Why There Is A Trump

Other than white fear and anxiety—which I have written about many times—there are two other reasons we have a Trump.

One I found in an L. A. Times article (“News coverage of campaign greatly aided Trump and hurt Clinton, study finds“), which confirmed what anyone who has consumed the news since last June already knew. But it’s nice to have an objective study confirm what may only be personal bias. The lede:

News coverage of the early months of the presidential campaign strongly boosted Donald Trump’s bid and put Hillary Clinton at a disadvantage, according to a new study from Harvard that is likely to add to the heavy volume of complaints that the media aided Trump’s rise.

There’s that.

Then there’s this, which I found on The Hill:

Carl Bernstein: Trump speech ‘abhorrent’ but ‘effective’

Bernstein, unfortunately, is a CNN commentator. The old Watergate-breaking journalist was critiquing the godawful speech Trump gave today on banning Muslims and protecting those newly-lovable gay people that Republicans didn’t use to love until it became politically expedient to love them. Those same newly-lovable gay people that Democrats like Obama and Clinton are failing to protect because those two America-haters allow every gay-hating terrorist in the world to walk into the United States without so much as a howdy. The speech was, as Bernstein said, quite “abhorrent.” But here’s what else Bernstein said about it:

His speech will appeal to independents, even some Democrats and certainly Republicans because Hillary Clinton, Obama and the Democrats are very late to acknowledge by name that there is a real threat of Islamic terrorism in this country and all over the world and they have been very reluctant to use the word Islamic terror and it’s coming back to haunt them. The impression Trump gave today, with some effectiveness, despite his almost neo-fascist rhetoric, is that the Democrats have not done that.

That is so dumb, on so many levels, I can hardly draw a breath.

First, I don’t know one single Democrat who would find that speech appealing. If there are Democrats out there who do find neo-fascism appealing, guess what? They ain’t really Democrats.

bernsteinSecond, Clinton, Obama, and the Democrats are not “very late to acknowledge by name that there is a real threat of Islamic terrorism in this country and all over the world.” There are plenty of dead terrorists out there to refute that very ignorant claim. Just ask Osama bin Laden, the next time you’re snorkeling for seashells.

Third, what about the reluctance “to use the word [sic] Islamic terror”? Bernstein knows, or should know, why there is reluctance to use the word in the way that right-wingers want Democrats to use it. Responsible elected officials, as opposed to Republican elected officials, have to be careful not to alienate the very people who can help stop terrorists from terrorizing. Bernstein said it’s “coming back to haunt” Democrats. Oh, yeah? Where’s the proof of that? Obama was reelected, even though the right made the same attacks on him back in 2012. He’s also fairly popular right now. Does Bernstein think non-Republican people are so dumb that they think just by uttering “Islamic terrorism” all the terrorists out there will turn into Mr. Rogers?  I can pretty much guarantee anyone that ISIS thugs don’t really give a damn whether Hillary Clinton decided to use the term “Islamic terrorism” today. All they care about, besides killing other Muslims, is not having an American drone as a breakfast guest.

Fourth, Bernstein said Trump’s speech used “almost neo-fascist rhetoric.” No. It wasn’t almost neo-fascist. It was the real deal. At least as real as fascism gets in American politics. Bernstein also said that despite the close-to-fascist rhetoric, Trump’s speech was effective. Again, what evidence is there for that? Trump is a known liar and everyone not already hypnotized by authoritarian bombast has ten thousand good reasons not to believe anything he says about Obama, Clinton, or the size of his bratwurst. The only way anyone outside the Trump cult would give any credence to such a neo-fascist speech, which was full of non-facts, is if people like Carl Bernstein gave them reason to.

And that is exactly what he did. Bernstein should have called the speech what it was and not given anyone the impression that Trump is anything other than a dangerous authoritarian, who at times today acted like a lunatic. He should have said that Trump is quite openly telling us how he will change the country for the worse and how he will dramatically expand the powers of the executive branch beyond anything conservatives have imagined Obama doing. Instead, Bernstein practiced the kind of journalism we are too used to seeing since Trump slinked into our politics. The kind of journalism that has placed America dangerously close to electing a neo-fascist.


A Mostly Untold Story

As Drumpf spends his face time on TV racially attacking a federal judge appointed by Barack Obama, we get almost no information about the larger problem with the judicial nomination process. From Democratic Underground:

Header and subheader of the Daily Beast article on which the above graphic is based:

It’s Not Just Merrick Garland: Republicans Are Blocking So Many Nominees It’s Caused a Judicial Emergency

The judicial confirmation rate under the Republican-controlled Senate is less than half of what it was when Democrats held power under George W. Bush. There are so few judges that it’s hurting the country.

