Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Obama Backs Bush Murder Policy

In one of the best-kept secrets of the U.S. corporate media, the Obama administration yesterday went before a federal court and threw its full support behind yet another of the Bush administration's assertions of fascist powers. This time, the issue revolves around the question of whether the executive branch of the U.S. government has the unlimited, unchecked, unreviewed power to unilaterally designate, as a danger to the U.S., a U.S. citizen--a civilian in a non-combat situation--then murder him. This administration, like the last, says "yes," and also asserted, in a manner all too familiar to those of us who had followed Bush's efforts to drag the U.S. down the long, ugly road to fascism, that it was an executive matter the judiciary hadn't even the authority to review.

All of this was in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, who are looking to limit the government's power to carry out these sorts of Mafia-style extrajudicial murders to cases of imminent danger to life and safety and have requested that the court force the executive branch to publicly disclose the secret process that results in a U.S. citizen being placed on a government hit-list.

The ACLU and CCR are acting at the request of Nasser Al-Aulaqi, the father of Anwar Al-Aulaqi. Anwar is a reactionary Muslim cleric reportedly placed on a government hit-list. Because he has been so targeted, the Treasury Department asserted that the ACLU and CCR, before they could even bring the suit, had to request a special license to allow them to do so. They requested the license, the government failed to provide it, and they proceeded to file a separate suit against the licensing scheme. Seems like a no-brainer. It's bad enough the government would assert the unrestrained power to kill U.S. citizens, but we're well into Kafka territory when someone so targeted has to obtain a license from that same government to allow him to challenge its decision to destroy him.

Linked to terrorists and, in his own right, reportedly an anti-Western Islamist reactionary of the worst sort, Aulaqi is hardly the poster-boy for an ideal plaintiff, but he is an American citizen, and his inflammatory views are of no real consequence to the issue at hand. Aulaqi has never been convicted or even charged with any crime by the U.S.. Jameel Jaffer, who presented arguments for the ACLU yesterday, put the matter succinctly:

"If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state."

The "liberal" Obama administration disagrees. Hopefully, the matter can be decided before it gets to the current Supreme Court.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sound Election Analysis, or A Big Bunch of B.S From Bayh?

In these tough economic times, Evan Bayh certainly doesn't have to worry about ever being out of work. The cretinous right-wing slug who, until his retirement in January, is Indiana's excuse for a junior Senator, decided, yesterday, to give us a preview of his likely post-Senate job as a political analyst. Unsurprisingly, it looks a lot like what he's been doing as a "Democratic" Senator; namely, trashing liberal Democrats. The American conservative elite like "Democrats" who trash Democrats. They pay them well for it.

For some reason, the New York Times saw fit to waste the paper and ink necessary to mass-publish Bayh's application for this dismal work in the form of an op-ed offering the Senator's take on Tuesday's congressional election. Bayh concludes Democrats lost because they're too liberal.

What a surprise, right?

"To a degree," he says, "we [Democrats] are authors of our own misfortune." How so?
"It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a 'political realignment' and a 'new progressive era' proved wishful thinking. Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left."
But then, again, the American public isn't "76 percent moderate to conservative"; that polling reflects how people--most of whom are not political junkies and don't put a great deal of thought into what simple label they apply to their politics--view themselves and is profoundly impacted by the decades-long demonization of the "liberal" label. Ask them specific questions about their views and Americans are, just as they have been for ages, liberal and, on most issues, overwhelmingly so.

Bayh is phoning it in from another dimension when he says "we," by which he means Democrats, "were too deferential to our most zealous supporters." In this one, the Obama, who has largely set the Democratic agenda, has remained well to the right of the general public, continuing the war in Iraq while expanding the war in Afghanistan, refusing to even consider single-payer health care then dropping the public option from the Republican health care bill he adopted as his own, watering down regulatory reform, moving the already-reactionary Supreme Court further to the right, refusing to throw any kind of weight behind Democratic congressional efforts to both prevent companies from exporting jobs and to encourage companies to import them (at a time when jobs are THE major issue), then, as a final indignity, publicly trashing his own base while whining about how he doesn't get any credit for his "accomplishments." This behavior helped turn off his base and feed the "enthusiasm gap" between Democratic and Republican voters, which Gallup reported, just before the election, was 19%--greater than they'd ever measured in the nearly-two-decades they'd tracked it.

Bayh's fanciful account of the election season:
"During election season, Congress sought to placate those on the extreme left and motivate the base--but that meant that our final efforts before the election focused on trying to allow gays in the military, change our immigration system and repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. These are legitimate issues but unlikely to resonate with moderate swing voters in a season of economic discontent."
Hard to know where to start.

In the real world, the public overwhelmingly supports allowing homosexuals to serve in the military. A typical poll (this one from CBS News) found, only a few weeks ago, 69% support for the proposition, 51% saying they supported it "strongly" (only 21% opposed it). Trying to make this possible wouldn't have been an effort "to placate those on the extreme left"--it would have been an effort to enact a policy overwhelmingly supported by the American public. Unfortunately, the Democrats weren't trying to allow gays in the military during the campaign--they were, instead, engaged in delaying tactics designed to prevent the matter from becoming an issue in the campaign. Only weeks ago, a federal court voided the current policy and if the Obama had wanted, he could have just been done with it at that point. Instead, he chose to appeal the ruling, which didn't endear him to anyone on the left.

There was no serious movement on immigration reform at any point during the campaign--Bayh's assertion to the contrary is fantasy.

It's a misrepresentation--or, just to call it straight, a lie--to say Democrats were trying "to repeal the George W. Bush-era tax cuts." The tax cuts aren't going to be repealed--they're going to expire. That's the law. If nothing happens, they all go away. The debate is whether or not they should be continued. Democrats have argued for renewing the tax cuts that go to most people while allowing to expire the big chunk of them that go to those of higher income. Polling shows that this is also the position of a majority or plurality of the public, depending on the question's wording, so, again, this isn't aimed at trying "to placate those on the extreme left"--the Democratic view has broad support.

Some numbers being well-circulated on the left blogosphere today further cripple Bayh's narrative that Democrats cut their own throats by being Democrats. While the liberal Congressional Progressive caucus lost only three of its more-than-80 members on Tuesday, the Blue Dog caucus, made up of right-wing Democrats like Bayh who shun "their" party and side with Republicans time and time again, was decimated, losing nearly 30 of their 54 members.

Even after voters sent most of the "Democrats" packing, Bayh's big solution to Democratic woes is that Democrats should become even more conservative and that the already-conservative Obama should move even further to the right--"seize the center," as Bayh euphemistically puts it. It's the sort of conclusion the American conservative elite pays well to spread around, particularly when it's being offered by a faux Democrat, so while Bayh has proven himself utterly worthless as a Senator, he can leave his overpaid post in these bad economic times without a worry about future employment. He'll have work. His family will never go hungry. His future is bright. He should probably wear shades.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Far to the left in American politics"? A Test Case

I sometimes poke around over at "The Next Right," a theoretically "reformist" conservative site (albeit one that, in practice, mostly ends up being SOS), and, this being election day, I thought I'd step over there and see if there was anything interesting.

I found a blog, there, from poster Ironman, about Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democratic congressman from Connecticut's 5th district. Posted yesterday, it advises people to "be pragmatic tomorrow--remove a radical from CT 5." Campaigns produce a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric, of course, and maybe it's best to chalk IM's words up to the feverish emotions of the moment and leave it at that, but something made me want to offer a few comments on it. Probably the fact that it's so perfectly emblematic of the very wrongheaded "thinking" of a lot of the contemporary American right.

IM's premise is that Murphy is some sort of wild-eyed lefty radical who is misrepresenting himself in his reelection bid:
"Chris Murphy's closing argument in his flagging bid for re-election is that he represents the 'pragmatic center' of American politics.

"I call B.S. on this. Let's count the ways Murphy is far to the Left in American politics--even beyond the usual Nancy Pelosi foot soldier."
His first example:
"Murphy is one of the most vocal opponents of the use of warrantless wiretaps to obtain information to thwart terrorist threats... [D]o we want to hamstring the people who keep us safe? Murphy evidently does."
Is this evidence of Murphy's radicalism?

Well, it should be said, right up front, that Bush's NSA wiretapping program was completely illegal--a blatantly criminal enterprise that was explicitly forbidden by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had been on the books for decades, so IM's premise, that standing against government surveillance conducted with blatant criminality makes one some sort of radical, is, to put it as kindly as possible, shaky (another depressing sign of creeping fascism on the right).

What did the public think about Bush's criminal enterprise? In the immediate aftermath of the story breaking, the U.S. was almost equally divided. Polling showed that slim majorities either supported or opposed it based on the wording of the poll question, the more accurate wording producing stronger opposition than support. Murphy's "radical" opposition to it was in line with that of half the public.

