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!

O-complishments

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.

Ferguson: Justice Is A Journey, Not Just A Destination

Let me declare at the beginning: there is simply no excuse for the burning and looting and violence we saw in Ferguson on Monday night. Most of the people who committed those acts were not protesters. They were opportunists. Criminals. And for those few who were genuinely disgusted by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and who took their anger out on their surroundings: we don’t settle things that way in a civilized country, no matter how outraged one is about an outcome. It’s unacceptable regardless of what one’s grievance is. It is unquestionably immoral, ultimately counter-productive, and therefore utterly stupid.

Let me further declare that I don’t know whether Officer Wilson is, or should have been found, guilty of any crime. I have seen and read the accounts of various witnesses—including Wilson—some of wilson and brownthem conflicting with each other, and I acknowledge that those accounts can be interpreted in more than one way, as is always the case. I have heard specialists discuss the autopsy results, which also can be interpreted in several ways, including supporting Officer Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown was the aggressor or supporting the claim that Michael Brown posed no threat when the fatal shot or shots were fired. I have seen other evidence in the case, recently released, none of it case-closed conclusive one way or the other, as far as I can tell.

I will also admit that Brown’s behavior just minutes before he was shot—when he stole cigarillos from a store and bullied his way out—could easily be interpreted as supporting Officer Wilson’s account of his initial encounter on the street with an aggressive Brown, even though strictly speaking Brown’s prior behavior had nothing to do with whether Wilson acted lawfully when he fired 12 shots at him, one of them entering through the top of his head.

But even though Brown’s aggressive behavior in that convenience store is technically unrelated to what happened minutes later, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the video of Brown bullying his way out of the store at the very least makes Wilson’s account of a demon-faced aggressor plausible to many people, including people sitting on a grand jury. And it is quite likely that that video, and the images from it that were widely distributed, doomed any prosecution of Officer Wilson from the start, no matter whether the officer’s fact-tailored story of what happened seems “difficult or impossible to believe.

That is why prosecutor Bob McCulloch had little trouble, through his assistants who presented evidence to the grand jury, convincing the jurors that Officer Wilson acted lawfully, even though that is not normally how the grand jury process works. McCulloch’s unusual use of that process, in which his team clearly was acting partly on behalf of Wilson, has a lot of African-Americans angry. Think about it:

1. An unarmed black teenager, who some witnesses say either had his hands up or was otherwise not aggressive, is killed by a white policeman.

2. What followed was an almost unprecedented use of the grand jury system, in which prosecutors presented voluminous amounts of evidence in what was essentially a trial that the prosecutors manifestly controlled.

3. That nearly unprecedented quasi-trial before the grand jury was followed by an equally unprecedented decision not to indict the shooter—almost all such juries hand down indictments if asked to by a prosecutor—done by a grand jury that was 75% white.

Those items and others are why a lot of African-Americans look at this case and find more reasons than ever to doubt the justice in our justice system.

mccullochThat being said, my first thought, when I heard that the district attorney would announce the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting case on Monday evening, was why do it so late at night? That was exactly the wrong time to announce it, as many have now realized. There was no compelling reason to announce it around 8:30pm. It was as if the entire event was designed to cause what we in fact witnessed.  It seemed to be fashioned in order to provide fuel for a easy-to-ignite fire. It took only a handful of violent people, those who burned buildings and cars, threw bricks and fired shots, to make the whole community look uncivilized and out of control. Late into the night, Jon Belmar, St. Louis County Police Chief, said,

I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protesters out there tonight….What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worse night we ever had in August.

Yeah, well, the Chief should take that up with the prosecuting attorney. Except that Chief Belmar told reporters that it wouldn’t have mattered much when the announcement of the non-indictment was made. Huh? He also said that it would have been a violation of the grand jury process to get advanced notice as to whether there would or wouldn’t be an indictment, so that he could better prepare. What? Hooey.

What happened was an utter law enforcement failure, from the governor on down. These people weren’t powerless in this situation. They could have influenced the timing of the announcement of the decision and been better prepared to deal with the results. (I won’t even get into how Governor Nixon could have and should have appointed a special prosecutor for such a sensitive case, especially since Bob McCulloch, whose policeman father had been tragically shot in the line of duty by an African-American, had close ties with law enforcement and had a history of protecting the police in four out of four similar cases.)

