Sunday, March 31, 2013

Not Going Gently

Steve M. of No More Mister Nice blog finds that Dr. Ben Carson, who excoriated "the PC police" as he flogged right wing themes at the National Prayer Breakfast, has gone on a national apology tour.  He notes the irony and adds

right-wing strategists also worry that the party is perceived as homophobic. So they don't want their new star having a genuinely anti-PC response to the current controversy: Hey, I said what I said. If you don't like it, tough. The party and the right don't want a new provocateur -- a new Ann Coulter or Steve King. They want someone who can thread the needle, delivering the right-wing boilerplate while appealing to swing voters. So he has to deliver nice wingnuttery.

If his apology isn't being orchestrated by either the GOP or Fox (Fox being a possible next employer after his retirement from Johns Hopkins, which is coming up shortly), then, at the very least, he's figured out that he'd better make this embarrassment go away if he wants continued access to the starmaker machinery.

Carrying the torch for corporations and the wealthy is de rigeur for Republicans, but putting the words gay, NAMBLA, and bestiality into the same sentence is just so 2012.  Carson had to back off. We cannot be sure whether the strategic retreat from his extremist remarks were his own idea. And, as SM notes, is it not

clear who engineered his move into the spotlight -- was it all the doctor's idea, or has he been consulting from the very beginning with Fox News, the Republican Party, or both? Whose idea was it for him to get in the president's face at the Prayer Breakfast, with calls for a flat tax and harsh words for Obamacare?

According to Wikipedia, the annual National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the United States Congress but organized "on their behalf" by The Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family, a group to which, oddly and disturbingly, Hillary Clinton once belonged.

Doug Coe, head of The Fellowhip, will argue that the group, to which several members of the United States Congress belong (and whose founder began the event) is dedicated to love of Jesus Christ.   It is, however, justifiably criticized by some Christian groups, who recognize it as sort of Christian Lite, and it bears curious similarities to a cult.  Coe himself has warned “The more you can make your organization invisible, the more influence it will have."

Started as a response to the New Deal, it is also right-wing politically.  We learn from Wikipedia that journalist Jeff Sharlet  

did intensive research in the Fellowship's archives, before they were closed to the public. He also spent a month in 2002 living in a Fellowship house near Washington, and wrote a magazine article describing his experiences. In his 2008 book about the Family, he criticized their theology as an "elite fundamentalism" that fetishizes political power and wealth, consistently opposes labor movements in the US and abroad, and teaches that laissez-faire economic policy is "God's will." He criticized their theology of instant forgiveness for powerful men as providing a convenient excuse for elites who commit misdeeds or crimes, allowing them to avoid accepting responsibility or accountability for their actions.

Dr. Carson's invitation to speak at the 2013 edition of the National Prayer Breakfast was not part of a conspiracy, nor was he an insidious plant by The Fellowship.  But the organization knew what it was getting in him, a respectable promoter for corporate American and a Christian enthusiast who is not threatening (at least until he started talking about the gay community).  At the Breakfast, for instance, Carson misleadingly argued

we’ve reached the point where people are afraid to actually talk about what they want to say because somebody might be offended. People are afraid to say Merry Christmas at Christmas time. Doesn’t matter whether the person you’re talking to is Jewish or, you know, whether they’re any religion. That’s a salutation, a greeting of goodwill. We’ve got to get over this sensitivity. You know, and it keeps people from saying what they really believe.

Dr. Carson might have understood that saying "Merry Christmas" to a non-Christian can be offensive.  Or he might have applauded the non-Christians who have learned to adjust because they realize some people say "Merry Christmas" merely out of habit. A philosophically coherent conservatism might have yielded enlightening debate.  Instead- as The Family would heartily approve- he contended that "Merry Christmas" is merely "a salutation, a greeting of goodwill."

But "Merry Christmas" is not a part of any Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist tradition nor of any religion, save Christian.  To suggest otherwise is to promote an empty Christianity and is thoroughly disingenuous.  And to suggest that a reluctance to issue that greeting arises spontaneously from an intimidated populace is reprehensible, given that the retail sector has led the secular charge Carson appears offended by.  He has learned the Republican's 12th Commandment:  Thou must never criticize the private sector.

Whether Dr. Benjamin Solomon runs for political office, is picked up by Fox News, or chooses some other forum to advance his cause, this is one man, as Steve M. recognizes, who is not going to slide into obscurity.

                                                      HAPPY EASTER

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Privilege, Not A Right

At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 3, President Obama was in character- not only his, but that of the annual Prayer Breakfast- throughout his speech.  Typical was his statement

In a democracy as big and as diverse as ours, we will encounter every opinion.  And our task as citizens -- whether we are leaders in government or business or spreading the word -- is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds; to seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view and to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action.  And we have to do that humbly, for no one can know the full and encompassing mind of God.  And we have to do it every day, not just at a prayer breakfast. 

Considering the source, it's pretty much what you would expect out of the event, as well as characteristic of a bipartisan approach that sees value in the opinions of all sides, especially those which want to take the President down.

Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, took a different approach. He took a (justified) swipe at the veneration of sports over academics in the culture. But he also promoted several conservative values, including health care vouchers, a flat tax, disdain for what it misinterprets as "pc" (political correctness), and an obsession with the deficit.

A 7th Day Adventist, Carson also has criticized evolution in the past.  Nonetheless, he was selected as commencement speaker at Hopkins' School of Medicine.  Recently, he vociferously criticized same-sex marriage, and a in letter posted on the Health and Human Rights Student Group page, the School is asked to "select an alternative speaker that better represents the values of our student body and of our great University" because

On March 26, on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, Dr. Carson compared gay relationships with pedophilia and bestiality: “Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition. “

On February 7, Dr. Carson used the National Prayer Breakfast speech— which, like our commencement ceremony, is an historically nonpartisan event — to deride Obamacare, advocate lower taxes for the wealthy, and suggest that Christianity requires supporting Republican policies.

Dr. Carson has also used his platform as a famous neurosurgeon to promote the rejection of evolution: “Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory,” he said, in a statement that would apply to the majority of students and faculty at Johns Hopkins, “you dismiss ethics, you don’t have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires.” This belief of Dr. Carson’s was unknown to many of us at the time of his nomination.

But Rush Limbaugh knows a mob when he sees one.   In one segment yesterday, Limbaugh described the students as a mob on three occasions:

Okay, folks, what we are witnessing here is we're in the midst of mob rule.  There was no other way to characterize this. 

So now we've got mob rule.  In the midst of all this talk about "equality," folks-- in the midst of all this talk about the pursuit of happiness and equality -- Dr. Benjamin Carson (who is the epitome of grace, by the way) is not allowed to voice his opinion, which is a formally mainstream position, by the way.

So, folks, I'm telling you: We're in the midst of mob rule now (in this case, led by the trolls at Media Matters), aided and abetted by the so-called mainstream media, the Drive-Bys. 