That was just after the story broke.

As time went by, public opinion shifted strongly against the Bush administration on this matter. By Oct. 2007, a Mehlman Group poll found that 61% said the government should have to get a warrant before conducting this sort of surveillance; only 35% supported the Bush position. By Jan. 2008, another Mehlman Group poll asked the same question; 63% said the government should have to get a warrant (55% said they believed this "strongly"), with only 33% supporting the Bush position (24% "strongly"). By Feb. 2009, just after the beginning of Murphy's current term in office, 63% of respondents were telling Gallup they favored an investigation into the matter, including 77% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and even 41% of Republicans. Murphy's "radical" view, which IM says puts him "far to the Left in American politics," is, in fact, that of an overwhelming majority of the public--of Democrats, of independents, and of nearly half of the Republicans.

IM continues:
"Worse still, he favored letting the telecom firms that assisted the War on Terror face ruinous lawsuits from lefty lawyers "
The telecom firms in question "assisted the War on Terror" by illegally turning over private information on their clients to the Bush administration. They weren't ordered by a court to do so--Bush wanted it, and they just handed it over. Bush sought a bill granting these companies a blanket immunity from any legal action their enraged clients may bring against them. Murphy opposed this immunity.

Evidence of Murphy radicalism? Hardly. In that same Mehlman Group poll referenced above, 57% opposed granting immunity; 45% "strongly" opposed it. Only 33% supported it (22% "strongly"). The opposition to immunity cut across all political lines--liberals opposed it by 64%, moderates by 58%, and even 50% of conservatives opposed it.

So, again, IM is describing Murphy as a "radical" and "far to the Left in American politics" based on his holding the same views that are also broadly and overwhelmingly held by the public.

It's also worth, again, noting IM's premise in using this example; that Murphy is some sort of extreme lefty based on Murphy's opposition to blatant lawbreaking by the telecoms, turning over private information on the public to the government.

IM continues:
"Murphy is also one of the firmest opponents of keeping the detention facility at Gitmo open."
The public has been strongly divided on this question. In Jan. 2009, 53% told the ABC News/Washington Post poll they thought the U.S. should close the facility, with 42% supporting keeping it open. A CBS News/New York Times poll three months later showed an almost-even split--47% should continue to operate, while 44% said to close the prison. An AP/Roper poll two months later showed the public evenly split on the question--47% approved of Obama's then-goal to close the facility within a year, while 47% opposed it. Again, Murphy's view seems in line with about half of the public.

Unfortunately, this matter has been subject to a great deal of right-wing fear-mongering. The far right expended a great deal of effort telling the public that closing the facility would mean al Qaida prisoners would be dropped in their back yards, and when poll questions include nods toward this, NIMBYist sentiment kicks in. A USA Today/Gallup poll from May 2009, for example, asked, "Suppose the prison at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Would you favor or oppose moving some of those prisoners to a prison in your state?" 74% were opposed, with only 23% in favor. The results are usually less dramatic (around a 60/40 split), but large majorities do oppose closing the facility if the prisoners end up in their back yards, so on this matter, Murphy can be said to be out of sync with most people, if one doesn't control for NIMBYism.

IM continues:
"Chris Murphy has a problem with the health care bill. He doesn't think it went far enough. He is a strong supporter of the public option."
As was most of the public throughout the health-care debate. In a Time magazine poll from July, 2009, 56% supported the public option, 36% opposed. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll from Aug., 2009, 55% favored the public option, 41% opposed. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from Sept. 2009, 57% supported a public option, only 37% opposed. In a Quinnipiac poll from Oct. 2009, 61% supported the public option, only 34% opposed. In a CBS News/New York Times poll from Dec., 2009, 59% supported the public option, with only 29% opposed. This poll broke down the results by party, and found that support included 80% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and even 33% of Republicans.

So, again, Murphy is tagged as a lefty radical for being in line with most of the public.

And that's the whole of IM's substantive case against Murphy. He whines about Murphy attended a gathering of internet liberals, misrepresents a comment Murphy made to MSNBC [*], and concludes that "there are none [Democrats] more deserving of defeat than Connecticut's Chris Murphy."

It's clear IM doesn't like Murphy's politics, and, for whatever reason, he seems to personally despise the man, but he utterly fails to prove his premise that Murphy is some sort of "radical" who "is far to the Left in American politics." From IM's description, in fact, Murphy appears to be exactly what IM quotes him as calling himself, a representative of "the 'pragmatic center' of American politics." That IM sees this as "radical" says everything about himself, and nothing about Chris Murphy.



[*] IM's version:
"He [Murphy] told MSMBC that after he and his colleagues got past the voters in November they would return with 'steel in their spine' ready to cast more tough votes against the wishes of their constituents."
The actual comment, in context:
"Giving an upbeat scenario for Election Day, Murphy said, 'When we retain the House, some members are going to come back with some extra steel in their spines, having cast some tough votes and having survived what’s likely the toughest election of their career.'"
[NOTE: The polls I cited but to which I don't link come from Pollingreport.com]

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Monsters, Noses, & What Comes Next: Thoughts on the 2010 Congressional Elections

Some liberal commentators have displayed something akin to a panic at the prospect of a big Republican win in Tuesday's congressional elections. Keith Olbermann, Paul Krugman, and others have expressed their despair that fickle voters would return to power the advocates of the failed policies that, among other things, decimated the U.S. economy, sending it plunging into the deep pit in which it now remains stubbornly trapped. They've correctly outlined the extreme reactionary nature of the current Republican party, a party that has adopted its lunatic fringe as its mainstream.

In my view, most of these liberals presently sounding the alarm see this last as too recent a development. It's actually something that's been going on for quite some time, and their failure to recognize it doesn't speak well of them. They're right about one thing, though--it really is worse than ever. The hard core of the American right has, for decades, been an ever-rightening gaggle of overly reactionary reactionaries, but, while the broader, less insane Republican party with which they largely associated has always been a relatively narrow coalition, there had always been some little room for more reasonable--or, more precisely, less unreasonable--voices. In recent decades, though, that hard core has dragged out the long knives and ran them through just about anyone who wasn't as brutish, stupid, insane, and ass-backwards as it is. This was greatly accelerated by the 2008 campaign and its immediate aftermath, which saw the Democrats absorbing larger portions of the moderate and run-of-the-mill conservative demographics, leaving the hard core right to rebuild the Republican party. They've made it into a monster more monstrous than it has been in the lifetime of most people reading these words.

Now, that monster stands poised to take over, and progressive commentators are beside themselves at the prospect.

Their "solution," however, is not terribly helpful. They just tell us we should hold our noses and vote for Democrats.

The "hold our noses" part is necessary because the Democrats, in the last two years, have been abysmal failures. The Obama not only failed to roll back the horror that was the above-the-law, dictatorial chief executive built by the Bush administration, it refused to prosecute those responsible for it, and has actually defended most of its elements from every substantive challenge, allowing it to pass into precedent. The Obama and his party entirely squandered the historical opportunity handed them by the public in 2008, a chance to really get some things done; instead of anything that could be mistake for progressive change, all we've gotten from them are warmed-over conservative Republican policies. Even if the Democrats pulled off some incredible upset win on Tuesday, there's absolutely no reason to believe they'd behave any differently for the next two years than they have for the last. The nose must be held if voting for most Democrats because they don't deserve our vote. Most people, I suspect, aren't going to give it to them, either.

It's clear that the far right is just as much a horror show today as its fiercest critics insist, and there's no doubt it could do a great deal of damage if allowed unfettered power. It's just as clear, though, that, in spite of the alarmist sentiment coming from the liberals, it isn't going to get that sort of unfettered power. The reactionaries aren't winning hearts and minds. There's been no sudden upsurge in public enthusiasm for far-right policies or attitudes. Indeed, most people totally--even viscerally--reject both. The only reason the reactionaries are even being allowed anywhere near power now is because, at a time when the economy is in the toilet and the Democrats who hold the majority suck, they control the Republican party, which, in a theoretically two-party state, is considered the only viable alternative for expressing discontent. If they were to win both houses of congress on Tuesday and were to begin implementing their nuttier policies, the public would turn on them instantly. The right has managed to, broadly, rule the U.S. for decades, regardless of which party had a majority, but the far right is inherently self-destructive.

That shouldn't be read as underplaying the damage it could more realistically do. Even without an overwhelming win, they could block any effort at reform. But then, again, practically no one, among the elected, is offering any real reform anyway. Would it really be such a loss if the Obama was prevented from implementing the same kind of Republican policies, in the second half of his term, as he did in the first half?

