Friday, August 24, 2012

The Daily Caller Ineffectually Finkels on the Press

There was an op-ed over at the Daily Caller on Tuesday in which a lawyer named Mendy Finkel tries to have his cake and eat it too regarding one of the right's favorite boogeymen, the "liberal media."

The premise of the article, if it's to be taken seriously, is that the the national corporate press is liberal and in the tank for Barack Obama to such an extent that it downplays stories that would advance liberal causes in order to protect him.

The first big hole in that is apparent right away: the Obama has governed from the center-right throughout his administration. If the press is protecting him, it certainly isn't doing so out of any liberal impulse. Finkel lists four stories that would have damaged Obama if they'd been adequately covered; every one of them provides an example of right-wing media bias. None of them support Finkel's curious premise.

The first is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an environmental disaster by any definition. Finkel is quite correct in his assertion that coverage of the story was inadequate[1] and that, as "the scale of the disaster grew, the media’s coverage of it declined." Adequate coverage would hurt the corporate scum that caused the disaster, which, as Finkel concedes, would have been just fine with most liberals. It would have led to louder calls for regulation, which liberals have wanted for years. And we are, after all, talking about an environmental disaster--a liberal, not conservative, issue.[2] The Obama could have been, should have been but wasn't roasted for having called for further offshore drilling only a few weeks before the disaster occurred but that would have been criticism for a right-wing policy, not a liberal one. Finkel fails to say how he he thinks adequate coverage of the spill would have damaged the Obama, other than to assert that Obama "was initially trying very hard to ignore the spill." He's so lost in his fantasy about the "liberal media" that he asserts, "under a different president, the media would have treated this story like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and the Enron scandal … combined." A fantasy he apparently doesn't consider to have been rather dramatically deflated by the actual coverage the story received.

His second example is "due-process-free executions."

In setting this up, Finkel presses his fantasy further, asserting that "reporters and pundits were outraged" by the Bush administrations' illegal wiretapping operation. In reality, of course, the New York Times uncovered that story in 2004 then expressed its "outrage" by sitting on it for a year so George Bush Jr. could be reelected. When the paper did get around to telling the public, it faced repeated calls, from the punditocracy, that it be prosecuted for having revealed it. The initial story was covered then basically ignored and Bush and the rest of those responsible for it--a systematic criminal enterprise in violation of the constitution itself--were allowed to walk and even to continue what they were doing.

Finkel then contrasts this with the treatment of the Obama administration's announcement that it had killed a U.S. citizen without due process. Finkel is careful to avoid providing any details of that incident and for good reason. The U.S. citizen in question was an alleged terrorist operating abroad, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike.[3] Finkel's efforts to contrast this with the illegal Bush wiretapping scheme amounts to a lie in itself, because the assassination program under which this fellow was killed was established by the Bush administration, which carried out such extrajudicial executions on a regular basis. Finkel, swimming through his fantasy, writes that "it's probably safe to conclude that if Obama decided to reinstate waterboarding, the national media would give him a pass on that as well" but the press was as uninterested in the murder program under Bush as it has been under the Obama. Some of us found it reprehensible under both--we're called liberals.

Finkel's item #3 is poverty. Finkel spins a brief fantasy wherein the press just can't wait to cover poverty during Republican administrations but has ignored the matter under Obama, when the poverty rate "is higher than it has been in decades." A press only looking to slam Republicans could just as easily write tons of stories today about the present awful poverty rate and note--correctly--that it is the result of the depression that occurred under the Bush administration. It could write those same stories about how poverty has continued to be unnecessarily high because congressional Republican obstructionism prevents doing anything about it and Republican austerity policies prolong the economic mess. But it hasn't. In reality, the press, in general--unlike those darn liberals--rarely cares about poverty, regardless of who is in office.

Finkel's fourth item is rather bizarre. It's Wikileaks and his case, in this instance, is based on either ignorance of basic facts relating to the subject, or, as with the drone strike business, he knows the truth and is choosing to lie about it. He outlines it like this:

"Poor Julian Assange. Had he only released those classified government documents prior to Obama taking office, he would have been heralded by the media as an international hero: a man who risked his life and freedom to expose government misdeeds and speak truth to power. It would have been 'Pentagon Papers Part II.'

"But because it was Obama who was running the War on Terror at the time of these leaks, the mainstream media had no use for any information that could cause problems for the president."

There's lawyerly weasel-wording aplenty here. Wikileaks opened for business and started receiving and publishing "those classified government documents" in 2006, during the Bush administration, and to date, most of the relevant U.S. government documents it has released, even during the Obama administration, have been Bush-era. Finkel is quite correct that Assange has been vilified by much of the press and that much of the press has been entirely disinterested in the info Wikileaks has provided. What he conceals is that this was just as much the case under the Bush administration as it has been under Obama. Wikileaks info has included things that are, indeed, often scandalous but they're mostly Bush scandals and the press--unlike a liberal press--has ignored them, regardless of who was in office.[4]

And that's pretty much it. Finkel starts from the premise that Obama is a liberal and that, because of this, the press is in Obama's corner; he says the press will do just about anything to support the Obama, even though, by his own account, Obama isn't governing as a liberal at all; he says that, in order to support the liberal Obama, the liberal press is ignoring stories that would, if covered, further liberal goals. If you can find the logic in any of that, I'd say you have everyone else--Finkel included--beaten. If his article is intended as satire, it's brilliant. If, however, it's meant to be taken at all seriously, Finkel probably shouldn't give up his day-job.