That frightening "mob" referred to the subject as a "world-class neurosurgeon and passionate advocate education" and professed "the highest respect for Dr. Carson’s achievements" who "value his right to publicly voice political views."   But, hey, one man's respectful letter is another man's vicious posse.

Rush's specialty is, as we long ago found, name-calling.  However, Limbaugh also expressed an impulse common to paranoid conservatives who profess to see liberals everywhere trampling on the Constitution.   Charging "Doesn't he have a "civil right" to free speech?" Rush implies that the students at the medical school are abridging one of Dr. Carson's constitutional rights.

But of course no one is threatening Dr. Carson's right to free speech, or to anything.  The First Amendment reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech," though the restriction was extended by the Fourteenth Amendment to state government. Dr. Carson still is free to make a controversial statement, written, verbal, or through social media about those issues.  But there is no First Amendment right to be a commencement speaker.

Revering the United States Constitution means not only appreciating what is in it, but also recognizing what is not.

HAPPY PASSOVER                                                               HAPPY EASTER

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Pray Again, Senator

Freshman Democratic Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina has announced on her Facebook page that she now supports same-sex marriage because “we should not tell people who they can love or who they can marry."   Hagan adds  “I know there are strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for their opinions.  But after much thought and prayer on my part, this is where I am today."

CAP's Aviva Shen and Adam Peck had reported earlier this week that in Hagen's state alone, there have been 100 firearm deaths (as of 3/26) since the Newtown, CT. massacre and there are 50 gun shows planned in 2013.   Additionally, 90% support expanding background checks, which would include purchases made at gun shows, currently not required.

The North Carolinian gave a nod- twice- to her Bible Belt constituents.  In the same vein as Mark Begich, who issued a statement this week supporting same-sex marriage while maintaining "religious institutions" ought to be exempt from performing them, Hagen cautioned "Religious institutions should have religious freedom on this issue. No church or minister should ever have to conduct a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs."   And unlike Begich's Alaskan colleague- Senator Murkowski- who now contends she is "evolving" on the issue, Murkowski thankfully ignored the dodge first popularized by President Obama.  And she added a dig at Republican Senator Rob Portman, the most famous of the recent converts, remarking "This wasn’t a decision I came to overnight, like my Republican colleague Rob Portman expressed recently on his own viewpoint."

Senator Hagan, though,  is quite particular regarding what she prays about. Shen/Peck note

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is struggling to scrape together enough votes to pass the centerpiece of the plan: universal background checks. Republicans are refusing to vote for it, and even several Democrats in red states are wavering on their support. According to Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, these key votes include Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

God, evidently, has given Senator Hagan a position on same-sex marriage consistent with that held, polls tell us, by a majority of the American people.  Senator Hagan attends Greensboro's First Presbyterian Church, a member of the mainline and relatively liberal Presbyterian Church (USA). Perhaps in this most holy of periods for Christians, the Senator can pray and receive an answer on expanded background checks coinciding with that held by over 85% of Americans.

HAPPY PASSOVER                                                                       HAPPY EASTER

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Confused About Her Role

Speculation about how the Supreme Court will rule on Proposition 8 has led to an examination, cursory though it has been, of past rulings and statements by the Justices which may shed light on how they will rule.  A couple of days ago, analysts saw in remarks made by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at a symposium at Columbia Law School in February of 2012 a hint that the Court may rule against Proposition 8 but allow restrictions in other states to remain. Ginsburg stated of Roe v. Wade

It's not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far too fast... The court made a decision that made every abortion law in the country invalid, even the most liberal. We'll never know whether I'm right or wrong ... things might have turned out differently if the court had been more restrained.

In remarks made after a speech at Princeton University in October, 2008, Justice Ginsburg sounded a similar note, contending

The court bit off more than it could chew... The Supreme Court’s decision was a perfect rallying point for people who disagreed with the notion that it should be a woman’s choice.   They could, instead of fighting in the trenches legislature by legislature, go after this decision by unelected judges.

Some Supreme Court judges, especially liberals, view the Constitution as a living document. Conservatives generally hew to an originalist interpretation.  But Justice Ginsburg here is suggesting something quite different than either.  She apparently believes Court findings should be either responsive to the popular sentiment- as she suggested in February, 2012- or one will shape the popular will as she believes appropriate, as she suggested in October, 2008.

In either case, Justice Ginsburg believes rulings of the United States Supreme Court should be subject to a political test.  That is a terrible perspective for a member of the body which is the final arbiter on the U.S. Constitution.  If Justice Ginsburg believes Roe v. Wade was improperly decided, she should say so.  Otherwise, she ought to support the ruling and not suggest otherwise.

When considering an issue, an individual may be less concerned with the intent of the framers, interpretation of the Constitution in a modern context, or the literal meaning of the document than with its political implications.  The name for that individual is legislator.

HAPPY PASSOVER                                                            HAPPY EASTER

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At Least Obama Understands The Rule Of Law

This is simply extraordinary.  We're talking about Justices- including the head guy- of the United States Supreme Court here.  Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo reports

Chief Justice John Roberts took a swipe at President Obama during oral arguments Wednesday, arguing that the president should stop executing the parts of the Defense of Marriage Act he deems unconstitutional rather than relying on the courts to pave the way.

“If he has made a determination that executing the law by enforcing the terms is unconstitutional, I don’t see why he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions,” Roberts said of Obama, “and execute not only the statute, but do it consistent with his view of the Constitution, rather than saying, oh, we’ll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.”

In response, Vicki Jackson, the lawyer appointed by the Supreme Court to argue that the court lacks standing to hear the case, responded that it’s “a hard question” given that the constitutional questions turn on what relief the injured parties are seeking.

The case was unusual in that the Obama administration, after initially defending the law, switched sides in 2011 and began pushing the Supreme Court to overturn it, concluding that it was discriminatory and unconstitutional. (It’s rare but within precedent for a president to refuse to defend the validity of a federal law.) As a result, the House Republican majority took the reins and hired counsel to defend it in court. Meanwhile, the Justice Department said it would continue to enforce the law until the courts reach a decision as to its validity.

Justice Antonin Scalia also took issue with the White House’s approach to DOMA, comparing it to an alleged debtor who admits to owing someone money but refuses to pay it.

“Which is the equivalent of the government saying, yeah, [a law is] unconstitutional but I’m going to enforce it anyway,” Scalia said. “I’m wondering if we’re living in this new world where the Attorney General can simply decide, yeah, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not so unconstitutional that I’m not willing to enforce it. If we’re in this new world, I don’t want these cases like this to come before this Court all the time.”

Consider reaction of Repubs to President Obama's directive in early 2011 to Attorney General Holder not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.  Michele Bachman promptly called it "a crushing blow to the traditional marriage movement." Newt Gingrich went further, labeling the move "clearly a dereliction of duty" and "a violation of his constitutional oath." (The next day, Gingrich pulled back- slightly.)  Rick Santorum promptly termed it "an affront to the will of the people" and Mike Huckabee maintained the Administration "is clearly out of sync with the people."  (Believing the President should have acted according to poll results, do Santorum and Huckabee now favor same-sex marriage? Just asking.)

