Our Criminal “Justice” System

Democrats of all persuasions, Bernie-ites and Bernie-lites, should be grateful for Saint, I mean, Senator Elizabeth Warren. Everyone should spend nine minutes watching her “two legal systems” speech below:

 

Here’s a link to the report she mentions in the video (“Rigged Justice: 2016: How Weak Enforcement Let’s Corporate Offenders Off Easy”). The report, which Warren’s office released,

highlights 20 of the most egregious civil and criminal cases during the past year in which federal settlements failed to require meaningful accountability to deter future wrongdoing and to protect taxpayers and families. […]

The 20 cases highlighted in Rigged Justice illustrate problematic enforcement patterns by federal agencies across a range of areas, from financial crimes to student loan rip-offs to auto safety violations to environmental disasters. In many of the cases described in the report, corporations reached settlements with the federal government that required no admission of guilt and held no individual executives accountable.

 

Islam And Our Founding

If you missed the entire speech President Obama gave in a mosque yesterday, you missed yet another example of why we have been so fortunate to have had him in the White’s House these past seven years.

Speaking before the Islamic Society of Baltimore, he did something he shouldn’t have had to do: assure Muslim Americans that they are, well, Americans. And he wanted them to know that the weirdly popular Republicans who scapegoat them, who are partly responsible for the surge in “threats and harassment of Muslim Americans,” who can take some credit for bullied Muslim children and vandalized mosques, those Republicans are the anti-Americans. At least that was my takeaway from the speech.

The president mentioned a forgotten fact:

Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim.

He then referenced Jefferson:

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans.  And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.”

That would later lead to a humorous part of his speech. He talked about staying “true to our core values,” including “freedom of religion for all faiths.” Which led to this:

Now, we have to acknowledge that there have been times where we have fallen short of our ideals.  By the way, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim — so I was not the first — (applause.)  No, it’s true, it’s true.  Look it up.  (Laughter.)  I’m in good company. (Laughter.)

Turns out you can look it up in The New Republic (“Thomas Jefferson Was a Muslim”), among other places. Back in the 1790s, Christians, much as they do today, “viewed all Muslims as agents of religious error and a foreign threat.” The issue then was a form of terrorism, piracy around Muslim North Africa. And sounding like many evangelical scaremongers and fear merchants today, Christian zealots then were worried about losing culture-controlling power. But despite being called a Muslim, a gross slander in those days, Thomas Jefferson was no Barack Obama. As Denise Spellberg, a scholar of Islamic history, makes clear:

Suffice it to say, Jefferson did subscribe to the anti-Islamic views of most of his contemporaries, and in politics he made effective use of the rhetoric they inspired.

Despite cynically using his fellow Americans’ anti-Islamic views, Jefferson at least understood, in the words of Abbas Milani, the author of The New Republic piece,

that Muslims should enjoy the full rights of citizenship. Indeed, some of the critical elements of [John] Locke’s views of toleration were developed precisely in his attempt to defend the rights of Muslims—not because he believed in the righteousness of their cause or their religion, but because he believed in the right of liberty and the toleration of others.

Liberty and tolerance together form the essence of the American experiment, and who could have guessed that defending the rights of Muslims was crucial to its beginning?

I want to be clear. I despise many of the views of both conservative Christians and conservative Muslims. I don’t want either group to have any influence on American politics whatsoever. But both groups remain free to exert as much influence as citizens will accept at the ballot box. And both groups, as long as they believe “in the right of liberty and the toleration of others,” can and should proudly call themselves Americans. And let us all hope, with President Obama, “that ultimately, our best voices will win out.”

 

The Androcentric Universe

You no doubt remember Wendy Davis, former member of the Texas legislature who, before she unsuccessfully ran for governor, conducted a well-publicized filibuster over anti-choice legislation Republicans were pushing in her state. For her efforts, she was labeled “Abortion Barbie,” among other derogatory things. So, clearly she understands something about how female politicians are treated in the political workplace.

Davis recently discussed Megyn Kelly’s famous questioning, in that first Fox debate, of Donald Trump about the terrible things he has said about women throughout his career. Davis said she wasn’t surprised by how Trump responded or how the men, both on the debate stage and in the audience, reacted. But she was surprised by something else:

So when Megyn Kelly pointed out his derogatory statements, he doubled down on them. And when he did, he got great laughter and applause. And if you remember, the camera panned the audience, and what was so disappointing was to see the number of women who were applauding and laughing at those comments.

I remember that, too. The audience seemed to turn on Megyn Kelly for daring to suggest that it wasn’t okay to call women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” It was really a remarkable moment in what it said about the Republicans, both men and women, in that room, if not in the country at large.

This morning, I witnessed something similar on MSNBC’s version of Fox and Friends, a program called Morning Joe. For those of you not condemned to watching the program, let me give you an idea of how the show works. The host, right-winger Joe Scarborough, praises Donald Trump every other segment, bashes Hillary Clinton every other segment, and generally bullies every panelist until they just stop talking. All the while, Scarborough’s co-host, Mika Brzezinski, mostly sits beside him and either nods or otherwise affirms Joe’s point of view. Mika, who is supposed to represent a Democratic point of view, isn’t exactly a feminist icon, if you know what I mean.

During a segment this morning, the panel was discussing, as they often do, Hillary Clinton. And as they often do, they were trashing her. Three women and two men sitting around the table trashing the winner—I repeat: winner—of the recent Iowa contest, as if she hadn’t won and as if she wasn’t capable of winning any election. One of the panelists was the much-overrated Bob Woodward, whose quality of analysis is shriveling up faster than a wiener in a hot tub. At one point he said,

I think a lot of it with Hillary Clinton has to do with style and delivery, oddly enough. She shouts. There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating, and I think that just jumps off the television screen. […]  I’m sorry to dwell on the tone issue, but there is something here where Hillary Clinton suggests that she’s almost not comfortable with herself…

He then later said, she needed to “lower the temperature” and “kind of get off this screaming stuff.”

christy in new hampshire and bubble boyNow, I must point out that just before this discussion, Morning Joe played a long portion of Chris Christie rather forcefully telling reporters in New Hampshire that Marco Rubio was a “boy in the bubble” and those reporters had better force him to answer some tough questions. And we all know how Christie has talked in the past. He isn’t much for lowering the temperature or getting off the screaming stuff. Funny thing, though. No one on the panel said a word about his style and delivery. No one accused him of being unrelaxed or that his tone indicated he wan’t comfortable with himself.

When Howard Dean, a third man on the panel who is a Clinton supporter, dared to defend her against what was clearly sexist criticism, he was almost laughed off the set. And he was almost laughed off the set not just by the men, but by the three women.

From Wendy Davis’s “Abortion Barbie” experience, to the Megyn Kelly debate episode, to the double-standard that Hillary Clinton constantly has to endure on the campaign trail— the fascination with her hairstyle and clothing and her “tone”—clearly our politics and some of the punditry that surrounds it is still an androcentric universe. And, sadly, there are still too many women willingly orbiting around male dominance.

 

Wrapping Up Iowa

1. Aren’t we all glad that caucus nonsense is over for a while? That has to be the dumbest way to conduct democracy that could ever be conceived. Geeze.

2. Despite what you are hearing from silly pundits on TV and from Bernie Sanders backers, Clinton’s win in Iowa (yep, she won, although you wouldn’t know it from the coverage), as narrow as it was, represents a pretty eye-opening defeat for Sanders (for those whose eyes will open). Iowa was the perfect state for him to win, given that the Democratic electorate in Iowa is, next to maybe Vermont, the most liberal in the country (one survey found that 43% identified as socialists, compared to only 38% who identified as capitalists).

Plus, let’s not forget, Sanders himself said that if the turnout was high, he would win. It was and he didn’t. After New Hampshire, where all Clinton has to do is narrow Bernie’s lead a little bit, she has a distinct advantage.

By the way, this is how Fox presented Sanders this morning:

bernie the socialist on fox.jpg

It’s only the beginning. If Sanders were to win the nomination, he would be a sought-after-Stalinist.

3. It’s no real surprise that Cruz won in a state dominated by Bible-thumping reactionaries, since he is a Bible-thumping reactionary himself. He began his victory speech with,

God bless the great state of Iowa. Let me first of all say — to God be the glory.

Let me first of all say—to God be the glory when Cruz and his faithful followers figure out that he will nevva evva be president of the United States.

4. Donald Trump’s lack of essential on-the-ground organization in Iowa and his pretending he knew what evangelical Christianity was hurt him. Those vulnerabilities won’t matter as much going forward, if he is willing to spend his own money to do some real campaigning, instead of relying on big rallies and counting on cable outlets to give him free air time. And, yes, I am hoping he stays in the race until the bitter end.

5. Now on to Marco Rubio’s third-place finish, which he celebrated like he had just won a gold medal in a hot dog slam fest. Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director at HuffPo and an MSNBC talking head, wrote some things so remarkably inaccurate about Iowa Republicans and Rubio that I need to make a few remarkably accurate comments about his claims. He said:

…the plain-spoken and sensible voters of the state also plucked a new star out of the crowd: the comparatively moderate and photogenic young senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Cruz showed in Iowa that he could take a punch from Donald Trump. And Rubio showed that he could sneak up on the other two with charisma, charm and a sense of optimism.

Let me start with the easy part. Republican voters in Iowa might be plain-spoken, but they ain’t sensible. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Pat Robertson have won the Iowa Republican caucuses. So, please. Look in the dictionary for the definition of sensible.

But perhaps it is Fineman’s description of Rubio as “comparatively moderate” that offends the most. Moderate compared to whom? Rubio himself rejected a similar description on television this morning. He said he is as conservative as anyone in the race. And he’s sort of right about that in the sense that he is at least as conservative as anyone in the race. But in some important ways he is much more conservative. Just because Beltway insiders have somehow placed him into the moderate lane this primary season (you hear that a lot on cable news) doesn’t make it so. He is as radical a Republican as you are ever to meet.

Two examples among many (I omit his weird and harmful economic and tax ideas): Rubio turned his back on his own immigration reform bill after getting criticized by the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world. He not only turned his back on humane reforms necessary to help his party’s national chances, but he turned his back on himself! That ain’t easy, people. But that’s not all. As Republican Lindsay Graham pointed out this morning, not only does radically right-wing Ted Cruz’s position on abortion outlaw any and all of them, but Rubio is just like him:

“Marco has no exception for rape and incest. I think it’s going to be very hard to grow the party among women if you’re gonna tell young women, ‘If you get raped, you’re gotta carry the child of the rapist.’”

If Marco Rubio’s anti-immigrant stance and his have-your-rapist’s-baby government mandate qualifies him as a “comparatively moderate” Republican these days, then the party is, as I suspect, irredeemable. And maybe contemporary journalism is too, if someone like the respected Howard Fineman can be so wrong about something so easy.

rubio shineFinally, about Rubio’s incessant godspeak. During his weird non-victory speech last night, he said, “I want to thank an all powerful and mighty God for the chance that he has given us to be a part of this endeavor here in Iowa.” And then later, “I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ and I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to come this far with each of you.” Apparently after hoisting Ted Cruz into first place last night, the “all powerful and mighty” God’s arms were too tired to lift Marco higher than third.

Or, maybe the Almighty had nothing to do with any of it.

[photo credit: screenshot from TV using TEC’s special God-detecting filter]

 

“He’s Got A Full Head Of Hair”

Now that the damned Iowa caucuses are—finally!—here, let’s take a moment to reflect on the quality of the electorate to whom politicians on both sides have to plead or pander.

Those of us who follow this democracy stuff closely—or who spend some time talking to our family, friends, or neighbors—understand one thing about the electorate. It’s a messy mix of folks, some very familiar with the political landscape, some vaguely familiar, and many fooled by their favorite guides who lead them into bias-confirming cul-de-sacs. And there are still others, perhaps a majority, who are lost in a wilderness of ignorance and superstition and, well, bigotry.