Good job, Daily Caller. As usual.



[1] That's not to say the story didn't receive saturation coverage right after it happened, just that the coverage was totally inadequate. The big story there was one of corporate malfeasance, whereas the press coverage (outside of MNSBC's liberal hosts, who covered it more than anyone) mostly focused on the consequences of the disaster and technical matters of containment.

[2] Such issues shouldn't be liberal vs. conservative but are because conservatives insist on making them so.

[3] Finkel's management of the facts is so complete that he doesn't even name the fellow who was killed--Anwar Al-Aulaqi.

[4] The Obama administration's treatment of Bradley Manning, Wikileaks' most famous leaker, has been disgraceful, but is also ignored by the press.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

America's Fascism Problem 2: Concentration Camps For The Queers

Earlier this month, I kicked off this series of articles with a piece about a North Carolina "pastor" who, in the midst of that state's debate over an anti-gay ballot initiative, urged his followers to violently abuse their young children if said children show what his fevered brain regarded as early signs of homosexuality. His antics--and, more importantly, the uniform approval they received from his congregation--are a disturbing example of the ugly fascism that has, for years, gestated, across the U.S. in, among other places, reactionary fundamentalist churches.

A few weeks later, the same state birthed another example of it. "Pastor" Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church of Maiden, North Carlolina used his Mother's Day "sermon" as an opportunity to go on a rampage against homosexuals. In rhetoric that rather inescapably invokes an obvious historical precedent, he suggests "lesbians and queers" be rounded up, dropped into concentration camps behind electrified wire and left to die:

"I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers... Build a great, big, large fence--50 or 100 mile long--put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified 'til they can't get out... And you know what? In a few years, they'll die out... They can't reproduce."

Worley was particularly upset about President Obama's recent endorsement of same-sex marriage and left no doubt about his own political affiliation, blatantly violating the tax-exempt status granted his church in railing against

"our president gettin' up and sayin' it was all right for two women to marry or two men to marry. I tell ya' right now, I was disappointed bad, and I tell ya' that right there is as sorry as you can get. The Bible's agin' it, God's agin' it, I'm agin' it and if you've got any sense, you're agin' it... Hey, I'll tell ya' right now, somebody said 'who you gonna' vote for?' I ain't gonna' vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover!"

In the immediate aftermath of this, Worley essentially went into hiding and his church's website was taken down. CNN, in a sudden, uncharacteristic decision to practice journalism, uncovered an audio recording of an old Worley sermon from 30 April, 1978, one that suggests his poisonous preaching on this subject is far from a recent innovation:

"We're livin' in a day when, you know what, it saddens my heart to think that homosexuals can go around, bless God, and get the applause of a lot of people. Lesbians and all the rest of it. Bless God, 40 years ago, they'd a' hung 'em, bless God, from a white oak tree. Wouldn't they? Amen."

Those "strange fruits" left hanging from white oaks--and other trees--in the South 40 years before this remark were, of course, those unfortunate enough to be black and in the South at a time when Jim Crow was law and backed up by racist terrorism. In 1938--exactly 40 years before Worley's remarks--Southern Senators filibustered to death a major effort at an anti-lynching law to put a stop to this. Worley's nostalgia is telling.

His fantasies about the murder of homosexuals are hardly unique though. They've been a perpetual fixture on the reactionary fringe for decades. Like so many fringe views, these have been creeping into the "mainstream" for years.[1] North Carolina's anti-gay ballot initiative, like similar initiatives passed in about 30 states, are a reflection of the same impulses.



[1] Only a few days ago, Mississippi state Rep. Andy Gipson called for putting homosexuals to death. Responding to an effort to get him to apologize for this, he replied "To be clear, I want the world to know that I do not, cannot, and will not apologize for the inspired truth of God’s Word."

Friday, May 18, 2012

The "War On Women"

In the debased swamp that passes for political discourse in the U.S., a recurring fad is to dub everything a "War On" this-or-that. Ye humble editor isn't much of a fan of such fads but there does, at present, exist a phenomenon on the far right that liberal commentators have dubbed the "War On Women" and it's difficult to argue against this being an appropriate label for it.

For the last few years, reactionaries in both the federal and state governments (mostly Republicans) have, indeed, tried to make what could fairly be called a "war" on women. There are an infinity of ugly but relatively unsensational examples; Wyoming Republicans' efforts to pass legislation that would force the state to "emphasize nonmarital parenthood"--in and of itself--"as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect"; Wisconsin Republicans' recent repeal of a law regarding gender-based wage discrimination, which effectively closed the doors of that state's court to women trying to bring such cases against their employers; upon assuming the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, Republicans passed legislation that would completely eliminate all federal funding of family planning for low-income Americans. The bill was aimed at eliminating funds for Planned Parenthood, one of the oldest, largest and most important U.S. providers of health care services to poor women. Because of Planned Parenthood's connection to abortion, the sponsors of the legislation falsely portrayed it as an anti-abortion measure; in reality, it's been a rule for decades that no federal funds can be spent on abortion. Republicans in state governments across the U.S. have launched similar anti-Planned Parenthood efforts.

It's when one gets to such sexy bits--or, more particularly, the bits having to do with sex and women having control over things related to it--that the particularly dark and ugly aspect of all of this becomes apparent.

