The Red, White, And Blue Line

We are the United States of America. We cannot and must not turn a blind eye toward what happened in Damascus.

Barack Obama, August 31, 2013

President Obama has called the bluff of a pusillanimous Congress. For a week now, members of the House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, have argued that the President must seek congressional authorization for any action directed toward Syria. I have heard Democrats and Republicans declare before the American people that Congress should finally determine whether the United States takes any punitive action against the Assad regime, and as I wrote a few days ago, I agree with them, saying that Congress “should shoulder much of the responsibility for attacking Syria. This isn’t Libya. The unknowns are much greater and more extensive.”

But in the mean time, Congress has remained on vacation. Congressional leadership, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid, have made no move to call Congress back to Washington to debate this matter. That, my friends, is why whoever occupies the White House, whether it is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican, has amassed so much power. It’s easy for members of Congress to spout their objections or affirmations on television or on their websites, but it’s much harder to cast a vote and go on the record—which history will examine and critique— for posterity.

The President put an end to that congressional cowardice today. Showing the proper respect for our democratic values, he claimed he had the authority to act against Syria, he said he decided that we should act against Syria, but unequivocally he put the burden of such an action on “the American people’s representatives in Congress”:

Over the last several days, we’ve heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard.  I absolutely agree. So this morning, I spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they’ve agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as Congress comes back into session. 

In other words, the so-called “red line” he has previously drawn in terms of international norms against the use of chemical weapons, has now become the red, white, and blue line. As the lack of international cooperation on this matter has made clear, as we observe governments run away from enforcing those norms, if the burden of enforcing any principle against the use of chemical warfare is to be shouldered, it will be shouldered by the American people.

As amazing as the President’s announcement was today, I want to say something about what has been happening, and is now happening on steroids, among people I have called the “establishment extremists” on the right. It makes one sick, even though all of it was quite predictable.

I was watching Fox “News” both before and after the President’s remarks today. If there was ever any tiny doubt remaining that the right-wing network is, during its so-called “straight” news programming, nothing but a propaganda machine for reactionaries, today erased all doubt.

I watched Oliver North tell us how confident he was that Obama, because he “shot off his mouth” about a red line, would initiate an attack on Sunday night. He told us he visited the Pentagon, had contacts in the place, and there was little confidence among military leaders that what Obama was certainly going to do would work.

Now, leaving aside how wrong North was, and leaving aside the utter right-wing nonsense about Obama’s “red line” remarks—which were appropriate and if he had not said them would have caused right-wingers like North to attack him for not doing so—one has to wonder why the disgraced Oliver North is allowed to even piss in a Pentagon potty let alone confer with anyone of consequence there.

One has to also wonder why the President doesn’t issue a directive to everyone at the Pentagon that would go something like this: “If I find out any one of you have blabbed to people like Oliver North even a jot or tittle about our military planning, you will quickly find yourself in command of a plastic boat fleet in Rush Limbaugh’s massive bathtub. Got it?”

Before North finished his segment on Fox, he managed to suggest the President read one of his books, conveniently, and unbelievably, holding a copy of it up before the camera. Disgusting, but then the conservative media complex is at work 24-7 and Fox is where the gullible go to graze.

After the President’s remarks, on came the big guns on Fox, which included Commander Charles Krauthammer, who not only knows more than Barack Obama about being a commander-in-chief, he knows more than Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, well, more than God, as Krauthammer’s pronouncements have the chiseled-in-stone certainty of divine commandments.krauthammer on syria

Krauthammer’s rhetorical assault on President Obama was so comprehensive, so vile, that I thought his head was going to explode while delivering it. He pulled out every negative description at his mental command to criticize the President. It “was amateur hour, ” he said. He announced that, “the President flinched.” He said Obama looks like a president “who boxed himself into a corner and is looking for a way out.” Commander Krauthammer, as with all warmongering right-wing pundits and politicians, demands  “urgency,” saying the President lacked it, and that after the latest chemical attack, he should have “immediately called in the Congress” and had the whole thing done “in three days.” And, yes, he brought out from the mothballs the “d” word: “dithering.” 

Then, amazingly, he said this:

We are, I think, beyond even the military strategics of this. I would have opposed a limited strike because I think it’s not what you want to do. You want to do a strike that’s going to affect the battle that’s happening in Syria today and tilt it against the government. But at this point, what’s at stake is the word of the United States and that overrides everything. 

