Tuesday, April 30, 2013





Getting Nothing In Return



In April of 2012, Norman Ornstein of the Brookings Institution and Thomas Mann of the American Enterprise Institute wrote in their op-ed in The Washington Post

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

One year later almost to the day, two Washington Post reporters would contend

After more than four years in the White House and weeks into his latest effort to woo lawmakers, Obama still isn’t very good at using his personal charm to achieve political success. Yet, it may be one of the few strategies the president has left if he hopes to accomplish his remaining ­second-term priorities, including a sweeping budget deal and a comprehensive immigration bill.

Sure, Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Godfarb added "At this point in his presidency, Obama has pretty much tried it all."  But they seem unaware that the only reason Republicans are considering comprehensive immigration reform, and the only reason they may acquiesce in it, is because they believe Democrats wiped the floor with them in November due to the Hispanic vote.

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, based on a framework laid out by the conservative Heritage Foundation,  passed the United States Congress, it did so with no GOP votes despite President Obama's fervent entreaties to Republicans.  In her recently released Fighting for Common Ground, former Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME.) explained that after she voted in he Senate Finance Committee to move the bill to the floor

The President also called me after the conclusion of the markup. He began by telling me, "A great statesperson once said, 'When history calls, history calls,'" and said I could make history by supporting health care reform when it's considered on the Senate floor. "You could be a modern day Joan of Arc," he offered. I laughed and replied, "Yes, but she was burned at the stake!" I added, "I don't mind taking the heat, but I have to believe it's the right policy for America." The President responded, "Don't worry, I'll be there with a fire hose!" 

The President was persistent.   Snowe noted "In the course of the health care debate, I met with the President at least eight times in addition to more than a dozen phone calls. He had made this rigorous outreach effort because he was seeking a bipartisan partner who he recognized cared about the issue as well."

Snowe's health care reform tactics are a case study in the futility of this President attempting to appease the GOP.  Shortly before Mann and Ornstein weighed in on Repub obstructionism, Alex Pareene observed that the Maine senator

intentionally delayed the process for months before finally voting against a plan she’d previously voted for, never making a single substantive criticism of the policy of the bill in the fear that her criticism would then be addressed by Democrats and she’d be forced to come up with a new reason to oppose the bill, because it turns out she didn’t actually want to vote for healthcare reform, and she would not have supported any plan to expand coverage to all Americans, no matter how it worked.

Addressing the issue with a joke last weekend at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, President Obama admitted "I’m sorry. I get frustrated sometimes.”   But of course he'll keep trying, doing all he can to get Republicans to agree to legislation tailored for the conservative, anti-government party he panders to.




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Monday, April 29, 2013






1. Sports 2. Sports 3. Everything Else


It was last July, and former FBI director Louie Freeh had two days earlier issued the report of his investigation into the child abuse scandal at Penn State University when Rusty Miller in The Huffington Post reminded us

Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee had just heard his head football coach, Jim Tressel, concede that he had reason to believe several star players were taking money and free tattoos from a suspected drug dealer and yet he had told no one. Tressel started most of those players throughout the 2010 season and a bowl game anyway, failing to alert anyone in authority – a clear violation of NCAA rules and his own contract.

Gee, an endowment rainmaker wearing his trademark bow tie, jumped in to defend Tressel and then, asked if he had considered firing his coach, uttered an off-hand crack.

"Let me just be very clear," Gee said with a grin, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

That illustrates what was too rarely acknowledged- the dominance of athletics- as the horrific events at Penn State were revealed.   More recently, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ was roiled by scandal when athletic director Tim Pernetti played for reporters a video which showed basketball coach Mike Rice "pushing student-athletes he is supposed to mentor; throwing basketballs at their legs, feet, and heads; and calling them 'motherfuckers,' 'pussies,' 'cunts,' 'sissy bitches,' 'fucking fairies,' and 'fucking faggots.'"

In December, Rice was merely suspended by Rutgers and fined $50,000.   Once the video became public Rice, and later Pernetti, were fired."  However, university president Robert Barchi claimed plausible deniability and was allowed to remain in position as Chris Christie, constitutionally perhaps the most powerful governor in the land, offered his support.  Hear no evil, see no evil, duck responsibility and keep your job.

The privileged position athletics, and student athletes, have is not limited to colleges.  The National Women's Law Center and a local law firm have filed in federal court a complaint charging

in 2010 the victim was sexually assaulted by a star player on the school’s basketball team. The assault took place on campus in a sound proof band room at Forest Hills Central High School. The victim notified a teacher who in turn reported the assault to the principal. But rather than open an investigation into the allegations, the principal discouraged the student and her parents from filing charges, telling them that doing so could ruin the assailant’s prospects at being recruited to play basketball for a Division 1 school.

The victim and her parents ignored the principal’s request not to file charges because they were concerned that this student might attack other girls. Instead, the student and her parents filed a police report, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department began a criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the school did nothing.

As alleged in the complaint, two weeks later another female student was sexually assaulted by the same attacker. Despite a legal obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.

It gets worse. As word of the sexual assault spread among the student body, the female victim became the target of an intensive cyber-bullying and harassment campaign—both at school and online—that depicted her as a liar and a “whore” who was trying to bring down an innocent athlete. These cyber-attacks were only reinforced by the fact that the school continued to take no action to reprimand the male student. Not only did fellow students harass the victim, the attacker and his friends verbally and physically harassed the girl as well. They followed her around as she moved in and out of classrooms, through hallways, and around the school campus. The attacker sometimes pushed her into other students as she walked down the hallway, causing her to slam into lockers. Despite repeated efforts by the victim’s parents and other students to alert the principal and the school’s Title IX Coordinator about the viciousness of the harassment by the attacker and other students, school administrators took no action.

Thankfully law enforcement did. Five weeks after the sexual assault, the Kent County Prosecutor’s office authorized two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct against the attacker for his assaults on NWLC’s client and the second female victim at the school. The attacker later pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault and battery. He was sentenced to attend Kent County’s Adolescent Sexual Offender Treatment Program for a second time. The only sanction the school imposed upon the student assailant was to temporarily bench him on the basketball court.

There is more than one moral to this story. The complaint of many on our side that the judicial system is intolerably punitive throughout the nation bears no relation to reality.  In many jurisdictions, criminal behavior is met with the cliched slap-on-the-wrist.