And that was merely for Barack Obama deciding not to commit government resources, tax dollars, to defending in court a law which preceded Obama's entry into the Oval Office.    Scalia knocks Obama for, as the Justice puts it, deciding "yeah, it's unconstitutional, but it's not so unconstitutional that I'm not willing to enforce it."  He challenges the President to refuse to enforce a law duly passed by Congress.  He wants Obama to substitute his own judgement for that of the Congress and of the Courts, which had not ruled DOMA unconstitutional.

Apparently, John Roberts is king of the double standard.   Ian Milhiser recalls

In 1990, the Justice Department was tasked with defending a law protecting an affirmative action program governing broadcast licensing to minority-owned stations. Despite the fact thatnone of the traditional reasons why DOJ might refuse to defend a federal law were present in the case, then-acting Solicitor General Roberts refused to defend the law anyway. Instead, Roberts signed a brief arguing that the law was unconstitutional. Ultimately, the law Roberts refused to defend was upheld by the Supreme Court.

So when the Obama Administration refused to defend DOMA, it did nothing more than follow the “Roberts Rule” and travel the path laid by Chief Justice Roberts himself. If Roberts’ fellow conservative have a problem with this Roberts Rule, they should take it up with the Chief.

Operating in a nation of laws and not of men, the Attorney General, and through him the President, has a duty to enforce a law he is not required to defend in court.  As a White House spokesman told reporters, "Well, there is a responsibility that the administration has to enforce the laws that are on the books, and we’ll do that even for laws that we disagree with, including the Defense of Marriage Act. It’s not unprecedented for an administration to take that position." Even Antonin Scalia and John Roberts should be able to understand that.

HAPPY PASSOVER                                                                       HAPPY EASTER

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The Needy Will Have To Wait

The Washington Post's Matt Miller writes

Did you hear that Dick Cheney came out for universal health-care coverage after his uninsured daughter went bankrupt because she fell expensively ill?

Or that Sen. Rob Portman just proposed a big new program to guarantee great teachers for every child after finding out that his son had awful, untrained professors at Yale?

I’ve been thinking about the amazing pace of change in public attitudes and political sentiment on gay marriage — and how every Tom, Dick and Harry (or at least every Hillary, Mark and Claire) seems to be rushing out a video or press release getting on the new right side of marriage equality.

Miller quotes former Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) quipping “I think my continued sexual attraction to men is more politically acceptable than my attraction to government." He observes

Maybe America’s accelerated “evolution” on gay marriage proves that the ultimate taboo in our society is redistribution. As Martin Luther King Jr. learned near the end, securing legal equality turned out to be the easy part. Nobody had to write a check. Equal opportunity and economic justice are entirely different matters, requiring a nation to take even bigger leaps of empathy and imagination.

He concedes, additionally,

I never thought most Americans would support gay marriage before they supported, say, basic health insurance for every citizen. Or excellent teachers for every child. Or some minimally decent reward for full-time work. In fact, for the last decade I assumed that the prominence of gay marriage as an issue would be an impediment to the pursuit of those other goals.

Boy, was I wrong. 

As disquieting as it should be that hostility for government intervention for all citizens now is less politically acceptable than same-sex marriage, it is disturbing that Miller may not have been wrong "that the prominence of gay marriage as an issue (is) an impediment to the pursuit of other" progressive goals.  The right is on the march in several states such as North Dakota, in which Governor Jack Dalrymple has signed two anti-abortion rights bills, both of which he supported in part because "the likelihood of this measure surviving a court challenge remains in question." Digby speculates

I'm fairly sure that the hardcore Christian Right isn't going to come over to gay marriage any time soon. But the rest of the right wing seems to be making peace with it. But this issue is non-negotiable and I'm going to guess that the right will stay coalesced around it. They certainly don't seem to be losing any steam in the states. 

I'm going to make the sad prediction that we're going to get some third way types saying that since the right "met us halfway" on gay rights it's only fair to meet them halfway on reproductive rights. And there will be plenty of centrists who believe that makes sense. 

Maybe, maybe not.  But as her colleague notes, "Much as social liberalism is a critically important part of the puzzle... the true test of mettle has to be on economics."   Whether optimist Miller or pessimist Digby proves more prescient, one thing is virtually certain:  a victory for same-sex marriage will be a victory for same-sex marriage- and little, if anything, else.

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Nice Bunch Of Allies

The role of the wealthy and powerful in promoting same-sex marriage is a story too infrequently reported.  Recall that New York Governor Cuomo enlisted the assistance of Paul E. Singer, the founder of Elliot Management and enthusiastic Repub donor, Daniel S. Loeb, the leader of Third Point, and Clifford S. Assner, head of quant fund ACR Capital.  The first two had supported same-sex marriage efforts in the past, and the latter was famous in part for passing around to his Wall Street buddies a letter whining about how mean President Obama had been to hedge fund managers.  With their help in persuading a few Republicans to come on board, Cuomo successfully pushed through the legislature a measure legalizing same-sex marriage.

Singer, Assner, and Loeb and other well-healed and advocates of same-sex marriage may be motivated by a heartfelt belief that individuals are not fully free unless there is a recognition they have a constitutional right to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender.  Or not.  But the support the movement has among the powerful should serve to remind us that marrying someone of the same sex was never really the taboo so many people assumed it was.    Same-sex marriage proponent Sally Kohn, while conceding she appreciates Senator Rob Portman's support, brilliantly explains 

The very same day, conservative social “scientist” Charles Murray also made waves by declaring his support for marriage equality at the annual CPAC conference.  Murray cited personal relationships as his motivation, too, saying awkwardly, “We have acquired a number of gay and lesbian friends.”  But Murray’s reasoning was also laden with conservative morality — as when he noted that the gay folks he knows who have kids aren’t just responsible parents but “excruciatingly responsible parents.” More responsible than others, presumably.

This is the same Charles Murray who infamously claimed in “The Bell Curve” that wealth and achievement gaps between white and black Americans were due to differences in IQ.  And last year, Murray came out with a new book arguing that a growing “white lower class” has been caused by the destruction of marriage and family primarily at the hands of government and (black) single parents on welfare.

And at the pro-marriage panel organized on the fringe of the official CPAC agenda, conservative commentator Margaret Hoover spoke about the long-standing right to marry in clear terms of bias-laden moral judgment:

“If you are a prisoner, you are a murderer in jail, you have a fundamental right to get married,” she said. “But law-abiding, patriotic, gay Americans who want to commit their lives to each other and generate this stability and this economic prosperity can’t get married.”

The conservative moral argument for marriage is that marriage is good and good people get married and “law-abiding, patriotic, gay Americans” are good people.