In other words, says Commander Krauthammer, even though he is all-in for a military response that would give the rebels, whoever the bleep they are, the upper hand, he would now, just for the show of it, be in favor of a limited strike because “the word of the United States,” even if it comes from an obviously incompetent boob like Barack Obama, “overrides everything.” That’s scary shit right there.

But Krauthammer, who is widely regarded as the most profound right-wing thinker since the extinction of Neanderthals, wasn’t finished. He talked about how Obama’s decision would bring “jubilation” to the Syrian government, the Russians, and the Iranians, but most important, he said,

…imagine the demoralization, not just among the rebels, who are looking up to the sky and looking for assistance, but among all the states in the region who live on the word of the United States, on Jordan, on the Saudis, on the Kuwaitis, the Omanis, the Yemenites, even Israel and Egypt to a large extent. And they hear a president who has no idea what he’s doing and speaks about this in a leisurely way, will take off in a couple of days, end up in Sweden and in Moscow, when all of this is happening.

What the President ought to do… [is] bring in the members of Congress, you have a debate for two days and you have a resolution. You can’t leave the region hanging. It looks absolutely as if the United States has chickened out. And that’s the work of the President because he did this. And even though I think a limited attack is not the right thing to do, at this point he has to do something or we will have reached the lowest ebb of American influence in the region since 1970.

There you have it. All rolled into one stunning declaration. This is how the right, the militant right, the right that brought us the Iraq war, looks at the modern world, looks at how American power ought to be demonstrated to both a dependent and defiant world.

Never mind that most of the nations that Krauthammer names are not clamoring, at least publicly, for U.S. intervention in Syria. And some, like Turkey for instance, whom Krauthammer did not mention, are actually pushing for the U.S. to do more than initiate a limited, punitive attack on Syria. They want, like Krauthammer himself, the Americans to do enough damage to give the Syrian opposition, many of them American-haters, a decisive advantage. Such recklessness, such daredevilish thinking, is what brought us, via the Iraq war, a more powerful and more dangerous Iran.

In any case, what Krauthammer’s response shows—and he was only one among many expressing such views on Fox today—was not just the usual Obama-hating hysteria that has infected right-wing politics and punditry, and not only reveals the hasty, foolhardy thinking on the establishment-extremist right regarding the use of American power around the world, but it demonstrates a fundamental problem some conservatives have always had with democracy: they don’t trust the people.

That is why there is an ongoing Republican assault on voting rights and that is why some conservatives (with notable exceptions like anti-establishment extremists Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) are having so much trouble digesting the fact that our President of the United States, a Democrat they accuse of being a Constitution-hating lawbreaker, has decided to honor the Constitution, which says in Article 1, Section 8:

Congress shall have power to…declare War.

Thus, because the American people, through their representatives in Congress, will now decide if any action will be taken against the Syrian government for its unconscionable use of chemical weapons on innocents, including children, I will give the President the last word below, at least for now, on this issue. As Americans, we should get to decide just what kind of country we will be, what principles we are prepared to defend and, when necessary, to enforce with our military might. And anyone who cares about America’s role in the world, about our place in yet-to-be-written world history, should read the following words carefully, and then diligently pay attention to the debate that will soon begin in, as Mr. Obama said today, “the world’s oldest constitutional democracy”:

And finally, let me say this to the American people:  I know well that we are weary of war.  We’ve ended one war in Iraq.  We’re ending another in Afghanistan.  And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military.  In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve.  And that’s why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war. 

Instead, we’ll continue to support the Syrian people through our pressure on the Assad regime, our commitment to the opposition, our care for the displaced, and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people.

But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.  Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning.  And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations.  We aren’t perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities.

The Syrian Gamble

You know what’s wrong with all the talk, the incessant and cocksure talk, about attacking Syria? Everything. At least everything that matters.

Sure, it would temporarily feel good if America were to strike a blow against a despotic and desperate regime that has killed thousands of its own citizens, including women and children.

Sure, it would be justified, at least morally, to demonstrate to other brutal tyrants around the world that the use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated.

Sure, we could do great damage to Bashar al-Assad by way of some tactical attacks against his military assets, possibly even tipping the balance in favor of the disparate Syrian opposition, some of whom, if they topple the government, we will undoubtedly hear from again, since they are our ideological and theological enemies.

Before the pundits and politicians talk decisively about involving the U.S. in the Syrian mess, what we should be talking about is why would Assad do such a thing now and why would he do it where he allegedly ordered it? As Syrian Kurdish leader Salen Muslim said,

The regime in Syria … has chemical weapons, but they wouldn’t use them around Damascus, 5 km from the (U.N.) committee which is investigating chemical weapons. Of course they are not so stupid as to do so.