Finally, an important paragraph from the article showing how conservatives in the Senate still think our first African-American president is only three-fifths of a man:

And it’s not just judges. The Congressional Research Service found that President Obama has had the fewest presidential nominees confirmed in decades: 198, compared with 345 for George W. Bush, and 268 for Bill Clinton.

These days you rarely hear a word about Republican obstructionism, which is not just limited to the confirmation process of presidential nominees. Our economic progress has also been retarded by Republicans in Congress. All of which has done great damage to people’s perception of their governmental institutions. But what we often get from journalists is documentation of the dangerous cynicism sweeping the country without a proper exploration of its cause. And what we get from that journalistic failure is a Drumpf.

The Sanders Campaign Goes Drumpf

“Remember, one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counter-puncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first.” —Donald Drumpf

Let’s get something straight about what has been happening. Bernie Sanders, in a Drumpfed-up way, went after Hillary Clinton in a speech in Philadelphia—suggesting she wasn’t qualified to be president—for two reasons (which he stated in a press conference
tbernie in philadelphiahe next day in Philadelphia and which you can see on YouTube starting at around 9:45).

The first reason he gave was because he was pissed off after The Washington Post published a story with the headline, “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president,” a headline that the Post’s own fact-checker (“Sanders’s incorrect claim that Clinton called him ‘not qualified’ for the presidency”) called into question, while giving Bernie three Pinocchios for his false claim that Hillary actually said, in quotes, that he was “not qualified.”

The second reason Bernie got all Drumpfed up was because of a report by CNN’s Senior Washington Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who began his article (“Clinton plan: Defeat Sanders, then unify Democratic party“) this way:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is taking new steps to try and disqualify Bernie Sanders in the eyes of Democratic voters, hoping to extinguish the argument that he is an electable alternative for the party’s presidential nomination.

Zeleny  also wrote this in the article:

A Clinton campaign fundraising appeal after the Wisconsin primary offered a glimpse into the new approach. The campaign’s deputy communications director, Christina Reynolds, argued that Sanders is unqualified, sending a full transcript of a New York Daily News editorial board interview of Sanders.

You should note that Zeleny’s lede—“Hillary Clinton’s campaign is taking new steps to try and disqualify Bernie Sanders”—wasn’t something the reporter directly attributed to anyone in Clinton’s campaign, except Christina Reynolds. And you should note that he did not quote Reynolds as saying “Sanders is unqualified.” Much like The Washington Post’s story, this appears to be the case of a reporter interpreting, or misinterpreting, something that was said or distributed by the campaign.

The point, therefore, is that without any hard facts, with only a headline in a newspaper and a report by CNN that did not directly quote anyone in Clinton’s campaign or Hillary herself, Bernie did what Donald Drumpf has done when he has seen something in the news that he thought slighted him: attack without thinking.

In fact, like Drumpf, Bernie didn’t back away, even after it was clear he was wrong. The next day in that press conference in Philadelphia, he continued pushing the notion that the Clinton campaign had actually said it was trying to disqualify him. Then he dropped this Drumpf on us:

If Secretary Clinton thinks that just because I’m from a small state in Vermont and we’re gonna come here to New York and go to Pennsylvania and they’re gonna beat us up and they’re gonna go after us in some kind of really uncalled for way, that we’re not gonna fight back, well we got another — you know, they can guess again because that’s not the case. This campaign will fight back. So, when you have headlines in The Washington Post, quote, Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president, my response is, well, if you want to question my qualifications, let me suggest this: that maybe the American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madame Secretary…

Again, all that was based not on something that was directly attributed to anyone in the Clinton campaign, but only on press reports. If that doesn’t remind you of Drumpf, what does? Oh, I know, this:

weaver on cnn and isisI think if you look at her record and campaign, her campaign is funded by millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests. She’s made a deal with the devil, and we all know the devil wants his money in the end. So that’s the kind of campaign she’s running. She supported the terrible trade deals which have devastated American manufacturing in the country. She supported the war in Iraq. She continues to have a very, very hawkish foreign policy that has led to the rise and expansion of ISIS in the Middle East.