This election is historically significant for a few reasons. It's the first election after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the "Citizens United" case, which guaranteed a significant degree of conservative success at the polls. In the wake of that ruling, corporate America has flexed its muscles in the ongoing congressional campaigns, with Big Money frequently outspending the parties and candidates in an effort to purchase an even more compliant congress. As long as this ruling remains uncorrected, this trend will only get worse as time goes by. This is also a census year, and to the extent that Republicans win at the state level, they'll be the ones directing redistricting efforts in the states based on that census, using the process to gerrymander as many safe Republican districts as they can manage.

The energy of progressives, though, shouldn't be so heavily directed toward playing electoral politics and trying to maintain a temporary majority in government for those who are (or at least seem) less reactionary. That energy should, instead, have been directed toward pushing for progressive reforms from the Obama and the Democratic congressional majority for the past two years. Only days after Obama's election, Tom Englehardt wrote a prescient piece I approvingly quoted (with some caveats)[*] at the time:
"Leave Obama to them [political Washington] and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for 'change we can believe in,' which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror."
Progressive reformers didn't bother, and now, it's too late. Regardless of what happens with this election, liberals need to finally get off their asses, roll up their sleeves, and do what Englehardt suggested years ago: raise some hell, and keep raising it.



[*] The biggest one being that Englehardt gave Obama a pass on taking the blame. I thought--and think--he can take lots and lots of it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"The Republicans are Nazis"?

Drawing parallels between contemporary politics and Nazism is a dubious enterprise. It's usually a good idea to maintain a taboo against it because, as "Nazi" and "fascist" became multi-purpose curses in political discourse, such parallels were both ubiquitously drawn and in almost every case entirely inappropriate. We have to be able to learn from the past and when we cheapen the world's experience with fascism by hanging the label on everything we don't like, we're cheating ourselves of the ability to do so.

That's the same reason such parallels shouldn't, as some argue, automatically be taboo. The taboo was created to combat inappropriate use of such comparisons. From that, the best of intentions, one could argue we've often erred in the opposite direction, coming to regard any comparison at all as inherently out-of-line. If overuse of the labels makes it difficult to learn anything from our past, being overly zealous in rejecting any comparison to fascism makes learning anything nearly impossible. The yardstick by which we should measure any such comparison should always be its appropriateness.

With that as preface, "Down With Tyranny" is rather alarmed today:
"Michael Godwin can [shove it]. The Republicans are Nazis... Or do you not see the relation between Sharron Angle's 'Second Amendment remedies,' Joe Miller's private thugs roughing up journalists, Daniel Webster's religious cult calling for the stoning of disobedient women and gays (stoning to death, I might add), Republicans' incessant demands that the Constitution be altered in ways they prefer, Boehner's 'Hell, No' obstructionism to economic salvation for the country, Rich Iott's glorification and emulation of SS death squads, physically violence towards women from top tier GOP candidates like David Rivera and Tom Ganley, and Monday evening's ugly 'altercation,' as Rand Paul put it in defending his fascist supporters, 'between supporters of both sides?' If America votes in the Republicans next week, it's one giant step--perhaps an irreversible one--towards what the German's allowed to happen to them in 1933."
As fascist parallels go, this skirts right along the boundary of appropriate and inappropriate. DWT is obviously mixing up a lot of elements on the right here and overly generalizing. My initial impulse was simply to write it off as over-the-top but there are certain on-the-ground facts (beyond those outlined by DWT) that hinder such an easy dismissal. Not so much related to this election in particular but about various trends in what, today, passes for American conservatism, reactionary trends feeding into if not fascism proper, a strong protofascism. This has been trending for some time now.

Consider what happened during the Bush administration. In George Bush Jr., the U.S. was confronted with a "president" who asserted the power to ignore U.S. law and the constitution at will; to unilaterally suspend fundamental constitutional rights like the free press; to kidnap anyone anywhere in the world, including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and to throw them in a deep, dark hole, with no access to courts, lawyers, any semblance of due process. From there, the victims of this government kidnapping could, the administration asserted, be tortured, shipped off to foreign soil to be tortured, tried in secret kangaroo courts with secret evidence and predetermined outcomes and even murdered in secret. Or, they could just be left down in that deep, dark hole to rot. Forever. Behind closed doors, the administration claimed the "authority" to read our emails, listen in on our phone conversations, dig through our financial records. They openly used "signing statements" to assert that they were immune from literally hundreds of laws passed by the legitimately elected government. Obsessed with secrecy, they made getting any significant information from the government almost impossible while carrying out a program of "cleansing" the key agencies of that same government of elements considered insufficiently "loyal" to Bush. They lied the U.S. into undertaking an imperial project in Iraq that has cost thousands of lives, billions in treasure and resulted in a quagmire from which the U.S. hasn't yet managed to extricate itself and had every intention of doing the same thing in Iran. And that's just for starters.

Bush was certainly no fascist but it's very difficult to look at everything he did and justify too vigorously wagging one's finger at someone who says he detected in that the whif of fascism. Certainly, the historical precedents for what Bush did are to be found primarily in squalid dictatorships.

And what about the larger American right? While Bush was building an embryonic tyranny of monstrous proportions, the conservatives practically worshiped him. Among conservative Republicans, he was probably both the most popular president and the most consistently popular one in the history of polling. As Bush was leaving office in Jan. 2009, his poll numbers among the general public in ruins, the ABC/Washington Post poll asked respondents to offer an overall rating of his administration: A whopping 82% of conservative Republicans rated him a success; 53% "strongly."

There is a strong protofascist current among what passes for conservatives today. The extreme anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-"different" sentiment is a part of it. A recurring example that never ceases to dismay is how even mainstream conservative figures now makes it a matter of furious controversy every time the Obama administration arrests someone as a suspect in a terrorism-related crime rather than simply kidnapping and torturing the fellow without regard for U.S. law or the Constitution. This represents an even closer step toward fascism than Bush encouraged, as his administration boasted of trying hundreds of terror suspects in legitimate courts, without any objection from the larger right. The Republican leader in the Senate describes his parties' primary goal as gaining power. They have the seemingly bottomless support of the money elite. A lot of what "Down With Tyranny" cites today could, indeed, be used to fill out this train of thought.

These are trends that are profoundly disturbing, particularly given the fact that the Obama administration chose to give the Bush gang a pass--no prosecutions or even investigations and, worse, much of what Bush did has either been allowed, by the Obama, to pass into precedent or has been actively defended by the current administration. This leaves in place the lawless governing monster Bush built, still there to be used by whomever may come along, while, at the same time, the Republicans, whatever they are or may become, are, in this theoretical two-party state, always the default beneficiaries of frustration with the majority party.

It may be that DWT's comments today skirt the boundary of appropriate with regard to the use of Nazi parallels. Such parallels are, practically speaking, generally quite unhelpful. He clearly thinks the barbarians are at the gates. It may be that his major error in this is in failing to realize how much progress they've already made.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The single most important thing we want to achieve..."

"They [the Democrats] make these decisions to empower themselves. They make these decisions to empower the government. They are not making decisions in your best interest... they don't even know what your best interest is... they operate full-time, 24/7 based on politics and power."

The words are those of reactionary radio ranter Mark Levin (from 12 Oct., 2010) but it's sentiment one hears so frequently from conservatives on talk radio and on the internet that it has become a cliché. Democrats may make a public show of having other concerns but secretly, they only care about power.

Meanwhile, here's Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the man who would be majority leader of the Senate should Republicans win a majority in the body, publicly outlining the Republicans' goals for National Journal only days ago:

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president. Our single biggest goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

The economy is barely limping along, unemployment is high, the government is running big deficits, Democrats are taking a daily pounding from the right for all of it but this--gaining power--is the Republicans' primary focus, plainly and openly stated, right from the horse's mouth. Or from one of its orifices, anyway.

The Obama has sacrificed his entire administration on the altar of getting along with these creatures and has even said he thinks a big Republican victory may spur the Repubs to "offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way."


Monday, October 25, 2010

Meeting the Mad Half-Way?

Today, "Dradeeus," commenting on a blog over at Niceguy Eddie's great "In My Humble Opinion," wrote about the difficulty of constructive political discourse with what passes for "conservatives" these days:
"You can't debate between your position of what health care should be, budgetary issues, and foreign policy, with people who say 'death panels' and think their taxes are higher than they've ever been, and think Obama is a Kenyan usurper.

"There's no debate there. You can't cross the fields and hope to meet in a no man's land between sane and insane"
It's a familiar point to the three people who read this blog. A significant portion of the "conservative" base in the U.S. has, in blunt language, simply gone insane. They're what I, in the past, have called the Bubble People,", a large portion of the American right that "has increasingly opted to seal itself in what amounts to an alternate universe, and never have any more than superficial commerce with reality."

Today, for example, I open my email and I have yet another fundraising ad from yet another of the many right-wing outfits giving away (in exchange for a donation) a copy of the newest collection of right-wing garbage posing as a book. "The Roots of Obama's Rage," by Dinesh D'Souza.