It is possible of course that Syrian leadership is that stupid. But shouldn’t we be absolutely certain first? After the Iraq war’s weapons-of-mass-destruction mass delusion, shouldn’t we be sure?

And before launching missiles and dropping bombs and satisfying the war-thirst of John McCain, we should be talking about the “additional information” related to the chemical attack that Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would provide “in the days ahead.” That was on August 23. So far, all I’ve heard that would directly—as opposed to circumstantially—tie the Syrian government to the chemical attack is a report of intercepted calls by U.S. intelligence gatherers, as Foreign Policy’s The Cable reported:

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. 

The trouble is, as that report makes clear, such an intercept raises additional questions about who is to blame for such a brutal move:

Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? “It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?” 

I, for one, want to know the answer to those questions before I assent to a retaliatory attack against Syria. And apparently there is a report being compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that will give us probative evidence that Assad is responsible for the horrific chemical attack. While that is a necessary component of justifying a move against Syria, it is not sufficient.

The Washington Post reports:

U.S. officials have said that any strike would be limited in scope and duration and would be intended as both punishment for the use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent. 

It’s one thing to imagine that this action can be “limited in scope and duration.” But before a final justification for the action can be made, the government must address the logical follow-up question: After the last cruise missile has exploded, after the last bomb has dropped, what then? I don’t demand some kind of overarching strategy for the entire region, as Senator McCain and others have demanded and demeaned the President for not having. There is no such strategy applicable to what is going on in that part of the world. Every situation is different and does not lend itself to some sort of grand plan.

However, in terms of Syria, in terms of using military intervention against Assad, whether on our own or, more acceptably, in conjunction with other nations, it should at least be explained to Americans that the next step is inherently unknown, dependent on what Syria or Iran or Hezbollah or others do in reaction to our direct intervention. The intention of a military strike may be conceived as punishment and it may be conceived as limited in scope and duration, but it should be explained to Americans that what happens after we do damage to Syria is a gamble. Escalation may follow. More American involvement may become necessary. And no one, right now at this moment, knows how extensive that involvement may be.

As I write this, President Obama is under intense pressure to make good on his word that the use of chemical warfare is a line that cannot be crossed with impunity. He has to do something, it is argued by folks on both ideological sides, in order to protect the integrity of the United States, otherwise our threats in the future will be meaningless. We will look like international weaklings. And it appears increasingly obvious that the President will act. He will do something.

I remember the criticisms of President Obama related to the escalation of the Afghanistan war. Do you remember? He was accused of “dithering,” of indecision. Our local paper, the Joplin Globe, editorialized at the time:

The choice is now yours, Mr. President. Put up or back down. There is no room for equivocation.

At that time, almost four years ago, I wrote about those who were itching for an upgrade of the Afghanistan war:

Those who favor escalating the war should “put up or back down” when it comes to defining exactly how we will know when we have won the war. If they can’t do that, then maybe they need to take some more time and think about it.

Johnson

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson expressed frustration to Sen. Richard Russell, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time, about what to do in Vietnam. He knew the effort was not likely to succeed, yet, Johnson could not marshal the courage to pull the plug on the action. It would have been too “costly,” in his mind, both domestically and internationally.

So, 55,000 more lives were lost. That’s right. After President Johnson knew the war was essentially useless, 55,000 more lives were needlessly lost.

Maybe a little more deliberation and a little more courage to “back down” would have led Johnson to do the right thing. We will never know. But we do know that President Obama is rethinking his initial plans to continue prosecuting the war. That is a good thing. And it is not equivocation or dithering to want to get things right.

Again, I ask those who can’t think of anything else to do in this present situation but to attack Syria to please tell us how this thing will end if it doesn’t turn out to be limited in scope and duration. What should our response be if the situation spreads outside of Syria? How far are we willing to go?

I can be persuaded. I share the outrage of what happened to civilians, to women and to children, outside of Damascus. I am not in favor of doing nothing about what is going on in Syria, particularly if a desperate regime has now decided to do the unthinkable. But to justify American involvement, a better case has to be made than has been made so far.

And I can only hope and believe that President Obama, should he do what it appears he will do, has considered the next step, and the next, and the next. I hope that he consults with Congress, which in this particular case, should shoulder much of the responsibility for attacking Syria. This isn’t Libya. The unknowns are much greater and more extensive.