That Republican tripe wasn’t uttered by a Republican. It wasn’t uttered by Rudy Giuliani who said, “She helped create ISIS. I mean, Hillary Clinton could be considered a founding member of ISIS.” No, all that “deal with the devil” stuff was uttered by Jeff Weaver, Bernie’s campaign manager. This morning Weaver doubled down on those disgusting remarks. After having that ridiculous ISIS claim read back to him, he was asked, “Is this a bridge too far?” He responded:

WEAVER: No, I don’t think so. I think a number of experts have pointed out that the vacuum that was created in Iraq after the Iraq War, with the deposing of Saddam Hussein, and the deposing of Qaddafi in Libya, you know, allowed ISIS to rise in Iraq and Syria and then allowed for its expansion into Libya. So, no I don’t think that’s the case. It’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of many people who have studied this issue.

CNN: But Hillary Clinton is responsible for the vacuum that arose in Iraq?

WEAVER: Well, look, Hillary Clinton supported the war in Iraq, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s clear from a lot of reporting that she was a key voice in the administration pushing for the war in Libya. I think at one point there was talking about being a 50-50 split almost in the administration and her sort of tipping it over, so, yes, I do think you have to bear responsibility for things like that.

Is it fair to criticize Hillary for her Iraq vote? Absolutely. She has admitted it was a big mistake. Is it fair to blame her, and by extension President Obama, for the rise of ISIS? Absolutely not. And it should be scandalous that Weaver, like so many Republicans have done, did so. But not a peep from the “positive” campaigner, Bernie Sanders, who has every right to brag about his anti-war vote and his predictions about the consequences, but who is wrong to allow his top guy to say such outrageous things about Hillary Clinton.

Jeff Weaver kept mentioning Libya. Why? Because by now people have forgotten just why it was that a reluctant Obama, with Clinton’s urging, intervened there as part of an international coalition, initially led by France and Britain with our vital support. It was a tough decision at the time. Qaddafi had slaughtered many and was about to slaughter more anti-government protesters and rebels, who were asking for the West’s help. So were other Arab countries. Western nations were accused of moving too slowly to stop the bloodshed and violence. Eventually, the West did act. Qaddafi is gone. Conflict still remains. ISIS has a presence there and we are taking action against them. The new head of a UN-backed government is trying to bring enough stability to the country so that other nations can come in and help attack ISIS bases there. It’s all very messy.

But what would have happened if we would have allowed Qaddafi to slaughter so many of his own people? We have no idea. Nobody does. But we do know that people would be criticizing Obama and Clinton for inaction, just like in Syria, where we didn’t get involved in that civil war. This stuff ain’t easy, even if it is easy to criticize after the fact. But I want to note that in all those words he uttered, given all those chances, Jeff Weaver—again, Bernie’s campaign manager—couldn’t bring himself to mention George W. Bush or Dick Cheney or the warmongering neoconservatives who actually made the phony case for the Iraq war and who actually managed its aftermath so poorly that we find ourselves where we are today. All Weaver could do was blame Hillary Clinton, which was mighty Drumpf of him, since Drumpf said sometime back“Hillary Clinton created ISIS with Obama.” 

My, oh, my.



Why John Kasich Shouldn’t Be President Either

It is fairly obvious why Donald Drumpf shouldn’t be president. If you don’t yet know why, just go read the transcript of an interview he did with the editorial board of The Washington Post. A more dangerously uninformed, pathetically sophomoric view of everything from libel laws to NATO you will not find.

And we all know what a dangerous Christian demagogue Ted Cruz is. This morning on Fox “News,” Cruz essentially blamed Obama for the terrorist attacks in Brussels. “This administration refuses to protect us,” he said.

But fewer of us know how temperamentally unqualified for high office is John Kasich. Not only is he nearly as politically reactionary as most of the right-wing zealots in his party, but his emotions seem to be out of control. I know some folks have said he is “arrogant” and “condescending” and “manipulative.” That’s bad enough. But he has a reputation of responding with anger to things he doesn’t like. A conservative activist from Ohio said of Kasich:

When you criticize Kasich, you’re sort of dead to him. That’s the way it works.

Even his friends say strange things about his behavior. Take Newt Gingrich, who said:

I never knew Kasich to have anger issues. He has intensity, urgency and passion issues.

No doubt he does. I’ve seen it on the campaign trail this primary season. But what Kasich said today, in response to the massacre of civilians in Belgium, is why he shouldn’t be in the White’s House. Here is the way the AP reported it at 1:30pm:

Speaking to reporters in Minneapolis Tuesday, Kasich says Obama should return to the United States to call European heads of state and assemble intelligence experts at home. He’s suggesting the president is being “too lax” in facing the growing threat of what he calls radical Islamic terrorism.