It’s that last group of voters I want to highlight today by giving a couple of examples. First, we have this article from The Huffington Post:

A Democrat Explains Why She’s Voting For Donald Trump

This Iowan, Rebecca Thoeni, says she “was all for women’s power” and caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2008. But now she is disillusioned with Democrats for, as HuffPo summarized it, “failing to adequately turn things around.” I suppose it matters what you mean by adequately. Going from losing 800,000 jobs every month to gaining 200,000 jobs every month seems like a pretty good turnaround, but then facts have some rudimentary value to me, if not to Ms. Thoeni.

These days this proud and enthusiastic Iowan proudly and enthusiastically supports Donald J. Trump because, as we all know, “He’s down to earth and seems to have a lot of common sense.” Yes, from the minute he opened his presidential campaign by riding down that escalator in Midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower, adorned by his newest young and glamorous wife, we could all see how down to earth he is.  In fact, one might look at that grand entrance as really The Donald signaling to the rabble that he is descending fdonald downrom on high to become one of them, just like that Jesus guy did in the New Testament. And common sense? Why, the man is full of it. His opening campaign speech that day, what Trump-supporting Ann Coulter called “That Mexican Rapist Speech,” was as commonsensical as anything the other Republicans had been saying before or have been saying since.

In any case, this working-class white woman who once loved Hillary but now fawns over Donald said,

I like how he wants to take back our country. That’s the main thing; it’s our country. And the respect. We’re getting screwed over.

“Our country,” of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’ll leave you to imagine what it means to a white gal from Dubuque who thinks Trump is a down-to-earth purveyor of common sense. As she excitedly watched 69-year-old Donald Trump’s plane land and then taxi toward her, our Iowan lady said the following, which helps me to understand, at least partly, why democracy is so frustrating at times:

He seems like such a young man. He seems my age. He’s got a full head of hair.

Down to earth. Head full of hair and common sense. How do you even begin to reach out to someone that far into the wilderness?

I’ll end with another example of someone in the political wilderness, one that requires little commentary. New York magazine recently did a piece featuring “Conversations with 100 Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire.” You can go through it yourself and pick your favorite conversation. They talked to insurance brokers, IT people, doctors, students, business people, politicians, and even a taxidermist. But they also talked to an unemployed guy named Earle Kolb, who is from Salem, New Hampshire, and who is a Ted Cruz supporter. I will share with you Earle’s entire response, mainly because it illustrates so vividly just how scary democracy can be at times:

Ted Cruz is the most conservative guy in the bunch and he’s frankly the smartest guy in the bunch. I was leaning toward Rand Paul until Rand started to give me the impression that he was a little soft. Largely, the reason why I’m a conservative is because I’ve been on public assistance my whole life, and I have always felt ashamed of it. I have two major health conditions — cerebral palsy and an injury to my left hemidiaphragm. The whole idea of welfare and entitlements is to create a permanent underclass. They’ll give you plenty of handouts, but they won’t give you any hand-ups.

If anyone out there can explain Earle Kolb to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Because as much as I love and trust democracy; as much as I believe that self-government is the only legitimate political system; as much as I want to believe that people generally use their noggins for something other than hat-holders, I have to confess that, in terms of our experiment with democracy, Earle Kolb—the kind of person the Democratic Party has been trying to rescue from Tea Party conservatism—scares me.

[Photo credit: Igor Bobic/HuffPo (of Rebecca Thoeni on right in photo); Benedict Evans (of Earle Kolb)]

Donald Trump Is God!

We may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here.
—Joe Biden, January 28, 2016

for a while, I admit it, he had me fooled. I thought he was just a vulgar rich guy with a big mouth and and even bigger ego who wanted to be the CEO of America. But nope. He’s more than that. He’s God.

Come on, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. God, in an attempt to save the world, once allegedly hid himself in the body of a Jewish builder in a Galilean village who hung out with hookers, right? Is it so hard to believe that he would hide himself today in the body of a Presbyterian builder from Queens who has owned casinos with strip clubs and been married three times? Huh? Think about it. It would be the perfect disguise these days, especially if your message is that you are the savior with superhuman powers to set the world right—but you require an enormous amount of faith to believe the otherwise unbelievable.

Consider this famous scripture from Hebrews:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

That pretty much describes the miraculous power that props up the Trump campaign. His central message is embarrassingly non-specific: “I will do all of these great things, if you will only trust me. Just believe in me and you will see.”

trump bibleOr consider that in The Art of the Deal, Trump said, “Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.” During this campaign he has spent a lot of time doing that, especially the candidates on his own side. But guess who else was good at denigrating his competition, including those ostensibly on his own side? Yep. Jesus didn’t have much good to say about his competition either, calling his fellow Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” who were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Then he topped it off with this: “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” The art of the deal, indeed. All that is missing from that New Testament scene are the American flags behind the podiums on the Republican debate stage.

Or think about that time when God said to his followers in the book of Exodus: “I am making a covenant [deal!] with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.” Doesn’t that sound like Donald Trump to you? Come on, admit it.

What about the time when Trump said he didn’t bother with asking forgiveness from God? Of course not! God doesn’t have to forgive himself, does he?

How about when Trump once wrote: “When somebody hurts you, just go after them as viciously and as violently as you can.” Have you ever read the Old Testament? God did that kind of stuff all the time. Just ask the unfortunate Midianites from the book of Numbers. God commanded Moses to slaughter them all, enslaving only the young virgin girls, all for the supposed sin of enticing “the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord.” Sounds like a Trumpian response to me. And don’t even get me started on the Book of Revelation, where most of the folks will die horrific deaths and end up in hell in eternal torment. Donald Trump’s denigration and exclusion of Mexicans and Muslims from America fits right in with the biblical idea that most people aren’t welcome in Heaven.

And then there is the idea that I encounter when I talk to hard-core believers in God. I bring up things like the slaughter of the Midianites, and other atrocities committed either by God or with his permission, as recorded in the Bible. Or I’ll bring up God’s creation of hell, with its unquenchable fire and unending torture. The faithful almost always say something like this: “Who are you to question the ways of God? He must have had his reasons for doing those things because he is, well, God.” That response is what I thought of when I heard Donald Trump say the following recently:

They say I have the most loyal people — did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.

A misguided Christian woman thanks Jesus for ‘President’ Trump (Found here; For a related post, click here http://christiannightmares.tumblr.com/post/127240146436/trumphole-donald-trumps-shit-talking-mouth)It is incredible—for a normal human being. But apparently not for God. Because no matter what the God of the Bible does, he never seems to lose any voters. He can slaughter thousands of innocents, commit unspeakable atrocities, create an everlasting pit of torment for most of the people who have ever lived, and his poll and pew numbers stay strong. So, is it beyond possibility that he has incarnated himself into a Republican who says horrible things about other people and thinks he could murder someone in the middle of the street and not “lose any voters”?

You tell me.

 

 

Dear Iowa Democrats

Please don’t do it!

Don’t make Bernie Sanders a winner! You will only further the fantasy that he can win the general election and start a democratic socialist revolution. Okay? So, please, stop it while there is still time! We expect Bernie to win his neighborhood state of New Hampshire. But Iowa? Say it ain’t so!

Oh, it’s not that I don’t like Bernie. I do. I like him a lot. He’s the real deal. And I would much rather live in a world run by Bernie Sanders than one run by any of the other candidates, including Hillary Clinton. The problem is that it is a fantasy world at this point in our history. It’s just not possible that the things Bernie Sanders wants to do will happen anytime soon, let alone after the next election. Just not possible. America has never worked that way. Things change slowly, often very slowly.

Vermont SenateIn any case, all this talk about a revolution means there has to be some revolutionaries. And those revolutionaries have to hold power in the government. And they have to hold power not just in the White’s House, but in Congress, too. And until Bernie Sanders, who just recently became a Democrat, explains to me how he will have 218 solid revolutionary votes in the House of Representatives, as well as 60 revolutionary votes in the United States Senate, there will be no revolution—even if he were to get 55% of the popular vote.

I do give Bernie credit. He has talked about the need for voters to give him a new Congress. He’s emphasized that he can’t do it alone. But that’s the problem. The need is there but there’s no plausible strategy to turn the need into reality. The best Democrats can hope for, even if they win the presidency, is to take over the Senate, but it won’t be with a necessary 60-seat majority of revolutionaries, even if all 60 of them have a (D) by their names (do you think Sen. Joe Manchin will support him? Huh?).

We Democrats might even dream more elaborate dreams and see ourselves recapturing the House, but it borders on delusion to think recapturing the House will provide Bernie with 218 unwavering votes for a Medicare-for-all health system or for free college tuition for all, or for any of the other things Bernie supports that many of us believe would make us a better country. Even if he got 248 Democrats, they won’t all be itching for votes on socialism, democratic or otherwise.

And remember that all of the hope behind Bernie is based on a very shaky assumption: that it is actually possible for Sanders to win the general election. Oh, it’s possible that if Republicans are foolish enough to put Donald Trump at the top of their ticket, Bernie has some small chance of winning the election. But even as crazy as President Donald Trump sounds, even as frightening as it is to contemplate that a majority of the country would put a clownish, egomaniacal billionaire in the White’s House, I still don’t think there’s much of a chance that Bernie, an aging democratic socialist, can win.

That’s mostly because before it’s all over, Republicans will turn him into a dangerous Stalinist dictator. He will become a Marxist. A dreaded communist to be feared. The distinction between what he actually believes—his brand of socialism is shared by anyone who uses Medicare or accepts Social Security or Medicaid—and what Republicans will claim he believes will be lost on enough independents and confused Democrats to hand the election to, yes, even Donald J. Trump.

So, what we’re left with is pragmatism. What we’re left with is a relatively centrist candidate like Hillary Clinton. She has flaws, no doubt. But she understands that the unmistakable move toward people-friendly policies in this country has always been fairly incremental. Our present social safety net evolved slowly and was not available to everyone from the start. It has taken time. Change is hard in America because change-is-hard is built into our political system. Not much happens overnight.

Think back about the battle over the stimulus bill at the beginning of Obama’s presidency. Think about how impossible it was to convince the other side that money was needed to help stimulate and rescue the economy, to help rescue it from the devastation of GOP-sponsored economic and regulatory policies. Don’t forget those times. And don’t forget the Affordable Care Act. Don’t forget how hard that was and how hard it still is today to get people to understand that it’s better than the old system, even if it’s not where we ultimately want to end up. It was a baby step. But it was a step. And we need to follow up with another step. And then another. If we nominate someone who will practically guarantee a Republican president, there will be no baby steps. Because there will be no baby.

Make no mistake about it, the surest way to elect a Donald Trump or a Marco Rubio or any other reactionary crusader that Republicans might put up, i#weneedliberty #weneedsmallergovt  #communist #wakeupamerica #socialist s to offer Bernie Sanders to a fact-challenged electorate, many of whom these days get their information from bias-
confirming social media and many of whom will fall for the Bernie-is-a-Marxist line of attack. Remember, even with a collapsing economy in 2008, even when we were sliding into Republican-caused financial chaos, 60 million Americans—46% of the electorate—still voted for a Republican to become president. Remember that.

So, I beg you, my Iowan friends. As much as you feel the Bern, as much as we all wish his ideas would become reality, don’t succumb to the temptation. Don’t give him hope of winning the nomination. Don’t give others hope of him winning the nomination. Don’t hand the presidency back to the Republicans.

TEC

Donald’s Diner

It’s all about anxiety.

The rise of Donald Trump. The reaction against him. The fear that he will bring down the Republican Party and poison “true” conservatism. It’s all about a slow, methodical unraveling of white Christian privilege in America and the fear and uncertainty that comes with that dawning reality.

Let me start with Anus Mouth. Donald Trump’s success, so far, has been based on crassly and confidently, if not coherently and consistently, addressing the cultural angst that many white conservative Christians feel. I have written about this angst for many years now. It is palpable. It is real. Even if it is un-Christianly.