But as with Ohio State University (sorry, Buckeyes:  The Ohio State University), Penn State University, and many Division I colleges everywhere, sports reign supreme, over academics and sometimes even the law, in high schools like Forest Hills Central.   As Digby puts it  

But hey, a basketball scholarship for a very popular jock was at stake here. She should have known that her bodily integrity was nothing in comparison and should have been happy to volunteer to serve as his sexual plaything for such an important cause. She really has no one to blame but herself. 


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Sunday, April 28, 2013







Hey, Louie- Saudi Arabia!



Representative Louie Gohmert (R- Executionville) is really getting into it- on the House floor and in interviews.

Hayes Brown of Think Progress finds Gohmert on the House floor pontificating

But what kind of interview must that have been of the guy who was going to blow off arms and legs and kill a child and who had dreams of killing so many more. What kind of interview must that have been when you can’t use the word jihad, you can’t talk about his Muslim faith? Did they even bring up Tamerlan’s Muslim faith in that interview? [...] Is it any wonder that the FBI came away from their interviews and said, ‘We don’t find any problems?’ Well, I guess not. [...] What kind of interviews must those have been when you can’t use the terms that let you get to the bottom of what may be a plot to kill people down the road? There’s no problem in the Justice Department, there is a problem with leadership that will not let them do their job. And it needs to change.

Brown defends the FBI. He notes that when it was warned by Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, in 2011 that the brothers Tsarnaev were suspicious, the agency launched a three month investigation of the duo, later requesting further information (which was never received).   He notes also that Gohmert has been called out before for his stunning Islamophobia.

No More Mister Nice instead quotes the Texan from a radio interview in which he maintained

It's very clear to everybody but this administration that radical Islam is at war against us.   And I'm hoping either this administration will wake up or a new one will come in at the next election before irreparable damage is done. Because radical Islam is at war with us. Thank God for the moderates who don't approve of what's being done. But this administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America.

NMMN concludes

his talk is the downmarket version of the way mainstream Republicans criticize the president, Democrats, and liberals -- notice how rapidly the Boston Marathon bombing has been turned into an Obama administration failure by Republicans, who didn't even pause briefly to treat the incident as one in which Americans ought to feel united. Gohmert is just cranking that message up to 11, and peddling his version to the more rabid members of the GOP base -- thus keeping those voters' fear and anger stoked, and solidifying their loyalty to conservative Republicanism. 

If you're a "respectable" Republican, you think Gohmert is over the top, but you nod in agreement when the more responsible-sounding Lindsey Graham criticizes the White House on Sunday talk shows; to you, that's the "real" GOP. But if you're a World Net Daily fan, you need more than Graham -- and wen you hear Gohmert on WND Radio, you get what seems like the raw, angry version of the Graham message, and your party loyalty is reinforced.

So Gohmert and Bachmann aren't embarrassments to the party. They ensure that the party can effectively service all right-wing markets.

There are two ways of characterizing the GOP.  One, acknowledged by the mainstream media, is recognizing three wings- foreign policy, economic, and social (actually, cultural).  The other, which NMMN recognizes, is a far-right wing and a further-right wing.  And not only do the likes of Gohmert and Bachmann ensure support from the further-right wing, they move the goalposts, allowing conservatives such as Graham to appear moderate.

Nevertheless, Gohmert is, in a way, almost right about one thing.   The federal government has downplayed the threat posed by one sector of the Muslim world.   But that's not "the Muslim faith" or even "Muslims" and it's not primarily this Administration.  In September, 2011 Raw Story reported that the co-chairperson of the congressional inquiry into the 9/11/01 terrorism attacks and former chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former Democratic Senator Bob Graham

on Monday called on the U.S. government to reopen its investigation into 9/11 after a report found that links between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers were never disclosed by the FBI to the 2002 joint Congressional intelligence committee investigating the attacks.

“In the final report of the congressional inquiry, there was a chapter related primarily to the Saudi role in 9/11 that was totally censored, every word of the chapter has been withheld from the public,” Graham said on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show.

“Some of the other questions we ought to be asking are if we know that the Saudis who lived in San Diego and now apparently in Sarasota received substantial assistance, what about the Saudis who lived in Phoenix, Arizona? Or Arlington, Virginia? … What was happening in those places?”

“I believe these are questions for which there are definitive answers, but the American people and largely their elected representatives have been denied that information.”

There are questions about national security policy pertaining to the Muslim world.  Unfortunately, Louie Gohmert has no idea what they are.






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Saturday, April 27, 2013






Losing On Purpose



Ezra Klein explains

Recall the Democrats’ original theory of the case: Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too.

In effect, what Democrats said Friday was that in any case where the political pain caused by sequestration becomes unbearable, they will agree to cancel that particular piece of the bill while leaving the rest of the law untouched. The result is that sequestration is no longer particularly politically threatening, but it’s even more unbalanced: Cuts to programs used by the politically powerful will be addressed, but cuts to programs that affects the politically powerless will persist. It’s worth saying this clearly: The pain of sequestration will be concentrated on those who lack political power.

Democrats had other choices, of course. As Politico’s Glenn Thrush pointed out on MSNBC Friday, President Obama could’ve vetoed the FAA bill while standing at a Head Start that’s about to throw needy children out of the program. He could’ve vetoed it from the home of an jobless worker who just saw her benefits cut. Democrats could simply have insisted that the powerful can’t get out of sequestration unless the powerless can, too. But they didn’t — and they show no signs that they’ll start.

But that’s game, then. Absent the willingness to accept the pain of sequestration and use it to overturn the whole policy, Democrats have no leverage to end it.

It is worth noting how different the Democrats’ approach to sequestration has been to the GOP’s approach to, well, everything. Over the past five years, Republicans have repeatedly accepted short-term political pain to win the leverage necessary for long-term policy gain. That’s the governing political principle behind their threats to shut down the government, breach the debt ceiling, and, for that matter, accept sequestration. Today, Democrats showed they’re not willing to accept even a bit of short-term pain for leverage on sequestration. They played a game of chicken with the Republicans, and they lost. Badly.