Now, think about what that means. Exactly what is it that President Obama is supposed to do about terrorists in Belgium? Does Kasich think it is within our power to not only police the Middle East, but to police individual countries in Europe, too? And doesn’t Kasich know that Mr. Obama has access to a phone with which he can “call European heads of state”? Huh?

Kasich thinks that yet another terrorist attack on the other side of the world is enough to completely wash out President Obama’s trip to Cuba and Latin America. Really? There is no imminent threat to Americans on American soil that didn’t exist before the president left on his trip. Terrorists don’t want to kill us more today than they did yesterday.

What terrorists want is an overreaction. That is the point of terrorism. It is to get us to abandon our values, to do what Drumpf and Cruz and most Republicans have done. Terrorists want us to change our lives. They want us to fear them. They want to control us. And John Kasich, who wants to be commander-in-chief, is playing right into their hands.

Kasich told reporters:

If I were in Cuba right now, the last thing I would be doing is going to a baseball game.

Oh, yeah? Why not? What better way to demonstrate that a few terrorists in Belgium are not in charge of the world’s most powerful leader?

If John Kasich had his way, there would be no presidential trips. If his way of dealing with every act of terrorism in the world was to hunker down in the Situation Room and “assemble intelligence experts,” that’s all a president would ever get done. Terrorism would paralyze us.

If there were an attack on American soil or against an American target abroad, that would be one thing. That would require a different response. But, unfortunately, terrorist attacks are happening rather regularly these days all over the world. And President Obama and the administration are dealing with them through intelligence gathering and policing—and through unmistakable acts of war. They can do that and still tend to other business.

What they shouldn’t do is what John Kasich apparently would do when terrorists strike somewhere in the world: drop everything and frantically run back to Washington.


What Hath God Wrought?

Whether you think God killed Justice Antonin Scalia in his sleep in order to reward him for his work here on earth or whether to save the country from further damage done by his judicial philosophy or whether to simply inject some seriousness into this year’s presidential campaign, you have to admit God has a thing for timing.

As Democrats, let us first stop to recognize the public service the 79-year-old Scalia rendered to his country. It is proper we do so because we belong to the party of government. We believe government is a force for good and we should therefore honor all those who sincerely believe they are serving the interests of the people. And whatever you thought of Antonin Scalia, he certainly was sincere in his belief that he was serving the interests of the people—even if it was the people of the 18th century, who were mostly white, male, Christian, and gun-toters.

Even though these last few days he has been given a lot of deserved credit for his unusually colorful written opinions and for his obvious first-rate intellect, Scalia’s judicial philosophy was really a bleak, third-rate heretical hermeneutic that, oddly, viewed the Constitution as a static document—“the good, old dead Constitution,” he said—with nothing to say to an evolving America except: if you don’t like it, change it. If that stale version of constitutional interpretation had prevailed throughout our nation’s history, America would look very different today, especially if you are not a privileged white person with dibs on the front seats of every cultural bus.

Scalia’s passing gives us even further insight into the Republican mind, admittedly a very scary place into which one’s inner peepers shouldn’t peep too long. We find today that Republicans everywhere have decided that a black man, in this case the African-American President of the United States named Barack Hussein Obama, has, in the words of another Supreme Court justice with a Scalia-like view of the Constitution, “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” In other words, Republicans have decided that Barack Obama is sort of an Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 president: three-fifths of an executive who should just sit out his last year in office and keep his uppity hands off the Supreme Court.

Really, though, Republicans, beginning around noon on January 20, 2009, have always treated Mr. Obama as three-fifths of a president, if not as three-fifths of a man. He has never quite been worthy of full respect. His legitimacy as our president has been under assault from the beginning, and today the front-runner—repeat: front-runner— in the GOP primary was and remains a leading proponent of the idea that President Obama isn’t even entitled to a three-fifths benefit of the doubt, since he wasn’t born in America. So, really, it should be no surprise to anyone that Republicans, who say they, like Antonin Scalia, treasure the integrity of the Constitution, are so willing to ignore its provision that demands the president should nominate a replacement for an open seat on the Court, whether it be in his first year in office or his last.

And it should be no surprise that it was Mitch McConnell, who, before Scalia’s lifeless body had cooled down, came out and said the new vacancy “should not be filled until we have a new president.” Mr. McConnell has led the charge to make sure President Obama was a three-fifths president, and that fraction is a generous interpretation of Republican congressional obstruction during his two terms in office.