So, a rather un-Christianly Donald Trump comes along—Mr. “Two Corinthians”—and figures out a way to feed the beast of collective white conservative Christian anger and resentment that has now become the dominant force in Republican politics. It matters not that he feeds the hungry beast a smorgasbord of megalomania and mistruths or that he offers the beast a feast of bewildering bigotry and baptized balderdash or that he serves all-you-can eat dishes of toxic demagoguery and dissonance to this famished and unfortunate creature.

What matters is that the beast has been starving for attention, hungering for a conservative cuisine that satisfies its most basic, and basest, instinct: fear of the Other. Fear that the Other is winning. Whites are getting dirtied by malicious brown people from Mexico and the Middle East. Christianity is under attack from within—Obama is a Muslim! The War on Christmas!—and from without—ISIS is just steps away from pulverizing American churches just like they did that 1400-year old Christian monastery in Iraq!

Donald can fix it all. Make America White Again.

Now, there are those on the “true” right starting to figure out that Donald’s Diner, affectionately known as the Buffoon’s Buffet, perhaps needs some health inspectors to come in and shut the place down before too many conservatives are poisoned and the movement dies. The most recent conservative health experts joined forces in a lengthy critique of Trump’s conservatism that was published by National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley and that was, once upon a time, a place where thoughtful and interesting conservatives could make intellectual war on liberalism. These days National Review is publishing pieces by trolls like Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson. Talk about cultural decline.

In any case, reading some of these critiques oddly reveals just why there is a beast hungry for the kind of junk food that Trump cynically serves. Sure, one writer criticized Trump’s “nativism and his promise of one-man rule” and his “racial and religious scapegoating.”  Another isn’t sure if he is a “boor” or a “creep” or a “louse,” but is sure that he is a “con man” and “has demonstrated an emotional immaturity bordering on personality disorder, and it ought to disqualify him from being a mayor, to say nothing of a commander-in-chief.”

But when you dig a little deeper into these latest critiques of Trump, you find that at the heart of many of them is a validation of the anxiety and fears that Trump is exploiting. One writer said that Trump is embracing “Barack Obama’s authoritarianism.” Another wrote of Obama’s “withering assault” on “religious freedom.” You see? The subtext is validation: The Scary Negro is a tyrant tearing down the scaffolding that supports white Christian privilege. He’s letting into the country brown immigrants from Mexico. He’s welcoming Muslim refugees from Syria.20160120_151250

Another writer, again published by the once-reputable National Review, did manage to call Trump a “know-nothing demagogue.” But in the same paragraph he called Bernie Sanders a “Marxist,” Hillary Clinton a “leftist crook,” and said, “all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama.” Mussolini? Really? And you wonder why there is an appetite for the kind of ignorance and hate that Donald Trump piles on his buffet table and sells the Republican electorate?

An old Reaganite, Ed Meese, criticized Trump for his vigorous and vitriolic attacks against fellow Republicans in the race. Then he ended by calling President Obama “one of the most divisive and incompetent presidents in history.” Again, we see the validation of one of Trump’s central messages: our leaders are incompetent and ruining the country and The Donald is so much smarter and much more cunning—he loves that word—that he will make great deals and build great walls and win great wars. Thus it is that even when the conservative health inspectors are trying to claim the food Trump is serving is bad for conservatives, they are authenticating the recipe.

But it’s not only such authentication that serves to undermine the conservative case against Donald Trump, a case prosecuted not only by the writers at National Review, but writers and pundits and politicians elsewhere in the right-wing world. Perhaps what really undermines the seriousness of their arguments against him is best illustrated by what Eric Erickson wrote to begin his anti-Trump essay:

I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

That sentence pretty much explains why it is that so many people, empty buffet plates in hand, stand in long lines and fill large arenas to hear a hateful demagogue repeat stupid and hurtful things on the campaign trail and why those same people don’t pay much attention to National Review writers or others trying buffetto take down Trump. In the end, right-wing criticism of Donald Trump is hollow, unless it is followed by, “Donald Trump is dangerous and I will not vote for him—and neither should you.”

Until we hear more of that kind of talk from conservative Republicans, there is every reason to believe that fearful and anxious white Christians will continue to flock to the Buffoon’s Buffet and feed on the poisonous pottage that Chef Anus Mouth serves them.

Western Jihadists: Let Them Go

We’ve all seen or heard stories about the thousands of ISIS sympathizers who are leaving their home countries and sneaking into ISIS-controlled territory to join up with the fundamentalist-Islamist killers and psychopaths on the battlefield.

This morning I saw Mary Anne Weaver on MSNBC discussing her latest article for The New York Times Magazine, provocatively titled “Her Majesty’s Jihadists” and subtitled:

More British Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the country’s armed forces. How to understand the pull of jihad.

Ms. Weaver had bewildered the panelists on MSNBC’s Morning Joe by writing this:

Many of the fighters from Britain — as well as those from Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands — came from comfortable middle-class homes. Many were university students or graduates; a surprising number were women, too.

In her article, Weaver also cited Shiraz Maher, a former Islamic militant and now a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London:

I asked Maher if, based on the center’s research, he could draw a typical jihadist profile. “The average British fighter is male, in his early 20s and of South Asian ethnic origin,” he began. “He usually has some university education and some association with activist groups. Over and over again, we have seen that radicalization is not necessarily driven by social deprivation or poverty.” He paused for a moment, and then went on. “Other than those who go for humanitarian reasons, some of the foreign fighters are students of martyrdom; they want to die as soon as possible and go directly to paradise. We’ve seen four British suicide bombers thus far among the 38 Britons who have been killed. Then there are the adventure seekers — those who think this will enhance their masculinity, the gang members and the petty criminals too; and then, of course, the die-hard radicals, who began by burning the American flag and who then advanced to wanting to kill Americans — or their partners — under any circumstance.”

That sobering reality being understood, the discussion this morning on MSNBC seemed to focus on just what could be done in countries like the United Kingdom to help assimilate Muslims and keep them from wanting to british jihadistswage militant jihad against Westerners, including Americans. And, after giving the problem a lot of thought, I think that is the wrong question.

I have come to the conclusion that rather than try to bend over frontwards and backwards, or rather than try to lean sideways in order to make militant-minded religious radicals of all stripes comfortable in our liberal, secular societies, we should instead make it easier, not harder, for them to join ISIS on the battlefield. If there are those among us who would rather link up with murderous, Allah-praising jihadists—those who behead and slaughter innocents and throw homosexuals off buildings and stone women to death and not only execute Christians and other non-Muslims but kill fellow Muslims—if there are a few among us who want to live that way, then we should not only allow them to do so, but we should make it easier for them. No barriers. Just let them go.

That is an easy way to rid ourselves of people who have no intention of peacefully living in a secular, freedom-loving society. In that weird sense, ISIS is doing all Western societies a favor. Their creepy jihadist magnetism, their strange and strangely appealing dreams of establishing a Caliphate, are actually performing a social good for us.

And if those ISIS-loving, Western-hating Westerners so choose, they can die for Allah—or for their own pathetic adventurism or misplaced radicalism—on the battlefield, as we pursue their psychopathically fundamentalist mentors.

A Disturbing Conclusion

Walter Scott had been a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.Last Saturday morning, Walter Scott, an African-American who was fifty years old and a father of four, was driving his Mercedes-Benz in North Charleston, South Carolina. The car had a busted taillight. He got pulled over by a white cop. Now he’s dead.

News outlets have jumped all over the story of the officially alleged murder and supplied us with plenty of details, the most salient of which is that a fleeing Scott was shot in the back several times by Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, who had initially claimed, as The New York Times phrased it, that “he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle.”

Yeah, well. If it had not been for a fortuitous video of the event, which apparently Officer Slager didn’t know existed, news outlets would have reported a much different story, one that would have focused on the “official” version of events and that, as usual, would have given the police a generous benefit of the doubt. And Ryan Grim and Nick Wing, of HuffPo, wrote the story we would most likely have read, absent the video evidence. Given what we now know, it is a fascinating read and absolutely plausible. Here is its lede:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

Two years ago, Slager had been exonerated by his bosses for an incident in which excessive force was involved. You can read about that disturbing incident via the Associated Press. But the thing to focus on in this case, other than the sad and unnecessary killing by police of yet another unarmed African-American citizen, is that nearly everything of importance that Officer Slager, and another officer who arrived first on the shooting scene, said happened that morning has been discredited. And the thing that discredited their official version, a cell phone video, hasn’t been around that long. So, we are left to wonder—no, we are left to conclude—that there are any number of past incidents, involving the questionable killing of citizens by the police, in which the officers involved literally got away with some form of murder.

If that conclusion doesn’t bother you, if it doesn’t scare you, then you’re not black.

President Obama Understands Morally Justifiable Power

I’ve said it a number of times: We are lucky to have President Obama in the White’s House.

Especially during these times, when part of the world is on fire, it is important that someone is in charge who doesn’t want to bring a large can of U.S.A gasoline to put out the flames.

obama and new york times iran interviewI can do no better than point you to Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times to understand why it is that we are so lucky. I suggest, strongly, that you read the entire piece or listen to the interview on which the column is based, most of it having to do with the recent framework agreement with Iran and the rather hostile reaction to it by right-wingers here, there, and everywhere.

I will only quote for now one stunningly important line from the beginning of the interview—that defines the real point of having morally justifiable power—and then the last paragraph:

“We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk…at this point, the U.S.’s core interests in the region are not oil, are not territorial. … Our core interests are that everybody is living in peace, that it is orderly, that our allies are not being attacked, that children are not having barrel bombs dropped on them, that massive displacements aren’t taking place. Our interests in this sense are really just making sure that the region is working. And if it’s working well, then we’ll do fine. And that’s going to be a big project, given what’s taken place, but I think this [Iran framework deal] is at least one place to start.”

Amen. And thank God, Allah, and/or the American people for Barack Obama.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback: The Wizard Of Ahs

Playing off its role in The Wizard of Oz and pretending that there is much to see and do there, Kansas bills itself as “the land of ahs.” But take it from someone who was born and raised in southeast Kansas: besides the University of Kansas Jayhawks basketball program, there aren’t many things in the state that make you go ah.

Except when it comes to following its race-to-the-bottom politics, where you can experience a lot of take-your-breath-away moments.

I’ve written a lot about what Governor Sam Brownback and a hellish host of reactionary legislators have done to Kansas, so I won’t go over all that again. I just want to catch you up on the latest.

Beginning on July 1 of this year, if you live in Kansas and want to carry a concealed weapon, you don’t need a permit. Heck, you don’t even need any training. Just pass a background check and you are good to go. Surrounded by NRA hacks, Brownback signed the bill into law on Thursday. It allows those 21 and older to pack hidden heat all over the state. And one genius, who happens to be president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, can’t wait until she can get the law changed again:

“I believe we can lower the age to 18 at some point in the future. I think after everybody sees that there are not going to be any of the dire predictions coming true, and they relax a little bit, then we can talk about that.”

Yes. And when we all relax over allowing 18-year-olds to carry guns in their jeans in high school, then we can move on to middle school kids. Then grade school. Little Tommy can pack his little pistol in his little lunch box and have a little Second Amendment fun at recess. The land of ahs, indeed.

On the budget deficit problems in Kansas, which Brownback and the extremists in his party created by passing drastic cuts in income taxes that went mostly to wealthy people, the governor has decided how he is going to fund government:

Brownback advocates consumption tax as income tax alternative in Kansas

In case you don’t know what that means, it means that the burden of funding Kansas government will fall on the working poor and middle class, who have to spend all or most of their income on goods and services. What Republicans have done and are doing in Kansas regarding taxes should be a national scandal. It should be as controversial as anything Republicans did in Indiana or Arkansas regarding their attempt to take away civil rights from non-heterosexuals. But it isn’t. I guess people are used to it by now. The rich control the Republican Party. The Republican Party controls the Kansas legislature and the governor’s mansion. And, of course, it is those without money who suffer. No big deal.