If one knew absolutely nothing of the book or of the author, the title alone has to make any sane person who follows public affairs stop and scratch his head in complete bewilderment. "Obama's rage"? Obama is probably the most self-controlled, disciplined, least angry national politician in the lifetime of anyone reading these words. What passes for contemporary American political discourse is little more than a collection of professional Perpetually Angry Ranters; the Obama is so non-angry, he seems almost comatose by comparison, yet here's an entire book that begins with the premise that he's filled with rage, then purports to proceed to explain from whence it all came.

If that bewilderment by this theoretical neophyte on first encountering the book borders on incredulity, he'd be deep inside posted land when he got to D'Souza's "theory" that Obama is possessed of anti-colonialist radicalism he genetically inherited from his father. That's what passes for "theory" in what passes for "conservatism" today. Look for D'Souza's book to become a best-seller.

The Bubble People are a serious concern, for anyone who has serious concerns. The obvious problem everyone else has in dealing with such creatures on anything resembling a constructive basis is the one "Dradeeus" outlined in psychological terms: there's simply no possible compromise to be found between sanity and insanity. The insane have absolutely no interest in finding any, and, even if they did, the sane would have to become less sane in order to meet them half-way. The problem of the "conservative" base treating reality itself as entirely optional is one about which every responsible citizen should be concerned. It will continue to plague us for the forseeable future, particularly given the party system in the U.S., which makes the party of the mad the only option for expressing frustration when the other party rules.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Hill Spews Squid's Ink All Over Campaign Money Story

"Mainstream" journalism--that which emanates from what our conservative friends insist is the "liberal media"--has many damnable practices. Its obsessed with trivialities--endless acres of trees die and barrels of ink are wasted on tales of the private lives of celebrities, countless hours of airtime are devoted to so-called "human interest" stories like the current one about the rescue of the Chilean miners (which, with a national congressional election looming, has been the top news story for weeks). Such stories, which don't affect anyone on earth other than those few directly involved, are used to replace hard news about real subjects that really matter and that affect everyone. Then, there's "he said/she said" reporting, wherein news reports only showcase conflicting claims, while making no effort to ascertain the truth behind them. This leaves the news consumer with the (usually false) impression that either claim may be true, and lets him choose what he wants to believe based on his own biases, rather than on facts. Our press also gives us regular doses of false equivalence. This is a con-game wherein Subject A lies like a rug about everything, but, in reporting his lies, the journalist feels the need to "balance" his story by including a lie or two from Subject B, his opponent. Subject B's few, usually minor, sometimes imaginary lies are thus made the equivalent of Subject A's real, massive, ongoing, comprehensive lies, leaving the impression that "they all do it," and that it's all just the same.

Just yesterday, I was writing/ranting about a story that has gotten far too little coverage in the press. This election cycle has seen an unprecedented influx of money being funneled through outside groups, many of which don't publicly disclose the source of these funds. There have been allegations that some of this money may be coming from foreign sources. Whatever the sources, though, it's a matter of inherent (and grave) concern for everyone with any sense of responsible citizenship that there's this historically unprecedented influx of cash from utterly unknown sources aimed at manipulating the outcome of a federal congressional election. It's a documented fact that Republicans are the overwhelming beneficiaries of this secret money this year. In that sense, the story does have a partisan character, but it gets that character because that's who is benefiting from the money, not because some partisan decreed it. Republican elected officials willingly made themselves accomplices to this by standing, as a monolith, against changing the law in such a way as to force these shadowy groups to disclose the source of their funds (as everyone else must do).

As I was writing here yesterday, it has been almost impossible to get the "mainstream" press to cover any of this, and when it has, it's handling of it has often been horrendous. Today offered up another specimen of that sort of horrendous reporting, a textbook example of That Damnable False Equivalence that seemed worthy of showcasing. It comes to us from the Hill, an article by Michael O'Brien and Hayleigh Colombo under the heading "Democrats Have Raised $1 Million From Foreign-Affiliated PACs." If the title doesn't give away the character of the piece, the lead paragraph settles the matter:
"Democratic leaders in the House and Senate criticizing GOP groups for allegedly funneling foreign money into campaign ads have seen their party raise more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies."
They all do it, you see?

Except that, if you read the article, the utter inappropriateness of framing the story in this way becomes immediately apparent:
"The PACS are funded entirely by contributions from U.S. employees of subsidiaries of foreign companies. All of the contributions are made public under Federal Elections Commission rules, and the PACs affiliated with the subsidiaries of foreign corporations are governed by the same rules that American firms' PACs or other PACs would face."
Whoops! It seems these aren't "foreign contributions" at all. They come, instead, from Americans who work in Toyota plants. Unlike with the outside groups, the donors are all publicly identified; unlike with the outside groups, all of the money is openly disclosed; unlike with the outside groups, all of it is subject to finance rules.

In other words, this has absolutely nothing to do with the story of these outside groups and their shadowy benefactors, yet O'Brien and Colombo have chosen to explicitly offer this as a counter to that story. That's how they framed their entire article. They even give a spokesman for American Crossroads--a group backed by Karl Rove that has poured millions into congressional elections without disclosing where a penny of it came from--a platform for an unrebutted rant against Democrats for their "hypocrisy."

The only "story" O'Brien and Colombo really have is that Americans citizens legally donated to legally-constituted PACs that fully disclose those donations, and the PACs then made legal campaign contributions, also fully disclosed.[1] Not that this is unimportant--money given to campaigns in large amounts is always offered as a means of buying influence, and that's never unimportant, and desperately needs much more coverage--but O'Brien and Colombo don't offer it as a story concerned with money in politics. It's structured only as a counter to the story of the outside groups, and, so presented, it has no real reason for even existing, and amounts to nothing more than the journalistic equivalent of squid's ink, something squirted into the water only to muddy it so the squid that has been caught can escape.[2]

That this kind of story isn't at all unusual doesn't render it any less disgraceful.


[1] And, of course, both parties draw from these PACs, with Democrats getting slightly less than twice what Republicans get.

[2] I post, from time to time, over at the conservative site "The Next Right," and the Hill story has already been thrown at me, by one of the conservative posters, as a counter to my rant from yesterday. The comments section of the original story at the Hill site is packed with dozens of similar responses. The article's target audience perfectly understood its purpose.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Is That All You've Got?": That "Liberal Media" & Money, Again

Money in American politics isn't just the most important story in American politics; it's the only one. To quote myself on the point, "U.S. politics are all about money. It overwhelms every other consideration. A lack of understanding of this basic fact precludes any understanding of U.S. politics."

You wouldn't know this from the coverage money gets in much of the "mainstream" corporate press. The stories do get reported from time to time, it's true, but they're inevitably offered in a vacuum, without any proper foundation. It's never a subject covered in the comprehensive fashion that would be necessary to give it the proper context. Given the weight it merits, it would lead the news nearly every night. As it stands, stories of money in politics are treated as man-bites-dog tales, while we get intense, detailed, around-the-clock coverage of things like the rescue of the Chilean miners--"human interest" stories that don't affect anyone beyond those directly involved.

The big Money story at the moment is how Big Money is purchasing the November elections. In the wake of the grotesque Citizens United decision foisted on us, earlier this year, by our Supreme Court, "independent" expenditures in many of the congressional races around the country are actually outpacing the money spent by the candidates themselves. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that
"Business associations, unions and ideological groups have more than doubled their spending on political advertisements and messaging when compared to the entire 2006 federal midterm, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates."
CRP also notes that spending by corporate-sponsored PACs has already more than tripled over the previous mid-term elections.

Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming beneficiaries of this are the Republicans, whose shameless pro-corporate, pro-wealthy, pro-Big-Money politics are offered without the threatening (but empty) populist rhetoric sometimes served up by the Democrats when they're trolling for votes. In the first three weeks of September, Republican-leaning groups outspent Democratic-leaning groups 7-to-1. A week ago, the CRP reported that
"Eight of the top 10 [outside] groups are conservative with one bi-partisan and one liberal group. Since September 1, identifiably conservative groups have spent $25.8 million, liberal groups $5.6 million, and bipartisan or nonpartisan groups $4.1 million."
The Political Correction project of Media Matters For America has documented that only 10 conservative groups have, between Aug. 1st and Oct. 11th, financed an incredible 60,052 attack ads aimed at liberal candidates--almost all Democrats--on behalf of their conservative opponents.