As I said, the whole thing, from the announcement last week that the decision was imminent to Bob McCulloch’s press conference on Monday night, seemed orchestrated to produce the results we all saw on our TVs Monday night. But I confess that I don’t really have the slightest idea what was in the head of the prosecutor. I don’t know why he did what he did when he did it. I don’t have anything but flimsy circumstantial evidence that he was trying to maximize the negative reaction that would, most certainly, take the focus off Bob McCulloch and put it on the black community in Ferguson and elsewhere. I hope that his decision to make the announcement well into the evening was just a very misguided act by a public official who was trying to do the right thing and nothing more cynical than that.

In any case, prosecutor McCulloch’s weird theatrics Monday night struck me as a oddly cold. Like ice. Like ice that would, paradoxically, unleash a protest of fire into the night. His team had brought the case to the grand jury as both prosecutor and defense, which one lawyer said was “not the normal process” and another called “rare.” Yet another lawyer said—a former prosecutor—that not only were McCulloch’s actions during the grand jury process almost unheard of in his long experience, but that often the process is almost as important as the outcome itself.

He’s right about that. The process has to be right. Justice is a journey, not just a destination. It matters how outcomes are achieved. It has to appear that the prosecutor is as aggressively pursuing justice for a dead black teenager killed by a white policeman as he would be for a dead white policeman killed by a black teenager. It may be that had the system run its natural course, from indictment to trial to verdict, Officer Wilson would have and should have been found not guilty of any potential charge. But this McCulloch-guided process didn’t even get to a charge, even though all that was needed to indict was “probable cause.” Thus there will always remain large doubts as to Wilson’s innocence or guilt.

From the beginning, after Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9, the process did not seem right. It didn’t seem normal. Michael Brown’s body was left on the hot August street for more than four hours, uncovered part of the time. Officer Wilson apparently was never required to offer an official written statement after the incident nor were there any recordings or transcripts of interviews done with him at that time. His first comprehensive explanation of what transpired was a month after the shooting—in front of the grand jury and without real cross-examination—plenty of time for him to lawyer up and shape his story to fit the facts that were subsequently and widely available. That in itself raises suspicions about the process. Then there were the leaks of certain information, leaks that always seemed to exculpate Officer Wilson, like the release of that video of Brown stealing the cigarillos. Tack on the quite unusual way the prosecutor handled the grand jury and you have understandable questions about the justice process, even understandable anger.

President Obama said two days ago that “in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.” No doubt about that. Much of that distrust is generated by police behavior, to be sure. But a lot of it is generated by the legal process itself. The President, ever the optimist, continued:

…there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.  Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.  I don’t think that’s the norm.  I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials.  But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.  What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress.  And that can be done.

I hope he’s right. But what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, here in 2014, makes me wonder if he is.

_____________________________

[image of Officer Wilson on the street is taken from Piaget Crenshaw’s video]

 

The Joplin Globe’s “Monkey House” Problem

In his response to my post about a local Joplin Globe columnist’s racist tweet, Anson Burlingame, a local blogger who sometimes contributes to the Joplin Globe and who often contributes to the comment section of this blog, wrote in to defend columnist Geoff Caldwell’s use of the term “monkey” in reference to President Obama:

…a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing”. When one is accused of “acting like a monkey” I never considered it a racist comment. Get off this liberal racist accusation against any and all opposing Obama.

Another frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, wrote in response to Anson’s claim:

“Monkey” carries racial baggage and you know it, and more importantly, Geoff knows it. That was the entire point of his tweet.

Exactly. That was the entire point of the tweet, whether Anson realizes it or not. And another commenter, Henry Morgan, put some force behind King Beauregard’s claim:

Anson tells us that “a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing.”
Yes, and a “coon” is a small animal of American forests known for its fastidious eating habits.
And an “ape” is a member of a family of primates inhabiting tropical environs.
A “buck” is a male deer.
A “boy” is a young human male.
And most certainly, as Anson implies, one’s first meaning attached to these words when African-Americans are part of the discussion, is the denotative, not the connotative.
Gee, just nice, kindly words.