Oh, here’s another ah for you:

Kansas Bans Poor People From Spending Welfare On Cruise Ships

Yes. It is true. But there is more. In Kansas, if you get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—and Christian Sam Brownback and his godly legislature have already made it tougher to get and keep: only 15,000 families received such benefits last year—you get your assistance via state-issued debit cards. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of states do it. But no other state does what Kansas want to do:

Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to get more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent this week to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk by the state legislature…Under the new rule, a three-person family receiving the maximum benefit would have to go to the ATM more than a dozen times to get the full benefit, which would be whittled away by an 85 cent fee for each withdrawal after the first one. And the local cruise liner ATM will no longer be an option.

Liz Schott, associated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, emailed HuffPo and said:

“This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent. Moreover, it actually takes money from the pockets of poor families since they will need to pay 85 cents for each additional withdrawal after the first one in a month, and often more with ATM transaction fees.”

So, Kansas Republicans cut taxes on the rich, are considering raising taxes on goods and services that working people spend most of their money on, and are penalizing the few poor people able to qualify for stingy government benefits by making them go to an ATM and pay a fee a dozen times a month. That is truly breathtaking stuff.

But there is one more political ah worth noting. The Associated Press reported on Thursday:

Two school districts plan to end the academic year early to save money, citing financial pressures caused by reduced state aid for this academic year.

Ah, shit.

Top Of The Ninth: Secularism 2, Religious Fanaticism 0

It’s getting late in the game. As same-sex marriage bans fall, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the religious reactionaries are swinging for the fences and, as the governor of Indiana is now discovering, whiffing.

When it is all over, even the most zealous Religious Right Republicans will finally have to admit that this is not a Christian nation. America is becoming, day by day, ruling by ruling, boycott by boycott, a secular country, at least when it comes to our laws regarding discrimination.

Mike Pence Surrounded By Bigots When He Signed SB101 Into LawDemocratic strategist Richard Socarides said last night on MSNBC that Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s problem is that “he was lying through his teeth” when he denied that the now infamous Indiana law, disguised as an effort to protect religious liberty, was really about allowing what I call Bible-based bigotry to have its way. The law most certainly was designed to allow discrimination against gays or quasi-gays or anyone who doesn’t have sex the way, presumably, Governor Pence and his evangelical friends do.

Richard Socarides finally said out loud the truth about what the evangelical-influenced legislature and governor in Indiana were trying to pull off. That they weren’t able to pull it off, that they weren’t able to lie their way to a victory for discrimination based on an ancient set of manuscripts, is wonderful news.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, where trees on the Ozark Mountains cover a multitude of reactionary sins, conservative lawmakers passed a similar “religious freedom” bill that even the CEO of Wal-Mart—who could only manage to express himself in a tweet—found so offensive that he urged the Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, to veto the attempt to put gays in their rightful, hell-bound, place.

No matter what one thinks of Wal-Mart, that is progress.

Last October I wrote about “The Slow Triumph Of Secularism.” That was just after the Supreme Court had then decided not to decide the issue of gay marriage and let stand a lower-court ruling that entitled gay citizens to the same matrimonial bliss, or non-bliss, as those who have sex in the Religious Right sense. Things look even better now, what with a groundswell of negative reaction to what happened in Indiana and what is happening in Arkansas.

So, the game is almost over and the forces of secularism, which demand that the rights of LGBT folks are respected as much as anyone else’s—as much as any pew-renting patron of literalistic religion—are, with success, ridiculing the forces of reactionary politics, with the help of Wal-Mart and, uh, believe it or not, NASCAR.

There may be a setback before it is over—the governor of Arkansas may ignore Wal-Mart and NASCAR and every other objector and sign the discriminatory law passed by his legislature—but I can confidently say that secularism will win this important game.

And, as I said back in October, that means the American experiment is working.

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[photo credit @seamonkey237]

An Easter Message From Joplin: Jesus Rose From The Dead To Lower Your Taxes

Yesterday I received in my mailbox a solicitation from a “Gospel Rescue Mission” here in Joplin called Watered Gardens. The appeal said “Easter is all about…new. New life, New hope and New direction.” The enclosed response card said:

Yes! I want to provide new hope this Easter. Yes! I want to help break the cycle of dependency and poverty.

watered gardens appealI get it that a local ministry would want to use the theme surrounding Easter as a way of, uh, raising funds to help the poor. That’s fine with me. But there is something disturbing about the Watered Gardens appeal that has nothing to do with Easter. It has to do with the anti-government ideology that underlies it.

The founder and director of Watered Gardens, James Whitford, allegedly discovered that “the growing welfare state is hurting more than it’s helping.” He discovered this, he says, by first discovering that those working “in the name of mercy and for God’s justice” were using “misdirected” compassion that resulted “in blind charity that fosters oppressive dependency in the very people for which we give our lives to love and empower.” He wrote:

We reached a point within the first few years of ministry when we realized our good intentions may actually be part of perpetuating a problem rather than yielding the fruit of poverty resolution.We recognized the need for the development of on-line tools so charities and help organizations could connect and work together as seamlessly as possible.

That sounds good. That sounds like the heart is in the right place. Trying to “resolve” the problem of poverty and coordinating with other charities to do so sounds like a great idea. But then came this:

As the use of those tools began to grow, “double dipping” became less frequent by the poor who were used to abusing charity or for those who were simply stuck in a dependent cycle. The tools were empowering our community to love people through accountability and personal challenge instead of the common hand-out!

Now we get to the nitty gritty. The poor were guilty of “double dipping” and “abusing charity” because they were either dishonest or “stuck in a dependent cycle.” And the way to correct their ungodly behavior was “through accountability and personal challenge.” In the name of Jesus, no more hand-outs! No extra soup for you! If this sounds familiar to your ears, it should. It is the Mitt Romney 47% nonsense. It is the Paul Ryan “makers and takers” libertarian fantasy. In 2012, Ryan said:

“Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”

As you can see, what Joplin’s James Whitford allegedly discovered isn’t really anything new. What he supposedly figured out from his experiences with the poor and homeless in Joplin has been right-wing dogma about the less fortunate and government dependence since at least the New Deal.

In any case, Whitford explained how his new-found “tools” to “to love people through accountability and personal challenge instead of the common hand-out!” didn’t work so well with government:

Our progress in this vein met a hurdle when it came to state welfare. Even though a welfare office was in our local community and helping the same people we were helping through our established, connected and growing network, state officials said they were unable to release information about those receiving help such as SNAP, TANF, and LIHEAP (food, cash and utility) assistance.

Why would Watered Gardens and its network of private charity agencies want to know about what government help local poor people were receiving? Obviously so they could hold accountable a poor person coming to them for help by possibly asking: “Hey, what did you do with your $125 worth of food stamps this month?” Without that government-provided information, poor people might take advantage of the Christian do-gooders and get more than they deserve because, as we all know, the destitute will, when given a chance, “abuse” the help they are offered.

That is the rationale behind so much right-wing public policy directed toward the poor. And in case there is any doubt in your mind that James Whitford, leader of a local “Gospel Rescue Mission,” subscribes to that right-wing rationale and thus has his sights set on curtailing government programs for the disadvantaged, read this:

It became clearer that the presence of welfare was hurting the poor more than helping them. It’s been said that dependency is merely slavery with a smiling mask. Today, that mask is the continued distribution of resource in the way of food stamps, housing assistance, and even private forms of charity lacking insight to outcomes. The oppression I see so frequently in the welfare dependent poor compelled me to consider that more was necessary than just community connection, but education and policy reform, as well. The True Charity Initiative formed in the Fall of 2012.

From the looming deficit in Washington to the poor who remain dependent on Washington, the growing welfare state is hurting more than it’s helping. Now is the time for a grassroots movement of community leaders to join in an initiative that calls communities to effective charity and freedom from welfare. There has never been so important a moment in our history for the Church to be both a voice and a force for reform, to provide just and effective alternatives to state welfare, to empower and ennoble the poor, and to take up again the mantle of true and effective charity.

I want you to take note of a couple of things he said besides expressing his hostility toward government assistance. He wants something called “effective charity and freedom from welfare.” Well, who doesn’t? A decent-paying job, perhaps a union job, would take care of the problem. But—and this is crucial—Whitford wants “the Church to be both a voice and a force for reform.” That should scare the devil out of all of us. The Church, he suggests, should be involved in shaping public policy and, of course, it will be the Church that becomes one, if not the only one, of those “effective alternatives to state welfare.” That way, if you need help, you will have to come to the Church to get it and, along with a meal and a cot, you will also get an if you don’t work, you don’t eat” sermon and an invitation to meet Jesus (Whitford: “It’s been our joy to be a part of a growing work that expands its reach every year to help those in need and share Christ’s transforming message”).

If you go to the website of “The True Charity Initiative” that Whitford started, you will find libertarian think-tank articles like “The Rising Cost of Social Security Disability Insurance” or “Less Welfare, More Charity,” both from the CATO Institute and both full of the same maker-taker dogma that Republicans find attractive these days.  But you will also find a 2012 article by Whitford himself in which he complains about a government program that distributes cell phones to the poor and claims such programs are not “true charity.” Here he exposes not so much his fondness for Christianity as his fondness for an “I’ve got mine” libertarian philosophy that has come to dominate Republican politics:

Justice is prerequisite to true charity. How can charity be true if it’s accomplished by taking from one what is rightfully his? We have seen a great deal of funding flow into Joplin in the last year, both private and public. Did some of those public tax dollars do any good? Of course. Should we be happy for the people who are helped by public funding? I am. I simply suggest we recognize that this is not true charity and that rather than celebrate accomplishments achieved at the expense of working, taxpaying Americans, we should instead wince, drop our heads a bit and find a new resolve to stand for what is just, a place where liberty is preserved and true charity abounds.

People like James Whitford and all those who work for and support his Watered Gardens ministry in Joplin are obviously free to marry a brand of libertarian selfishness with a brand of evangelical Christianity, if they think that makes sense to them. They can also claim that they want to take away the power of the government to help people and give it to the Church because that would constitute “true charity” and it would allow the church to hold those charity-abusing poor people accountable. But we should not allow their weird mix of Ayn Rand philosophy and Christianity—which Rand would find appalling, by the way—to dictate public policy.

Unfortunately, though, it is.

Here’s how Kevin Horrigan, writing for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, began an editorial on the latest efforts by our GOP-dominated Missouri legislature to “reform” the Welfare State via Senate Bill 24:

Among many, if not most, Republican lawmakers in Missouri, it is an article of faith that people on “welfare” are lazy good-for-nothings who prefer to sit on the sofa watching TV, eating steak, gawking at pornography and soaking up fabulous government benefits instead of hauling their able bodies to work.

The facts behind poverty in Missouri belie this notion, but never mind! Why let facts get in the way when stereotypes are so much easier?

SB 24, as Horrigan points out, is designed to make an already stingy welfare system in Missouri even worse:

It “reforms” the TANF program, which pays families an average of $230 a month. About 76,000 people receive benefits, 52,000 of them children. Of the 24,000 adults on the program, the majority are single mothers of those children. The Legislature wants them to get to work, though what they will do for child care while working at their $7.50 an hour jobs is their problem.

Horrigan points out other attempts by Republicans in this state (and Democrat Jay Nixon has not exactly been a bleeding-heart liberal governor, by the way) to make war on the poor, particularly poor kids and their moms. But it is not only in Missouri where Christian Republican legislators are trying to get government out of the welfare business. The effort is nationwide, as this headline demonstrates:

House GOP approves budget to hike defense, slash safety-net programs

That Los Angeles Times article notes:

The ambitious but largely symbolic spending proposals adhere to Republican ideas for slashing social safety-net programs and lowering tax rates.

That is exactly the kind of “reform” that a local Joplin man running an allegedly Christian charity is asking “the Church” to get behind. Because, as he told us, “Easter is all about…New life, New hope and New direction” and, apparently, it’s about crucifying welfare programs and raising tax cuts from the dead.

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[Image of James Whitford from KODE TV]

Good Luck, Ted!