Congressional Republicans have tried to enact legislation that would allow employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control if said employer claimed to have a moral objection to it. In Arizona, the original state Republicans' variation on this would have allowed such objecting employers to demand, of their female employees who were prescribed contraception, private medical records proving they weren't using the contraceptives merely for contraception and would have allowed those who failed to comply to be fired. For many reactionaries waging this "war," the privacy of women doesn't even register as a concern. Tennessee Republicans have pressed for a law requiring the Dept. of Health to collect and publish detailed information from the private medical records of every woman who has an abortion in the state and also to publish the names of the doctors who performed the procedures. Georgia has contemplated similar legislation.

The premise of a lot of the misogynistic law-making is that women are simply incapable of making decisions on their own. They need male legislators to require them to endure onerous waiting periods before they can obtain abortions, since, being stupid children, they just rush into such things. In South Dakota, Republicans passed legislation requiring that women seeking abortions first attend a "consultation" at a "crisis pregnancy center," noxious facilities staffed by anti-abortion zealots who aren't medical professionals of any stripe and whose M.O. is to attempt to frighten and guilt women out of abortions using an astonishing array of lies and misinformation--assertions that abortions lead to, among other things, cancer, infertility, mental illness and suicide, none of which have any basis in reality. Republicans in 27 states have crafted (and, in most of those states, passed) laws requiring medically unnecessary ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, the idea being to show these stupid women the "baby" they're looking to "kill." As most abortions occur in the earliest stages of pregnancy when no image can be obtained via a standard ultrasound (because the developing tissue characterized as no different than a fully developed human being is too small to be seen by the equipment), this requires ultrasounds via vaginal probe--essentially state-ordered rape.

Some reactionaries seem to believe rape is just something women made up anyway. In Georgia, state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) decided he didn't like the word "victim" being used in statutes regarding rape, stalking, domestic violence and other laws with a gender component; he introduced legislation to remove the word from said statutes in connection with those crimes and replace it with "accuser." Like far too many reactionaries, Franklin showed a contempt for women that seemed to border on mental illness. For 9 years, he repeatedly introduced legislation that would completely ban abortion in Georgia and would require a criminal investigation of every known miscarriage, with those who have suffered them having to prove they had no part in it or face life in prison or even the death penalty. Mercifully, Franklin, last summer, suffered a massive heart-attack and died, leaving the world no poorer by his absence from it.

If Franklin's miscarriage rule sounds particularly extreme, it is, in fact, a view endorsed by every contender in this year's Republican presidential race, all of whom have expressed support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution itself that would define a human egg, from the moment a sperm hits it, as a human being with full rights. Among other things, this would completely ban abortion; it would ban embryonic stem-cell research; it would, in effect, ban in vetro procedures for the infertile; given the fantasy reading its authors insist upon, it would ban hormonal birth control (which is to say, most birth control); and it would require a federal murder investigation of every known miscarriage, all as constitutional requirements. As I said, every Republican campaign, including the eventual candidate Mitt Romney, endorsed this insane proposal.

When it comes to legal assaults on women, it seems no proposal is considered too extreme to be tried. Last year, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced the Orwellian monikered "Protect Life Act" which would have legally allowed hospitals, when faced with a woman whose pregnancy has suddenly gone crisis, to simply let her die rather than performing an abortion to save her life or facilitating her transfer to a facility that would perform the procedure. Republicans in the U.S. House just launched a full-bore assault on the previously uncontroversial Violence Against Women Act. In South Dakota, Republicans tried to pass legislation that would legalize the murder of doctors who perform abortions. The measure was eventually shelved but within days, Republicans in Nebraska tried to enact it in that state.

Earlier this month, New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx) unleashed a brainless anti-abortion tirade in an email to his supporters, in which he essentially asserted that black is white and up is down:

"Hitler was pro-choice. He chose to send the Jews to Auschwitz. That was not their choice that was Hitler’s choice. Murderers, assassins and criminals are pro-choice. They choose to put a gun to your head and take your life. That is not your choice. That is their choice."

These sorts of comparisons, of abortion to the Holocaust and of the pro-choice faction to Nazism, are omnipresent in U.S. anti-abortion rhetoric. History, of course, tells a very different story. In Nazi Germany, all family planning clinics were closed with guns in the immediate aftermath of the Enabling Act, advertising or even displaying contraceptives was banned and abortion was made, in the words of historian Richard Grunberger, "one of the most heinous crimes in the Nazi statute book." Doctors who performed the procedure were initially sentenced to 6-to-15-years in prison; later, this was upped to the death penalty. Hitler preferred his enemies practice abortion and when in a position to dictate, often gave them as little choice in the matter as would the the anti-choice crowd in the U.S.. This reflects the legal state of affairs under every other major fascist movement as well. In fascist Italy, contraception was banned and existing laws against abortion, which had been treated as essentially dead letters before il Duce, were reinforced and penalties significantly stiffened. In Spain, the liberalized abortion approach of the Republican era was stamped out; women who had abortions were subject to up to six years in prison and their medical records and sexual histories--real or fabricated--would be publicized by the state. Fascists have ever been advocates of the misogynistic activities I've been describing throughout this article. When it comes to these issues, life under such regimes was exactly as it would be under the rule of the U.S. reactionaries waging the present "War On Women."

An ugly protofascism is seeping into our politics everywhere, to the point that "mainstream" presidential candidates are now entirely comfortable and even enthusiastic about embracing measures so extreme that, only a few years ago, they would have marked these candidates as marginal clowns unworthy of serious national consideration (as, indeed, should be the case today and would if the corporate press didn't act as an enabler of this poison). This really is a "War On Women." And it needs to stop.