One of the major players in this orgy of spending is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Among other things, it has financed over 8,000 attack ads on behalf of Republican Senate candidates this year, and has promised to spend $75 million against liberal candidates around the country. Earlier this month, a ThinkProgress investigation revealed that the Chamber is financing this operation out of its general fund, a fund which solicits and accepts significant contributions from foreign sources. One would think this would set off some alarms in a press corps that always proves itself an enthusiastic conduit for any xenophobic (and generally baseless) allegation about sinister foreign influence on Democratic politicians, but, when the shoe was on the other foot (or, more to the point, on the other party), the matter actually received no significant coverage until the Obama and his underlings raised this issue. It briefly cracked the news cycle at that point, but only long enough for much of the press to dismiss it as baseless and irrelevant, and to characterize it as a last-minute desperation tactic.

That was certainly the case when CBS's Bob Schieffer asked White House adviser David Axelrod if he had any evidence that the Chamber was using foreign money to finance its campaign activity. Axelrod's reply was, "Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?" Schieffer was unimpressed. "Is that all you've got?"

On the surface, Axelrod's reply sounds rather lame--it's always incumbent upon someone making an allegation to offer evidence of it--but it actually gets to the heart of an important part of the Chamber story, a part Schieffer was sidestepping with his withering retort: the Chamber's fat $75 million wad to attack Democrats has been collected from sources that aren't publicly disclosed. That much money is involved, and the donors are entirely secret. We know foreign sources give to the fund from which the Chamber drew that money. We don't know how much they give. More importantly, we don't know how much anyone has given, or even who has given.

While it's no small matter that China, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign concerns may be using outfits like the Chamber to pour money into U.S. elections, the narrow focus, by the White House, on "foreign" contributions was unfortunate, in that it allowed that much larger point to be missed. Nearly half of all the very Big Money presently being poured, by outside groups, into the elections on behalf of Republicans come from groups that don't even publicly disclose the source of that money.[*] What we have, then, is a mind-bogglingly huge wad of cash, intended to manipulate the outcome of U.S. elections, and we, the public, don't know where a dime of it came from. Politico reports that
"Never in modern political history has there been so much secret money gushing into an American election. By Election Day, independent groups will have aired more than $200 million worth of campaign ads using cash that can't be traced back to its original source."
That's important. No formulation of Responsible Citizenship would allow one to dismiss it.

Responsible Citizenship doesn't guide everyone, though. This summer, before this deluge, a Democratic initiative that would have at least made these groups disclose their donors was blocked when all 41 Republicans in the Senate--who are, of course, the beneficiaries of the current state of things--voted to filibuster it. An effort to revive it last month was similarly killed.

So there you have it. Is that all I've got? I'd say that was quite enough.


[*] By contrast, in the 2006 midterm elections, over 90% of outside groups publicly identified the source of their funds.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tragedy of the Obama: Clueless Barry chapter

Interviewed by Peter Baker of the New York Times, the Obama, in a move that should give birth to serious concerns that the President of the United States may have suffered some catastrophic form of brain death, "said that he expected Republicans to offer him more cooperation after November's elections, no matter the outcome."

Has to be quoted to be believed:

"'It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible, either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them,' Mr. Obama said. 'Or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.'"

Doesn't really need any further comment, does it?


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Lure of Conspiracy

It is said that "a lie can make it half way round the world before the truth has time to put its boots on." Mark Twain is credited with saying it. It's unlikely he ever did. It's attributed to him anyway. That attribution turns up all over the internet, which sort of makes the same point as the original quote. Now, we can forget "half way,"and truth can forget about putting on his boots; these days, lies can be instantly transmitted around the world with the click of a button, and the hope of ever setting them entirely straight is fleeting, at best.

In such an environment, it's no surprise that conspiracy theories flourish. Hillary Clinton murdered Vincent Foster, Bush blew up the World Trade Center, Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and the Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, the Bilderbergs, the Freemasons, and all of those other satanic commie Jewish financiers secretly run the world.

It isn't just the technology that makes this such a pasttime today, though. People are lazy. They don't like to read, certainly not to research. Education levels aren't particularly high. And in the current political climate, reality is being treated, by far too large a segment of the population--mostly, it must be said, the conservative segment--as entirely optional.

These temporal factors exacerbate the problem, but even without them, conspiracy theories have always served some very basic human needs. They give a short, simple explanation for what are, in reality, remarkably complex problems, and they impose stability--a comforting order on a world that, in reality, doesn’t have any. Even when that "order" is something really awful, like a sinister cabal of financiers secretly running the world, people still find it comforting that it exists. People have a hunger for these things. It’s why we have everything from religion to the "9/11 Truther" movement.

A lot of conspiracism begins with a strong grain of truth. It is, for example, a fact that the War On Terrorism [tm] was minted as an ideology to act as a means of getting certain things done that couldn’t be done in its absence. It was used as a means of establishing and maintaining very backwards, reactionary policies which those in power had wanted all along, without regard for the publicly-offered post-9/11 rationale for them. It was used to repress the more enlightened elements, which, of course, dissent from it. The Bush administration used it to drag the U.S. down the ugly road toward fascism, a road on which it is still frustratingly stranded. A “9/11 Truther” sees–or, at least, senses–these things, but rather than following the thread to where it really leads, he becomes lost in irrational speculation, and decides that, since the War On Terrorism [tm] was such a useful weapon for the far right, the whole thing must have been engineered by them, and suddenly you have the insistence that Bush and his thugs were behind the terrorist attacks, and actually dynamited the World Trade Center themselves, with "evidence" manufactured to support the "theory."

Similarly, elements of the current very, very bad recession–the Great Recession?–are being prolonged by elements of, broadly speaking, Big Money. While the public is suffering, U.S. non-financial corporations are, at present, sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash, refusing to hire or use that money in any constructive way. The financial sector is sitting on an even bigger fortune. And, as was just revealed, the recession--on paper--ended last summer. This leads to speculation that, for example, this is happening because those with all the money and power are angling for a change in government in November. This isn’t unwarranted speculation–the oil suppliers, which are heavily invested in the Republican party, have done this very thing for years, and are doing it this year. The conspiracist absorbs these facts, but doesn’t really try to understand what’s actually going on, choosing, instead, to imagine backroom plots, rather than spontaneous action driven by mutual greed, and some take it even further by writing off the entire recession as some sort of manufactured thing (because it’s allowing the Big Money villains to get their way).

The prevalence of conspiracism is quite unfortunate. A mind is like a computer: garbage in will equal garbage out, and a mind really is a terrible thing to waste. Beyond the level of personal tragedy, though, it's also a loss for society. It utterly wastes energy that could otherwise be constructively used, harnessing that which could help foment constructive change and sending it, instead, careening down blind alleys that lead nowhere. There’s enough real evil out there, and it really does need to be fought. In such a fight, every warm body helps, and the more that are lost to conspiracism, the fewer there are to do what really needs to be done.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Buck That

David Michael Green has written a fantastic piece over at Common Dreams today; "Bucking Up For Barry." It's a compact, harsh little polemic that, with a few words, makes for a solid corrective to the stream of garbage that's recently been publicly pouring forth from several administration figures with regard to the alleged irrationality of liberal discontent with the Obama and the Democrats.

Having, from the beginning, almost entirely locked out the liberals and having then run the whole of his administration in a manner that, a few short years ago, would have been uncontroversially characterized as conservative Republican, the Obama is shocked--SHOCKED--to discover that, with congressional elections looming, the liberals are uninterested in turning up to vote for his party.

Vice President Joe Biden identifies the discontented liberal base as those who "didn't get everything they wanted" out of the administration, and this characterization--that liberal critics are just whiney ideological purists who can't have everything their way--has become popular among administration apologists. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the liberals will only "be satisfied when we have Canadian health-care and we've eliminated the Pentagon."

To write this off as mere caricature would be to falsely suggest there was any nugget of truth in it at all (a necessary element for an effective caricature). To state the obvious, the disaffected liberals aren't made up of fanatical ideologues who refuse to get with the program because they only got 90% or 95% or some other high figure of less than 100% of what they wanted. It isn't that, with a Democratic president and Democratic supermajorities in both houses, they only got 50% of what they wanted, either. The reason liberals are becoming alienated from this administration and are increasingly uninterested in voting for the Democrats this year is because they've gotten practically nothing from this administration or the huge Democratic majorities in congress.

Well, that "nothing" isn't exactly true. It is true they got nothing when it came to constructing the administration, and it's true they got nothing when it came to this administrations' policies, from health care (where Obama adopted Republican Mitt Romney's corporate welfare bill as his "reform") to the stimulus (pathetically small, and a thing for which Republicans took credit), to financial reform (more of the same).

The liberals did get something from this administration, though.

They got its contempt.

On every major issue, the Obama not only gives in to the Republicans without a fight; he has usually adopted their policies as his own. He won't fight with the Republicans over anything, but he's more than happy to pick a fight with the Democratic die-hards who make up his base of support. The open contempt they've been getting lately from the likes of Gibbs and Biden mirrors the contempt they've been getting all along.