“There are people who wonder if faith is real. I can tell you, in my family there’s not a second of doubt…”

—Ted Cruz, speaking today at Liberty University.

Just after midnight, Ted Cruz of Texas released a video announcing he is running for the presidency of the United States, also known, among evangelicals, as the the Theocrat-in-Chief.

I wish him a limited amount of luck, hoping against hope that he can pull off a Moses-like miracle, one that would have the Almighty part a Red Sea of sanity long enough to allow Cruz and his zealots to get to the promised land of the GOP nomination.

If ever there were someone perfectly equipped to lead a Christian jihad, a Holy War against Islam abroad and against secularism here at home, it would be Ted Cruz. And to prove it, he kicked off his campaign today by giving a speech at Liberty University, which was founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell and boasts that it is “the largest Christian university in the world.” Its mission is “to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.” And then there is this:

With a unique heritage and an ever-expanding influence, Liberty remains steadfast in its commitment of Training Champions for Christ.

No doubt, Cruz will enlist a lot of those champions for service in his crusade campaign (he had a weird moment where he asked the students to text “Constitution” to a campaign number). At one point in his speech in Lynchburg, Virginia, this morning he said:

Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.

Yes. Just imagine.

Putting President Ted Cruz in charge of a the U.S. military would mean that Allah-fearing Americans could prove, once and for all, that our God is bigger than their God, something, apparently, that God has had trouble proving on his own. And as president, with an evangelical-fueled Congress and five willing souls on the Supreme Court, Cruz could turn America back into the theocratic state that our Founders meant it to be.

Cruz explained our divine birth as a nation:

What is the promise of America? The idea that—the revolutionary idea—that this country was founded upon, which is that our rights don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty.

Admittedly, there are lots of Americans who believe that, even people who would never vote for Ted Cruz. But it means something intensely personal to evangelicals. It means America is right and everyone else is on the wrong side of God. Cruz mused:

Imagine a president who says, “We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism.” And “We will call it by its name. We will defend the United States of America.”

Needless to say, that enlivened the young Christian crowd. As did dropping Ronald Reagan’s name in a dubious accounting of recent history:

Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan. And he was telling us that we would cut the top marginal tax rates from 70% all the way down to 28%. That we would go from crushing stagnation to booming economic growth to millions being lifted out of poverty and into prosperity and abundance. That the very day he was sworn in our hostages who were languishing in Iran would be released. And that within a decade we would win the Cold War and tear the Berlin Wall to the ground. That would have seemed unimaginable. And yet, with the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened.

It’s important for those of you who don’t understand the evangelical mind to know that that phrase, “with the grace of God,” is not just some rhetorical flavoring of a speech meant for a receptive audience. Cruz literally means to say that God had a hand in the election of Ronald Reagan and the lowering of marginal tax rates and the freedom for those Muslim-held hostages and the end of the Soviet Union. He means it because he knows who is watching over us:

From the dawn of this country, at every stage America has enjoyed God’s providential blessing.

I am hoping that at least one person in the audience, in the “university” audience, stopped to wonder: “If America has always enjoyed God’s providential blessing, shouldn’t we thank him for giving us Barack Obama, who has helped get us out of a very deep and dark Republican-engineered recession and who killed Osama bin Laden and who is at this very moment dropping bombs on the enemies of Christianity?”

In any case, Cruz continued:

God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation. And I believe God isn’t done with America yet. I believe in you, I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for President of the United States. It is a time for Truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States. 

cruz at liberty universityAgain, one has to wonder if there was anyone in the crowd who scratched his or her head and asked: “If God has been so protective over America, how did things get so messed up that we lost the Truth and our liberty and, uh, our Constitution?”

None of it makes any sense, of course. And the Canadian-born Ted Cruz will not get to lead his American revival. But if there is a God who does watch over this country, then he will engineer victory after victory for Cruz in the Republican primaries and help him get the nomination. That way, we are guaranteed that a Democrat will once again win the White House and capture the Senate and, if God is really, really good to us, win back the House of Representatives.

Thus, God bless Ted Cruz!

Joplin Businessman Rats Out A Republican Rat

It’s no secret that I find Republican politics here in Missouri an ugly business, especially in terms of what Republicans are doing to our state. And now it is no secret that the ugliness in the Missouri GOP isn’t just a quality manifested in its policy decisions and preferences. There is an internal ugliness that is equally disturbing.

On February 26, as you all know by now, Missouri’s state auditor Tom Schweich killed himself at his home in St. Louis County. Schweich, a very conservative Republican, had decided he wanted to be governor, since Jay Nixon cannot run again in 2016. But Schweich wasn’t treated very Christianly by some of his fellow Republicans, including a nasty right-wing political consultant named Jeff Roe and, believe it or not, the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, John Hancock. Roe produced a negative radio ad that made fun of the way Schweich looked—“little bug”—and Hancock was spreading rumors that Schweich was, uh, Jewish.

Now, I can’t tell you why it is that here in the 21st century, after all the death and destruction in the 20th related to anti-Semitism, that a Republican leader in this state would think it was good politics to point out the alleged Jewishness of a fellow Republican (Schweich, it turns out, attended an Episcopal church). It is beyond my ability to comprehend, presumably because I’m not a nasty Republican operative. But I am guessing that spreading it around that Schweich was a Jew was meant to signal to Christian Republicans that he wasn’t really one of them. Couldn’t be trusted.

Just minutes before he killed himself, Schweich had invited reporters to his home that day to discuss the whisper campaign against him. One of those reporters was Tony Messenger, Editorial Page Editor for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Messenger wrote:

Nobody in his party wanted him to hold a news conference suggesting that there were anti-Semites in the Republican Party. “I won’t back down,” he told me. I believed him.

The question has been, since Schweich’s suicide, whether there would emerge any evidence, besides Schweich’s own claims, that there was in fact a slimy campaign to “out” him as a Jew. Now we have a sworn affidavit from a wealthy Joplin businessman that indicates there was.

David Humphreys, who runs Tamko Building Products here in Joplin, is one of most aggressive donors to Republicans and right-wing interests in Missouri (as well as other states and nationally). As we all know, especially these days, money commands the attention of the political class. The chairman of the state’s GOP had a couple of meetings with Humphreys in Joplin and here is what Humphreys said happened at one of them (click on it to enlarge):

humphreys statement

My guess is that, given David Humphreys’ prominence in this state, the political career of GOP chairman John Hancock will come to a hasty end. And although I don’t agree with the politics of Mr. Humphreys, I admire his willingness to fight the bigotry that apparently exists in the bowels of the party he so generously supports.

A Southwest Missouri Killer And The Failure Of Civilization

“The world will not be a safer place because Mr. Clayton has been executed.”

—Elizabeth Unger Carlyle, attorney for Cecil Clayton

I haven’t watched much television news in the last few days, but I watched enough to know that apparently television producers were much too busy with other things—like the struggles of a slimy Benjamin Netanyahu to remain in office or the controversy over the stupid opinions of fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana or the resignation from Congress of an egoistic liar —to devote much time to the pending execution of a Missouri man named Cecil Clayton, who definitely—and cold-bloodedly—murdered, in 1996, Christopher Lee Castetter, a 29-year-old southwest Missouri sheriff’s deputy who had a wife and three kids.

It’s too late now anyway. Clayton is dead. Missouri killed him last night at 9:13.

But some people did put up a fight for Cecil Clayton. No, that’s not right. Some people put up a fight not for Cecil Clayton but for civilization, a fight to prevent the state from doing, in the name of the people of Missouri, something that appears to me to be at least as inhumane and indecent and as cold-blooded as the horrific murder of Deputy Castetter so long ago. In fact, what Missouri did last night may be a worse act than what Cecil Clayton did because, presumably, all of the people involved in executing Clayton were in possession of their entire brains.

Read this paragraph from a news article on the execution:

Clayton’s lawyers argued in last-minute appeals that the 74-year-old had dementia and lingering effects from a 1972 sawmill accident that forced surgeons to remove about 8 percent of his brain, including one-fifth of the frontal lobe portion governing impulse control and judgment.

Read that again. The killer, when he committed his crime, was missing part of his brain—after a piece of wood had pierced his skull—a part of his brain that has a lot to say about the things we do—and don’t do. The injury and subsequent operation changed his personality. We knew that. But we, we Missourians, killed him anyway.

Among the people on television who bothered covering the then-pending execution of Cecil Clayton was Rachel Maddow. She presented this image from an MRI done on Clayton’s brain. The MRI was done here in Joplin at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the hospital destroyed by the 2011 tornado:

cecil clayton brain scan

As you can see very clearly, a substantial part of Clayton’s frontal lobe is missing. Now read a little about what that means:

According to Dr. Lincoln F. Ramirez, a senior neurosurgeon at the Wisconsin School of Medicine, the frontal lobe “allows the individual to judge the consequences of his actions or actions-to-be, and then modify them on the basis of this judgment.” He went on: “You’re also losing connections to other parts of the brain,” the consequences of which may be unknown.

The frontal lobe is closely associated with criminal behavior. William Barr, director of the neuropsychology division of New York University’s neurology department, says, “If you’re coming up with a theory about what part of the brain would cause someone to do something bad, it would be there.” He adds: “When I see these cases, one of the first questions I ask is: Is the frontal lobe damaged?”

Compare that scientific understanding of the human brain and how injury to it affects behavior—and the conclusions that civilized people should draw from that science—with the following results from a poll done recently by the Joplin Globe:

joplin globe poll

Almost 7 out of 10 of the locals who voted (I have no idea how many actually participated) said the state should kill a man who lost a part of his brain that doctors know is closely associated with criminal behavior and that “allows the individual to judge the consequences of his actions or actions-to-be, and then modify them on the basis of this judgment.” 

But these locals, many of them ignorant, many of them angry, many of them both, are not directly responsible for killing the cop-killing Cecil Clayton. Nor is Deputy Castetter’s family at fault, a family who, quite naturally, wanted to see Clayton pay for his crime. His brother said,

We know this execution isn’t going to bring Chris back. But it destroys an evil person that would otherwise be walking this earth.

If it were one of my brothers who had been killed the way Castetter had been killed, I admit to you I would likely feel the same way. I probably wouldn’t be tempted to give the benefit of the doubt to the killer, no matter how much of his brain was missing, no matter how much I understood the science behind it all. I get the human emotions involved here.

But our laws, and our civilization that springs from those laws, ought to be more than emotion-based. We shouldn’t be so eager to use the power of the state to kill someone without at least considering not only the due process rights of the accused, but what it means to kill someone who was never in his right mind since his accident in 1972. And there are people in positions of power whose job it is to give those things proper, unemotional consideration. And it is those people who are directly responsible for the state murdering a brain-injured, mentally-impaired man.

Let me start with Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster. This is his entire official statement on the execution of Cecil Clayton:

“As one who has carried a badge for most of my adult life, I share the outrage of every Missourian at the murder of law enforcement officer, Deputy Christopher Castetter. Cecil Clayton tonight has paid the ultimate price for his terrible crime.”

Yes. We all know it was a terrible crime and that Clayton paid the ultimate price. But where is the moral justification for what the state did? Chris Koster isn’t a right-wing Republican. He is a Democrat. And Missouri prosecutors resisted arguments based on science that Clayton had an IQ of 71 and suffered from hallucinations, stemming from that accident in 1972. He also suffered from dementia, which, along with everything else, certainly affected his ability to understand what was happening to him on Tuesday and before. NBC News summarized the state’s position:

Missouri had argued that medical experts found Clayton understood why he was being executed and that meant he was competent to face the needle. They maintained that his intellectual deficits had to be present before he turned 18 to let him escape execution and that he waited too long to raise his claim.

Apparently that is the law in Missouri. If you claim that “intellectual deficits” had something to do with your crime, those deficits better have been present, magically, before you turned 18 or too bad for you. Missouri doesn’t much care about the state of your brain after you turn 18, sawmill accident or no sawmill accident. And executing a mentally disabled man for not raising a legal claim in a timely fashion is a remarkable display of moral blindness.