Friday, May 4, 2012

America's Fascism Problem, part 1

A most damnable habit of the national corporate press is to obsessively follow real-life soap operas. The Media Monopoly will randomly pick up on some sensational local story--guys who kill their wives or girlfriends and missing children are particularly popular--and launch a saturation-coverage feeding frenzy. Suddenly, it's all the national press can talk about. For weeks and sometimes months, news of great national importance is left on the cutting-room floor in favor of hours upon hours devoted to these stories, which, regardless of their outcome, are of absolutely no consequence to the lives of anyone, other than those directly involved.

One story that made a few national headlines this week structurally falls into this category, but it actually does have a larger national significance, which probably accounts for the relatively sparse coverage it has received--certainly no feeding frenzy, here. On the surface, it's about an evil preacher in North Carolina who raved at his congregation about how, if they had young children who were displaying any characteristic that may be interpreted as homosexual, they should violently abuse said children. The greater significance of the story is that it gives a little glimpse into the reeking sewer of blackest fascism that has, for years, gestated in right-wing fundamentalist churches across the U.S. America has a serious fascism problem. These sorts of churches, like a lot of religious radio and television, are one of its incubators.

North Carolina is on the verge of voting on one of those anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives that have become so painfully common in recent years, and it stirred the soul of Sean Harris, the putrid pastor of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His inadvertent public service is that, in his Sunday sermon, he elected to give us all a look at the abyss of hatred that lurks behind such initiatives. Have a 4-year-old that acts "a little girlish"? The good pastor Harris says you should be "squashing that like a cockroach." If the boy has a limp wrist, "Dads,... walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch, o.k.?" And so on. A mere transcript doesn't do his performance justice. Listen to it here.

What you're hearing, there, isn't just some mouthy, mentally deranged asswipe in North Carolina. What you're hearing is the voice that puts human beings in ovens. It's a voice that, in various degrees of extremity, is so often reflected in the larger body of Republican party politics today. Sometimes, it's helpful to hear it in its unvarnished, not-cleaned-up-for-public-consumption form. When the story became news, Harris offered up an "apology" in which he revealed even more of his character:
"I did not say that children should be squashed. I have never suggested children or those in the LGBT lifestyle should be beaten, punched, abused (physically or psychologically) in any form or fashion. The gospel is the only source of power sufficient to deliver anyone from the power, penalty, and presence of all forms of sin, including but not limited to, all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality."
But apparently not extended to either advocating the violent abuse of children or lying about having done so. Having absolved himself of these, he goes on to say he may have "unintentionally offended" some, and chosen his words poorly. And he can't resist claiming this became a story because "various blogs" have engaged in "the intentional framing of my words without the context of the entire sermon." He's the victim, you see? He doesn't explicitly say "the liberal media" or "homosexual activists" were behind misrepresenting him, but that's the only part of the standard litany he leaves out.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell, on MSNBC, offered a razor-sharp takedown of this cretin and his "apology."

Where he fell short is the same place most of the rest of the coverage fell short: O'Donnell focused on Harris himself.

Harris's behavior brought this to public attention, but he's not the real story, here. The real story, which is far more horrible, is the reaction of the assembled churchgoers while Harris raves on. He's saying things any human being with even a trace of decency in them would find utterly appalling, infuriating, and absolutely unacceptable, yet no one--not a one of them--offers even a single word in objection to it. No one gets up and leaves. Instead, it's all "amens" and "hallelujahs" and "yeahs" and laughter and applause. In his non-apology, Harris writes "I have received nothing but notes of appreciation and support from the people within the church." If there's one thing Harris has said throughout all of this that can be believed, that's it.

That's the real story.

And that's the real horror.

North Carolina votes on that anti-gay amendment Tuesday.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Filibuster Revisited, part 2

Another round with Nice Guy Eddie over the filibuster. Eddie got things rolling here, I replied, then he came back to it in his "comments" section. Here's my next installment:

Many years ago, I used to argue for doing away with the Senate entirely. I haven't given that matter much thought in more recent years but I'd probably still lean in that direction. It seems a lot bigger subject than the one on the table though and, honestly, not really relevant to the more narrow question of the filibuster. Feels like a bit of a dodge, Eddie. But it's out there, so I'll offer up a few words on the matter of the Senate's existence. Not to argue for its abolition--not just now, anyway--but to make the case for why it's kept around.

The Senate was created in imitation of the House of Lords, to allow societies' overdogs to act as a check on the more democratic House. Senators were appointed by the state legislatures. That scheme failed miserably, democracy eventually moved forward and we started directly electing them. An element of the original rationale for the Senate does, however, remain: it was a place where states would have equal representation, so the bigger, more populous ones wouldn't be able to dictate everything that happens in government. It isn't, in itself, democratic--it's a compromise that allows democracy to go forward and it's one you can understand because you've already made the argument about the alleged danger of allowing a state of affairs wherein 6-10% of the population could theoretically elect sufficient senators to "enact whatever they want to." Checks and balances.