Finally, if we do act, it should not be because we have a compulsion to save political face both domestically and internationally. We know from recent history that such a compulsion eventually cost the lives of 55,000 Americans.

Kudoka Theater, Or Why The Middle Class Is Disappearing And What We Can Do About It

On Saturday, The New York Times’ Opinionator published an excellent piece titled, “How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class.” It is co-authored by David Autor, an MIT economist who, among other things, specializes in “income inequality,” “impacts of technological change,” and “employment protection.” The article represents a slight pushback against the extreme pessimism that some economists and scholars have advanced as a response to mechanization and computerization, which seem to be bringing us “the end of labor.”

There will be no end of labor, of course. But we are watching what may be the end of the plethora of middle class jobs that once made America widely—as opposed to narrowly—prosperous and made us the envy of the world. As the Times article explains:

Computers excel at “routine” tasks: organizing, storing, retrieving and manipulating information, or executing exactly defined physical movements in production processes. These tasks are most pervasive in middle-skill jobs like bookkeeping, clerical work and repetitive production and quality-assurance jobs.

Logically, computerization has reduced the demand for these jobs, but it has boosted demand for workers who perform “nonroutine” tasks that complement the automated activities. Those tasks happen to lie on opposite ends of the occupational skill distribution.

On one end are the “so-called abstract tasks that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion and creativity,” which “are characteristic of professional, managerial, technical and creative occupations, like law, medicine, science, engineering, advertising and design.” On the other end are “so-called manual tasks” like cooks, truck drivers, and hotel maids, which because “their skills are not scarce,” cannot command high wages. Thus, the conclusion:

Computerization has therefore fostered a polarization of employment, with job growth concentrated in both the highest- and lowest-paid occupations, while jobs in the middle have declined.

Timothy Noah, who has written about America’s “growing inequality crisis,” was on MSNBC this morning to talk about the New York Times article and income inequality and the loss of middle class jobs. Noah says the change, which David Autor elsewhere calls “job polarization,” is worldwide, noting that the Japanese have a term for it: kudoka (“hollowing out”). But, Noah continues:

It’s worse in the United States than it is in comparable countries that are facing precisely the same technological challenge. We seem to be handling it worse here in the United States.

When asked why, he explained, an explanation that should ring in the ears of anyone who gives a damn about the possibility of restoring a robust middle class in America:

I think it’s mostly government policy. Things like the minimum wage. Our minimum wage hasn’t gone up for a long time. Our government is pretty hostile toward unions. We don’t have a good early education program. There are all sorts of government programs that in other countries focus more on the needs of the middle class and focus on creating greater income equality.

Get that? Our government, despite what you hear from reactionary Republicans, can help with the hollowing out that technology, great for us in other ways, has caused. Noah offered a few things (he left out advocating for a more progressive tax system) that can help: provide more support for community colleges, which help train “middle skill” workers; make college more affordable;  end government’s hostility toward labor unions; make sure the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy is focused on job creation; and raise the minimum wage.

As far as the minimum wage, here is a video circulating that makes a salient point:

“Out-Of-Control Spending” Isn’t One Of Our Many Problems

Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, commented on a bizarre story that appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. Chait said the story (“After six budget showdowns, big government is mostly unchanged“) was,

one of the weirdest, and most weirdly biased, news articles I’ve ever read in my life. 

The writer of the Post story is David Fahrenthold, who, as the paper tells us, “covers Congress for the Washington Post.” That would lead one to believe that Fahrenthold is a genuine news reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer.

But as Chait points out, it is hard to tell that the Post story was written by an objective journalist, since it seems to push a Tea Party message that “government is not shrinking” and it is “really, really big.” I strongly urge you to read Chait’s piece, but I will post here a couple of graphs he used (similar to others I have used on this blog) to demonstrate why government is in fact getting smaller and why it is not as big as you might think:

This graph represents the federal workforce as a percentage of U.S. population. It speaks for itself. No one can seriously argue that, in terms of the size of the federal workforce, that government is getting bigger.

This second graph comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

U.S. Government Spends Less than Most Other Developed Countries

The article from the CBPP addresses the misleading meme, spread by right-wing government-shrinking radicals, that “government spending in the United States is 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).” As with all statistics, a little context is in order, which the CBPP article provides. To summarize slightly:

♦ That 41 percent number comes from the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD) and which reflects “spending by all levels of government,” federal, state and local, with local governments spending about one-third of the total.