But Koster’s inhumane disregard for the science in this case, and his failure to explain the morality behind the state killing a disabled man, could have been overturned by another Democrat, Governor Jay Nixon, who had the power to grant clemency for Clayton. Instead, he issued a much longer statement that touched on “the nature of the crime,” which, again, we all agree was horrific, and which we all agree should have kept Clayton imprisoned for the rest of his life. Nixon also said,

I have given extensive consideration to Clayton’s competency. Clayton was found competent to stand trial in 1997 for the murder of Deputy Castetter and again in 2006 to bring his federal habeas action. In 2014, at the request of the Director of the Department of Corrections, Clayton was comprehensively examined by a certified forensic examiner with the Department of Mental Health and determined to be competent to be executed. I accept that finding.

The problem is that Nixon ignored the due process problems surrounding Clayton’s case, as summarized by Mother Jones:

Missouri law states that a person cannot be executed if, as a result of mental disease or defect, he or she is unable to “understand the nature and purpose of the punishment about to be imposed upon him.” However, state law offers no mechanism for the defendant to set up a competency hearing after trial. The fact that Clayton was tried and sentenced before receiving an evaluation is complicating efforts to save him from the executioner, and creating what his lawyers call a “procedural mess.”

Nixon had a chance to not only clean up the mess, but to stop the moral madness. He instead said:

This crime was brutal and there exists no question of Clayton’s guilt. My denial of clemency upholds the court’s decision to impose a sentence of death.

I ask that the people of Missouri remember Deputy Sheriff Christopher Castetter and keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.

He’s right that the crime was brutal and that there was no question about who did it. And he’s right that we should remember Deputy Castetter’s family and the fact that the young man died in the line of duty and that he left behind a wife and children. He’s right about all of that. But Nixon and Koster and other officials involved in this state execution are all wrong to ignore who Cecil Clayton was before that industrial accident and who he became after it happened. Mother Jones puts it well:

In 1972, Clayton was a sober, religious husband and father working at a sawmill in Purdy, Missouri. One day, a piece of wood flew from his blade, piercing his skull and entering his brain. Doctors eventually had to remove nearly one-fifth of his frontal lobe—the part of the brain that is crucial to decision making, mood, and impulse control. Clayton was completely transformed: His IQ dropped to 76, and he developed serious depression, hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, and thoughts of suicide. He relapsed into alcoholism, and his wife divorced him.

Clayton was officially diagnosed with chronic brain syndrome in 1983, which includes psychosis, paranoia, depression, schizophrenia, and decreased mental function. The severity of his condition rendered him unable to work. In 1979, a doctor said he was “just barely making it outside of an institution.” In 1984, another doctor found him to be “totally disabled” and the government placed him on disability benefits.

Twelve years later Clayton got in a fight with his ex-girlfriend in Cassville, Mo., and when Deputy Christopher Castetter responded, Clayton opened up the door of the patrol car, its motor still running, and shot the deputy in the head. Castetter never had time to unsnap his weapon from its holster. I’ll say it one more time: Yes, that is an unspeakably horrific crime. And, yes, Clayton should have been locked up and put away for life.

But how can we, the people of this state, justify killing a man who was himself the unfortunate victim of an accident, an accident that cost him an important part of his brain, an accident that fundamentally changed who he was and what he was to become?

Shame on all those responsible, including the state’s top two Democrats and the Missouri Supreme Court—by a 4-3 decision it declined to intervene—as well as the U.S. Supreme Court—the five conservatives predictably said no to a stay of execution— for this uncivilized act that does nothing, nothing whatsoever, to bring back Deputy Christopher Lee Castetter or honor his heroic service to his community.

All we, we the people of Missouri, did on Tuesday night at 9:13 was kill a disabled old man with a life-changing hole in his brain.

And our civilization, with its focus on demagogic foreign leaders and stupid fashion designers and egomaniacal congressmen, slouches on.

_______________________________________

[Photo Credit of Koster and Nixon: KBIA]

P

How To Think About The Hillary Clinton Email Story

By now you may have heard that Colin Powell, a former Republican Secretary of State, not only used a personal email account during his time in office, but those emails are all gone. Deleted. Apparently they now exist only in the mind of God. Yet, you won’t remember a scandal over that issue for a simple reason: there was no scandal over that issue.

And by now you have certainly heard that Shrub III, while he was governor of Florida, used a private email account for personal and job-related exchanges. In fact, Jeb Bush got a lot of great mainstream press publicity for releasing 250,000 emails for reporters to rummage through. But there is a problem, as the Tampa Bay Times pointed out:

The Bush files, though enormous, are not complete, however.

The former governor conducted all his communication on his private Jeb@jeb.org account and turned over the hand-selected batch to the state archives when he left office. Absent from the stash are emails the governor deemed not relevant to the public record: those relating to politics, fundraising and personal matters while he was governor.

Keep all that in mind. Colin Powell, a Republican working for the federal government, couldn’t turn over his collection of on-the-job emails to the State Department because they are all gone. Not a trace of them. Jeb Bush, a Republican working for the state of Florida, released a ton of his emails to the public—but he got to pick and choose which ones were relevant.

Now, thanks to Media Matters, we have also been reminded of that time in 2007 when another email controversy was in the news. The George W. Bush-Karl Rove White House was using private email accounts—“controlled by the Republican National Committee”—to discuss government business and then, voilà:

Responding to congressional demands for emails in connection with its investigation into the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the White House announced that as many as five million emails, covering a two-year span, had been lost.

Although, as The Washington Post pointed out, the law required the White House “to maintain records, including e-mails, involving presidential decision- making and deliberations,” those emails were missing in action. And Media Matters documents just how uninterested most journalists were in pursuing the story with the kind of gusto that they are now pursuing the Hillary Clinton email controversy:

The White House email story broke on a Wednesday. Yet on that Sunday’s Meet The Press, Face The Nation, and Fox News Sunday, the topic of millions of missing White House emails did not come up. At all. (The story did get covered on ABC’s This Week.)

By comparison, not only did every network Sunday news show this week cover the story about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emails, but they were drowning in commentary. Between Meet the Press, Face The Nation, This Week, and Fox News Sunday, Clinton’s “email” or “emails” were referenced more than 100 times on the programs, according to Nexis transcripts. Talk about saturation coverage.

Of course, because it involved a Republican administration, the millions of emails that disappeared in 2007 wasn’t a big deal to Fox “News.” Or worse:

A search of Fox archives locates only one panel discussion about the story and it featured two guests accusing Democrats of engineering a “fishing expedition.”

From then-Fox co-host, Fred Barnes: “I mean, deleted e-mails, who cares?”

All of a sudden, because it involves the Clintons, there is a lot of caring going on at Fox and elsewhere about deleted emails.

But even outside of the conservative media sewer, there has been particularly damning coverage of Mrs. Clinton and her email decisions. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe—which in some ways is Fox and Friends in camouflage—there has been nearly universal condemnation of Clinton and suggestions she is hiding damning information, lying about her motives, and otherwise doing what it is that the Clintons allegedly always do: playing a gullible public for fools. All of this rock-throwing over emails, of course, is so far unsupported by any real evidence. It’s all speculation.

Let me be upfront about one thing. Long-time readers know I am not a big fan of former President Clinton. Never have been. From the time when I was a young and committed right-winger to my current middle-aged liberalism, I have always had doubts about his motives and his methods. Not to mention the fact that he has had a fairly clear problem with relationships involving relatively powerless and, in some cases, vulnerable women around him.

That being said, Mrs. Clinton has also lived some of her political life in the shade. There is no reason to go into all that here, since it is available elsewhere, but some of what she is going through now, involving those deleted emails, is the product of her husband’s lies and truth-twisting and some is the product of her own lack of transparency related to her often complicated and sometimes troubling professional relationships, prior to becoming First Lady.

Thus, it is understandable that the press is pursuing this email story like it is the scandal of the century, since journalists are eager to invalidate the completely ridiculous right-wing claim that the mainstream press has always been in bed with the Clintons and has let them get away with, literally, murder.

In any case, let me ignore the usual nuttery on places like Fox—where Fox and Friends passed on the Darrell Issa speculation that the deleted emails may contain a “stand-down order” related to Benghazi tragedy. I want to examine what, on the face of it, sounds like a reasonable question that was asked by a well-respected mainstream journalist, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Just one day after she had accused Clinton of “ducking questions” about the emails, Mitchell got to ask her a question during Clinton’s press conference on Tuesday:

MITCHELL: Can you explain how you decided which of the personal emails to get rid of, how you got rid of them and when? 

That sounds reasonable enough, right? What were the mechanics of the decision to delete certain emails and to forward others to the State Department? But Mitchell added this question:

And how you’ll respond to questions about you being the arbiter of what you release?

In other words, as Mitchell reiterated this morning on MSNBC, what gives you the right, Mrs. Clinton, to decide which emails to delete and which to keep? That also, at first glance, seems a reasonable question. Until you think about it. And journalists are supposed to think about it.

We now know that Hillary Clinton said she “wanted to just use one device for both personal and work emails” because it was convenient. And, as she pointed out, “It was allowed.” No one has contradicted that. The federal manual covering this stuff gives her and other government employees the right to determine what is personal and what is government business related. And no one this side of Rush Limbaugh has claimed she broke any laws by doing what she did, by going through her emails and deleting the ones that she decided had nothing to do with her job and were, thus, private.

Yet, a lot of people are having a problem with her right to do that. Many journalists, and most Republicans, want to see all of those emails. The more sober among them have proposed that a third party should get access to the Clinton’s server and look at all the emails and then decide which is personal and which isn’t. It’s important to understand why that would be grossly unfair to Hillary Clinton and an invasion of her privacy, as well as make it more difficult to get good people to enter public service.

First, we all now understand that most government officials in the executive branch use both government email accounts and personal email accounts during their working days. So, let’s suppose that Mrs. Clinton had also decided to use two separate email accounts while she was Secretary of State. One account would have been for her government-related business and the other for her personal, private business. Nice and neat, right?

Now, let’s suppose she decided to send a message to a friend on her private account. Would she be entitled to make that decision? Of course she would be. She wouldn’t be required to send personal emails through her government account. But suppose she wanted to ask that friend about, say, his opinion on the situation in Burma? Would she still have the right to do that using her private account? Damn right she would. And it would be her decision to do so. She would get to decide whether seeking the opinion of someone about Burma should be on a government-controlled server or on a privately-controlled one. Because, obviously, not everything a government employee does is the government’s business. And Secretary Clinton was entitled to have a private life and to send private emails.

So, what is the difference between deciding before the fact or after the fact which communications are private and which aren’t? Just because she, rather foolishly, decided to use only one device to send her emails while she was the Secretary of State doesn’t mean she isn’t entitled to now determine which emails fall within her right to privacy, assuming there is such a thing as privacy these days.

As much as some people hate to admit it, there is some element of trust involved regarding the service of public officials, whether they have one phone or two phones or a hundred phones. Unless we are prepared to pry into every second of their lives and demand that every syllable they utter or every word they type be part of the public record, we have to have some measure of faith that they are doing their jobs honestly, that they are properly separating their private lives from their public ones. If it turns out that Hillary Clinton knowingly broke the law by trying to delete emails directly related to the conduct of official government business, then she should be prosecuted.

One problem with all this is that before September of 2013, the regulations governing how federal agency employees used emails were apparently lax enough to allow those employees to use personal email accounts to conduct official business, so long as those emails were preserved in some way. Mrs. Clinton said yesterday that,

the vast majority of my work emails went to government employees at their government addresses, which meant they were captured and preserved immediately on the system at the State Department. 

If it turns out that she deliberately deleted some relevant emails related to policy decisions involving her government job, emails that went to non-government addresses that were not preserved by the State Department, then she is in real trouble. But, as I said, there is exactly zero evidence that she has done anything wrong, not to mention illegal.