Klein gets only one thing slightly wrong.   Democrats played a game of chicken with the Republicans and lost.  Badly.   President Obama was playing a different game- and, like the GOP, won. President Obama sees the chess board two steps ahead of Democrats and one step ahead of Republicans and that these are cuts he's rather comfortable with.   Recall Klein noting

Politico’s Glenn Thrush pointed out on MSNBC Friday, President Obama could’ve vetoed the FAA bill while standing at a Head Start that’s about to throw needy children out of the program. He could’ve vetoed it from the home of an jobless worker who just saw her benefits cut. Democrats could simply have insisted that the powerful can’t get out of sequestration unless the powerless can, too. But they didn’t.

Oh, if only the Democrats had a leader well-spoken, eloquent, and charismatic with the power of the bully pulpit.  The President is the nation's one official who commands the nation's attention, is popularly elected by all the people (except the Vice-President, who is pulled in by the presidential candidate), and represents everyone.   And this president, with his extraordinary gifts of discourse, not only refused to veto the bill, but has remained silent.

Relatively silent, that is.  Politico reports

the administration is firmly against piecemeal fixes to other impacts of sequester cuts, press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

"This is a one-off case, if you will," he said, adding "the sequester itself cannot be finessed. It is having negative consequences around the country."

Carney argued the FAA fix, which was passed by Congress Friday, was doable because the funds were available to head off the need for FAA furloughs.

"The fact is it’s a drop in the bucket, it’s a Band-aid over -- I think it's kind of a gross metaphor – but a big wound," he said. "The fact is this is a small amount of funding compared to the overall sequester. It's $253 million. There was an ability because of unobligated funds available that could be transferred."

Now that the President has given the GOP something it wants- an FAA fix- he says the sequester "cannot be finessed."  Not only will he make a concession to the party which has made it a mission never to cooperate with him, he'll ask for nothing in return.

In his weekly address this morning, President Obama argued "There is only one way to truly fix the sequester: by replacing it before it causes further damage.

Well, of course, he wants to end the sequester- and replace it with something more appealing to the GOP.   Earlier this month, Joshua Green had written

Although the White House doesn’t advertise this fact in the six-page budget overview it put out this morning, the new budget eliminates nearly all of the cuts that sequestration imposes on the Pentagon. Instead of $500 billion in cuts, Obama proposes only $100 billion, and you have to look closely to spot it (“$200 billion in additional discretionary savings, with equal amounts from defense and nondefense programs”).

The President is intent to get most Democrats to believe that his wish to end the sequester is akin to their interest, ending such cuts as to Head Start, food pantries, cancer treatment for Medicare patients, and stemming job losses and furloughs.   It's a tough sell, but never underestimate the ability of the nation's first black President to convince progressives he's on their side.





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Friday, April 26, 2013







Refusal To Distinguish


The White House website has announced

On April 24, 2013, National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske released the President’s national blueprint for drug policy, the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy. This document builds on drug policy reform achieved during the past three years, beginning with the Administration’s inaugural Strategy, released in 2010. This Strategy calls for drug policy reform rooted in scientific research on addiction, evidence-based prevention programs, increased access to treatment, a historic emphasis on recovery, and criminal justice reform.

It's hard to argue with that outline, unless you're a conservative hostile to scientific research and evidence- which probably would be most conservatives.

Still, the details were (understandably) sketchy.  Under the announcement's subsection "Drug Policy 101," we are told

While law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting our communities from drug-related crime and violence, we simply cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly. At the other extreme, drug legalization also runs counter to a public health and safety approach to drug policy. The more Americans use drugs, the higher the health, safety, productivity, and criminal justice costs we all have to bear.

Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly. At the other extreme, drug legalization also runs counter to a public health and safety approach to drug policy.   

Sorry, but the White House here has it rear end-backward, with no acknowledgement- not even a hint of an acknowledgement- that marijuana is different than, say, cocaine or heroine.

That's not surprising.  In October, 2009 the Department of Justice issued a memorandum suggesting an acceptance of medical marijuana. Nonetheless

the Department of Justice has cracked down hard on medical marijuana, raiding hundreds of dispensaries, while the IRS and other federal law enforcement officials have gone after banks and landlords who do business with them. Fours years after promising not to make medical marijuana a priority, the government continues to target it aggressively.

From roughly the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s, cocaine- and more notably, crack cocaine- dominated the drug landscape.  Partly as a result, street crime surged and, with the decline of cocaine use (and other factors) has since declined.

Marijuana is to the "War on Drugs" as Iraq is to Afghanistan.   The Bush Administration poured into a war in Iraq tremendous resources better expended in Afghanistan, in which the Taliban gave shelter to Al Qaeda, and in which much of the planning for the horrific events of 9/11 took place.   Obsessed with Sadaam Hussein, the federal government pushed a war in Iraq to the detriment of an effort against terrorism, a scourge centered in Afghanistan.

For many years, Washington has insufficiently distinguished between "hard" drugs and marijuana, and dispensaries established to dispense marijuana in accord with state law are being enthusiastically raided.  But though de-emphasizing the War on Drugs (which, in deference to real wars, should be renamed), the Administration restates its opposition to the legalization of marijuana, even for personal use.

Elements of the new approach, such as increased funds for drug treatment, are wise.  But there seems to be little acknowledgement that, like conflating Afghanistan with the less consequential Iraq, there is a dramatic difference upon society between drugs which characteristically destroy the mind and body, and those which typically don't.




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Thursday, April 25, 2013




Popular Target

It was at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Eastern time, that Boston-based Charles Pierce posted an item criticizing the Boston Herald, considered a staunchly conservative newspaper, for attempting to tie "welfare" to the Boston bombings.    Reporter/blogger Chris Cassidy had written

Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned.

State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012 when the couple stopped meeting income eligibility limits. Russell Tsarnaev’s attorney has claimed Katherine — who had converted to Islam — was working up to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while Tsarnaev stayed at home.

In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.

Cassidy's objective in raising an issue apparently unrelated to the bombings becomes clear as the writes "The news raises questions over whether Tsarnaev financed his radicalization on taxpayer money."

There are few things which more closely bind the conservative community than the firmly held belief that public funds should go nowhere, except for corporations, ecclesiastical institutions, and the Pentagon.  Pierce notes "there was no reason for the Tsarnaevs not to receive benefits to which they were entitled. None. Once Tamerlan's family bumped into the income ceiling, they stopped receiving benefits. The only reason to write this story this way is so that some reading-challenged blowhard on the radio will read it and talk about how 'welfare' causes 'terrorism.'"