In 2006, as a segment of gay rights organizations began the full-fledged push for marriage equality in America, another set of queer activists, joined by many straight people of color and feminist allies, voiced concern about making gay marriage a goal, let alone the centerpiece of the gay rights movement. Several prominent activists wrote and signed onto a statement called “Beyond Marriage.”  In effect, they argued in a perpetual us-versus-them political paradigm, the solution to the systematic “otherization” of the gay community could not be found in joining the ranks of privilege through marriage while reinforcing the continued exclusion of other families. They wrote, “Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others.”  These activists built on the radical traditions of the gay liberation movement — that the path to justice did not run through heteronormativity but through liberation for all.

Just as conservatives now acknowledge the fight to prevent gay marriage may be ending, the fight to prevent marriage as the central gay movement agenda ended some time ago. Those, myself included, who dreamed of a more imaginative gay rights movement — one rooted in transformation, not assimilation — could find encouragement sandwiched between the great intellectual scholarship of the past and the rising generation of more radical queer youth. In the meantime, we all fell in line with or were drowned out by the gay movement chorus calling for marriage rights.

Fine, but how we attain that goal — the moral rationales on which we rely, explicitly or tacitly — is as important if not more so, setting up the terms of debate for future struggles around justice and freedom.  In the interest of expediency and bringing as many unlikely conservative allies on board, the gay rights movement may give cover to or even amplify a set of narrow values that rank married families as better than unmarried families, two parents as better than one parent — norms that continue to divide America into good people and deserving families versus everyone else. And even if we temporarily succeed in getting gay folks added to the “good” category, is it worth it?  Plus do we really think that’s the way we or anyone else will be treated equally?

In his latest book, Charles Murray argued that America is “coming apart at the seams” because while the “virtuous” white upper class continues to value marriage and other traditional norms, they are failing to impose those norms on the rest of the country. This is not marriage as choice but compulsion, an extension of the “marriage promotion” agenda Republicans have forced into welfare reform and other programs. In an important 2008 report, Dr. Jean Hardisty and Political Research Associates revealed that the marriage promotion and pro-fatherhood movement is deeply rooted in right-wing networks and ideology and merely masquerades as (junk) science. This is not a cause with which the gay rights movement should in any way, shape or form link arms.

Guilt by association must be suspect, of course.  But Kohn is not questioning support by the Repubs who signed the legal brief which was to be submitted to the Supreme Court in support of striking down Proposition 8.  Those names included 131 individuals from various fields, such as Alex Castellanos, strategist and CNN pundit; Clint Eastwood, actor, Richard Hadley and Paul Wolfowitz, foreign policy advisors; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, economist; Meg Whitman, failed corporate executive and failed politician.  Few are social scientists of any sort.  Rather, it's Charles Murray, for goodness (or badness) sake- the same Charles Murray who came to prominence arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, in what we recognized as racism before it became a catchword for a whole host of feelings and thoughts.

Though the impetus for same-sex marriage has a mostly progressive genesis, it has been fueled by the forces on the right promoting marriage and fatherhood as solutions for a variety of social ills.   And while same sex marriage is benefiting from an emerging political correctness, its eventual impact on societal norms may prove surprisingly deleterious.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The South May Rise Again

The question is: is John Roberts going to do it again?  Last year, in the midst of a presidential campaign which threatened to make the Affordable Care Act a volatile issue, the Chief Justice upheld President Obama's signature legislative achievement and its mandate.   He did it, however, by rejecting applicability of the Commerce Clause, the logical rationale for the health care mandate. He contended

The Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce.” Art. I, §8, cl. 3 (emphasis added).  The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated.  If the power to “regulate”  something included the power to create it, many of the provisions in the Constitution would be superfluous....

Our precedent also reflects this understanding.  As expansive as our cases construing the scope of the commerce power have been, they all have one thing in common: They uniformly describe the power as reaching “activity.” It is nearly impossible to avoid the word when
quoting them....

The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce.  Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.

The mandate was constitutional, Roberts contended, because of the federal government's taxing authority. He rationalized

Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. That, according to the Government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition—not owning health insurance—that triggers a tax—the required payment to the IRS.  Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income.  And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.

The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a “fairly possible” one. As we have explained, “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” The Government asks us to interpret the mandate as imposing a tax, if it would otherwise violate the Constitution. Granting the Act the full measure of deference owed to federal statutes, it can be so read. (Citations omitted)

It's a good thing for the PPACA and, presumably, the President's legacy that the Government asked that the mandate be construed as imposing a tax if it otherwise was thought to violate the Constitution.  Twisting himself into a pretzel, Roberts upheld a somewhat progressive measure while rejecting the clause which, as People for the American Way explained in an unrelated context, has been "deftly used" for "more than a century"

as a tool for advancing social justice, fair competition, equal rights in the marketplace and workplace democracy. From anti-trust policy to union organizing, from consumer rights, to civil rights and environmental protection, progressives have enacted legislation that conforms corporate commerce to the agenda and values of society rather than accepting the conservative claim that society must conform itself to the agenda and values of corporate commerce. Our robust Commerce Clause reflects the genius of the Framers, who considered well-regulated national commerce on fair terms to be a crucial constitutional value and a social and economic imperative.

In health care, the majority decision was 'yes, but on the other hand.' In the Proposition 8 case, speculation is rampant that the Court may decide 'for me but not for thee.' CAP's Ian Millhiser observed on the first day of oral arguments that Justices Scalia, Alito, and Roberts appeared to be all in for Prop 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage in California (with Thomas presumed to be in agreement) while the four liberal Justices are very sympathetic to overturning it, and to ssm in general.   Justice Kennedy, as expected, appeared more ambivalent and

By the end of the argument, a majority of the Court seemed to believe that they shouldn’t even be hearing this case in the first place. At least five justices — Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan — at one point asked skeptical questions about whether the Court has jurisdiction to hear this case, a result that would potentially raise difficult legal questions about whether Prop 8 is still the law in California or not. Justice Kennedy repeatedly asked about another possibility — the Court could dismiss the case as “improvidently granted” — essentially reversing the Court’s prior decision to hear the case and leaving the Ninth Circuit’s decision to strike Prop 8 in effect. Sotomayor asked Cooper “[i]f the issue is letting the States experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction, why is taking a case now the answer?”

In other words, the most likely answer to the question of whether Prop 8 is unconstitutional is that the Supreme Court will not answer this question at all. Too many of the five justices who appeared open to marriage equality posed too many questions about whether now is the time to bring equality to the nation as a whole, and they did not appear satisfied with any of the theories offered to limit their decision to just some of the states.

With three Justices (Scalia, Alito, Thomas) likely opting to rule according to their conservative principles and four liberal Justices, the influence of the Chief Justice is out-sized.   Steve M. believes that a scholarly interpretation of the United States Constitution may not dominate Roberts' approach, and aptly asks

Did Roberts and his conservative confreres formerly hope to uphold the constitutionality of state bans on gay marriage, whereas now Roberts thinks that's potentially harmful to the GOP? Right now, nobody in the GOP establishment is sure what the shrewd play is if the party wants to win over new voters in the future without alienating old voters.

