from Santorum’s journey into social-issue theocracy.

The truth is that Mitt Romney has somewhat clumsily adapted his politics to appeal to a very narrow range of voters in that orgy of absurdity known as the GOP primaries.  And I am convinced that he means it this time, even though he is having a hard time convincing a majority of right-wingers.

But I’m not the only one who believes that Romney’s heavy petting of the far right-wing of his party would result, should he be elected president, in policy children that only a teapartier could love.

None other than Ann Coulter, who is one of the most vile conservatives in the history of the breed, is a Romney enthusiast. She famously told Sean Hannity, a fellow vile conservative who refers to Mr. Obama as “the Anointed One“—without a peep of criticism from falsely pious Christians like Coulter—that she recently spoke to Romney at a fundraiser and said,

You owe me! And you’d better be as right-wing a President as I’m telling everybody you’re gonna be!

She told Hannity that Romney laughed and said, “Don’t worry.”

And if Ann Coulter isn’t worried, that means the rest of us should be.

Stomp The Roaches

Emerging from three days of near-isolation from politics, I woke up today to this:

And this:

And this:

You know, normally when you turn on the light the roaches scatter and head for the cover of darkness.  In this election cycle, the roaches of extremism, nesting in the brains of GOP candidates, not only don’t scatter when the lights come on, they send for their friends.

I have found quite disgusting most of what Republicans have said and done this campaign season, much of that disgust registered on this blog since campaigning began. But I don’t think I have been more disgusted by anything said so far as I am by the attacks on President Obama for trying to protect American soldiers, via his apology to the president of Afghanistan for inadvertently burning Qurans.

It is almost beyond words.  Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, apparently has learned diplomat-speak very well, since she totally understated the problem:

I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

Somewhat troubling“?  She finds it somewhat troubling that candidates for the highest office in our land would “inflame a dangerous situation“—thus putting our troops at even greater risk? Well, I find it somewhat troubling that we should use such mild language to call out Republicans for their cynical exploitation of this issue.

Obama is the Commander-in-Chief, for Allah’s sake. His responsibility in this matter is to do all he can to calm nerves and not expose our soldiers to even more danger than they already face. To criticize him for doing his job is really unbleepingbelievable.

When the roaches are out running around in the light, you don’t just find it “somewhat troubling.” You stomp your rhetorical foot on them—no, both rhetorical feet—crushing them, knowing that the uncomfortable crunch is the first step in stopping the infestation because, if you don’t do it now, they will simply go back to their conservative nests and breed more extremist ideas.

When Rick Santorum says, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” you don’t just find that “somewhat troubling” either.
We all should find that disturbing, frightening, terrifying.  And we should say so. Loudly. And often.

When Rick Santorum, playing to the weird crowd that makes up his base, says, “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob,” he should be mocked endlessly, until his extremist ideas aren’t even comfortable nesting in the brain of the host.

Santorum said to Glenn Beck, the father of a lot of extremist roaches, the following:

I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.

Now, what do you do with such fanaticism but crush it? What do you do with such zealotry but turn on the light and start stomping your feet?

The Truth About Gas Prices

Steve Benen tries to inject a little reality into the veins of Americans, now that Republicans are demagoguing higher gasoline prices:

Republicans aren’t just demanding expansive drilling. They’re also pushing a talking point that’s quickly become ubiquitous on the right.

“The president would like everyone to forget that gas prices have doubled over the past three years while he consistently blocked and slowed the production of American-made energy,” a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Brendan Buck, said in a statement.

The second part of this is just silly; oil production has increased every year under Obama’s presidency, and is now higher than it was at any point in Bush’s second term.

Benen goes on to explain the reason gas prices were so low when Bush left office:

there was a global economic catastrophe. GOP officials may not understand this — or they may chose not to — but gas was cheap because the economy had fallen off a cliff. As the economy improved, demand went up, and the price of gas started climbing. It’s Economics 101.

He then quotes Matt Yglesias, who gave George Bush credit for engineering cheaper gasoline this way:

If you manage to orchestrate a situation in which millions of people lose their jobs, retail sales plummet, stores close, and economic activity generally grinds to a halt, this frees up a lot of extra oil. Cheap oil leads to cheap gasoline..

Touché.

The Armor Of God: The Republican Party

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

—Ephesians 6:11

Once again, those ungodly, evolution-drunk scientists have got it all wrong. From Scientific American:

Earth is the planet of the plants—and it all can be traced back to one green cell. The world’s lush profusion of photosynthesizers—from towering redwoods to ubiquitous diatoms—owe their existence to a tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria and turned it into an internal solar power plant.