Those of the larger left in the U.S. are in constant disagreement with one another. They've never had the Republicans' reflex of mindlessly lockstepping the goosestep, but the potentially good news for the Democrats--and bad news for the U.S.--is that most of the liberals have shown themselves to be gluttons for punishment. Usually, one need only raise the specter of how much worse it would undeniably be should the other side regain power (particularly true this year, given the current proto-fascist Repub party), and far too many of the liberals are content to shout "thank you sir, may I have another?" A willingness to stupidly tough it out for no discernible gain, however, doesn't necessarily translate into a willingness to show up at the polls in any significant number, which is what the Democrats now need. This year, even what many consider the strongest (and what is, in fact, the most shopworn) of Democratic arguments for holding one's nose and voting Democratic--imagine what the courts will look like if the Repubs win--can't hold any water after the Sotomayor and Kagan atrocities.

The other reason the Democrats should have some hope is, of course, the Republicans, who, in an election year tailor-made for a strong showing by their party, seem far too often determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In state after state, they've chosen to reject winning candidates and nominate, instead, a seemingly endless string of unelectable flakes, fruit-cakes, and fascist idiots whose every pronouncement alienates everyone who isn't completely insane or a complete imbecile.

It's also a fact that Republican strength this year has, in all the Conventional Wisdom with which we're forever besieged in the era of the 24-hour cable news network, been grossly overstated. The teabaggers may make lots of noise and suck up an absurdly disproportionate amount of press coverage and commentary as a consequence of all that very Big Money behind them, but there isn't even a hint of any sort of groundswell of public support for the policies or candidates they're pimping. Even the more "mainstream" parties' "Pledge to America"--an attempt to retread the 1994 Contract on America--went public with a thud, and, only days later, already seems to have been forgotten. A rainy election day in November would benefit Republicans more than all the teabaggers and Pledges combined.

The most basic thing that is to their benefit is the simple fact that they're the major opposition party. In a two-party state (one that usually more closely resembles a one-party state), the Repubs are, by default, considered the only credible option for expressing frustration at the polls. And people are very dissatisfied with the Democrats this year.

The current crop of Republicans in power would be a horror-show, no doubt, but, as Green points out, the current Democrats in power have also been one. "None of the Above" seems a principled stand to take this year. The same can't be said for voting for either of the major parties.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Lousy Teabagger Poll

Alas, we have yet another poll purporting to survey the Tea Party "movement" that, in reality, does no such thing.

Gallup, its source, is a repeat offender on this matter. Its pollsters went down this same road back in March. It's a much-traveled road that leads only to a dead end, yet Gallup and every other major polling organization that has purported to survey the teabagger "movement" has insisted on this same trip to nowhere.

The critical flaw in all of this polling is that all of it is based on samples that don't reflect the actual "movement." This time around, Gallup's pollsters determined their sample by asking respondents if they were "Tea Party supporters." Back in March, they'd asked people if they were "supporters of the Tea Party movement." Pollsters have used variations on this wording to build their samples every time they've set out to survey the teabaggers.

Back in April, I outlined the many reasons why this is a problem, one that renders nearly all of the polling on this matter worthless. If you want to survey the opinions of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you would build your sample by asking respondents if they, in fact, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If, instead, you asked respondents if they were "supporters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," it's obvious that the resulting sample is going to be much larger, and the results of the questions asked of that sample will not be representative of the views of the actual Bucs. Why this logic has so doggedly escaped the allegedly professional pollsters who have made such a show of surveying the teabaggers is becoming an enduring mystery.

When Gallup asked for "Tea Party supporters," they got yet another ludicrously high number: 30% of the population. The biggest sample yet. If those at Gallup hadn't given any thought to their methodology before, that result alone should have given them serious pause, as the teabagger "movement" has never shown itself to have anything even remotely approximating those kind of numbers. Obviously, a huge chunk of that sample is made up of people identifying themselves with the "movement" who, in fact, aren't a part of it in any meaningful way, yet they're the ones being surveyed, the data they provide that which is being presented as representative of the "movement."

As I noted at the time, CBS News--seemingly inadvertently--identified this problem in one of the teabagger polls conducted in April, but utterly failed to understand its significance:

"More than three in four Tea Party supporters (78 percent) have never attended a rally or donated to a group; most have also not visited a Tea Party Web site."

In other words, they aren't a part of the Tea Party "movement" at all. Of those who identified themselves as "Tea Party supporters" in that CBS survey, only 20% said they'd actually given money to a Tea Party org and/or attended a Tea Party event. That equals 4% of the general public. That's a number that's also wildly inflated, but it's a lot closer to reality than 30%. But it's the demographics and views of that larger sample that is being persistently surveyed by pollsters and presented as representative of the "movement."

In reality, the "movement" is exactly as I described it back in April; "an astroturf project, a tiny group of more-angry-than-thoughtful conservatives whipped into a persistent lather by a well-financed campaign of misinformation and sent into the street to provide the appearance of a mass movement." If it really commanded the allegiance of 30% of the population--or of even half that--it would be able (depending on dispersion) to dictate, at will, the outcome of the ongoing Republican primaries across the country. In reality, this year's teabagger candidates have been noteworthy primarily for their inability to unseat Republican incumbents in open elections. Even in a teabagger stronghold like Texas, incumbents managed a complete shut-out against them. In contested primaries without a party incumbent in the mix, the teabagger candidates who have succeeded--Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharon Angle in Nevada, etc.--have quickly become national embarrassments, as the spotlight falls on their nutty, fringe views.

One could make the argument that the teabaggers are of so little consequence that it doesn't really matter that we have so little real polling, and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that reasoning, but this polling that so radically inflates their numbers plays their astroturf game of making them look like a great deal more than what they are, and to the extent that it's believed, that can only have a negative effect on our politics.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

"War On Terror" [tm], justice, & a Justice

If a tree falls in the forest, with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Similarly, if a news story breaks and goes almost entirely unreported, is it a news story? There was news in the case of Maher Arar on Wednesday. That nearly everyone reading these words will respond with a puzzled look--"Who?"--is yet another testament to the effectiveness of the corporate press in the U.S.. Arar's is a great story, mind you, but what should have been his 15 minutes of fame was a consequence of his being one of the victims of the Bush administration's "War On Terror"[tm], and stories like that don't make the news in the U.S.. As it so happens, there's a synchronicitous confluence between it and the thing that is presently making the news in the U.S., the Obama pimping his despicable Supreme Court nominee around the Senate.

But I'll get to that in a moment.

First, some background:

Arar was a Canadian engineer and small businessman who, in 2002, was flying home to Montreal from a family vacation in Tunisia and made the big mistake of having a name like "Maher Arar" while switching flights in New York during the Bush administration. He was promptly kidnapped by the administration, thrown in a hole for two weeks and without any access to a lawyer or any other basic element of due process, interrogated about his being a member of al Qaida. He wasn't a member of al Qaida but because--follow this--he once worked with the brother of a man who was suspected of having ties to people in al Qaida, his protestations on this point weren't accepted by his persecutors and he was packed up and spirited away to Syria.

The Bush administration falsely claimed this wasn't an example of its "extraordinary rendition" game, whereby suspected terrorists are shipped off to foreign soil to be tortured, and that it was instead a "deportation." Arar wasn't a Syrian though. While he'd been born there, he'd fled from there as a teenager and never returned--he'd been a Canadian resident for 15 years, and a Canadian citizen for 11 yet his entreaties that he be sent to Canada--the destination of any legitimate deportation--were ignored. He was, instead, delivered, by the administration, to Syrian authorities in Jordan, who blindfolded and shackled him and hauled him across the border to a 3-feet-wide rat-infested cell without light which became his "home" for nearly a year, during which time he was repeatedly tortured. His torturers demanded answers to the same questions he'd been asked after being kidnapped by the Bush administration. He broke quickly and "confessed" to whatever they wanted in order to make the torture stop but apparently nothing he said panned out--after 10 months, the Syrians released him with the declaration that they could find no links to terrorism.

Arar returned to Canada and after some recuperation, began looking into legal action against the Bush regime and the government of Canada (which had collaborated with it). In Canada--quite a contrast to the non-story it has been in the U.S.--the matter became a national scandal and eventually the subject of an official commission of inquiry. The commission unequivocally concluded that there was no evidence linking Arar to terrorism and the Prime Minister issued a formal apology to Arar on behalf of the Canadian government, accompanied by a $10.5 million settlement. Mountie Commissioner Giuliani Zaccardelli was forced to resign his post over the matter.