The Chief Justice's ruling on the ACA pleased liberals, anxious to maintain health care reform and promote the election prospects of President Obama, but probably in rejection of the Commerce Clause harmed progressive causes long-term.    An analogous situation may be playing itself out in the Proposition 8 case, with liberals/progressives like Steve M. on board:

The Court's liberals don't seem to be itching to use the Prop 8 case as a way of declaring a constitutional right to gay marriage in all 50 states -- clearly they don't have a majority, and maybe they think they will in the not-too-distant future, but they may also agree with what David Cole wrote in New York Times op-ed today: that such a ruling would inspire a huge right-wing backlash. (I agree with that -- do you really think legislators and local officials in, say, Mississippi are going to take kindly to being compelled to allow gay marriage? And I wouldn't limit that to Mississippi -- I'd include Rust Belt states that still have lots of aging cultural conservatives, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I don't want the 2014 midterms playing out under that cloud.) 

I'm thinking that no one wants to touch this right now. And I don't think it's bad that this will play out in the states (especially now that the good guys are winning more and more).

If the "good guys win" on the basis of states' rights, it may prove to be a pyrrhic victory, not unlike  the constitutional power to tax winning out over the Commerce Clause as legal justification for health care reform.   Salon's Alex Pareene, a strong supporter of same-sex marriage who apparently has a superior sense of the notion of the U.S.A. as a group of, well, united states, criticized a guest on Sunday's This Week by being appropriately snarky:

Noonan was hilarious here, saying she hoped the court would just not decide anything, because “Americans don’t take it well when their black-robed masters decide” big issues (HELLO AGAIN KARL REMEMBER 2000) and that the court should leave it up to the states by saying, “if you can’t solve it here, you can say everybody can solve it down there.” So yeah, sorry gay Southerners, basically. 

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nasty, And Temporary

It's all in the family.

Throughout the Obama presidency, the President's detractors on the right have complained that he takes too many costly vacations or plays too much golf.

Of course, any golf is too much golf.  Still, the silliness reached its apex last month when

Rep. Louie Gohmert introduced an amendment to a government funding bill that would prohibit any public money from supporting Obama’s golf outings, Politico reported. He tied his demand to the White House’s decision to cancel public tours due to the sweeping budget cuts known as the sequester.

“None of the funds made available by a division of this Act may be used to transport the President to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume,” the amendment reads.

Public funds are used to pay for President Obama’s transportation and security outside the White House, making it impossible for him to golf without spending some taxpayer dollars.

Still not satisfied, one right-wing outlet now has criticized the President's daughters for going on vacation, thus spending taxpayer dollars.   Matthew Boyle of has revealed the venue of the upcoming vacation of Sasha and Malia and maintains "it is unclear" how long they will be there

or what the cost will be to taxpayers.

Earlier this month, the White House canceled public tours as a result of the recent budget sequester, citing Secret Service staffing costs. 

According to Judicial Watch, Malia Obama's trip to Mexico last spring break, during which she was apparently accompanied by Secret Service protection, cost taxpayers $115,500.87. Sasha did not accompany Malia on that trip.

The right wing leaves no stone unturned in arguing that the sequester, which is expected as of September to cost approximately 750,000 Americans their jobs and slow growth by roughly 1.5 percent, is merely a minor nuisance.   But Media Matters explains Boyle was "ignoring the decades-old journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official or semi-official events" for privacy and security reasons."  After some websites reported on a trip Malia took to Mexico in 2012, they removed the story.  Her mother's communications director then announced

From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls.

At the time, the Washington Post noted a "taboo" on stories or photographs of minors in a President's family aside from official and semi-official events  "through many administrations by informal agreement with the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the interests of journalists who cover the president."

The costs, direct and indirect, of protecting a President and his/her family should not be ignored.  Still, a little perspective, understandably ignored by the right, should be applied.   The Associated Press has found

Being the leader of the free world is an expensive proposition. But the costs don't stop once you leave the White House.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service says the federal government spent nearly $3.7 million on former presidents last year. That covers a $200,000 pension, compensation and benefits for office staff, and other costs like travel, office space and postage.

The costliest former president? George W. Bush, who clocked in at just over $1.3 million. That includes almost $400,000 for 8,000 square feet of office space and $85,000 in telephone costs.

That item appeared Monday, March 25, 2013.  If you find such complaints trivial and/or mean-spirited, don't be dismayed.  They will continue only 34 months after which, if a Republican assumes office, they will end.  

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Flogging Flagrant Firearm Fantasies

Pretty slick, those Republican spokespersons. On ABC's This Week, Peggy Noonan remarked

Here's where I think the problem is, I think Congress is attempting to act in a way that ignores a central fact. The central fact is that nobody in America really trusts Congress. If you're Congress, and you admit nobody really trusts us, then you make simple, discreet, five-page bills, not these big comprehensive things that involve assault weapons, and this and that, and putting it forward and then having everybody, say whoa, I'm not sure I trust you.

The reason Americans don't trust these big bills is because they think so much mischief is hidden inside.

But if you're paying attention- and the former speechwriter for President Reagan banks on people not doing so- you have noticed that the leader of the Senate, a Democrat, decided against including an assault weapons ban in federal gun control legislation.  

That firearms provision would have made a firearms bill more comprehensive, though more likely not to gain passages.    By contrast, on Thursday, the GOP-controlled House voted

... to approve a temporary measure to keep the government funded through the end of September. Government shutdown averted.

But it turns out the continuing resolution didn't just address spending. It contains six measures that limit how federal agencies deal with guns.

These are the first gun-related provisions members of Congress have passed since 20 first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. And while all of the public discussion is about new gun controls, these so-called policy riders very quietly do the opposite.

"There was very little discussion," says Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. Rogers is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which produced the bill that contains these riders. One of them dates back to the mid-1990s; the others have been around for seven or eight years, regularly included in spending bills like this one, without any debate.

"These are not new. These are general provisions that we've carried for a long time," Rogers says.

What is new is that the continuing resolution makes four of these riders permanent.

According to Zach Beauchamp of Think Progress, the riders

1) Limit enforcement tools against crooked dealers. One rider would prevent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents from shutting down gun stores due to “due to a lack of business activity,” arguably a sign of criminal sales.

2) Shield gun dealers who “lose” their guns. This legislation precludes any federal law that requires gun retailers to count their guns and submit the results as a mechanism of determining whether any weapons have been lost or stolen.

3) Interfere with ATF gun trace reports. The ATF is now mandated to include, in any reports concerning its tracing of guns back to crime, that trace data “cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime.” Academic work on guns has used trace data to firmly establish that several firearm regulations effectively prevent the spread of guns to criminal.

4) Expand the class of protected guns. According to Roll Call‘s John Gramlich, the fourth permanent law would “place a broad definition of antique guns and ammunition that may be imported into the United States.”

Many Democrats, facing a Hobson's choice, voted for the measure.  That included perhaps the House's most aggressive advocate of gun control measures, Carolyn McCarthy of New York, who lamented "What's tough on this particular vote is do we shut the government down?"