♦ The OECD uses a system of measurement developed for the United Nations, which significantly differs from measurements made by the federal government via the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (that explains the difference between the dark blue and light blue lines on the graph). The United Nations’ measurement includes, for instance, “the entire cost of running the public-university system, not just what legislators appropriate to supplement students’ tuition payments.”

♦ The year the 41 percent figure is derived (2011) “exaggerates the situation”:

Automatic increases in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance andfood stamps, plus recovery measures that Congress enacted, pushed up the numerator (spending), even as a slumping economy squeezed the denominator (GDP).  This happened in other countries, too.

♦ The CPBB notes that government spending is decreasing and that “the Congressional Budget Office projects that federal spending will continue to decline through mid-decade as a percent of GDP.”

♦ Finally, the CPBB makes two more important points that anyone interested in this stuff should know:

First, this doesn’t mean that government controls about 40 percent of the U.S. economy.  The bulk of government spending goes for payments to individuals through transfer programs such as Social Security, and most of the goods and services that people buy with these payments are privately produced.

Second, government spending in the United States — by the OECD’s broad measure—remains about 2 ½ percent of GDP below the OECD average, and about 8 percent below the average level among countries that have adopted the euro.  While the United States faces plenty of long-run fiscal challenges, out-of-control spending today isn’t one of them.

Joe And Mika Rehearsing For A New Show On Fox

Who knew that there was a travesty in America called “Trump University”? Wasn’t Donald Trump enough of a travesty himself without having to start a real estate school that promised to make little Trumps out of folks gullible enough to fork over $35,000?

The Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, sued the Fox and Friends regular contributor and NBC “reality” star on Saturday, asking for $40 million in damages to be paid as restitution to Trump’s, uh, “students.”

Schneiderman, as USA Today reported, accused Trump “of engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law.” And:

At the seminars, consumers were told about “Trump Elite” mentorships that cost $10,000 to $35,000. Students were promised individual instruction until they made their first deal. Schneiderman said participants were urged to extend the limit on their credit cards for real estate deals, but then used the credit to pay for the Trump Elite programs.

Now, many of us already knew that Donald Trump is a phony and a fraud—his birtherism is enough to convict him—but that some government entity is willing to go after him for hucksterism is beyond gratifying.

What has been disheartening though is what I witnessed this morning on TV.  Of course I expected Fox and Friends to allow Trump several minutes to defend himself, mostly as the hosts cheered on his efforts. And of course, as with everything else wrong in the country, this was President Obama’s fault, as Trump made the suggestion that Schneiderman met with Obama and, voilà , a lawsuit was born!

Here’s how a clearly flustered Trump expressed it on Twitter:

trump on lawsuit

“Same as IRS etc.” Yes, that little blurb was added to ensure Trump keeps the Obama haters on his side, which Fox and Friends happily are. But I was sorely disappointed to watch this morning a segment on Morning Joe which essentially did the same thing as Fox and Friends did: give Trump an unchallenged platform to defend himself and spew his latest Obama conspiracy. It truly was sickening.

It’s one thing for Fox “News” to enable Trump, an incorrigibly ignorant, cartoonishly biased, embarrassingly boastful buffoon. It’s another for MSNBC to do so. But then MSNBC’s Morning Joe is often a safe place for conservative nonsense, as another segment aptly demonstrated this morning.

Politico’s Mike Allen was on the program discussing Colin Powell’s rebuke of the Republican Party for its anti-voting initiatives, as well as an article written by David Nather (“Obama’s big voting rights gamble“) in which it is alleged that the administration, as any Democratic administration should do, is “ramping up its push on voting rights by way of a risky strategy — and pledging more tough moves to come.”

Joe Scarborough couldn’t help himself. He challenged Allen, and anyone else, to tell him what exactly was wrong with the efforts in North Carolina and Texas and elsewhere to require folks to simply have a picture ID to vote:

I’ve just been reading this and I’ve been reading news stories on it and makes it sound like we’re going back to Jim Crow laws, that there are going to be white people with bull whips whipping black people if they come to vote, and Bull Conner is there ready to release German Shepherds. Again I ask innocently, does North Carolina or Texas require anything more than a picture ID, that when somebody shows up to vote, that the person has a picture ID with them that proves they are who they say they are?

Scarborough, not getting the answer he wanted, went on:

I’m not being cute here. I’m reading all of these stories that talk about basically you’re putting a white hood over the governor of North Carolina, putting a white hood over the entire Texas legislature. Most Americans would think it’s not racist to ask somebody to just have a picture ID when they show up at the voting booth. But you read The New York Times and you read these other media outlets that again make politicians in North Carolina and Texas sound racist for just saying, “Hey, you’re going to need a picture ID to prove you are who you are.”