But let us now pass on to the politics of the passing of Justice Scalia. It is clear that Mr. Obama will not get to name his replacement. For an excuse, Republicans, on and off the debate stage, on and off television, have offered up the notion that it would be virtually unprecedented for a president to fill such vacancies during election years. But that is, like so many claims on the lips of Republicans, obviously false. As Vox helpfully points out, there have been 14, the last one being Anthony Kennedy in 1988, who still sits on the bench. Maybe President Obama could make a deal with McConnell: “You get Kennedy to retire, since under your current theory he was confirmed illegitimately, and I won’t nominate anyone to replace either one of them.”

Given that such a scenario is about as likely as a Scalia resurrection, the focus for the rest of this campaign on the Republican side will be how Scalia’s replacement will radically alter the country, if Democrats should win. Here is Ted Cruz:

“I don’t think the American people want a court that will strip our religious liberties. I don’t think the American people want a court that will mandate unlimited abortions on demand, partial-birth abortion with taxpayer funding and no parental notification, and I don’t think the American people want a court that will write the Second Amendment out of the Constitution.”

Many of us know that Ted Cruz will never be the nominee of his party and it is easy to dismiss this talk as utter extremist nonsense. But let’s look at someone who I think does have a chance to become the nominee and who, unfortunately, gets journalistically lazy credit for being a “moderate” in the GOP presidential field. Let’s look at what Jeb!—now lately Jeb Bush!—said this morning. After being pressed by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on the issue, Bush III said it was all up to Mitch McConnell whether to allow a vote on a replacement, and then added:

bush on scalia.jpg“There shouldn’t be deference to the executive, is my point…If there is an up or down vote it should be rejected, based on the history of how President Obama selects judges. If there’s no vote, that’s fine, too. What I’m saying is there shouldn’t be—an Obama justice should not be appointed in an election year. Let this be an important part of the election process. Because there’s a lot riding on this. The Second Amendment, religious freedom, and many other causes that are important for this country will be determined by this pick….there should not be an appointment based on the record of President Obama’s selection of judges. They are way out of the mainstream and this should be an important point that we have in the election. I’m more than happy to litigate that.”

Again we see the three-fifths dynamic at work here, as it applies to President Obama. “There shouldn’t be deference to the executive,” Bush III said, which is an odd thing coming from a man running to be that executive and whose brother enjoyed such bipartisan deference that we ran ourselves into a war in Iraq that has turned the world upside down. But leaving that aside, there is the idea that Mr. Obama’s “history” of selecting judges disqualifies him from, well, selecting judges. Just what that disqualifying history is Jeb didn’t bother to say, mainly because, for Jeb’s audience, it is enough to insinuate that President Obama doesn’t have any rights that a white Senate Republican majority is bound to respect. But it seems to be for Jeb that Obama’s appointments “are way out of the mainstream,” a strange thing to say in the context of Scalia’s death, since the departed justice had been, if anything, fishing in a judicial stream far from the 21st century. But I suppose compared to many of the strange things that have been said by Republicans this election season, Jeb’s critique of Obama is only mildly outrageous, even if wildly ridiculous.

In any case, the Democrats can now, hopefully, stop arguing about pie-in-the-sky single-payer promises and free-tuition-in-every-pot politics. And Bernie can maybe stop insinuating that Clinton is a dishonest, money-grabbing shill for big banks. The party faithful can now clearly see what is at stake here. A loss of the presidency, which would carry with it a certain loss of the House and a likely loss of the Senate, would mean a right-wing ideologue would appoint another Justice Scalia to the bench, and then complete control of the entire government—they’d have it all, people!—would be in the hands of the reactionaries.

That possibility should be enough to scare the Bern out of any Democrat.



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.”



“Mr. Obama Does Not Believe In America Or The Values We All Share,” Says a Republican. So, Heck, Why Does He Keep Going To Those Dang Prayer Breakfasts?

I am told that when ISIL burned alive Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the captured Jordanian pilot, the bastards committed an “unspeakable and anti-Islamic” act. At least that is what many Islamic clerics are saying, even as ISIL went to a lot of trouble to justify the act, citing scholars without names and, quite likely, without existence.

I don’t know who gets to judge what is and what isn’t an anti-Islamic act. As many have pointed out, there is no Muslim Pope, no first-among-equals cleric who can settle the matter, presumably as Allah’s mouthpiece. There are just a lot of Muslims out there who, like a lot of Christians, read their holy writings and come to their own conclusions about what constitutes faithfulness to the faith.