But the GOP still aggressively pursues its disinformation campaign. On the same program on which Noonan appeared, the issue of expanded background checks on firearms purchases prompted Karl Rove to claim

Let's be clear about this — this was prompted by the Sandy Hook murders. Those guns were legally purchased with a background check. This would not have solved something like that. Let's be very careful about quickly trampling on the rights of people. And look, you want to get something done?  Then stop scaring people.  Don't say we're going to keep a registry of all of these guns ..

Fortunately there to correct the GOP strategist was ABC's Terry Moran, who responded "Stop scaring people? You're scaring people with this Orwellian sense that black helicopters and the government, if we register guns, they're going to confiscate Americans' guns. That kind of paranoia..." A moment later, Moran confronted Rove with ."Who is going to confiscate all of the guns in America?"
Alas, Moran was not around earlier when Rove falsely claimed "We're talking about, in this instance, having a registry where if a grandfather wants to give a treasured shotgun to his grandson, or granddaughter, he has to register with the government and go and get approval as the government to give that gun to his grandchild."  Section 937 (f) (1) of the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013 excludes family members.

Accuracy, though, is not an asset but a bug of the Repub campaign against gun safety measures. Rove makes things up to frighten people while Noonan implies that people distrust Congress because it adds provisions to make bills "comprehensive."  Alex Pareene observes

One fun fact about Peggy Noonan is that she always sounds like she is telling small children a story she is making up as she goes along. She is very good at performing “thoughtfulness,” and then saying airy garbage. Noonan said that the president’s poll numbers are “deflating” because “a number of people think the White House is playing games” on the sequester, and “also there is Obamacare.”

But they have in their promotion of a culture of death a powerful ally, one which always has their back.   The anti-law enforcement provisions included in the continuing resolution which funds the federal government through September were heavily promoted by the National Rifle Association, faithfully fulfilling its role as the criminals' lobby in the United States Congress.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Strange Concept Of One Country

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on two cases pertaining to same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.  Associate Professor of Law Margaret Ryznar at Indiana University, blogging at The Huffington Post, explains

In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton. Section 3 of DOMA provides that the word "marriage," as used in any federal law or regulation, means only a union of a man and a woman. This includes laws that govern veterans' benefits, tax adjustments, Social Security, and many other benefits...

In 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage because it violated the guarantee of equal protection in the California constitution. Later that same year, California voters approved a ballot measure -- Proposition 8 -- amending the state constitution to specifically disallow same-sex marriages.

A federal district court, having jurisdiction to hear federal constitutional issues, found Proposition 8 to violate the United States Constitution because California had effectively given same-sex couples the right to marry and then taken it away again. The court determined that taking away a right only from a minority group -- which the state had no legitimate reason for doing -- violated the equal protection guarantee in the United States Constitution. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and the proponents of Proposition 8 sought review by the Supreme Court.

Cultural conservatives are trying to plug up the dam, hoping for an indecisive decision which would enable some states to maintain a prohibition of same-sex marriage.  On GOP News Sunday, both Rand Paul of Kentucky and long-time conservative activist Gary Bauer seemed resigned to decisions which would not maintain federal prohibition of same-sex marriage.  The Senator stated

I've always said that the states have a right to decide. I do believe in traditional marriage, Kentucky has decided it, and I don't think the federal government should tell us otherwise. There are states that have decided in the opposite fashion, and I don't think the federal government should tell anybody or any state government how they should decide this. Marriage has been a state issue for hundreds and hundreds of years.

DOMA is complicated, though, because DOMA does provide protection for the states from the federal government. But, then, you're right, part of it federalizes the issue.

I think there's a chance the court could strike down the federalization part of it. I think the way to fix it is maybe to try to make all of our laws more neutral towards the issue, and, I don't want the government promoting something I don't believe in. 

Bauer, who has staunchly advocated traditional marriage and opposed abortion rights since the beginning of time, explained

Yes, Chris, well, look, you don't advance limited government by being an anti-democratic movement that is attempting to take this issue away from the American people. What the brief is asking for and what the groups waiting outside the Supreme Court are asking for, is for unelected judges to deny the people of the states the right to decide what marriage is in their state...

I would prefer every state in the union keep the definition of marriage that's prevailed in Western civilization for a couple thousand years. That doesn't look like that is going to happen.    So, I certainly at this point would prefer the people of the states to make the decision, as they have.

Over at This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the cultural weather vane known as Peggy Noonan maintained

Yeah, Americans don't take it well and don't accept it as a resolution when their black robed masters in Washington decide to put on them what they decide is the right thing. One of the great sins of Roe versus Wade, the abortion decision of 40 years ago, was that it decided everyone has to do it one way, instead of leaving it to the states.

It seems to me it is certainly in line with conservative political thinking, but I think it would be acceptable certainly to liberal thinking, that when there are these gnawing, disagreeing questions going on in America, if you can't solve it here, you can say everybody can solve it down there. Let's state by state make their decision. You will immediately have New York having some of the most liberal decisions on this issue.

You will perhaps have Utah or Arkansas, having less liberal decisions. Work questions out that way as much as possible.

That is a crock.  The Justices in Roe v. Wade did not determine "everyone has to do it one way." States were permitted to enact some, limited, restrictions on abortion in the second trimester and in the third trimester even prohibit it if the life and the health of the woman were protected.  As the map (below) from Wikipedia illustrates, approximately 20 states (yellow) have no waiting periods before an abortion can be obtained, with the others having waiting periods of less than 24 hours (blue), 24 hours or more (red), or waiting periods which currently are enjoined (grey).  There are similar variations among states in ultrasound requirements, parental notification and consent, and fetal homicide laws.

Noonan's disinformation was echoed by Karl Rove on the same panel, when he said "And maybe should not have imposed one national view from the court." That runs counter to Rove's assertion a moment earlier that a GOP presidential candidate in the next cycle might, as Stephanopoulos put it, say "flat out I am for gay marriage."

Admittedly, it is more likely a Repub candidate will state he or she is in favor of same-sex marriage than will oppose tax cuts for billionaires, support closing loopholes which create incentives to move jobs overseas, or support effective restrictions on Wall Street predators. But no one will say he/she is actually for same-sex marriage.  And permitting such a union will be advocated far less than will leaving matters to the individual state, which will become part of the GOP platform.

Stephanopoulos noted

And interesting, Jim Messina, even the president is not willing to go quite that far yet. I sat down with him two weeks ago and he went farther than he ever had before in saying that gay marriage is a right guaranteed by the constitution, basically said he can't imagine circumstances in a state where a ban could be upheld, but still not going quite that far in enunciating the straight constitutional principle.

Of course, he is not willing to go quite that far yet.  After all, it's not as if we fought a war some 150 years ago- in part over states rights- which, history books claim, the Union won. He may believe gay marriage is a right guaranteed by the constitution, but states should have a right to deny that constitutional right.

The Court ought to decide there is, or there is not, a constitutional right to marry a willing adult, irrespective of gender.  One hundred fifty years after a civil war which decided slavery but apparently little else, center-right politicos like Noonan, Rove, and Obama still can't wrap their arms around the concept of a United States of America.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Now It's "Boy"

It has been ten days.