And for those Republicans in Congress who are after every jot and tittle that Hillary Clinton sent and received while she was working for the government as Secretary of State, David Brock has requested that they should also make available every jot and tittle, public and private, they have written while holding their government jobs.

Except that will never happen because almost all of them use private email accounts. And the communications of members of Congress are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Therefore, anything they release would be strictly voluntary. They get to keep their privacy while demanding that Hillary Clinton surrender hers.

How bleeping convenient.

________________________

AP Photo

 

“I Am Leaving The Country,” Patriot Rush Limbaugh Said Five Years Ago. Except, He’s Still Here

I don’t think I’ve ever referenced Al Sharpton, but the following short segment he did on his show on Tuesday should be seen by all who value the, uh, integrity of a fading, but still diabolically influential, Rush Limbaugh:

Cotton-Picking Minds

When I first heard Tom Cotton talk, I knew he was a dangerous man. He was not only ambitious—he spent only one term in the House of Representatives before deciding he could defeat Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas’ 2014 U.S. Senate race—but he was a Harvard lawyer and an Army veteran who knew how to politically exploit his military exploits and take warmongering to new heights.

 The 37-year-old senator isn’t shy about his I-ain’t-waitin’ ambition:

Some people say I’m a young man in a hurry. They’re right.

That quote is from a New Republic article published in January in which the author, David Ramsey, offered this description of Cotton given by Ed Kilgore, a progressive writer:

“[H]e manages to be a True Believer in the most important tenets of all the crucial Republican factions. He’s adored by Neocons, the Republican Establishment, the Tea Folk, the Christian Right, and most of all by the Con-Con cognoscenti that draw from both these last two categories.”

If that isn’t bad enough, Ramsey offered more:

Cotton…has been called the “party’s most aggressive next-generation advocate for military action overseas.” For Cotton, the Iraq War was a “just and noble war”; on foreign policy, he has said, “George Bush largely did have it right.” Cotton argues for an aggressive, interventionist military posture abroad, more defense spending, and an executive branch empowered on matters of national security. Pick a topicSyria, Iran, Russia, ISIS, drones, NSA snoopingand Cotton can be found at the hawkish outer edge of the debate, demanding a continuation or escalation of the Cheney line more consistently and vociferously than nearly any of his peers.

That was written in January. This same Tom Cotton is now the leader of saboteurs in the U.S. Senate who are trying like hell to get the United States into a real war with Iran. By now you have heard all about Cotton’s “Open roy blunt signature on tom cotton letterLetter,” signed by 47 Republican senators (including Missouri’s Roy Blunt) and addressed to “the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The letter, as far as I can tell, is completely unprecedented in American history. For all of its posturing about educating the Iranians on how our constitutional system works, it was obviously designed to make right-wingers here in the United States aware that Republicans are doing all they can to blow up the negotiations between the Obama administration and the leaders of Iran over how best to prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon—without spilling the blood of American soldiers.

President Obama responded to all the reactionary bluster this way:

I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.

The President is wrong, of course. The coalition between American hard-liners and Iranian hard-liners is not “unusual,” especially given the pathological hatred for Obama among conservative Republicans. Nor is it “ironic” for right-wingers to want “to make common cause” with other right-wingers in Iran.

Irony is defined as “a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected.” Republican reactionaries, led by a warmonger like Tom Cotton, appealing to Iranian reactionaries in a theocratic state is exactly what I expected.

So, Senator Cotton’s letter and its Roy Blunt-endorsed message is not ironic, Mr. President. It’s par for the very sad and strange course of contemporary Republican politics.

All Testicles Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition broadcast a story on Friday  (“As Workers’ Comp Varies From State To State, Workers Pay The Price”) that may not be as sexy as Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal,” but it illustrates as well as anything just how moneyed interests, usually represented by the Republican Party, are screwing workers each and every day.

Before I get to that story, I want to tell you something I discovered about workers’ compensation laws, while I was representing union workers in the federal system several years ago.

Early on in my union officer career, I was attending a training seminar hosted by a claims examiner for a field office of the federal Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) in Kansas City, which is under the U.S. Department of Labor.

It was during this training seminar that I learned that my testicles, should I lose them on the job, weren’t worth as much as my boss’s testicles, should he (it was a “he” at the time) lose his on the job. Please, let me explain.

The way the system works is that if you were to lose a “body member” on the job, you are entitled to what is called a “Schedule Award.” The reason it is called that is because there is a compensation schedule that is based on what someone, somewhere, sometime, determined was the value of your lost member, whatever it happened to be. And that value is determined by assigning to each lost member an increment of time.

Let’s say you lost your testicle in a freak accident at work. The federal workers’ compensation Schedule Award says that your testicle is worth 52 weeks, meaning 52 weeks at your rate of pay. Which then means that if you were making $30,000 a year, your missing marble will bring you an “award” of $30,000 from your employer or your employer’s insurer.

Now, keep in mind that no one actually determined that one of your love spuds is worth $30,000. What someone determined is that if, while working, you end up one gonad short of a full scrotum, your compensation is 52 weeks of pay. And this is where I raised my hand during the seminar and said something similar to the following:

Let me get this straight. If I lose my testicle, I get a year’s worth of pay. And if my boss loses his testicle, he also gets a year’s worth of pay. Except, he makes almost twice as much as I do. So, that means his balls are, in the eyes of the law, worth twice as much as mine, which doesn’t seem right to me since I am pretty sure I value mine at least as much as he values his.

That didn’t strike the OWCP representative, nor my union superiors, as particularly convincing. “Of course he gets more compensation for a lost body part,” they said. “That’s just the way it works.” But I was not having any of that nonsense. I said, “Seriously, why should his testicles be worth more than mine? Shouldn’t they be valued the same? Shouldn’t there be a fixed value attached to them when they, uh, become unattached?” No one could explain the logic, or the morality, of any of this to my satisfaction.

But that is the way it works. If you lose an arm in the federal workplace, you get 6 years of compensation. If you make $50,000 a year, your arm is worth $300,000. If you make $100,000 a year, your arm is worth $600,000. Sound fair to you? Of course not. But nothing about our workers’ compensation system is fair to the working stiffs who make the economy, and thus the world, turn.

Now, let’s move on to that NPR story, which had to do not with the federal system that I knew, but the various state systems:

Congress allows each state to determine its own benefits, with no federal minimums, so workers who live across state lines from each other can experience entirely different outcomes for identical injuries.

Nearly every state has what’s known as a “schedule of benefits” that divides up the body like an Angus beef chart.

That Angus beef chart is all too true. Like the federal system,

Workers are awarded a portion of their wages up to the state maximum for the specified number of weeks assigned to each body part. But depending on those numbers, the final amounts can vary widely.

The loss of an arm, for example, is worth up to $48,840 in Alabama, $193,950 in Ohio and $439,858 in Illinois. The big toe ranges from $6,090 in California to $90,401.88 in Oregon. Some states even put a value on the loss of a testicle.

I told you.

You can see that some of these state systems are even worse than the federal system of workers’ compensation. Not only does it matter how much money you make, in terms of valuing your lost member, but it matters where your arm, or your testicle, is when it is lost. Obviously, there is something wrong with this picture. But it gets worse for some folks:

The calculus of such losses can be dehumanizing. One worker at a Jasper, Ala., sawmill lost her thumb and every finger save her pinkie when her hand was dragged through the rusty gears of a scrap wood conveyor. But instead of paying the larger sum for her entire hand, the mill’s insurer has offered her only the benefits for each individual finger.

Can you believe that? How can the mill or its “insurer” get away with that? This is where we get back to politics:

Given their profound impact on people’s lives, how much compensation workers get for traumatic injuries seems like it would be the product of years of study, combining medical wisdom and economic analysis. But in reality, the amounts are often the result of political expediency, sometimes based on bargains struck decades ago.

Such decisions are part of greater rollback in protections for injured workers nationwide. Over the past decade, a ProPublica and NPR investigation found, state after state has slashed workers’ comp benefits, driven by calls from employers and insurers to lower costs.

In fact, employers are now paying the lowest rates for workers’ comp than at any time since the 1970s. Nonetheless, dozens of legislatures have changed their workers’ comp laws, often citing the need to compete with neighboring states and be more attractive to business.

The investigative reporter on this NPR story seemed to go out of his way not to directly accuse Republicans of weakening workers’ compensation laws and making it harder for workers to receive benefits. But it is obvious. I can tell you as someone who has represented people in the federal system, that as cumbersome and unfair as that system is, in most cases it is far better than what exists in the states, especially in Republican controlled states.

Here in Missouri, there has been a long-term effort by Republicans to make it tougher for workers to not only file claims, but to realize any benefits from those claims:

Republicans have long claimed that businesses needed greater protection against the uncertain costs of sometimes questionable claims about workplace injuries. In 2005, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt signed a law making it more difficult for people to win workers’ compensation cases by requiring them to prove that work was the “prevailing factor” for an injury instead of merely being a “substantial factor.” The 2005 law also required a strict application of its provisions instead of one “liberally construed with a view to the public welfare” as in the past.

Local Republican legislators, the Joplin Chamber of Commerce, and a local Joplin business executive, Herb Schmidt, have been aggressively involved in the fight to make it more difficult for Missouri workers to get justly compensated for on-the-job injuries. In a Joplin Globe story last summer, we learned the following:

Southwest Missouri interests are leading the charge to change workers’ compensation laws in the state.

State Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, is sponsoring a bill with proposed workers’ compensation changes that recently passed the Missouri House.

Representatives of several Joplin companies testified in favor of the bill, including Contract Freighters Inc., which has been a driving force behind the proposals.

“I have spent more time in Jefferson City in the last two years than I have spent in any other city in the United States,” said Herb Schmidt, president of the Joplin trucking company that is one of the region’s largest employers.

The reason Herb Schmidt spent so much time in Jefferson City is because our state’s capitol is controlled, overwhelmingly, by Republicans. And, as usual, the argument is that Missouri must win the race to the bottom with neighboring states or else the jobs will flee. Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Chamber of Commerce, said:

The vagueness of the language is open to legal interpretation and, with each case, legal precedent expands the scope of injuries covered by workers’ compensation, and, in turn, increases costs for every employer. … It is becoming a system that is not fair for employers. But, because it is impacting the keeping and creation of jobs in this state, it is becoming a system that is not fair to employees as well.

Yes. These nice business folks are just looking out for the workers by looking out for the businesses. O’Brian, according to the Globe, said Republican Wilson’s proposed bill could slash workers’ compensation for businesses by 30 percent. And that, of course, would change the long-term weather:

“Many of our colleagues around the state have seen it as an economic-development issue,” O’Brian said. “These kinds of changes in workers’ compensation all play into that overall business climate.”

For these people, it’s always about the business climate and never about the work climate. If it is raining on workers, you can bet somewhere there is a group of Republicans taking a long legislative piss, or at least threatening to. Here’s how Herb Schmidt summarized it, according to the Globe:

Schmidt said he believes CFI could save as much 40 percent on some of its workers’ compensation costs by moving to Oklahoma, in part because “there is a much more precise definition” as well as lower payouts for injuries.

“Lower payouts for injuries.” That’s what this is all about. Piss on the workers. Get hurt on the job, whether it is a short-term problem or a permanent injury like the loss of a testicle or an arm or a leg or anything else, and a member of the working class can count on a well-represented employer doing everything possible to make sure there is the lowest “payout” possible for the hurt.

And for that we can mostly thank the Republican Party and its many supporters, some of whom don’t know the value of their own, or someone else’s, testicles.