No idle prediction that, because within minutes of posting of the blog, Rush Limbaugh, who has retired the reading-challenged blowhard on the radio trophy, was heard to say 

Now we hear that the entire Tsarnaev family was on welfare.  How could he not be an Obama supporter?  Have you heard that?  The Boston Herald has managed to force out of the local authorities that the whole Tsarnaev family has been on welfare as recently as last year.  The parents, the brothers and sisters, the aunts and the uncles, probably.

Tamerlan and his bride and their three-year-old daughter all have been on welfare as recently as last year.  Isn't that wonderful?  I was wondering where they got the money to buy all this stuff.  The whole family's on welfare.  So we have another great example of your tax dollars at work. Your tax dollars helped to pay for the explosives, as well as Tamerlan's at least two trips back to Dagestan, his late-model Mercedes, his $900 shoes.

Got that?  The Tsarnaevs were on welfare as late as last year segued into "the whole family's on welfare." Well, no.  They are not on welfare.  "The Tsarnaevs," wrote Peters without even hearing Limbaugh,  "received benefits to which they were entirely entitled as citizens of the Commonwealth, and Tamerlan stopped receiving them when his family no longer qualified. Hurrah for how the system is supposed to work."

Charles Peters shouldn't be considered psychic, of course, because it doesn't take a seer to know that conservatives will blame virtually anything helpful to the middle class or lower class on "your tax dollars at work."  For another perspective (coincidentally using Limbaugh as an example) on the right-wing mind at work, check this out.



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Tuesday, April 23, 2013






Step Aside: Nothing To See Here


A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bob Ford wrote

Head coach Mike Rice, through the magic of digital recording, was discovered to be an educator whose methods of imparting knowledge include charging his students to deliver two-handed shoves from behind that snap their necks backward. He is also fond of throwing basketballs at their feet, genitals, and heads, and particularly enjoys using homosexual slurs and referring to them as various parts of the female anatomy. Yeah, he's a real prize.

As is usually the case in this sort of situation, Rice didn't lose his job because of his actions, but because they became public. Athletic director Tim Pernetti, who resigned prior to his own termination, knew the coach he hired had a temper issue and knew, as advised for some time by Eric Murdock, former director of player development, that players were being badly mistreated.

Despite a few press conferences and public confessionals, including a hilarious one held by university president Robert Barchi, it is still difficult to tell what went wrong at Rutgers with what should have been an obvious decision. Pernetti said he wanted to fire Rice as soon as he saw the video of practices, which is convenient to say now. He said he was stopped by a school lawyer - who was also canned - and the whole thing devolved into ass-covering by committee.

Eventually, Rutgers brought in outside lawyers to look at the thing, an independent investigator, human resources employees of the university, and a psychologist. There might have been a tarot-card reader, too; I'm not sure.

Rutgers needed all those people and all that deep thought to decide if the basketball coach should be throwing balls at the heads of his players and questioning their manhood.

"It was a failure of process," said Barchi, who admitted only to being superficially briefed about the issue. It was as if he had been told that, every six months or so, Rice would say something like, "Damn it all, fellas. We have to box out." One does not become a university president without cultivating a close relationship with deniability.

Barchi was wrong, of course. This wasn't a failure of process. This was a function of process. There shouldn't have been a process at all. There should have been an athletic director sending out a release to announce the coach's dismissal about 30 minutes after he saw the practice video. That's the process.

Instead, because lawyers keep their jobs (although not in this case) by managing risk, particularly the risk of litigation liability, it is easy to believe the school was advised that getting rid of Rice could be more dangerous than keeping him. According to Pernetti, the opinion was that "university policy would not justify dismissal" because of the coach's actions.

It leaves one to wonder what would justify dismissal according to university policy. Would Rice have needed to make them strip off their clothing, piece by piece, as they missed free throws in practice and then run naked wind sprints? That helped get Kevin Bannon fired as Rutgers head coach in 2001, at the end of another embarrassing and depressing week.

Maybe that would have done it, but merely physically and verbally abusing students apparently isn't enough to get you fired at Rutgers. Good to know.

As part of a settlement, Athletic Director Pernetti will receive more than $1.25 million (plus other benefits) for resigning as part of a settlement, which should help alleviate the pain of separation.    Rutgers' interim senior vice president and general counsel John B. Wolf also has resigned. Nevertheless, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported, President Barchi is highly unlikely to go anywhere.

Of course not.  The president has someone powerful on his side.    Governor Chris Christie, who reiterated that Pernetti's decision was "necessary and appropriate," nonetheless backed the university's president, maintaining

I do continue to have faith in him.  Nothing that has come to light in the last number of days changes that...

The people who are responsible for this conduct have been dealt with I think we need to move on.

But it got worse when we learned on April 20

Rutgers University president Robert Barchi inadvertently misspoke Thursday afternoon when he told members of the Assembly Budget Committee that he would not sign off on a severance payment for ousted basketball coach Mike Rice, a university official said Friday.

Several hours later, the university issued a statement saying it would pay Rice $475,000 as part of a separation agreement. University officials now say Barchi meant that he would never agree to higher settlement figures that reportedly had been under discussion with Rice.

Barchi was questioned Thursday by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., Mercer), who sought confirmation that there would be no severance payment to Rice following his discharge.

"That is my position as a nonlawyer, but that is also why I have a new general counsel," Barchi testified. "Personally, having reviewed what I reviewed, I am going to be pretty hard to budge off of that."

The turnabout caused puzzlement among some members of the Legislature, who wondered whether Barchi had full command of the issues surrounding Rice's termination.

Asked about the continuing impressive popularity of the governor, Christie's chief political strategist recently stated "I think the most important thing is his authenticity. He says what he thinks, brutally and honestly, and people respond to that. "  This is the chief executive who defends the state university's president because "you cannot micromanage every issue."   Yet, three individuals now have lost their job while the brazenly dishonest guy at the top keeps his because he knew enough not to look at a tape of extraordinary behavior he'd have to address.