Now, we all know that Joe Scarborough is a conservative Republican. It’s not strange that he sees nothing wrong with requiring folks who want to vote to show some kind of ID at the polls. What is strange is that he completely ignored all of the other things associated with the latest Republican efforts to suppress the votes of minorities and young people, including the fact that many of those minorities and young people can’t get the required IDs easily, including the fact that Republicans are closing polling places in Democratic areas, and including the fact that they are shrinking the times for early voting. (Mike Allen did make a valiant attempt to half-educate him, but it fell on deaf ears.)

But while it’s not strange for a right-winger like Scarborough to defend Tea Party-inspired voter suppression, it is strange for Morning Joe’s alleged Democratic host to do so. Mika Brzezinski responded this way to Scarborough’s rant:

Okay. So, I think that this is a really healthy discussion that has been had out in the media in a completely one-sided way and your side of it is a fair argument and no one goes there because it’s not PC…It’s a very legitimate argument.

She said nothing about the fact that minorities and young people—largely Democratic constituencies—would be disproportionately affected by these Republican schemes. She said nothing about making it inconvenient for Democratic-leaning voters to vote because of the reduction in polling places in strategically located areas. She said nothing of shrinking the days of early voting and eliminating voting on the Sunday before the election, which Democratic-leaning voters tend to do because they happen to be working folks who need the convenience of early voting. She said nothing about how historically hard it was for black folks to get to vote in this country and how unconscionable it is for conservatives to make it much more difficult for them to exercise that hard-earned right. Nothing. Silence about all that from Mika Brzezinski.

And that is why, on this day at least, on this day when Donald Trump needed a place to rehab his image, on this day when the Republican Party needed a place to rehab its image as a vote suppressor, that is why parts of Morning Joe sounded like a rehearsal for a new show on Fox “News” Channel.

Here is the Morning Joe segment on voter ID laws, and if you watch at the end, you will see The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein shaking his head in disbelief and trying to get a word in. Didn’t happen:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And if you can stand it, here is the segment on the (NBC?) rehabilitation of Donald Trump:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Coburn’s Proud To Be A Back Stabbing Okie From Muskogee

With friends like Oklahoma Senator and freakishly right-wing know-nothing Tom Coburn, Barack Obama doesn’t want for enemies. Both men have acknowledged their strange “friendship,” with Coburn saying on Wednesday in Muskogee, that bleak Oklahoma town that Merle Haggard made famous:

Barack Obama is personal friend of mine. He became my friend in the Senate but that does not mean I agree in any way with what he’s doing or how he’s doing it. And I quite frankly think he’s in a difficult position he’s put himself in, and if it continues, I think we’re going to have another constitutional crisis in our country in terms of the presidency,

That “constitutional crisis,” of course, is impeachment, which up until now only the weirdest members of the right wing have dared to suggest. I am at a loss to explain why Barack Obama would have such a friend as Tom Coburn, Perhaps despite now having two dogs, the President is lonely in Washington, I don’t know. But Coburn is the kind of friend we have all had who is not a friend in the sense that you could count on him to have your back. The only apparent reason that Tom Coburn cares anything about Barack Obama’s back is because it makes a nice place to stick a knife.

And to paraphrase the old joke, if Barack Obama had as many knives sticking out of his back as his friend Tom Coburn has put into it, he would look like a political porcupine.

In any case, here’s how BuzzFeed reported on Coburn’s meeting with his blood-red constituents:

“What you have to do is you have to establish the criteria that would qualify for proceedings against the president, and that’s called impeachment,” Coburn said, responding to a question about holding President Obama accountable. “That’s not something you take lightly, and you have to use a historical precedent of what that means. I think there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration, but I also think there’s a ton of incompetence, of people who are making decisions.”

“Even if there is incompetence, the IRS forces me to abide by the law,” a constituent responded to Coburn.

“No, I agree,” Coburn said. “My little wiggle out of that when I get that written to me is I believe that needs to be evaluated and determined, but thank goodness it doesn’t have to happen in the Senate until they’ve brought charges in the House. Those are serious things, but we’re in a serious time. I don’t have the legal background to know if that rises to high crimes and misdemeanor, but I think they’re getting perilously close.”