One of the first and most basic rules of pragmatism is "never let the perfect become the enemy of the good." In refusing to accept the argument that eliminating the filibuster would make things "better" solely on the grounds that it leaves the non-democratic Senate in place, you're violating that rule. Things like getting rid of the Senate and adopting these micro-districts about which you write may be great ideas but they involve massive, radical, controversial change in the basic structure of government. I'm a big one for radical change[1] but if we're going to be pragmatists, those sorts of changes would require multiple constitutional amendments and major, comprehensive changes in the laws of every state in the U.S., while getting rid of the filibuster is a simple matter of changing an internal Senate rule that's arguably unconstitutional anyway. It's true that, in the Senate, "when you’re talking 5-10% either way, you’re about half an order of magnitude LESS than the 50% that a liberal democracy calls for to pass legislation" but what you seemed to forget for a moment there is a) that the Senate can't pass legislation on its own--it requires the much more democratic House. And b) that with the filibuster in place, that democratic body can't pass anything. And I'll go ahead and throw in c) the fact that the math has never worked out that way. 6-10% of the population may theoretically be able to combine and "enact whatever they want" but in practice, they never have. In practice, the senators of 48.7% of the population (in the first 2 years of Obama) were able to block everything the senators representing 74.9% of the population tried to do. No pragmatism-based or democracy-based way to defend that.

"[S]aying, 'To defend the filibuster is to defend its abuse,' is no more profound that me saying 'to do away with the filibuster is to defend the abuse of those who can now act unopposed.'"

...except they don't get to act "unopposed" if the filibuster is removed. They still have to deal with the more democratic House and with the president. This is the democratic process; the filibuster is the negation of that process. If you have any respect for that process, the two are not equal. They're not even close to it. I have no doubt at all that you understand this (and that you do respect the process), but that understanding left you when you wrote things like "if the Senate IS undemocratic ON THE WHOLE, BY DESIGN, then one more or one less undemocratic practice within that structure is, IMHO, immaterial." The fact that the existence of the practice completely neutralizes the democratic process[2] pretty much removes any pragmatic grounds for dismissing it as "immaterial." You say the filibuster should be kept around to "protect the rights of the minority" but it neither protects a valid right of the minority nor has it ever done so. It's just a backdoor way for the losers of an election to continue to rule, and in a democracy, that's not a "right."

Does a defense of the filibuster equal, as I asserted earlier, a defense of its abuse? It absolutely does unless one's idea for reform can prevent the sort of abuse we've seen and here, I'm a bit disappointed you didn't go into your idea of filibuster reform. It's true that I probably would be unmoved by it, but I'm certainly willing to listen.

Perhaps we'll continue.



[1] I suspect your proposed micro-districts would prove quite unworkable but I've been an advocate of proportional representation for years. There are several ways to do it. Most are preferable to the way things are currently done.

[2] And when, as we've seen in recent years, literally everything the senators representing 74.9% of the population try to do is blocked by the senators of 48.7% of the population, the points about the Senate end of the process being theoretically undemocratic don't really hold a lot of water. Obviously, that relates to the recent actual situation in the Senate and doesn't negate the criticisms arising from different theoretical situations but it's another point a pragmatist probably shouldn't overlook.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Kidnapper-In-Chief

In what's getting to be a very old story, the Obama, today, offered up yet another huge example of why he deserves to be absolutely destroyed at the polls in 2012.

During the previous administration, the "president" claimed the power to arbitrarily kidnap anyone--even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil--and throw them in a deep, dark hole forever. No courts, no lawyers, no appeal, no due process of any kind. Just label them a "terrorist" and they disappear. That such "powers" were, in reality, utterly illegal, totally unconstitutional, and, in fact, anti-constitutional didn't deter him for a moment. That "president" was a fascist son-of-a-bitch, though, and when it came to expectations, it was probably unreasonable to think one would get anything from a pig but a grunt.

One expected a bit more, however, from a Democratic president who came into office as part of a huge Democratic electoral tsunami that drew its power from public repudiation of everything for which that prior administration stood. But, as it turned out, the Obama started letting people down before he'd even taken the oath, and that's been the story of his administration ever since.

As my regulars will have no doubt noted, the legacy of the Bush administration is one of the matters that has persistently vexed ye humble editor. Bush waged steady, relentless war on the constitution, the rule of law, and open, accountable, democratic government, and, in the process, sewed the seeds of a monstrous dictatorship. Those seeds need to be rooted out, without mercy, because if they're allowed to pass into precedent, they will yield a monstrous crop in the future. The Obama stood against these abuses before the 2008 election, but since his ascension to the presidency, he has, time and time again, gone out to the field to tend, defend, and even nurture the poisonous fruits of that prior "president's" labors.

Today, he was at it again. The Senate has attached, to the National Defense Authorization Act, a totally unrelated rider that codifies, into U.S. law, the Bush administration's asserted kidnapping powers.[*] The Obama initially threatened to veto the larger bill if this was included, but after some Senate tinkering with the wording of the rider that did absolutely nothing to change its substance, the White House announced, today, that the Obama gang would no longer advise the president to do so. The Senate passed it, then House immediately followed suit, and there's every indication the Obama will soon sign it.

Through his actions, the Obama has forcefully marked himself as unworthy of holding the office of President of the United States.

But then, what else is new?