It's a little like a governor who expects to keep his job after cutting women's health care, propping up a casino which later goes bankrupt, eviscerates environmental protection, giving a politically well-connected firm the  contract to clean up after Hurricane Sandy, and blocks transit funding in the region most dependent in the nation upon public transportation.  And all that while currently presiding over a state with the 7th highest unemployment rate in the country and highest in the region.  Like the university president he defends, Chris Christie is not one to allow circumstances to get in the way of professional ambition.





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Step Aside: Nothing To See Here


A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Bob Ford wrote

Head coach Mike Rice, through the magic of digital recording, was discovered to be an educator whose methods of imparting knowledge include charging his students to deliver two-handed shoves from behind that snap their necks backward. He is also fond of throwing basketballs at their feet, genitals, and heads, and particularly enjoys using homosexual slurs and referring to them as various parts of the female anatomy. Yeah, he's a real prize.

As is usually the case in this sort of situation, Rice didn't lose his job because of his actions, but because they became public. Athletic director Tim Pernetti, who resigned prior to his own termination, knew the coach he hired had a temper issue and knew, as advised for some time by Eric Murdock, former director of player development, that players were being badly mistreated.

Despite a few press conferences and public confessionals, including a hilarious one held by university president Robert Barchi, it is still difficult to tell what went wrong at Rutgers with what should have been an obvious decision. Pernetti said he wanted to fire Rice as soon as he saw the video of practices, which is convenient to say now. He said he was stopped by a school lawyer - who was also canned - and the whole thing devolved into ass-covering by committee.

Eventually, Rutgers brought in outside lawyers to look at the thing, an independent investigator, human resources employees of the university, and a psychologist. There might have been a tarot-card reader, too; I'm not sure.

Rutgers needed all those people and all that deep thought to decide if the basketball coach should be throwing balls at the heads of his players and questioning their manhood.

"It was a failure of process," said Barchi, who admitted only to being superficially briefed about the issue. It was as if he had been told that, every six months or so, Rice would say something like, "Damn it all, fellas. We have to box out." One does not become a university president without cultivating a close relationship with deniability.

Barchi was wrong, of course. This wasn't a failure of process. This was a function of process. There shouldn't have been a process at all. There should have been an athletic director sending out a release to announce the coach's dismissal about 30 minutes after he saw the practice video. That's the process.

Instead, because lawyers keep their jobs (although not in this case) by managing risk, particularly the risk of litigation liability, it is easy to believe the school was advised that getting rid of Rice could be more dangerous than keeping him. According to Pernetti, the opinion was that "university policy would not justify dismissal" because of the coach's actions.

It leaves one to wonder what would justify dismissal according to university policy. Would Rice have needed to make them strip off their clothing, piece by piece, as they missed free throws in practice and then run naked wind sprints? That helped get Kevin Bannon fired as Rutgers head coach in 2001, at the end of another embarrassing and depressing week.

Maybe that would have done it, but merely physically and verbally abusing students apparently isn't enough to get you fired at Rutgers. Good to know.

As part of a settlement, Athletic Director Pernetti will receive more than $1.25 million (plus other benefits) for resigning as part of a settlement, which should help alleviate the pain of separation.    Rutgers' interim senior vice president and general counsel John B. Wolf also has resigned. Nevertheless, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported, President Barchi is highly unlikely to go anywhere.

Of course not.  The president has someone powerful on his side.    Governor Chris Christie, who reiterated that Pernetti's decision was "necessary and appropriate," nonetheless backed the university's president, maintaining

I do continue to have faith in him.  Nothing that has come to light in the last number of days changes that...

The people who are responsible for this conduct have been dealt with I think we need to move on.

But it got worse when we learned on April 20

Rutgers University president Robert Barchi inadvertently misspoke Thursday afternoon when he told members of the Assembly Budget Committee that he would not sign off on a severance payment for ousted basketball coach Mike Rice, a university official said Friday.


Several hours later, the university issued a statement saying it would pay Rice $475,000 as part of a separation agreement. University officials now say Barchi meant that he would never agree to higher settlement figures that reportedly had been under discussion with Rice.
Barchi was questioned Thursday by Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., Mercer), who sought confirmation that there would be no severance payment to Rice following his discharge.
"That is my position as a nonlawyer, but that is also why I have a new general counsel," Barchi testified. "Personally, having reviewed what I reviewed, I am going to be pretty hard to budge off of that."
The turnabout caused puzzlement among some members of the Legislature, who wondered whether Barchi had full command of the issues surrounding Rice's termination.

Asked about the continuing impressive popularity of the governor, Christie's chief political strategist recently stated "I think the most important thing is his authenticity. He says what he thinks, brutally and honestly, and people respond to that. "  This is the chief executive who defends the state university's president because "you cannot micromanage every issue."   Yet, three individuals now have lost their job while the brazenly dishonest guy at the top keeps his because he knew enough not to look at a tape of extraordinary behavior he'd have to address.

It's a little like a governor who expects to keep his job after cutting women's health care, propping up a casino which later goes bankrupt, eviscerates environmental protection, giving a politically well-connected firm the  contract to clean up after Hurricane Sandy, and blocks transit funding in the region most dependent in the nation upon public transportation.  And all that while currently presiding over a state with the 7th highest unemployment rate in the country and highest in the region.  Like the university president he defends, Chris Christie is not one to allow circumstances to get in the way of professional ambition.



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Terrorists, Terrorists, Terrorists


In alphabetical order: Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Peter King have all the answers.  In their letter released Wednesday, they write

It is clear the events we have seen over the past few days in Boston were an attempt to kill American citizens and terrorize a major American city. The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim, and kill innocent Americans.

“The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent.

It's a wise tactic to refer to the apparent culprits, one deceased and the other reportedly only beginning to talk, as "terrorists" rather than "common criminals."  The brothers Tsarnaev were/are American citizens, and as a citizen- even as an individual simply present in the U.S.A.- Dzokhar would be entitled to rights under the U.S. Constitution, which conservatives claim to revere until it guarantees rights to people they don't like.  Were they attempting "to profit," the Tsarnaevs might have gained at least a little sympathy from the right.

President Obama, however, also labeled the suspects "terrorists"when Friday night he promised "We will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had."  The notion of forming a conclusion after an investigation seems so quaint.

The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population nor any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives." The motives of the perpetrators is yet unknown and  their political or social objectives, if any, are not definitively determined.  Yet, labeling them "terrorists" is political correctness both the right and the left are comfortable perpetuating.