Which leads me to yesterday’s prayer breakfast in Washington. I turned on C-SPAN to watch the solemn festivities—that’s how they appear to me. I knew as soon as I heard President Obama utter the following words, shortly after he called ISIL a “brutal, vicious death cult,” that he was going to be in trouble with the Christian jihadists and their sympathizers:

…lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

It didn’t take long for the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue to appear on, uh, Fox and tell the faithful foxers that Obama had insulted Christians by donohue on foxcomparing their atrocities to Muslim atrocities. In his press release, Donohue even went so far as to say there were no Christian atrocities related to the Crusades or the Inquisition. Those episodes were, respectively, either justified (“a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages”) or were the fault of others (“secular authorities”).  And like any religious zealot who wants to defend his religion against criticism, Donohue produced quotes from scholars to prove it.

Donohue, amazingly, had nothing to say in his press release about slavery or Jim Crow, two institutions that without a doubt had the support of most of Christian America at the time. I suppose that’s one way to deal with what Obama said. Just ignore the parts that inconvenience you.

The Washington Post published a piece on the matter (“Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast“) that featured this shot at the President fired by former Virginia governor and Christian warrior Jim Gilmore:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

At least Gilmore had enough honesty to admit what this was really all about: Obama is no Jesus-loving American. He is essentially on the side of the Islamic jihadists, a claim either suggested or made plain by a lot of nuts and near-nuts on the right.

Trying to make a slightly more intellectual case against Obama’s remarks, out came National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, wanting to make sure that his formerly august journal (my how that publication has fallen since William F. Buckley passed on) chimed in with criticism of the President, using the same logic as Bill Donohue but also attacking Obama for not properly labeling the real enemy:

It is perverse that Obama feels compelled to lecture the West about not getting too judgmental on our “high horse” over radical Islam’s medieval barbarism in 2015 because of Christianity’s medieval barbarism in 1215.

It’s also insipidly hypocritical. President Obama can’t bring himself to call the Islamic State “Islamic,” but he’s happy to offer a sermon about Christianity’s alleged crimes at the beginning of the last millennium.

Goldberg, in his zeal to attack his target, actually should have paid closer attention to Obama’s remarks. The President never actually talked “about Christianity’s alleged crimes” at all. He never blamed Christianity itself. He talked about atrocities committed “in the name of Christ.” Just like some Muslims are trying to say that ISIL is not the fault of Islam itself, but the fault of extremists committing brutal acts “in the name of Allah.” That distinction, of course, may or may not be legitimate, but Obama made it and obviously believes it, and it is lost in the fog of Obama-hate, and Goldberg is certainly enveloped in a lot of that fog (just look at some of his tweets over time).

At least Goldberg had the good sense to toss in a word or two about Christianity’s role in much more recent obscenities that Obama mentioned:

The church often fell short of its ideals — which all human things do — but its ideals were indisputably a great advance for humanity. Similarly, while some rationalized slavery and Jim Crow in the U.S. by invoking Christianity, it was ultimately the ideals of Christianity itself that dealt the fatal blow to those institutions. Just read any biography of Martin Luther King Jr. if you don’t believe me.

So, here we are back to who gets to decide what constitutes being faithful to the faith. In Goldberg’s reckoning, Christianity was “a force for the improvement of man” and all those bad things done by people who called themselves Christians were nothing compared to all the good that was done. I suppose Goldberg ought to take that up with a victim of the Spanish Inquisition or a slave in pre-Civil War America or a lynched Negro in the Jim Crow, Christian South. Maybe they would appreciate his historical hair-splitting.

But there was something in Goldberg’s attack on Obama and defense of Christianity that was even more off-putting. He wrote:

When Obama alludes to the evils of medieval Christianity, he fails to acknowledge the key word: “medieval.” What made medieval Christianity backward wasn’t Christianity but medievalism.

Man, that had to sound so good as Goldberg transferred that thought from his fog-shrouded mind into his word processor. How clever. How quickly he turned the tables on a hopelessly ignorant Obama. It was the spirit of the times, the Middle Ages, that was responsible for the violence and bloodshed, the slavery and oppression! Why didn’t I think of that?

Better yet, why don’t Muslims think of it now? Muslim clerics and scholars, instead of wasting their time condemning ISIL barbarism and saying it has nothing to do with Islam, should instead just use Goldberg’s logic:

“What makes 21st-century Islam so violent and barbaric isn’t Islam, but the 21st-century!”

See how easy that was?