But that can’t be. Because, as most conservatives would have us believe, evolution is not a fact and the true story of how plants came to be was written long ago:

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so…

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

One problem with the Genesis account, which resourceful defenders of creationism can explain away, is that for plants to exist at all they must, as molecular bioscientists say (but what do they know?), be able to synthesize sunlight. And the sun wasn’t in business until the next day:

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also…

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Now, lest you think my sarcasm is wasted on a dead issue, I present some headlines from stories posted on the National Center for Science Education website over the last two months:

Conservative Christians, using the GOP as their theological weapon, will not stop pushing their religious agenda, just as they will not stop attacking reproductive rights and gay rights. They will lose fight after fight and then get up and start swinging again, faithfully believing that incrementally and eventually they can bend the country’s will towards righteousness.

You won’t find a better description of what has happened to the Republican Party, as we watch its integrity die on the vine of fundamentalism, than this one presented by Steve Benen:

The Republican hostility for science, scientists, the scientific method, scientific inquiry, and empirical research in general has already been solidified as part and parcel of the party’s identity. The GOP mainstream rejects scientific evidence on everything from global warming to stem-cell research to evolutionary biology to sex-ed — in part because they find reality inconvenient, and in part because, as David Brooks put it, many Republicans simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

The reason they don’t accept their legitimacy is because they believe there is an even higher and older authority, One who conveniently blesses their politics and is conveniently beyond the scrutiny of man, especially scholars and intellectuals and scientists.

And it is their version of the Almighty—only one version among many in the world—to which they hold fast, and molecular bioscientists, who discover “tiny alga eons ago that swallowed a cyanobacteria,” be damned.

Kansas: Where Seldom Is Heard An Encouraging Word

As a former Kansas boy, I like to keep tabs on the reactionaries back home:

From the Kansas City Star:

TOPEKA | Republicans on Thursday pushed a bill through the Kansas House requiring potential voters to prove their U.S. citizenship ahead of this year’s election, although GOP senators are divided on whether the state will be ready to enforce the rule.

The House approved the bill 81-43, with all of the votes for it coming from Republicans. It would impose the proof-of-citizenship requirement for people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas starting June 15, more than six months ahead of schedule and in time for the normal surge before a presidential election…

Legislators approved a proof-of-citizenship rule last year but — at the Senate’s insistence — it’s not scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.

Now, judging from this bill, and the big hurry these Republican legislators are in, one would think that Kansas, in the middle of the country, is plagued with lots of non-citizens voting. Well, of course, there is no such plague.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State* who was the primary drafter of Arizona’s infamous anti-immigration bill, SB 1070, identified a whopping “32 non-citizens on the voter rolls” in 2011.  That’s out of a total of 1.7 million registered voters, the Star notes.

That’s 32 out of 1,700,000.

So, let’s do the math:

32 divided by 1.7 million = .0018823% 

You can see why Republicans are in such a hurry to stop this electoral travesty.

The truth is that Kansas Republicans, like Republicans all over the country, are trying to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, and the poor, many of whom lack the ability to comply with these nonsensical and unnecessary laws.

There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem—anywhere in America. Yet Republicans, who apparently have little confidence in their message, are going to a lot of trouble to fight this non-existent problem.

It is shameful, but not surprising.

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* Kobach also works for the legal arm of a group called Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose founder, John Tanton, has said,

I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

White power!

“We’ve Got A Different Vision”

Mr. Obama, campaigning in Florida, made his case to the American people in three paragraphs, versions of which we will hear—thankfully— from now until November:

They make no secret about what they want to do. They want to go back to the days when Wall Street played by its own rules. They want to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny you coverage or jack up your premiums without reason. They want to spend trillions more on tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals, for people like me, who don’t need it, weren’t even asking for it—even if it means adding to the deficit, even if it means gutting our investments in education or clean energy, or making it harder for seniors on Medicare. Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves, everybody makes their own rules, a few do very well at the top and everybody else is struggling to get by. That’s their core vision for America.

We’ve got a different vision. We see America as a bigger, bolder place. I’m here to tell them they are wrong about America. Because in America, we understand—yes, we’re rugged individuals—yes, we don’t expect a handout—we are going to do everything we can to make it and fulfill our dreams—but we also understand we are greater together than we are on our own. We’re better off when we keep that basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well, you can succeed, that you can own that home and send your kids to college and put away something for retirement.

And that’s the choice in this election. This is not just a political debate. This goes to who we are as a people, because we are in a make-or-break moment for the middle class and people who are trying to get in the middle class. We can go back to an economy that is built on outsourcing and bad debt and phony financial profits. Or we can build an economy that lasts. An economy that’s built on American manufacturing, skills and education for American workers, and American-made energy, and, most importantly, the values that have always made America great: Hard work, fair play, shared responsibility.

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