But at least one intelligence hand refuses to jump to conclusions and he, ironically, spoke out on Fox News.  Former CIA deputy director Philllip Mudd was asked Sunday by Chris Wallace

if there were signs that al Qaeda was behind the Boston Marathon bombing.

“The only fingerprint I’ve seen might have possible have been ideology, but not operations,” Mudd explained. “But every step of the way here was pretty rudimentary. For example, if you look at some of those initial photos, you’ve got a kid with a hoodie and a cap. If he wants to obscure himself, the hoodie goes on, the cap forward.”

“If he had operational training, I want to know who did it because they were amateurs.”

Mudd added that he feared that people were being too quick to categorize the crime as terrorism.

“This looks more to me like Columbine than it does al Qaeda,” the counter terrorism expert observed. “Two kids who radicalized between themselves in a closed circle go out and commit murder. I would charge these guys as murders, not terrorists.”

Wallace pressed Mudd on how he could dismiss the fact that Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, spent six months in Russia “where there are a lot of radicals.”

“I’m not writing that off,” Mudd insisted. “What I’m saying is we want to categorize this… with a simple term, and at looking at the psychology of clusters like this — which I did for 20 years — the psychology is not that simple. It’s two kids who decided, for whatever ideology, that they wanted to commit murder. And the murder piece is significant as the terrorism piece.”

Matters were further complicated when CNN Monday night reported

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told investigators his older brother Tamerlan was the driving force behind last week's attack and that no international terrorist groups were behind them, a U.S. government source said Monday.

Preliminary interviews with Tsarnaev indicate the two brothers fit the classification of self-radicalized jihadists, the source said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wounded and held in a Boston hospital, has said his brother -- who was killed early Friday -- wanted to defend Islam from attack, according to the source.

"Facts are stupid things," President Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) once unfortunately said.  "Facts are stubborn things," President John Adams once said.  Two hundred forty three years later, Adams still is right.




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Sunday, April 21, 2013




Excuses, Excuses



"There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11," Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden once famously said of Rudy Giuliani.  Five years later, Joe Biden is vice-president and Rudy Giuliani hasn't changed much.

On Face The Nation (transcript here) Sunday, Giuliani remarked

Unfortunately, I think the way this was presented gave people who wanted to vote against it an out. It never dealt with the mental health aspect of this. So if you say, if this law had been passed would it have prevented Adam Lanza? The sad answer to it is no, it would not have prevented Adam Lanza because Adam Lanza was not in any database indicating that he had mental illness because all that information is kept very private. It's kept very confidential. If we're really going to improve here, if we're really going to be honest with these people you had on the show, and prevent, or attempt to prevent another Sandy Hook, you've got to do something about how secretive all of these mental health records are.

The mental health dodge will not die.  Late last month, court records which were released revealed

To carry out the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Lanza used 30-round magazines at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, said Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy after the previously sealed searches of Lanza's car and home were made public.

"We now know that he left the lower capacity magazines at home," Malloy said in a statement. "This is exactly why we need to ban high capacity magazines and why we need to tighten our assault weapons ban."

Fairness dictates that Rudy Giuliani, now excusing the inexcusable opposition of 42 Republicans and 4 Democrats to extending background checks, be credited with supporting an assault weapons ban when he was U.S. Attorney, a position held prior to his election as mayor of New York City.  Those Senators who cited mental health issues in their opposition to background checks would have voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment anyway, and would have found another excuse to cite.  Expanded background checks are designed, obviously, to prevent firearms from being sold to mentally ill individuals, as well as to criminals.

Passage would have been a step in the right direction, though further progress would have been unlikely.  A few days earlier, an amendment to re-establish the federal assault weapons ban and one to limit the size of magazines to ten rounds also failed in the U.S. Senate.

As Mark Follman and Gavin Aronsen  noted in Mother Jones

Gun rights advocates argue that larger magazines, which can add convenience for gun owners who enjoy sport shooting, are simply "standard" for semiautomatic handguns and rifles. The debate turns semantic quickly, in the same contentious vein as the one over the definition of "assault weapon." Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, tend to agree that no law-abiding citizen needs high-capacity magazines for self-defense.

Gun rights advocates also commonly argue that mass shooters could kill just as easily by rapidly reloading smaller magazines, and that a ban would make no difference. But such capability requires extensive training under intense conditions, according to Chipman. "Anyone who's been a cop or in the military knows that that's not something you can do unpracticed," he says.

The Tucson mass shooting is telling here in another regard: It was only after Loughner had emptied his 33-round magazine and paused to reload that bystanders were able to tackle him and end the carnage.

Before Giuliani spoke, Erica Lafferty gave what would have been a splendid retort to the former mayor:  "I mean, I've said it a plethora of times before, my mom was not scared in the halls of Sandy Hook, they should not be scared to cast a vote to protect millions of innocent people."




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Extraordinarily Effective Exposition



It was in the 1980s- in this case (video, below), 1983.  Most people were watching CBS, NBC, ABC, or perhaps PBS and were repeatedly asked:  what would you do for a Klondike bar?

So, then, what would you do for comprehensive immigration reform?

In the case of President Barack Obama, it would be to deliver a subtly crafted, carefully naunced, yet (and?) brilliant statement (transcript, here) following the capture of the presumptive second culprit in the Boston marathon bombing, Dzokhar Tsarnaev.  James Robbins of the American Foreign Policy Council strikes a balance as he observes

Attention has focused on the Tsarnaev brothers' Chechen background. Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian republic, has been a hotbed of terrorist violence for two decades, and has suffered two devastating wars to squelch its separatist movement. But it is unlikely that the accused brothers Tsarnaev believed they were striking a blow for Chechen independence by killing innocent Americans. The United States is not a player in that war. Rather, it is more likely that the brothers were in the grip of the same radical Islamist ideology that has inspired other domestic terrorists such as Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born Times Square bomber. This was not Chechen terror coming to America but jihadist terror, which has become a more prominent part of the Chechen conflict in recent years.

It is premature to call this home-grown terrorism since there are hints of foreign ties. The FBI had questioned Tamarlan in 2011 at the request of a foreign government, probably Russia, perhaps because he was corresponding with radicals abroad through the internet. This was the case with Nidal Hassan, who committed the Fort Hood massacre in 2009. Tamarlan had an in-person opportunity for such contacts when he visited Russia last year. A critical part of the investigation will be putting together the pieces that point to possible involvement by foreign terrorist organizations or movements.