[*] As soon as this "power" is used, it would face court challenge, and, in a functioning federal judiciary, it couldn't withstand constitutional challenge. Unfortunately, America is burdened with a federal court system (and a U.S. Supreme Court, in particular) swamped with right-wing ideologues. Some are mavericks on such issues, and may very well strike it down, but they're certainly no reliable check. And, in any event, the court process takes time, and the victims of the policy could be made miserable for a lot of years before the courts get around to ruling one way or the other.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Filibuster Revisited, part 1

Early last year, I went a few rounds with Nice Guy Eddie from "In My Humble Opinion" on the subject of the Senate filibuster, him fer it and me agin' it. It started here, then continued here and here, with remarks from both of us spread through the "comments" section of both blogs in the great, totally disorganized manner that would come to mark all of my more involved exchanges with Eddie.

Eddie thought on the subject for a long time. Nearly two years! Yesterday, a ridiculous item on Fox News, reported via Media Matters, inspired him to return to the subject. I've decided to post my reply here, as well as in his comments section. I fear it's rather cursory but I don't think for a moment it will be the last word in the discussion, so I've dubbed it "The Filibuster Revisited, part 1":

(A note: In order to have any idea what's going on, I recommend reading our entire exchange.)

In my second piece on this subject from last year, I ran the same numbers you did but my results were that, "at present population dispersal, just over 5.6% of the U.S. population, residing in the smallest states (which contain 11% of the total U.S. population), can theoretically elect a sufficient number of Senators (41) to filibuster anything everyone else wants to do." You came up with 2.3%. It's been so long I don't remember exactly how I did my own calculation but it doesn't really matter--either result supports my larger point.

I also ran the then-current numbers about actual Senate representation:

" present, Democratic Senators represent 74.9% of the population, while Republican Senators represent 48.7% of the population (there being overlap between states that have mixed Senate delegations). The minority is still running everything."

I pretty much addressed everything you wrote here back then. The notion that we will get bad results without a filibuster is a) absolutely true, and b) of absolutely no relevance. One either believes in liberal democracy or one doesn't. If you do, you have to take the good with the bad.

Defending the filibuster necessarily entails defending the abuse of it we've seen since Republicans lost control of congress in 2006 and particularly since 2008. That abuse has literally changed the constitutional order and is arguably unconstitutional. More to the point though, it completely nullifies our elections, rendering them meaningless exercises. This, too, is something one must defend in order to defend the filibuster. In evaluating its potential merits, one has to weigh this--a complete frustration of the democratic process, every day of every week of every year, forever--against the benefit of keeping it around, and in my view (and I think history clearly supports me in this), any alleged benefit is mostly illusory. No counter at all.

I don't see any argument in its favor.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tragedy of the Obama: Debt-Ceiling Edition

Niceguy Eddie, over at "In My Humble Opinion," has offered up some thoughts on the unpopularity of the current Republican position with regard to raising the debt ceiling. I thought I'd throw in a few of my own.

Popular sentiment does, indeed, cut strongly against Republicans on this issue. It cuts against them in this same really big way on pretty much every major issue, and Eddie is right about there being absolutely no reason for Democrats to compromise with them about anything when it comes to this. Republicans are a minority party with a minority in government and no real public support behind what they're trying to do, here. The Democrats could put their collective foot down, offer nothing at all, and dare the Republicans to do anything except either fold like an accordion in the face of this, or stand firm and reap the disastrous consequences. There really is only one choice. Demos would be literally insane to allow Repubs to hold the U.S. hostage over a debt-ceiling increase.

The reason offering nothing would work is the dirty little secret behind the entire debt-ceiling fight: Republicans, in the end, will vote to raise it. The, broadly speaking, Big Money community understands the ruinous effects of a potential default, and won't allow their puppets, in either party, to bring one about. Voting against a debt ceiling increase is political theater, staged by members of both parties from time to time, but the ceiling is always raised, and, at the end of the current made-up "crisis," it will be, as well, and Republicans--a sufficient number of them--will be on board when the votes are counted. That will happen, regardless of what else may. Democrats don't have to offer any deal at all, much less make one. Anything they "negotiate" away is by choice, not anything dictated by necessity.

Unfortunately, the Obama--as usual--is choosing to try to negotiate away anything and everything. From practically the moment he left the gate, he offered Republicans massive cuts to "entitlements" in exchange for their going along with some relatively minor revenue increases. That offer is still on the table. It shouldn't be. Republicans will probably hold out for more until nearly the last minute, but if there's even a chance enough Democrats will be willing to charge over the same cliff as Obama (and, as, practically speaking, it takes so few votes, there's a good chance of this), Republicans will eventually take Obama's deal.

If this happens, Obama will go down in history as having accomplished what no Republican has ever managed--to begin the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare. Defending these things has traditionally been a signature issue with Democrats. Indeed, Republicans, politically speaking, committed mass suicide via their votes, last year and this, on the Ryan plan. Democrats could have used that to absolutely eviscerate the Republican congressional caucus from coast to coast. Unless, that is, Democrats can be made to agree to the same sort of ruinous cuts that makes that plan so unpopular. That would rather spectacularly neutralize it as an issue, but, more to the point, it would remove one of the major reasons the public supports Democrats. Obama is working at chucking an easy win-win for his party and, much more importantly, undermining critically important programs, and isn't just pursuing a course that would begin their destruction; he's also working toward helping elect those who would finish the task.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Walker's War on Wisconsin (UPDATES below)

What can one say about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker? He's shown himself to be a preening, self-important peddler of poppycock, a wannabe Mussolini of the Midwest whose efforts to centralize an extraordinary amount of government power in his own hands have made him a rock star on the Republican right. That last only sounds paradoxical to those who don't pay attention.