In those eleven days, the talk about Chris Christie in the national media has remained upbeat, positive, and positively ignorant.  Typical was an exchange between a longtime Democratic politician and Chris Matthews on Thursday's Hardball:

or Clinton would prefer not to have to face Charlie Crist or anybody like 
Charlie Crist, in this case, obviously the governor of New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: You mean Crist Christie, Crist Christie.


BROWN: Yes, I was going to -- I like Charlie Crist better, because that 
was a better contrast.
But Chris Christie is in fact the one guy that these two people would not 
like to have to face, simply because he can go into the Democratic world 
and have some credibility, as he`s proven almost daily in New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: Can he keep up? I want to get back to the two younger guys that 
seem like the hot guys. Can a guy like Christie keep up this attitude of 
it`s none of your business, that sort of street talk that`s made him 
popular? Can you sustain that? Ed Koch did it for like 12 years before he 
ran out of that steam.

In those eleven days, few outside of New Jersey media have taken a close look at what Chris Christie actually does or says, which is not only reprehensible, but completely in character.   At a town hall on Tuesday, March 12 in one of New Jersey's largest cities, the governor continued the crusade for his own vision (vouchers) to destroy the public school system., the online version of the highest-circulating newspaper (The Star Ledger of Newark), reported

The pastor of the Paterson church that hosted Gov. Chris Christie’s town hall earlier this week said the governor should apologize to Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver for referring to her by her gender and race — instead of her name — while saying she is blocking a school reform bill he favors.

Rev. Kenneth D.R. Clayton, pastor for St. Luke Baptist Church, said he was "saddened by the governor’s blatant attack of Speaker Sheila Oliver" on Tuesday after audience members pressed Christie to address long-standing problems at Paterson schools.

Christie told the town hall audience he strongly supports a bill creating a trial voucher program for students to attend private and parochial schools, but "we have an African-American female speaker of the Assembly ... who refuses to let people vote on this bill."
Christie also said: "Why is it taking a Republican governor from the suburbs to stand up and fight the teachers union and the urban political machine to say, ‘Hey, I want to give your children a shot?’ Let me tell you what that is, that’s the worst kind of discrimination from my perspective."

A few days later, some outlets recognized another Christie-like comment (video below) made during the same exchange.   PolitickerNJ noted

Gov. Chris Christie’s use of the word “boy” in a Paterson Baptist church stirred ensuing debate within the African-American community, as some claim he simply used the word as an exclamation while others take offense at the governor’s remarks.
The incident happened last Tuesday.

While at a town hall meeting Gov. Chris Christie attempted to advance the ideals of vouchers, itemizing the benefits particularly for African American parents.  However, something seemed to go array.

The stage was set when Christie referenced Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) without fully acknowledging her elected position, as elected officials had chastised him for doing on a number of occasions, just the first mis-step that day.

When Christie Town hall attendee Mike Henry, a deacon of the church and an African-American, yelled, “Fix our public schools” from the back of St. Luke’s, the vouchers-advocating governor responded: “You can yell all you want about ‘fix the public schools.”

Henry yelled again, “Fix the public schools,” at which point Christie said, “Yeah, I hear you, boy, I hear you.”

Opinions differed as to the nature of the New Jersey governor's remark.  Reverend Kenneth Clayton, who had invited Christie to the church, apparently believes that racists are determined to sound bigoted.  He contended (emphasis mine)  “We are not political allies but what I think is that was a misuse of the term on his part - but not intentional.  I do not think it was the governor’s intent to be racist"  After viewing a video, one fellow commented “Although I am not a fan of Christie, I think that this video and its poor editing has (sic) done a superb job of making this sound like a racist thing instead of a slang expression.”

However, State Senator Ronald L. Rice, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, argued "I believe it’s in him and it came out. He has a Bull Connor mentality. He’s taking the same approach, putting his bullying process on us. It bothers me. He doesn’t want anyone to challenge him.”

Bingo! No one knows if Christopher J. Christie is a racist; probably not.  His agenda, in either case, is far less ethnic or racial than corporate and self-centered.   Whether it's (Christie's greatest hits, below) calling a reporter an "idiot," hectoring a teacher about "stand(ing) up and fighting the teacher's union," raging against a teacher who dares confront him about policy, threatening to beat up a constituent on the New Jersey boardwalk, or calling an adult "boy," it's always the same with Christie.  It's a wealthy (mostly through his wife) governor belligerently expressing his sense of superiority by demeaning someone else.

The governor of New Jersey employed the term "boy" as did the segregationists of old, though he may have done so even if his critic were white.  Anyone questioning him gets the same treatment, "the same approach, putting his bullying process on us.... He doesn't want anyone to challenge him."  For those of us who are male, white, of the same generation, and of the same part of the country as Chris Christie, "boy" is not the slang expression used. It always has been "man," as in "thanks for calling, man" or "Yeh, I hear you, man."

Christie's policies, seemingly out of the Club for Growth textbook, are bad enough.  Other Republicans from (Iowa Representative) Steve King to Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani have similar ideas about how to control the lower and middle classes.  What separates Chris Christie from the pack is a temperament clearly unsuited to the office to which he aspires, the U.S. presidency.   The media, meanwhile, will continue its love affair with him until it slowly comes to the realization it has been snookered.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Holocaust Heresy

Shakespeare's Antony once said "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him."   But in a stunning if largely unnoticed and insignificant reversal, I truly come to praise President Obama.

Although he has not opted for the dodge "evolved," President Obama seemingly has come a long way in his understanding of the Middle East.

It might be said to have been in his speech (transcript, here) in Jerusalem on Thursday, when the President boldly defended controversial U.S. action at the U.N. by declaring

There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation. That is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.

It might have been the enunciation during the speech of an even-handed approach to the conflict between Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs when

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000, Mr. Obama offered a fervent, unsparing case for why a peace agreement was both morally just and in Israel’s self-interest. Younger Israelis, Mr. Obama said, should empathize with their Palestinian neighbors living under occupation — or, as he put it, “look at the world through their eyes.”

Hours earlier, visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Mr. Obama urged the Palestinians to return to the bargaining table even if Israel did not meet their condition of halting construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories — a demand he, too, made at the start of his first term, but which had only a temporary, partial impact.

It might have been the linkage Obama noted between the movement for freedom of American blacks and that of Jews generally when he remarked

In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement.

Though few may notice, that was a rebuke, intentional or otherwise, to that portion of the American left which applauds every national liberation movement- but not of Jews.

My vote, though, is for a another statement made by Obama the following morning in which (though understandably he'd never admit it) he contradicted a shameless remark made in his astoundingly overrated speech in Cairo.   There, he propagated a powerful myth:  "Around the world," he claimed, "the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."

The point was not "around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries."  Nor was it that the "culmination" of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust which, after all, was morbidly termed "the final solution."  The significance lay in the phrase "anti-Semitism in Europe."