Some Republicans are ready to panic in the name of national security.   In a joint statement, Senators Graham, McCain, and Ayotte, and Representative Peter King argued

The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent … We should be focused on gathering intelligence from this suspect right now that can help our nation understand how this attack occurred and what may follow. That should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete.

In a similar vein, President Obama, in his remarkably savvy statement Friday night, reflected the terror and panic of the American people by stating

And so I’ve instructed the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and our intelligence community to continue to deploy all the necessary resources to support the investigation, to collect intelligence, and to protect our citizens. We will determine what happened. We will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had. And we’ll continue to do whatever we have to do to keep our people safe.

The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”  We don't know yet what political or social objectives, if any, the brothers Tsarnaev had, but that didn't stop the pandering President from labeling "these terrorists." But it should be effective in helping gin up whatever steps the President makes to expand the national security state, as well as to rationalize the Justice Department's abuse of the public safety exception and a delay in bringing the suspect to Court.

Brilliantly, however, immediately before pronouncing the presumed bombers "terrorists," Obama had remarked

Obviously, tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence? How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help? The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers. The wounded, some of whom now have to learn how to stand and walk and live again, deserve answers.

Notice:  "young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country;"  not "young men who were born in Chechnya, are Muslim, and grew up and studied in the U.S.A."  It wasn't necessary for the President to refer to their land of birth or their religion, but if he is to refer to them as being raised in America, surely the fact that they were born abroad and are Muslim is not insignificant.

They are, however, facts which (probably unjustifiably) threaten the President's dream of comprehensive immigration reform.  And so he cleverly omitted some details while mentioning others.  And, intimidated as ever by his domestic political enemies, he was determined to reinforce the assumption that the young men are terrorists- just not Muslim, nor foreign.

A great strategic thinker, Barack Obama once again has seen the chess board two steps ahead of the rest of us.  His political capital in executing national security, and foreign, policy grows as the monstrously violent acts in Boston are accepted as terrorism.  And his pursuit of a legalization/citizenship policy for illegal immigrants can only be enhanced by a national debate about how the minds and psyche of the offenders were warped by their experiences in America, and only, America.











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Saturday, April 20, 2013





If It's A Battlefield, He Has Done His Small Part


The Nation's Rick Perlstein puts it into perspective when he explains

As ghastly, evil, overwhelming, tragic, as the events this week in Boston, Texas, the Capitol mail rooms, have been, it's easy to forget, in our oh-so-American narcissism, enveloped in the wall-to-wall coverage that makes our present catastrophe feel like the most important events in the universe, how safe and secure Americans truly are by any rational standard. Terror shatters us here precisely because ours is not a terrifying place compared to so much of the rest of the world. And also not really an objectively terrifying time, compared other periods in the American past: for instance, Christmastime, 1975, when an explosion equivalent to twenty-five sticks of dynamite exploded in a baggage claim area, leaving severed heads and other body parts scattered among some two dozen corpses; no one ever claimed responsibility; no one ever was caught; but pretty much, the event was forgotten, life went on, and no one anywhere said "everything changed."

Everything has changed, to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.   Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin on Friday afternoon wrote that she

spoke with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) by phone just a few minutes ago. He said of the Boston bombers: “They were radicalized somewhere, somehow.” Regardless of whether they are international or “homegrown,” he said, “This is Exhibit A of why the homeland is the battlefield.” Recalling Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster, Graham noted that he took to the Senate floor specifically to object to Rand’s notion that “America is not the battlefield.” Graham said to me, “It’s a battlefield because the terrorists think it is.” Referring to Boston, he observed, “Here is what we’re up against,” and added, “It sure would be nice to have a drone up there [to track the suspect.]” He also slammed the president’s policy of “leading from behind and criminalizing war.” 

It's a little counter-intuitive for a fellow, anxious for war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and who knows where else, to claim now that "the homeland is the battlefield,"  which would sound like latter-day isolationism, were there any principle behind it.  It is also stupid because, as Alex Pareene points out, "Making America 'the battlefield' is sort of the point of terrorism" (emphasis his), aside from killing people and forcing a change in foreign policy.  Notwithstanding the fear and panic Perlstein realizes public figures like Graham wish to sow, this homeland is relatively safe.

Relatively safe from terrorism, that is.   If "the homeland is the battlefield," it may be because in the U.S. A., there are approximately 30,000 deaths per year by firearm.  As Ezra Klein has noted, of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years, 15 have occurred here and of the 12 deadliest shootings in the USA, six have transpired subsequent to 2006.  

States with the strictest gun laws generally have the fewest gun-related deaths.  In honor of the "homeland" being "the battlefield," Senator Graham Wednesday joined 41 of his GOP colleagues in voting against cloture on the Manchin-Toomey minimalist gun safety measure.    

When Lindsey Graham says America is "the battlefield," we all assume he is dissatisfied. Maybe we should reconsider our assumptions.  



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Thursday, April 18, 2013






It's Not Guns



Joan Walsh, taking heart from a changed political climate which brought Democrats close to almost securing a mild gun safety law, notes

And it’s become a law of nature: When Democrats run away from their legacy – whether on civil rights, anti-poverty programs, climate change or gun control – Republicans don’t recognize their conciliation and meet them in the middle: they run far to the right. They reject former Republican ideas – cap and trade, the individual mandate for health insurance, and even background check legislation, which was once the “reasonable” alternative to more stringent gun control, supported by not only Republicans but the NRA.

Wayne LaPierre learned that lesson well. Even after Newtown, he moved the debate to the right, rather than compromising.

She also may be realistic in her hope that "this defeat is just the beginning, not the end, of a serious gun-control movement in this country." Certainly, as she maintains, "Democrats and a handful of Republicans of conscience just have to get used to fighting hard on this issue."  Then she concludes by approvingly quoting former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who wrote Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Strong, and important, words from a victim of the massacre in front of the Safeway supermarket two+ years ago in Tucson:  if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities' interests ahead of the gun lobby's.  That is a call to a litmus test, arguing that a different Congress must be one that will push the interest of gun safety to the forefront of its agenda.