Walker came to power alongside a rubber-stamp Republican majority in the state legislature, and he opened his administration in January by pressing through the body a series of fiscally ruinous policies, including huge tax cuts for the wealthy and for big business. Having added hundreds of millions of dollars worth of red ink to the state's finances, he then asserted that looming red ink meant the state faced a financial "crisis," and insisted it called for drastic and immediate measures to combat.

As it turned out, of course, the major aspects of his "Budget Repair Bill" didn't have much to do with the state's finances. It was mostly just about centralizing a great deal of power in Walker's hands. Among other things, it would have empowered him to sell off state-owned energy facilities to his Big Money cronies at will, without even any competitive bidding, and would have exempted such decisions from laws regarding public interest considerations. It would have removed from the legislature control over Medicaid, granting Walker's administration the dictatorial authority to raise premiums, limit program eligibility, and change reimbursement rates at will (Dennis Smith, Walker's appointee to head the agency charged with administering Medicaid, is an advocate for states leaving the program entirely). Most notoriously, it would break the state's contracts with public employee unions, cut their benefits, and strip from most of them their collective bargaining rights.

This last item caused quite a furor. Walker badly underestimated how unpopular it would prove to be, but he definitely knew he had a stinker on his hands, and he and the Republicans initially tried to jam it through with minimal debate before anyone noticed. He unveiled the bill, there was a single public hearing regarding it, a single committee meeting, and the Republican majority would have passed the bill the next day in a matter of minutes, except 14 Democratic legislators literally left the state in order to prevent them from having the Senate quorum necessary to do so.

The result was a stand-off that went on for weeks.

Walker was unyielding. Every time the absent senators would try to negotiate any sort of deal with him, his response was to call a press conference and insult them, while launching petty vindictive attacks on them through the legislature--trying to take away their parking, their pay, and their office expenses. More seriously, he and the Repubs tried to have them arrested for "contempt," in direct violation of the state constitution.

Walker insisted that the anti-union elements of his bill were absolutely necessary to deal with the state's fiscal "crisis." It became a mantra. It was a matter of public record that Wisconsin's future projected budget shortfalls--the portions not attributable to Walker's own policies--had nothing to do with the unions' benefits. They were a consequence of several items, primarily projected Medicaid expenses. Still, Walker repeated his mantra, and apparently hoped people would pay little attention to details. The unions had immediately agreed to the actual fiscal elements of Walker's proposal--the cuts in their benefits. Still, Walker repeated his mantra. Those concessions were always on the table, and at any point in this protracted drama, Walker could have simply taken them and declared victory. He refused to take "yes" for an answer because his purpose, contrary to his mantra, was to bust the unions, and he had no intention of accepting a negotiated settlement that left them their rights. Republicans in over a dozen states, in fact, suddenly simultaneously decided they also needed to go after their state's unions in the same way. Still, Walker repeated his mantra, apparently expecting us to accept this as merely an incredible coincidence.

The public didn't bite.

Instead, waves of protesters filled the state capitol. The demonstrations were scrupulously peaceful, but Walker ordered the capitol locked down anyway. A court ordered his administration to reopen it; Walker simply ignored the order, and circulated false stories in the press about the protesters causing millions of dollars in damage (in reality, there had been no real damage).

In order to finally pass the portion of the bill stripping the unions of their collective bargaining rights, the Repubs--after all that mantra repetition--finally had to admit it wasn't a fiscal measure at all, which had the benefit of removing the need for a senate quorum. They held a brief meeting with only two hours notice--an apparent violation of Wisconsin law--and passed the measure a few minutes later, inadvertently offering up the perfect footnote to the whole sordid affair by immediately arranging to attend a high-dollar fundraising dinner being thrown in their honor by lobbyists in Washington D.C..

To bask in the presence of their purchased puppets, these corrupt lobbyists will offer up a minimum $1,000 donation just to get in the door; lots of love, with lots of zeroes attached. The reaction of the larger public, however, has been quite different. After only two months in office, Walker's approval rating is in free-fall--down around 40%. Big majorities are now telling pollsters that, if the 2010 election was held again today, they'd vote against him, and by this time next year, he will--courtesy of Wisconsin's recall laws--most likely be reduced to a very-highly-paid Fox News special commentator, touring the brain-dead hemisphere of the talking-head circuit as a right-wing martyr to mean ol' labor unions, while a lot of the Repubs who backed him in the legislature will be unemployed. That may be the happiest ending Wisconsin can manage.

Meanwhile, the national Republican party has embraced the Mussolini of the Midwest as a hero, and seem to have decided they want what he's done to Wisconsin to be both their model and the public face of their party. Repubs, in legislatures across the country, continue their efforts to centralize power and destroy democratic--and Democratic--institutions.

Stay tuned.



UPDATE (12 March, 2011) -- I've always found, in the various theories of liberal democracy, much merit in the notion that, when a government is elected, it earns the right to enact its program. In spite of what the Scott Walkers of the world believe, we don't elect dictatorships in the U.S., and the minority should get some concessions along the way, roughly equivalent to its size, but democracy has no meaning if a majority is prevented from governing at all. We've seen this at the federal level. Democrats won the White House and huge majorities in congress in 2008, but were effectively prevented from governing by a Republican minority that systematically abused the process and, in essence, completely nullified that entire election.