 Anti-semitism, common in Arab lands for centuries, was neither a 20th century phenomenon, nor the sole province of Europeans.   In remarks to the press Friday morning at the Yad Vashem memorial to the approximately 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust, the President declared "The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of the State of Israel there will never be such a holocaust again."

The latter phrase is self-evident and beyond debate:  there will never be a holocaust again because there is a Jewish homeland, with most other Jews in the U.S.A.   But in words superficially merely symbolic but with the possibility of policy ramifications, Obama declared "The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust."  It is recognition of history, history that is sometimes denied and typically ignored. Now, dramatically, Barack Obama seems to have rejected myth and embraced a reality too rarely voiced.

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Punxsutawney Phil Charged

Score one for science.  Bright and early on February 2, The Washington Post reported

At 7:25 a.m.Saturday, amidst overcast skies, and frigid temperatures hovering around 8 degrees, Groundhog Phil failed to see his shadow in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa.

According to folklore, no shadow for Phil means “there will be an early spring.” Had Phil seen his shadow, it would have meant six more weeks of winter.

It is  now one day shy of seven weeks, or six days beyond six weeks, of February 2, 2013.  Here at 40 degrees latitude and 74 degrees longitude, the temperature currently is 35 degrees with a wind-chill factor of 26 degrees.  Elsewhere, the Butler County, Ohio prosecutor is displeased. In Cincinnati, where the temperature and the wind-chill factor stand at 32 degrees

Apparently frosted over Ohio's cold start to the spring season, prosecutor Mike Gmoser accuses Phil of "misrepresentation of spring."

On Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, Phil did not see his shadow. By legend, that portends an early spring.

But in an official-looking document, Gmoser alleges that Phil acted "with prior calculation and design" to cause people to believe that spring would arrive early.

"Contrary to the Groundhog Day report, a snowstorm and record low temperatures have been and are predicted to continue in the near future," Gmoser wrote.

Tradition (at least sometimes), myth and superstition must give way to science, in this case, meteorology.  If that gets out, it spells the doom of the Republican Party.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

If Not Him, Who?

Astonished at the failure of the U.S. Senate to reimpose an assault weapons ban, highlighted by the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the provision in a larger bill, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News poses several good questions. Echoing the plea of the President following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the columnist asks, rhetorically, "If not now for a ban for these weapons, when?"

Lupica's other good questions include

This is what an emotional President Obama said in a gym in Newtown, Conn., on a Sunday night in December, two days after 26 people — 20 of them children — were murdered in cold blood by Adam Lanza, all of the killing done by a semiautomatic rifle called the AR-15:

“We can’t tolerate this anymore. We are not doing enough and we will have to change.”
Then he looked out into the audience and into the faces of the families of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and said this to them, and to the country:

“I’ll use whatever power this office holds ... in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

But what does the President say now to the families of the victims of Sandy Hook, and Aurora, Colo., and all the other victims of mass murders and glory killers in this country? What does he say now that it becomes clear that a ban on assault weapons won’t even be legitimately included in the gun legislation being shaped this week in the U.S. Senate?

Any fool knows that Lanza couldn’t possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands. So how does the President and any other big politician who allows the gun nuts from the National Rifle Association to win again answer the larger question about weapons that make killings like the elementary-school massacre ridiculously easy:

If not now for a ban for these weapons, when?

If Sandy Hook Elementary doesn’t make every member of Congress take a stand against assault weapons in this country, then what does? How many small coffins do we need the next time?

Oddly, it seems to have taken a sports guy not only to pose the right questions but to attempt to hold accountable the nation's Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and leader of the Free World.

There is no acceptable answer to these questions- none, that is, now that the President has decided his political capital is better spent on the push for comprehensive immigration reform.  None, that is, from the President who, following the massacre in Tucson, Arizona said nothing about the proliferation of firearms in American society or about gun safety, other than to suggest we pause before we continue the "conversation" about the latter.

And none, that is, from the President who actually did say "if not now, when?"  ... about health care and the deficit.

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Assault Weapons Ban Banned

No More Mister Nice Guy has a couple of splendid posts about the failure of re-imposition in the Senate of the assault weapons ban.  In one, he demonstrates both sociological insight and a knack for math when, frustrated by Majority Leader Reid, he comments

But he still wouldn't be able to get sixty votes for the assault weapons ban. And sooner or later -- probably sooner -- he'd acknowledge that.

It would take sixty massacres affecting senators' children and grandchildren to get cloture for a vote on an assault weapons ban. Or, well, maybe not sixty -- Harry Reid says the ban has fewer than forty votes. So it would take more than twenty massacres involving senators' families to get the ban through the Senate.

Or, of course (as I said last night), it would take a genuine change in public opinion. The number of one-issue pro-gun-control voters would need to rival the number of pro-gun voters. I still don't know how we get to that point. I don't know how we increase the number of committed gun-control voters. I don't know how we reduce the number of committed NRA voters -- polls say the NRA is out of step even with gun owners on many issues relating to guns, so where are the waves of disgusted gun owners forgoing their membership?

There never will be wave of disgusted gun owners forgoing their membership.   There is a corollary to the concept of high-intensity and low-intensity voters in which a minority of individuals, such as those opposing any gun safety legislation, can wield more influence than a majority of individuals, in this case supporters of gun control.  While gun owners asked about modest legislative proposals (such as universal background checks) view the issue not only as gun owners but also as just plain citizens, the National Rifle Association itself views proposals only in terms of how they affect their members' firearm interests.  Hence, the NRA serves a purpose, no matter how evil.

And gun safety legislation is not, and will not be for the forseeable future, the issue upon which Democrats or liberals, politicians or activists, plant their flag. Elahe Izadi of the National Journal writes

Back in 2004, it was a given that a presidential candidate couldn’t win the Democratic nomination -- let alone the general election -- while supporting gay marriage. Less than decade later, Democrats understand they have no chance at winning without supporting gay marriage.

Hillary Clinton is merely the latest to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, as the Supreme Court readies to hear arguments this month on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 in California. But her announcement also fuels speculation over her 2016 presidential ambitions and ensures that anyone opposed to gay marriage will have trouble winning over the base.

“This is becoming an early litmus test for potential 2016 candidates,” said Democrat strategist and 2008 Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee. “You don’t have to be 100 percent for gay marriage but you have to at least be in favor of relationship equality.”

There is little chance a Democratic presidential hopeful- even a (presumably conservative) candidate with no chance to garner the nomination (guys like Republican Gary Bauer or Democrat Mike Gravel) will be able to withstand the pressure to be "100 percent for gay marriage," especially because no one knows what "relationship equality" is.

On one side of the gun controversy, there are a large swath of the GOP popular base, representatives of its business base, a powerful special interest group, and Democratic legislators from rural states.  On the other side, there are the American people... and liberal politicians and activists, whose attention is seemingly focused elsewhere.  Not a fair fight.

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Why This Comment?

Who's he talking about? Joe Scarborough wisely and very courageously asserts .... Again, a good question to ask about what he said in a...