In the U.S., Arar's suit against the Bush gang--virtually unreported at any stage of the affair--was initially thrown out after the administration invoked the damnable "states secrets privilege" (which the court should gut instead of using it as a premise for throwing out such suits). Arar appealed and the case was thrown out again. With the government he's suing now being administered by the Obama administration, Arar has taken the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead of prosecuting the crimes of the Bush administration (or merely settling the case), the Obama has done what he's virtually always done when one of these matters has been raised; he's adopted the sins of that administration as his own.[1] His administration has kept Arar and his family on the U.S. terrorism "watchlist" and on Wednesday, the administration filed, with the Supreme Court, papers asking them to reject Arar's appeal.

That's the same Supreme Court on which the Obama wants to place the horrid Elena Kagan. Should Kagan be confirmed and the court decide to allow the case to proceed, Kagan, who has endorsed the premise of Bush's "War On Terror"[tm] and has publicly supported the administration's kidnapping policies, will ultimately be one of the justices sitting beside John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence "Uncle" Thomas, and Samuel Alito hearing it.

Seems a bit more substantial a matter than the Kagan sit-down photo-ops with Senators presently consuming the news, doesn't it?



[1] As my persistent readers will recognize, this is one of the things ye humble editor most feared; that the abuses of the Bush administration would be defended, instead of rebuked, thus passing into precedent as acceptable.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kagan For The Court? Obama Screws Us Again

"'Why do the conservatives always get the conservatives, but we don't get to get the liberals?' Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, asked the Website Politico recently, voicing the frustration of the left when Ms. Kagan was considered a front-runner but was not yet Mr. Obama's selection. 'What the hell is that all about?'"
--New York Times

"This is not 'change I can believe in.' This is more like 'shit I can't believe.'"
--Nice Guy Eddie, In My Humble Opinion, on the Kagan nomination

"Of the many responsibilities granted to a President by our Constitution, few are more serious or more consequential than selecting a Supreme Court justice."

This last--and quite true--comment was uttered almost exactly a year ago by Barack Obama, when he had his first opportunity to name a new Supreme Court justice.

He fucked the liberals who put him in office back then, and, instead of any sort of bold liberal choice for a court from which anything even vaguely progressive had been in danger of extinction for years, he chose another righty to replace the retiring one. The argument, then, was that Sonia Sotomayor was a uniter, not a divider, someone who could build coalitions by convincing waffling conservatives to moderate. She had voted with Republican appointees in nearly every case, and the White House actually pointed to that as if it was some sort of argument for putting her on the court.

Quite a contrast with Obama's Republican predecessor. Junior Bush didn't offer "moderates," or toy around with pointless idiocies like trying to find someone who could build coalitions--he picked reliably hardcore reactionary ideologues who joined with the other reactionaries on the court to form a lockstep voting block that has done incalculable damage to the United States, and, with rulings like Citizens United, threatens to undermine the very fabric of the republic. When Bush initially chose Harriet Miers, whose sole qualification for the position was that she'd been one of his longtime coterie of sycophantish underlings, those on the right rebelled against her lack of a paper trail to show that she'd be reliably reactionary, and the stink they raised led Bush to withdraw her in favor of a better-established extremist.

That history needs to repeat itself now, because, with a new justice to pick, the Obama has chosen to fuck us again. Even harder, this time. Out of a roster of floated names that included some very solid candidates, Obama has chosen the absolute worst of the batch--his own Solicitor General, Elena Kagan--to fill the vacancy left by departing Justice John Paul Stevens.

Stevens was one of only two liberals on the current court, and, though not a down-the-line liberal vote, was, by far, the most liberal. To replace him, Obama has chosen a woman who is strong on corporate "free speech," but doesn't seem to have much regard for human free speech, and who has enthusiastically endorsed the nonsensical legal framework of Bush's War On Terror [tm], including the assumption, by the president, of illegal, unconstitutional, and fascistic kidnapping "powers." Quite a contrast to Stevens, who has been, among other things, a free speech advocate, corporate "speech" opponent, and a solid rock in opposition to Bush's sweeping, extra-legal claims of executive power, most of which have continued over into the Obama administration.

Faced with a court that tacks so sharply to the hard right that it's actually becoming a threat to the nation, Obama is attempting, through this nomination, to move the court even more to the right.

Did the public elect a Democratic president and an overwhelmingly Democratic Senate for THIS? Obama could appoint anyone he wanted, the Democrats could confirm anyone he appointed, and this is what he chooses to do?

In pimping Kagan, Obama, his underlings, and mouthpieces are using the same damn argument they did for Sotomayor; that she will be a "persuader," someone who can build "coalitions," and who can drag Justice Kennedy away from the reactionary block. Elements of the Obama-ass-kissing segment of the blogosphere have picked up on it, as well. I, for one, and really sick of this Mayberry-Machiavellian bullshit "argument." You people wanted your damn "persuader" last time, and we got another goddamn conservative who hasn't "persuaded" anyone of anything (except persuading me that I was right about her all along). What is needed, now, is to take a page out of the conservatives' handbook and get a solid liberal vote for the court. The righties usually win because they don't sit around playing these stupid games about "who can best persuade Kennedy" (who may drop dead tomorrow, for all any of us know)? They pick hardcore reactionary ideologues. And now, Obama is poised to deliver to them their fifth (and sometimes sixth) vote on the most important issues the court will be facing for the foreseeable future.

It is, in my view, imperative that this creature NOT be placed on the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservatives aren't going to stop it--they're already ranting about Kagan the socialist, radical, blah, blah, blah; all the usual bullshit, whatever makes her nomination an organizational flashpoint and fundraising bonanza for their party. If it's to be stopped, it has to be us. The liberals. What needs to happen, now, is a full-scale uprising on the left, a repeat of the right's outrage over Harriet Miers, with a goal of the same ultimate result. In common parlance, the Obama needs a political smackdown laid on his sorry ass over this.

Not that he'll get one. But when even so normally sycophantish an Obamabot as Niceguy Eddie is with me on this, perhaps there's hope after all.

So go forth, my readers! All three of you! Raise hell for breakfast.

Or at least bitch about it a lot.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Homicidal Right (Updated below)

I sometimes post over at NextRight, a would-be reformist conservative site that mostly just ends up being a part of the omnipresent--and unreformed--American conservative megaphone. The least useful regular among the bloggers there is a reactionary fruit-loop named Skip MacLure, who, on a daily basis, wastes some little portion of the site's bandwidth parroting the lies, libels, and lunacy of that unmedicated element of the American far right that amusingly considers itself "mainstream." He's ground out a new post, "Billy Jeff 1992 Redux" that makes a show of taking offense at former President Bill Clinton's suggestion that the rhetoric of the far right feeds dangerous armed reactionary movements like the Hutaree militia. MacLure:
All that’s missing is Janet Reno and an FBI sniper with a penchant for pregnant women. In 1992 the militia phenomenon was growing in reaction to Bill Clinton’s Presidency.
The sniper reference is to the the FBI standoff with white supremacist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992. Bill Clinton's presidency didn't yet exist in 1992, nor did Janet Reno's stewardship of the Justice Department.

They'd only just started, in fact, when the 1993 siege of the David Koresh cult's compound in Waco, Texas occurred. It had already been underway for weeks before Reno became Attorney General. MacLure describes that siege as a "massive abuse of power and misuse of the law," adopting, outright, the insane characterization of it offered by the insane militia fascists, then, with no apparent sense of irony, complains that Clinton, during his administration, supposedly found it so easy "to lump Conservatives together with the militias and paint us all with that brush the left loves to use."

If one wants to avoid being lumped in with crazed fascists, it's a good idea not to parrot the bullshit of said crazed fascists. At Waco, there was a doomsday cult led by a madman, the lot of them so batshit crazy that they eventually burned themselves alive, women, children, and all. They were manufacturing and stockpiling a massive and completely illegal arsenal of grenades, explosives, machine guns. No responsible government charged with protecting the public could allow something like that to go unchecked; the very suggestion that it should aligns MacLure with the crazies, who, unsurprisingly, say the same thing about the incident as MacLure. They spent years saying it, in fact. Waco became a rallying point for reactionary loons with guns. A pair of them--Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols--were so outraged by the "massive abuse of power and misuse of the law" that they decided to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma and murder hundreds. They chose the anniversary of the end of the Waco siege as the date to set off their bomb.

These kind of armed reactionaries aren't, in the abstract, the fault of the conservatives. Every political movement will have some small faction of crackpots. The conservatives do bear a great deal of blame for them, though. Nearly the entirety of the American right checked out on legitimate political discourse a few decades ago. The conservatives' decision to refuse to acknowledge the existence of legitimate differences of opinion and to, instead, portray their political rivals as subhuman monsters who want to destroy America (and anything those rivals do as being in pursuit of that goal) created the environment that both built and maintained the armed reactionary movements. When the right was in power, during the Bush administration, the fascists were running the governments, and as Bush's popularity on the right soared, these movements withered to nearly nothing. Now--what a surprise--they're on the rise again.