The Wisconsin situation isn't even close to being analogous to this, because Democrats, there, were objecting to items in a single bill, rather than to everything the Republicans had proposed, and Walker was refusing a reasonable compromise that fully addressed the concerns he feigned in public regarding state finances while pushing for a measure to which the public was overwhelmingly opposed

Still, the Democratic legislators' exit from the state in order to prevent that bill from going forward is a use of process to foil an elected majority, and merits some scrutiny.


UPDATE (8 April, 2011) -- The potential violation of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law in passing the union-busting bill resulted in a court injunction against publishing or enforcing the law. Wisconsin law requires that the Secretary of State publish any law in the official newspaper before it can be enforced. Walker and Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald decided they could just ignore this law and the injunction, as well; they had the law published by the Legislative Reference Bureau, then publicly declared it had been legally published, was in effect, and that it would now be enforced. Rather than simply holding these clowns in contempt, the judge in the case issued a second order tersely reemphasizing that publication and enforcement of the law has been enjoined. Walker finally backed down, but the entire incident is emblematic of his behavior throughout this ordeal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on "Jack-Booted Thugs"

I'm still not really up to writing much, or well, but an item over at Media Matters caught my eye tonight, and I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on it.

Adam Shah of Media Matters For America offers this as his set-up:
National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is the last person a responsible media outlet should have on its airwaves to comment on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). That's because LaPierre once referred to ATF agents as "jack-booted government thugs" and reportedly called for "lifting the assault weapons ban to even the odds in the struggle between ordinary citizens and 'jack-booted government thugs.'"
Shah's framing can be read in such a way as to suggest that anyone who would call government agents "jack-booted government thugs" is inherently nuts. The gripe I have with this is that government agents frequently are jack-booted thugs. That LaPierre said so isn't why his comments were problematic.

LaPierre is a reactionary who deals in the nuttiest sort of black-helicopter conspiracism. His rhetoric, offered in the 1990s, is indistinguishable from that of the militia movement that grew like a cancer in that same period, and it's this context that elevated his "jack-booted government thugs" comment from a truism to an eye-raiser.

But it takes some space to explain why.

The right is not, in fact, "anti-government." As much as the press and some liberal commentators love to use that phrase as shorthand, it's difficult to imagine a characterization that could more grossly misrepresent the politics of contemporary conservatism. There are many "schools" of conservatism in the U.S., of course, but the core of the conservative base, at present, is made up of what may fairly be described as self-obsessed authoritarians. They're very opposed to government that taxes them. They're very opposed to the small "d" democratic elements of government, those responsive to the public. When it comes to pursuing their own cherished goals, though--which usually involve maintaining the aristocratic prerogatives of The Powers That Be, aggressive militarism, and enforcing social homogeneity--no amount of government ever proves to be enough.

This conservative core isn't opposed to jack-booted thuggery on the part of government. Those on the right have, in fact, always supported such thuggery, nurtured it, enabled it, even demanded it, for the simple reason that government thuggery has, historically, almost always been aimed at the left or at other groups despised by the right (immigrants, racial minorities, etc.), and the conservatives have been (and are) its enthusiastic advocates as long as that's the case.

When LaPierre made his comments, on the other hand, the right was out of power, and the narrative had shifted. Suddenly, the story peddled to the nuts was that a democratic--and, more importantly, Democratic--government was out to get white, right-wing rednecks. This was a handy way of inflaming the bumpkins against the other party, but reflected no genuine concern about government abuses.[*] During the just-concluded Bush administration, when a real thug was running the government and asserting the power to ignore the law and the constitution at will, kidnap, torture, and even murder American citizens with no pretense of due process, and so on, the conservatives virtually worshiped government power and their Maximal Leader, and the militia culture and movement, which had made such a pretense of being centrally concerned about government abuses in the '90s (when abuses were relatively minor), all but disappeared. When Democrats rolled over Republicans in the 2008 elections, though, the right went back to criticizing government again, and the militia culture was suddenly back again with a vengeance.

Back in the 1990s, the federal action against the Koresh cult in Texas became the central organizing cause for militant reactionaries. The broad narrative of the event that evolved on the nut right was that the cult was merely an unthreatening church that was attacked and besieged by the government for no real reason, then, at the end, was maliciously burned alive for refusing to submit. None of this had much of a relationship to the truth, but it made for a nifty organizing tool for years.

LaPierre was opportunistically playing to this sentiment when he made his "jack-booted government thugs" comment. In the same letter in which he wrote those words, he even made explicit reference to the action against the Koresh cult, and, further, added

"Not too long ago, it was unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens. Not today."

Of course, such a thing hadn't been "unthinkable" to left-wing political parties, the civil rights movement, radical groups, labor unions, anti-war groups, and more other non-conservative and anti-conservative groups than can be named--they'd been on the receiving end of government violence for over a century, by that point. It was only "unthinkable" to white Christian conservative good ol' boys who had never been subjected to it. LaPierre was part of a cadre of reactionaries who, for purposes of political expediency, was trying to make it thinkable to them. The world learned how thinkable some of them found it when a fertilizer bomb went off in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds.

I realize that's more of a mouthful, as explanations go, but the implication that condemning government thuggery is what makes LaPierre's comments reprehensible shouldn't be allowed to stand. They're reprehensible for entirely different reasons. Real government thuggery should always be condemned by every American worthy of the name.



[*] Back in the 1990s when LaPierre made his comment, the NRA was, in fact, trying to reinvent itself as a crime-fighting organization, circulating false "statistics" about how "soft on crime" America was, and advocating a "get tough" approach. In a word, thuggery.