You Can Learn A Lot From The Headlines

His ratings are up. His employer is defending his obvious falsehoods about his career. Thus:

“Fox News Doesn’t Care If Bill O’Reilly Is A Liar”

Who thought they would? He has made them all rich. And speaking of Billo, here is some typical Billo logic:

“O’Reilly: Amanpour Is Wrong About Netanyahu Because She Was Raised In Iran”

And speaking of twisted logic, this is how conservatives are courting Hispanics:

“Mark Levin Mocks Rep. Luis Gutiérrez’s Accent, Calls Him The ‘Self Appointed Martin Luther King Of Latinos'”

This is how Republicans are courting black folks:

“GOP Leaders To Skip Selma Event”

And speaking of the anniversary of Selma, this man remembers:

“’I shouldn’t have to feel bad about being white’: N.J. deli owner serves racism with sandwiches, calls for White History Month”

Bon appétit!

Oh, get this. Republicans have finally come up with a solution, a final solution, to homelessness:

“GOP Lawmaker Suggests Wolves Could Help Get Rid Of Homeless People”

I suppose that is one way to do it. And speaking of ravenous wolves, yes, West Virginia, there is a War on Women:

“West Virginia Legislature Upholds 20-Week Abortion Ban Over Governor’s Veto”

And a domestic Holy War:

“Fox News Pundit: Muslim Holidays Discriminate Against Christians”

And a war on working people:

“Walker Wins Another War With Unions”

Nah, that is just a battle. The war has yet to be decided.

To end this little post, let’s play a game of “guess which political party.” I’ll start with an easy one. What political party is this guy from:

“Ben Carson Apologizes For Saying Prison Makes People Gay”

Okay, okay. That one was easy. Here’s a slightly harder one:

“Senator Who Used Snowball To ‘Disprove’ Climate Change Cites Scripture As Backup”

I know. Too easy. Try this one:

“Kris Kobach: ‘Not A Huge Jump’ To Think Obama Could Ban Criminal Prosecution Of Black People”

No use trying to stump you. It’s just not that hard to figure out. The conservative crezzies aren’t very subtle.

And speaking of the crezzies, there is always the founder and editor of the popular right-wing website WorldNetDaily:

“Joseph Farah Is ‘Just Asking’: Will Obama Actually Leave Office In January 2017?”

And I’m just asking, “Why should he?”

Here’s an insightful and Christianly column written by a conservative think tanker:

“End Obamacare, and people could die. That’s okay.”

Sure, that’s okay. Praise God.

In any case, speaking of ObamaCare, I do want to give credit to right-wingers for their bold predictions over the years. They said an America-hating President Obama would destroy the economy and jobs with, among other things, his ObamaCare fiasco. Except:

“Obamacare: Medicaid sign-ups rise, uninsured rate lower”

“U.S. Economy Adds 295,000 jobs, Unemployment falls to 5.5 %”

You gotta love it.

To end, this is what destroying the economy and jobs looks like:
obama and march jobs report

 

The Magic Condom

In case you haven’t noticed, Hillary Clinton is running for president. We know this by the amount of scrutiny she and her husband are receiving from right-wingers and from that famous publication that right-wingers hate because it is so liberal and left-wing, The New York Times.

The latest “scandal” involving Mrs. Clinton was published overnight by the Times as a front-page story, “Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules.” Note the word “possibly” in that headline. Time will tell whether rules or laws were broken, but we don’t have to wait for sober analysis. We have cable TV! The conclusion jumping by talking heads began this morning.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said, with no disagreement on the Morning Joe set, the following:

In 2015 it’s a terrible breach of public trust and a lack of transparency and it does feed into a narrative.

That narrative, of course, is mostly a right-wing narrative (but there are some lefties who have advanced the narrative, too) that says the Clinton’s are totally political creatures, who sneak around the rules and the law and have perfected the art of lying through their teeth.

A version of that narrative has been around since the Clintons hit the national stage, and voters mostly ignored it and elected Bill twice. Hillary became a U.S. Senator from New York, a place she did not live until she decided to run for office there. So, despite the problems the Clinton’s have had, people still like them. A lot.

This latest revelation from The New York Times follows a Washington Post story about the Clinton Foundation: “Foreign governments gave millions to foundation while Clinton was at State Dept.” The most damaging charge in that story was that the foundation took money from the Algerian embassy—an unsolicited $500,000 was given to The Clinton Foundation Haiti Relief fund just after the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010—without proper clearance from the State Department, which Hillary Clinton was running at the time.

Now, I personally find it a problem that foreign governments and Hillary Clinton have monetary relationships, however attenuated. That’s because I find money and politics a bad mix. They should be decoupled from each other. Forever. But I also find the hypocrisy among Republicans on this issue both appalling and laughable.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, a schmuck named Reince Priebus, declared Hillary Clinton unfit to be president because of her relationship with money:

I don’t know how she does her job as president. How is it possible that the frontrunner of the Democratic Party is going to be president of the United States when she’s taking money while she’s representing the United States as secretary of state?

Several CPAC speakers took a shot at Clinton for the money thing. Even Shrub III joined in on the fun. When the Talking Turd, Sean Hannity, asked Bush for a lightning response to the words “Hillary Clinton,” Shrub said, “foreign fundraising.” Ha! Very funny! And very odd. In 2013, Jeb gave an award to Hillary Clinton “in recognition of her lifelong career in public service and her ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of women and girls around the globe.” Oops!

Speaking of Oops, former Texas governor Rick Perry, hoping people will forget how forgetful he is, also worried about the effects of money on Mrs. Clinton. He told CNN:

Are you going to trust an individual who has taken that much money from a foreign source? Where’s your loyalty? I’m really concerned, not just going forward, but what has been received at the Clinton Foundation over the course of years and how that affects this individual’s judgment.

Hmm. That’s very interesting. Since the infamous Citizens United decision—since the Supreme Court authorized the purchase of our democracy by the rich—all I have heard from Republicans is that money and politics belong together, that politicians and donors can get in bed and bang till dawn and the politician will get up, leave a quick thank you note, and owe nothing to the donor. That’s what I have heard for years now. Money doesn’t corrupt people or the system. The more money the better I am told.

magic condomExcept that all of a sudden there is concern that Hillary Clinton will be influenced by money that her and her husband’s charitable foundation has received from rich people and foreign governments. I don’t get it.

Oh, wait. I do get it. Republican politicians can bang rich donors, or get banged by rich donors, and their prophylactic God-granted goodness will protect them from corruption. If Democrats do it, they don’t have a righteous rubber and they will get the horrible disease.

See how easy that is to understand? It’s all in the condom.

Jeenyuss Programming

It’s official. MSNBC is sinking.

You may have heard about the network’s struggles with ratings and its attempt to fix things. One of those fixes appeared today for his two-hour slot beginning at noon central time: “MSNBC Live With Thomas Roberts.”

Now, before he was jockeying to have his own show, I saw Roberts guest-host on MSNBC in the morning and afternoon a few times and he could be quite good, in terms of asking guests tough questions. Then he moved to “Way Too Early” at 4:30am and began appearing regularly on “Morning Joe” and, before you knew it, what edginess he had was gone, and he was transformed into a harmless, almost fluffy, corporate-safe talking head.

Today, to end his brand-new show, Roberts had on, uh, Donald Trump. I knew, as I heard Trump introduced, that MSNBC, long the home of some decent progressive-leaning programming, was on its way into the crapper of corporate nothingness.

The real hook for having Trump on the show was—and I shit you not—to celebrate his “genius.” Yes. That’s right. MSNBC is part of something the 92nd Street Y in New York is doing called “Seven Days of Genius.” The network says:

As marquee media partner of the 92nd Street Y’s second annual 7 Days of Genius festival, msnbc [sic] will showcase on-air and online conversations with well-known personalities on the qualities that define “Genius,” and who and what has inspired them throughout their careers.

It turns out that there is a survey of Americans associated with this nonsense. And all you have to know to know how dumb an idea this survey is, or how dumb the surveyed are, is found in this headline and subheadline from Fast Company:

Americans Think Geniuses Are Men: Inside Our Contradictory Attitudes On Brilliance

More people think Donald Trump is a genius than Bill Clinton. And 15% of people think that they are a genius themselves.

Roberts, during his interview with Trump, actually took seriously the idea that this jeenyuss was seriously thinking about running for president. And then he actually asked him how he felt about being rated higher on the genius scale than both Hillary and Bill Clinton. And Trump said it was great, that he wanted to be higher on the list. He said he always wanted to be ranked up there with Albert Einstein.

Yes. He said it. He actually wants to be in the same conversation with Albert Bleeping Einstein. And worse than that, Thomas Roberts didn’t crack up laughing when he said it.

Goodbye, MSNBC. I think I’ll wait until the evening to tune in from now on.

 

The House Of Babel

Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul; let them be turned backward and put to confusion that desire my hurt.”

—King David in Psalm 70:2, or Barack Obama today

Going right up to the brink of a total Homeland Security defunding, the House of Representatives, led by that pusillanimous patriot John Boehner, approved a bill that funds our nation’s mammoth security agency for, uh, one week.

And the truth is that without Democrats even the one week Band-Aid wouldn’t have been timely applied to an embarrassingly self-inflicted wound. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, curiously, wrote a letter to her members urging them to pass the short-term bill:

We are asking you once again to help advance passage of the Senate passed, long-term funding of DHS by voting in favor of a 7-day patch that will be on suspension in the House tonight.

The speculation is that Democrats only went along with this nonsense because they were promised a vote on a clean funding bill in the coming week, one that would keep the agency running until the end of the fiscal year in September, without any provisions that would limit the president’s executive power on immigration law enforcement.

Still, the fighting among Republicans—the utter confusion and disarray—was something to behold on Friday. All of it was related to the right-wing’s obsession with President Obama’s deferred action on deportation. Since immigration law enforcement is part of Homeland Security, the zealots decided that they would hold funding for the agency hostage unless Democrats in the Senate—who have been using the filibuster with Republican-like efficiency—caved in to their demands to include provisions in the law that would prevent Obama from using his executive power to pick and choose just whom he would deport.

All of this befuddlement reminded me of a tactic God used in the Old Testament. In case you don’t know, God had a habit of using confusion to get his point across, to realize his divine desires, to prevent mankind from doing what he didn’t want them to do. Most famously, in Genesis there was the Tower of Babel incident in which God feared that “the people are one and they all have one language…now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” So, God said, “let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 

That is what happened on Friday in the House of Representatives. Confusion. Republicans not understanding one another’s speech. And all of it was over whether the U.S. government ought to have an aggressive policy of deportation, dividing paperless immigrants from their paper-proper family members. The Shrub Part 3 Jeb Bush once said, before he was trying to court haters in his party:

The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally … and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.

That Jeb Bush, the one who sensibly talked about undocumented immigrants in the context of  “an act of love,” will decrease, and a meaner Jeb Bush will increase. That is the nature of the case, when it comes to Republican primary politics in the age of the Tea Party. But all those reactionaries, those who believe the Bible is their guide to salvation, ought to pay attention to Deuteronomy 28:

But if you don’t obey the Lord your God’s voice by carefully doing all his commandments and his regulations that I am commanding you right now, all these curses will come upon you and find you:
♦ 
You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the field.

♦ Your basket and kneading bowl will be cursed.
♦ 
Your own fertility, your soil’s produce, your cattle’s young, and your flock’s offspring will be cursed.
♦ 
You will be cursed when you are out and about and cursed when you come back.
♦ 
The Lord will send calamity, confusion, and frustration on you no matter what work you are doing until you are wiped out and until you disappear—it’ll be quick!—because of the evil acts by which you have abandoned him…

♦ You might get engaged to a woman, but another man will have sex with her.
♦ 
You might build a house, but you won’t get to live in it.
♦ You might plant a vineyard, but you won’t enjoy it.
♦ Your ox will be slaughtered while you watch, but you won’t get to eat any of it.
♦ Your donkey will be stolen right out from under you, and it won’t come back.
♦ Your flocks will be given to your enemies.
♦ No one will save you…
♦ The immigrants who live among you will be promoted over you, higher and higher! But you will be demoted, lower and lower! They will lend to you, but you will have nothing to lend to them. They will be the head of things; you will be the tail.

On Friday, and so many times since Tea Party members started renting space in John Boehner’s head, we have seen “the tail” wag a very confused dog.

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