The Rich Will Get What They Paid For

Many of the headlines, and most of the chatter, about last night’s well-crafted, well-delivered, not to mention inspiring, State of the Union address had to do Displaying 20150120_231217.jpgwith how feisty President Obama seemed to be:

The New York Times: Obama Defiantly Pushes His Agenda

The Kansas City Star: In State of the Union speech, President Obama pushes an aggressive agenda

Pushes. Agenda. Hmm. I wonder what Republicans thought about the uppity agenda-pusher and his defiant, aggressive agenda? Let’s look:

Republicans dismiss president’s proposals from State of the Union address

The New York Times: G.O.P. Response to Obama’s Sweeping Proposals: ‘No’

Why, of course! After all, we are talking about Republicans. Obviously they don’t like the following proposals Obama made on behalf of working folks and their families:

Raise the minimum wage
Require employers to provide paid sick leave for the 43 million now without it
Increase child tax credits
Make community college free
Give other college students a tax credit
Expand the earned income tax credit

Let me be clear: Republicans don’t hate these proposals because they hate working people. Nope, not at all. Even though sometimes it seems like they do hate working folks, they really don’t. I mean it. They really don’t. They actually appreciate working folks. You know why? Because working class people just keep right on working, harder and harder every day, no matter their pay or their benefits or the cost of raising their kids or getting them through college. They just keep at it. Because they have to. And that’s one thing Republicans appreciate about them.

But they really appreciate the working class when, after having been savaged by the GOP’s voodoo economics, a significant number of politically depressed workers will stay home and not vote for Democrats on election day. And Republicans really, really appreciate those workers who, despite being cursed by the right’s voodoo priests, will run to the nearest polling place and vote for more voodoo.

So, no, it’s not that the GOP doesn’t like the working class. It’s just that in order to do the things President Obama and the Democrats want to do to help them, things would have to change a little bit for some folks and businesses that Republicans really, really love: the wealthy and the big banks. Taxes and fees would have to go up on those two groups in order to pay for the new programs and expansion of old programs that Obama mentioned in his speech.

Thus, we have this rather easy and quite realistic analysis by Nicole Hart, director of trusts and estates at Sontag Advisory, a wealth management firm in New York:

My initial reaction is that nothing is going to happen in a Republican-controlled Congress. Our advice to clients is that we’re not worried this is getting passed.

Not to worry, rich people! Your investments in the GOP have paid off! Republicans are in control! Now the rest of you stiffs out there better get your asses back to work!



Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox, made a point about President Obama that demonstrates why it is that right-wingers hate him so much. Despite what they have tried to do to him, he is still doing stuff for the country:

On November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About two weeks later, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Somewhere in the meantime, Democrats broke the congressional logjam and got a whole boatload of nominees confirmed.

And that is just what O has done since his second mid-term shellacking. Yglesias offers more pre-shellacking O-complishments, including,

♦  the Affordable Care Act (“an expansion of the welfare state rivaled by only the New Deal and the Great Society”)

♦ the remaking of student-loan programs (“that’s made it possible for the government to offer more help with college tuition”)

♦ the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation (“a safer banking system”)

♦ the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“a major goal worth fighting for separately from questions of macro-level financial stability”)

♦ Yglesias also includes “smaller measures from the 111th Congress like a food safety bill, a child nutrition bill, a Children’s Health Insurance expansion, and a public lands bill the Sierra Club hailed as “a historic day for conservation.”

To all that, I will add more O-complishments:

♦ became the first African-American POTUS

♦ rescued the country from the losing-800,000-jobs-a-month, Bush-era Great Recession, which people seem to have forgotten, now that job growth is pretty damned good (“the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history” says Forbes) and the stock market is soaring (the Dow just had its best day since 2011)

♦ rescued the auto industry, which God only knows how many jobs that saved

♦ oversaw a reduction in the budget deficit from almost 10% of GDP in 2009 (mostly George Bush’s doing) to just under 3% this fiscal year

♦ gave “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a dishonorable discharge from the military, and helped create an environment in which LGBT people are steadily becoming first-class citizens all over the country

♦ appointed worker-friendly members of the National Labor Relations Board

♦ appointed the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve; appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court

♦ banned torture of detainees

♦ made fish bait out of bin Laden and killed a number of high-ranking leaders of al-Qaeda

♦ raised taxes on rich folks, after Bush had cut them

♦ appointed two women to the Supreme Court, only the third and fourth females to serve there in history

♦ signed a new arms control treaty with Russia, reducing the number of nukes in the world

♦ made FEMA a real emergency management agency (just ask people in tornado-ravaged Joplin)

♦ made “science and the scientific process” part of decision making in the executive branch and officially acknowledged that climate change is real

♦ established tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles, which will reduce carbon pollution

♦ made a “landmark agreement” with China, the world’s worst carbon polluter, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

♦ has appointed 307 federal judges, and has increased the number of federal appeals courts that have Democratic-appointed majorities from 1 to 9—out of 13!