This stupidity is blazing around the Internet, which means, of course, that it will soon infiltrate cable TV chat. I call it stupidity because

a) you can’t impeach a president because of “a ton of incompetence”; most everyone knows it has to be two tons of incompetence, measured by a special device that Barack Obama stole from Congress and now keeps hidden in a secret place, right next to his Kenyan birth certificate and his autographed copy of The Communist Manifesto; and,

b)  If a “ton of incompetence” actually brought a president “perilously close” to impeachment, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan would have been chased from office long before anyone ever heard of the megaton of incompetence that brought us, among other things, the Iran-Contra scandal or the Iraq War.

Thus it is, when you toss in the climate-change-is-a-hoax freak Jim Inhofe, the state of Oklahoma has two United States Senators who are, well, nuts, with one of them pretending to be Obama’s friend while hurling chivs at him while his back is turned.

“We All Go Through Something In Life”

That’s a good thing that you just giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.

—Antoinette Tuff, bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., speaking to would-be mass murderer Michael Brandon Hill

while many news outlets are, rightly, focusing on the revelation that the National Rifle Association has secretly—I repeat: secretly—collected “information about gun owners from state and local offices and has built the country’s largest privately held database of current, former and prospective gun owners,” Clare Kim began an article on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell blog this way:

A 20-year-old man who went to a Georgia elementary school with an AK-47 assault rifle and close to 500 rounds ammunition told a school clerk that he was prepared to die in the attack. But the woman calmly persuaded him to lay down his weapon. According to 911 tapes released Wednesday, Michael Brandon Hill said he didn’t care about dying and should have just gone to a mental hospital.

The details of this amazing story, a story that seems to contradict everything the NRA’s propaganda machine pumps out like a mass-murder unloading his AK-47 into innocent victims, I will let Lawrence O’Donnell present:

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Remarks And Asides

Scott Brown, who has been snooping around at the Iowa State Fair, thinks he has a shot at being president. Of course, he never will. Why? Because of this:

scott brown and corn dog

I just don’t see how Scott Brown, trying to make it in a half-puritanical Republican Party, can survive this image. Here are a couple of other Republican hopefuls that made the same mistake (via sodahead.com):

My guess is that Chris Christie will put a lot of things in his mouth between now and November of 2016, but a corn dog won’t be one of them.

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Speaking of corn dogs, Ted Cruz has thrown Canada under his presidential campaign bus. Meanwhile, the birther movement is claiming a media double standard related to this foreign-born demagogue. The problem is there is no double standard. Obama, you see, was actually born in America and the first breath that Ted Cruz took on this earth was filled with Canadian air. The question is whether Cruz, who obviously wants to be president, fits the constitutional definition of “natural born citizen.” And for my money, unless he was brought to earth by an intergalactic stork bent on starting a McCarthyite revival, then he is a natural born citizen.

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Speaking of Republicans who want to be prez, Chris Christie just told conservative Christians to go to hell by signing a law that bans licensed therapists in New Jersey from straightening out gay teenagers. Christie’s only hope of keeping the Jesus-is-a-Republican vote is that they will overlook his apostasy on changing-the-gay and reward him for his recalcitrance on the gay marriage issue and his veto of sensible gun restrictions.

By the way, Christie is, by most accounts, a committed Catholic, which means, of course, that he doesn’t think gayness is a sin in itself, but he thinks practicing gayness is. It’s sort of like saying it’s okay to be black, as long as you act white.

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Speaking of black folks, Meet the Press’ silly David Gregory, in his melodramatic way, ask New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly—rumored to be on the short list for the Homeland Security czar— the following question:

If a program like stop-and-frisk is abandoned, will people die?

That’s a little like asking Franklin Roosevelt in 1942,

If imprisoning Japanese Americans is abandoned, will people die?

The proper question is this:

If stop-and-frisk laws were applied everywhere in America, would the Constitution die?

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Meanwhile, what is wrong with New York’s stop-and-molest law is not only that it unfairly profiles black folks, but that it unfairly profiles innocent folks. Nearly all those who are legally groped by New York City cops are innocent of any wrongdoing. The phony justification for the law is that “it works.” On that basis, I suppose President Obama could impose Marshall Law, use the military to confiscate weapons from potential white male mass murderers (who perpetrate most of the mass killings), and we could stop a lot of tragedies.  And American constitutional civilization along with it.

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Speaking of stop-and-frisk and the end of American civilization, a proposal by House Republicans, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, would stop-and-frisk food stamp spending and could potentially affect up to six million Americans, “including some of the nation’s poorest adults, as well as many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages.”