Brilliant stuff.

Another frequent contributor, Jim Wheeler, doubted whether Anson was unaware of the obvious fact “that the monkey reference is terminology historically used to deprecate the inferiority of the black race.” Jim writes:

Anson presents an apparently blind eye to this, despite having grown up in Kentucky. That he really didn’t understand the slur is about as likely as believing that Archie Bunker wouldn’t. But wait. I can picture Archie using it and not even realizing its effect, so never mind. 😉

Okay. I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that Anson genuinely was not aware that the term “monkey” has historically been used as a racial epithet and worse. I’m going to assume that Anson didn’t see the story earlier this year about North Korea’s state media describing President Obama as a “wicked black monkey.” I suppose it could be that the North Koreans were just saying that our wicked president was a “funny and scatter brained like ‘thing.'” They’re known for their playful chatter, right? Not even Anson Burlingame would believe that, I am sure.

In any case, in order to help make Anson—and others tempted to think that a local columnist comparing our first African-American president to a monkey was just a playful form of criticism—aware of the awful history behind the connection, I’m going to introduce them to Ota Benga, a Congolese man who actually became part of an exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.  According to Encylopedia Virginia,

…tens of thousands of people came to see the famous Pygmy who shared a cage with an Asian orangutan, several chimpanzees, and a parrot…The so-called man and monkey show was immediately controversial. 

As Wikipedia notes, Benga was displayed in the zoo’s famous “Monkey House,” which closed in 2012. But pay particular attention to this historical fact on the Wiki page:

Displays of non-Western humans as examples of “earlier stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology.

It’s no accident when someone who wishes to disparage an African-American uses the term monkey. It’s not just “another word for a funny and scatter brained like ‘thing,'” as Anson claimed. And it is especially no accident when someone who literally despises Barack Obama tweets the following:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Geoff Caldwell, a disturbingly reactionary columnist for the Joplin Globe, may never have heard of Ota Benga and his appearance as an exhibit in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. But he most certainly knows the awful and racist meaning behind calling President Obama a monkey. And that is precisely why he did it.

The only question remaining is whether the Joplin Globe will tolerate such behavior.

Joplin Globe’s Local Columnist Writes Racist Tweet

Every Wednesday someone working on behalf of the Joplin Globe throws trash in my yard.

That trash comes in the form of a column on the editorial page inside the “free” newspaper that is distributed to non-subscribers. That column is written by a man who is now a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe. His name will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog: Geoff Caldwell.

Caldwell is a troll that I banished from commenting on this blog a long time ago, details of which I won’t go into now. Neither will I go into the details of why I think calling Caldwell’s columns “trash” is, well, an understatement. But even though I hesitate to even bring attention to him—because he is starving for attention from me or anyone—I do think that my fellow Democrats out there, as well as independents, who support the Joplin Globe through subscriptions or daily purchases should be aware of what your money is subsidizing.

As we all know, President Obama decided recently to take executive action to defer deportment of some undocumented immigrants, which would, among other things, help keep families together. You would think that keeping families together would be something that self-professed “family-values” Christians like Geoff Caldwell could appreciate. But hatred for Barack Obama has poisoned the minds of so many teapartiers like Caldwell that instead of appreciation of a humane act, or instead of reasoned criticism of what some consider executive overreach, we get this:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Now, Caldwell may think he can get away with this obviously racist tweet because of the “banana republic” reference, but he and I both know better. We’ve been down this road before.

I am sure the Joplin Globe will continue to litter my lawn with Caldwell’s columns on Wednesday mornings in an effort to more widely distribute the advertising that is stuffed into that edition, as well as to pick up new subscribers. But I am also sure that as long as my local paper publishes a column by a pedestrian writer who calls our first African-American president a “monkey,” I will never again be a subscriber.

By the way, for those of you interested in expressing your displeasure to the Joplin Globe, the phone number is 417-781-5500. If you want to make a written complaint to the Globe’s parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., here is a link to its site: http://www.cnhi.com/general-inquiries/

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