♦ has pissed off, and will continue to piss off,  a whole lot of white right-wingers just by showing up to work each and every day with this face:

Thank you, O.


H/T: Please Cut the Crap

Bad Poker And The Distorted Middle

Likely because of President Obama’s pressing Democrats in the House to vote with John Boehner, 57 of them supported CRomnibus, which was more than enough to ensure passage of the bill last night, 219-206. Tea Party nuts couldn’t stomach the bill and 67 of them essentially said it wasn’t extreme enough for their extremist tastes.

Now that the House passed the spending bill, the Senate will likely do so sometime this weekend and President Obama will sign the damned thing and we will move on to the next Republican-inspired crisis. That’s the way it has been since after the 2010 election, since radicals on the right took over de facto command of the Republican Party.

The sad thing about it all is that many of our guys, the people we expect to look after the interests of the little guy, put up a good fight but will lose in the end because President Obama and Harry Reid, pragmatically conspiring with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, decided that taking the spending bill deal—even with all the goodies in it for fat cat political donors and fat cat bankers, as well as other provisions that should make Democrats nauseous—was better than waiting until next year when Republicans will be in full control of Congress and better than risking that they would get the blame for a government shutdown.

I happen to find that pragmatism, which I normally support because I understand compromise is a necessary part of making things work, a bad and unnecessary call in this case. Republicans could not have passed the bill in the House as it stood. If Boehner wanted to get Democrats to help him, he should have been forced to pull those offensive provisions. If Democrats can’t win public sentiment by opposing sweetheart deals for rich people—stuffed in a so-called “must pass” piece of legislation—then it is hard to see how they can win anything. If Republicans were willing to risk a shutdown by insisting that they would not excise from the do-or-die bill provisions that make the world safer for the moneyed class, including Wall Street, then it seems a no-brainer that Democrats could win the resulting PR fight. But there won’t be a fight, apparently.

As much as I admire Mr. Obama, he has never been much of a poker player. Maybe chess is his game. But politics like we see going on right now—in this era of Tea Party extremism—is not a cerebral game of chess, not a matter of thinking seven moves ahead. It is about bluffs and calling bluffs, about who has the guts to go all in, making the other side have to choose between calling or folding. Most of the time, Republicans are very good at the game. Our side usually folds, for good reasons—we want government to keep running and helping people—and bad reasons—some on our side actually are pretty cozy with fat cats and find them good company.

The CRomnibus bill is, in important ways, fairly extreme. Oh, sure, there were some things in there that Democrats wanted, you know, like keeping the freaking government running, but the provision to drastically increase contribution limits to political party committees by a factor of 10—from $32,400 to $324,000 a year—doesn’t exactly apply to working stiffs, which should be a major Democratic constituency. There aren’t too many working people I know who can contribute to political campaigns $324, much less $32,400 or, God help us, $324,000. Rich people, though, now have even more ammunition to bid against each other, as our demwall street cashes inocracy is, election by election, quickly being auctioned off.

Likewise, the provision to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, the recent legislative attempt by Democrats to rein in some of the excesses of Wall Street, is a gift to bankers, who now, as Vox put it, “are free to make risky bets that put taxpayers and the financial system as a whole at greater risk.” How would you like to put a bet on, say, the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend (you’ll have to give 11 1/2 points) against the Oakland Raiders and know that if you win, you win, and if you lose, the taxpayer behind the curtain will cover your loss? Yeah, me too. That’d be pretty sweet. That’s why Citigroup went to a lot of trouble to write the provision and get it inserted into CRomnibus.

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that President Obama, at least if you listen to his spokesman, still doesn’t get it, when it comes to evaluating and responding to deals with Republicans. Read this, from HuffPo:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest argued that the bill does more good than bad, and that it represented compromise for the GOP, which initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“This is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years now,” Earnest said in an appearance on MSNBC.

I’m sure the bill does more good than bad, since the government, or most of it, will keep going until October. And, as I said, compromising is part of the political process. But look at what Earnest based the idea of this compromise on: Republicans “initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.” See how clever Republicans are, when they are negotiating with this White House? They take the most extreme position possible as a starting point and force non-poker-playing Democrats to move way over to their side, to a distorted middle, and call that a compromise. That’s not compromise, it’s bad poker.

And, I hate to say it, if “this is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years,” then I am not looking forward to the last two years of his presidency.

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