And what was the conservative response when, early in the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security presciently warned about a potential upsurge in right-wing extremism? To denounce the administration for bashing conservatives and portraying them as a threat. To align themselves, yet again, with the insane reactionaries.

America's prominent conservative figures today do things like tell the public the President is a Muslim, a fellow who isn't even an American citizen, a man who is trying to institute Bolshevism in the U.S., and who pushes for government panels aimed at killing the elderly and the infirm, and even when their followers take their apocalyptic rhetoric seriously and begin threatening the lives of those in government, committing vandalism, adopting intimidation tactics, they choose to amp up the rhetoric, rather than dialing it down, and accuse the victims of overplaying and even outright manufacturing the incidents for political gain. Everyone can see where this is leading, and the conservatives just keep driving it in that direction.

To put the matter bluntly, American conservatism needs to get its shit together in a major way. Its present course is homicidal.



UPDATE (19 April, 2010) -- A gaggle of gun-nuts chose this, of all days, to gather in and around Washington D.C. to demonstrate against federal gun control efforts. The astute follower of American politics, reading that, will no doubt immediately ask, "what gun control efforts?" The momentum, in the states, is directed toward undoing past state-level gun control measures (over half the states having done so in the last two years), the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a strict D.C. gun ban on 2nd Amendment grounds, and there hasn't been a single serious federal gun control effort in 13 or 14 years. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama declared "gun control" to be, in effect, a dead issue, and, in fact, participants in the rally held, today, in a pair of parks in Virginia were able to openly carry firearms because of a law signed by Obama, yet 50 or 60 demonstrators, most of them armed, gathered there to protest for a right no one seems to be doing anything to even try to take away. There was a much larger unarmed rally of the same character at the Washington monument in D.C.

Ye humble editor is an opponent of gun control measures--given the power, I'd erase most of them from the books, which sometimes puts me at odds with my fellow liberals. It's been my observation that gun control is more of a city/country issue than liberal/conservative--urbanites of whatever political stripe tend to be the main backbone of its support. I'm a country boy, though. When I say "gun nuts," that's not to be interpreted as a shot at supporters of the right to keep and bear arms. It's aimed at a particular sub-culture who are so disconnected from reality on this issue that, even while they win at every turn, they see themselves as so persecuted that they feel compelled to organize and show up at events like those today (which were, admittedly, tiny). Not that there's any harm in this sort of demonstration. It's just that there's absolutely no reason for it. Far more disturbing (and certainly marking them as even nuttier) is the fact that they chose today to hold it, the 17th anniversary of the end of the Waco standoff, and the 15th anniversary of the OK City bombing by a pair of crazed reactionaries angry over it. Organizers insist they chose the date not because of any of those things, but because it was the anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world" that launched the American Revolution.

Of course they did.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Boiling Shoddy Teabagger Polling (Update Below)

To put the matter bluntly, the polling on the teabagger "movement" is a complete mess.

The demographics and the views of the "movement" have been the subjects of a number of surveys so far this year. In late February, there was a report from the Winston Group (a Republican firm), followed, in March, by the USA Today/Gallup poll and the Quinnipiac poll. A CBS News/New York Times poll out this week raised the issue again, and has provoked new conversation on the matter. The general consensus of the polling is that the "movement" is, from a demographic standpoint, not that different from America, while its views are often a good deal more conservative than those of the public.

The problem, underscored by a so-far-entirely-overlooked portion of the newest poll, is that none of these have actually surveyed the teabagger "movement."

They've purported to do so, of course, and the findings have been used by commentators of all political stripes as a basis for analysis of that "movement." I've even used them myself in a few postings to various boards. A closer look at the accumulated data, however, suggests that nearly all of it is essentially worthless insofar as providing a portrait of the actual "movement" is concerned.

Here's why: None of the pollsters bother to use a proper working definition of a member of the "movement." It seems like an obvious first step, if you want to survey those involved. What does it mean to be a part of it? What defines a "Tea Partier?" Obvious though this may be, no one sets any reasonable guidelines, and without them, it's impossible to get meaningful results--all one gets is garbage.

Here's how each of the pollsters who have worked the question went about establishing their sample: Quinnipiac asks respondents if they are "part of the Tea Party movement," without further elaboration. This is the same wording reported by the Winston Group. Their results were, respectively, 13% and 17%. USA Today/Gallup settled the matter by asking if respondents considered themselves "supporters of the Tea Party movement," wording that ropes in a potentially much broader group of people, and they get a much broader answer; 28% so identify themselves. The CBS News/New York Times poll picked their representative group by asking respondents if they were "Tea Party supporters," the same sort of broader wording, but this time, it drew a much narrower response; 18% so identified themselves.

All of the reported information on the demographics and views of the "movement" were derived from these samples. Even the smallest of them, though--13% from Quinnipiac, nearly 1 in every 8 Americans--is obviously wildly inflated (and the largest--28%--ludicrous). The teabagger "movement" has never demonstrated anything remotely approximating that sort of muscle.

In other words, a lot of people are clearly identifying themselves with the "movement" who aren't a part of it in any meaningful way, and it's information on their views and demographics, rather than those of the actual teabaggers, that is reflected in the polls that use them as a sample.

Part of this identification problem is no doubt a consequence of the continuing fall-out from the disintegration of the Republican party in 2008. As this hit rock-bottom last year, large numbers of Republicans had stopped calling themselves "Republicans"--identification with the party hit its lowest point in the history of polling. Those people didn't disappear from the face of the earth. They just started calling themselves "independents." The ranks of the "independents" swelled, and, in last year's elections, all the talk was about how "independents" had suddenly shifted rightward in their politics. They hadn't. There were just a lot of Republicans who'd taken to calling themselves "independents."

Like "independent," the "Tea Party" label has, to an extent, become a substitute for "Republican" by Republicans who don't like to call themselves that at the moment.

The actual teabagger "movement" is, as it has always been, an astroturf project, a tiny group of more-angry-than-thoughtful conservatives whipped into a persistent lather by a well-financed campaign of misinformation and sent into the street to provide the appearance of a mass movement. The wildly inflated numbers are both a part of this project's goal, and a mark of its success.

A part of the new CBS News/New York Times poll that has received no notice gets to the heart of the matter: Of those who identified themselves as "Tea Party supporters," only 20% said they'd actually given money to a Tea Party org or attended a Tea Party event, or both. That equals 4% of the general public (a number that is almost certainly also wildly inflated, but I'll set that aside for now). This wording has to be quoted to be believed: "More than three in four Tea Party supporters (78 percent) have never attended a rally or donated to a group; most have also not visited a Tea Party Web site."

In other words, they aren't a part of the Tea Party "movement" at all. Their "participation" amounts to something like nodding their heads in agreement when some Fox News host praises the teabaggers.

The poll had another noteworthy element: it asked some questions of that small group who were actual teabaggers, somewhat cluelessly identifying them as "Tea Party activists," to differentiate them from "Tea Party supporters." Unfortunately, the pollsters treated the entire exercise as if it was a sidebar. In a move that gives new meaning to "missing the forest for the trees," their questions of the "activists" were only aimed at providing a contrast to the "supporters" who were the central focus. Actual teabaggers, the questions reveal, are angrier and gloomier than the already-angry-and-gloomy "supporters," they think even more highly of cretinous clowns like Sarah Palin and Glenn Back, even more of them think the taxes they pay are "unfair," and even more of them get most of their political information from Fox News.

It seems incredible that, after all this time and all the noise the teabaggers have made, this slim set of facts appears to represents the first real polling data we've gotten on those who comprise the actual "movement." It includes no demographic information, precious little systematic documentation of the teabaggers' views, and is nothing more than a sidebar to the farcical sideshow that is the larger poll. The larger poll that gets the headlines, the one that is mischaracterized as a snapshot of the "movement." Pollsters need to seriously work on improving the shoddy product they've been offering on this matter, and commentators need to stop presenting the teabagger "movement" as accurately represented by it.



UPDATE: The teabaggers invent and circulate wildly inflated attendance figures for every major teabagger event. This is standard operating procedure for astroturf, where, again, the goal is to present the appearance of a much larger movement than exists. Wednesday's "big" rally in Boston, at which Sarah Palin appeared, drew somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people. As Eric Boehlert wrote, over at Media Matters, "the Boston metro has a population of about 5 million people. And there may have been some high school football games played in Massachusetts last year that attracted a bigger crowd than Palin's rally." The organizers of the event promptly took the high-end estimate and doubled it, claiming there were 10,000 attendees, and the right-wing blogosphere and talk radio has further inflated it to 13,000-16,000 attendees. Not really directly relevant to the question of polling, but par for the course, when it comes to teabaggers.