Notwithstanding the colossally ignorant Bill O’Reilly and other Foxish quasi-bigots, most recipients of food help from the government actually work—“more than 80 percent,” according to CBPP—and you’d think Republicans, who constantly say they want to encourage work, would, well, encourage work. But they don’t. It’s just the opposite:

though proponents stress the need to promote work, the proposal cuts assistance to low-income working families who struggle to afford food.

My congressman, Ozark Billy Long, told the Springfield News-Leader that because there were no specific details out yet, he wasn’t sure of his support for this effort to, as one local Springfield businessman put it, “starve children.” To give Billy Long sarcastic credit, at least before he would be willing to take food out of the mouths of poor, hungry kids, he must know the details because, as we all know, that’s where the devil lives, especially in House Republican legislation.

Bill O’Reilly, Jason The Surfer, And The End Of American Civilization

Bill O’Reilly likes to talk about race hustlers and parasites. Well, it takes one to know one. Using his own standards of judgment, O’Reilly is a race-hustling parasite himself.

His show, a tribute to narcissism, has lately found him doing the race hustle in front of race-anxious whites, those who find it a bit unsettling to have someone other than a white man occupy The White’s House and who find it depressing that America is browning. O’Reilly exploits white angst and makes money off that exploitation.

But I’m particularly pissed off about the latest Fox-inspired attempt to put the blame for our financial and cultural troubles on those O’Reilly calls “parasites.” Billo once again brought up a guy now known as “Jason the Surfer“—no relation to Joe the Plumber—whom Fox managed to unearth in California, and who spends some of his monthly SNAP money (reportedly $200) on, Jesus forbid, sushi and lobster.

O’Reilly said,

This guy is a parasite. And my contention is that the Obama administration is encouraging parasites to come out and, you know, take as much as they can with no remorse and this is how a country declines. This is how we become a weak nation.

Now, if you’re like me, you find it hard to imagine that President Obama or anyone in his employ has spent a millisecond trying to figure out how to get California surfers to avail themselves of food stamps.Jason-Greenslate

And, if you’re like me, you also find it hard to believe how a kid on a surf board with a belly full of taxpayer subsidized sushi and lobster—even if it’s only a rare treat (at these prices)—can lead to the decline of American civilization, especially when all those Romney types are still out there hard at work practicing vulture capitalism, described famously by Republican Rick Perry during the 2012 campaign:

They’re sittin’ out there on the, on the tree limb, waitin’ for the company to get sick, and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.

Newt Gingrich also famously said during that campaign the following:

I think we have to be honest about this. One of the reasons people who like free enterprise do not like Wall Street is that they see very rich financiers who rig the game, so the taxpayer loses, the worker loses, and somehow the rich guy does okay…If we identify capitalism with rich guys looting companies, we’re gonna have a very hard time protecting it…Is it fair to have a system, is it right, is it the kind of country you want to live in to have a system where somebody can come in, take over your company, take out all the cash and leave behind a wreck? And they go off to a country club having a great time and you go off to the unemployment line.

I remind you that people who do such nasty things in this country are essentially subsidized by everyone else. Many pay a lower rate of taxes because they have talked (via ca$h) the establishment into believing that all of what they do is essential to the economy and the nation’s well-being. That scam goes on while the race-baiting, cultural-angst-exploiting Bill O’Reillys of the world focus on a mixed up 29-year-old kid in California who gets a couple of hundred bucks a month in food help.

As I have said many times before, if we go down as a civilization, I’d rather it be by trying to make sure folks have enough to eat—even if a few folks game the system for a few bucks—than by making sure Mitt Romney’s vulture-money can vacation comfortably in the Cayman Islands.

Dismantling Democracy

If you don’t already hate, and I mean passionately hate, what the modern Tea Party-dominated Republican Party stands for (but not the Tea Partiers themselves), then you will after you watch a segment posted below from Rachel Maddow’s Monday night show.

This short segment featured the remarkable 81-year-old Democrat Ellie Kinnaird, who resigned her seat in the state senate—which she held for 17 years. The segment demonstrates how Republicans in North Carolina (and in similar ways, elsewhere) are systematically dismantling democracy by making it much more difficult to vote, all because young folks and people of color don’t buy into the virtue-of-selfishness philosophy of Republicans and don’t want to vote for them.

But the segment with Ellie Kinnaird also demonstrates that it is possible to fight back, to fight for democratic values, no matter your age:

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