Which party is it which will dedicate itself to sensible, even moderate firearms legislation? Four of 46 Republican Senators voted to proceed with debating a bill co-sponsored by two conservative Senators- one risking his career in gun-friendly West Virginia and the other a walking, talking sponsor of corporate America.  Rejecting cloture, forty-two Republican Senators decided they didn't even want to talk about it.

And what about the Democratic Party, a vast majority of whose Senators voted in favor of the compromise- will it commit itself, beyond a possible convention plank, to some sort of gun control legislation?   Last month, the National Journal reported

 “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.”

Public opinions on gay marriage have shifted dramatically over the past decade. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday shows that 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage, while only 36 percent say it should be illegal. That’s a complete reversal of public opinion from where it stood in 2003.

To win a Democratic primary, supporting gay marriage is shaping up to be a requirement: The poll found 72 percent of Democrats support same-sex marriage, up from 43 percent in 2004.

Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign’s 2012 spokesman, said on MSNBC shortly after Clinton’s announcement that “you can't be a Democratic candidate in 2016 and oppose same-sex marriage.”

No one expects a Democratic strategist to declare "you can't be a Democratic candidate in 2016 and oppose gun-safety legislation, " even expanded background checks, whose support among the public eclipses that for same-sex marriage.   The statement would not apply in a national campaign, let alone in Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, and Arkansas (in which a Democratic Senator voted with the winning side) and other states in which a Democratic candidate will soft-pedal his/her support.

A litmus test is "a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment."  If there is more than one test, neither is crucial- nor, obviously, is it a single factor.  The Democratic Party is staking its claim on one issue, and it's not gun safety.




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If Not Now, When?


Comedienne Kathy Griffin, "an honorary member of the LGBT community," has told a southern California LGBT magazine

And then Senator Rob Portman of Ohio coming out for gay marriage, which I’m going to make fun of, and here’s why: I think it’s an amazing thing—Ohio is arguably a red state, it’s on the bubble—but you don’t think it’s a little bit funny that he’s in favor for gay marriage because of his gay son? [Laughs] I mean, is that what it’s going to take? Does every United States Senator have to have a kid come out and say, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay” for them to actually believe in equal rights?

A few days after that interview was published, on Wednesday, the watered-down Manchin-Toomey initiative,  a compromise on background checks for firearms purchases (a compromise of a compromise on background checks, itself a gun control compromise), fell six votes short of a 60-vote majority in the United States Senate.  Carlee Soto, who lost an older sister at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, was interviewed that night by CNN's Piers Morgan (video, below).

Reminded that an ex-Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee called the rejection "a great day for the Second Amendment," Ms. Soto stated "I love Sarah Palin" but added "No one is trying to take away your guns. It's just a background check. A simple background check."  (Palin actually had omitted the word "great" attributed to her by Morgan.)  She remarked also "I'm disgusted and so disappointed in our Senate... If they were to lose a loved one to a horrific tragedy like we did, they would feel the same way and I don’t wish upon anyone but if they had to bury their loved ones they would feel the same way I do..."

The American people are widely supportive of expanded background checks. (Contrary to Morgan's comment, the bill would not have included private sales.) But perhaps passage would have required a variant of the Portman Effect, something akin to the personal experience that convinced Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to advocate same-sex marriage.   (Note to the ultra-sensitive right wing: I'm not recommending an assassination or praying for murder.)   Or maybe that wouldn't get it done. For as Gabby Giffords movingly wrote in a New York Times op-ed

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

Even after a United States Representative was shot (and others killed), after 26 individuals including seven children were massacred, after the more than 3500 deaths from firearms since the incident in Newtown, Connecticut, 46 United States Senators defiantly and wantonly voted in favor of violent crime and its Washington lobby, the National Rifle Association.   Among the 54 who opted to put a brake, however slight, on the influence of the NRA were four Republicans.  None of them was named "Rob."

Quite the profile in courage, that Ohio Senator.







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Wednesday, April 17, 2013







Stringing Them Along, Again

Rush Limbaugh talks often of "low-information voters."  He claims- obviously with no evidence, because that is the Limbaugh way- that most are Democrats.

But he means to change that, doing all he possibly can to dumb-down his listeners.   While criticizing Senate Majority Leader Reid for use of the term "anti-gun violence legislation," Rush contended

Except that they are, and Dingy Harry let it slip. For example, the Assault Weapons Ban? We've had one of those before, and the problem is there's no such thing as an assault weapon. It's just a created title. It's a created label.

It's nothing more than a name the Democrats and people on the left created to gin up anti-gun sentiment among people.

Last month, Justin Peters in Slate observed that the assault weapons ban sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein of Florida, which grandfathered in all existing semi-automatic weapons legally possessed, was about to die what he believed would be a merciful death.  A ban on sale of these firearms would be less effective than, he argued, "restricting magazine capacity; requiring tougher background checks and longer waiting periods; raising taxes on gun and ammunition purchases; devising better strategies to combat gun trafficking; developing guns and gun safes that can only be operated by their owners."  Nevertheless, he explained that

It was better, at least, than the porous, imprecise law passed in 1994. That bill’s definition of an “assault weapon” was vague and easily evaded...

The Feinstein-backed 2013 bill was tighter, listing by name 157 firearms that would be specifically banned—including all AR-15-style rifles—while also naming 2,258 “legitimate hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns” that would still be legal. The new bill limited semiautomatic firearms to one militaristic feature, not two. And whereas the 1994 legislation only banned “copies and duplicates” of weapons like the Colt AR-15, the latest bill banned “copies, duplicates, variants, or altered facsimiles with the capability of” the 157 specifically named firearms—a caveat that would seem to prevent gunmakers from making small modifications to existing platforms and selling them under different names. (“Gentlemen, I give you our newest product: the JR-15!”)

Admittedly, the power of the NRA and of firearms manufacturers played a greater role than did manipulation of grass-roots conservatives in sinking any chance of resurrecting a ban .   But the right delighted in implying that the law would have prohibited weapons it labeled "assault weapons."  Limbaugh joined in the assault, silently amusing himself that yet again he got one over on the listeners he regards as suckers.




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Tuesday, April 16, 2013





Danger From The Right Side Of The Brain


David Rothkopf puts into perspective the bombings at the Boston Marathon as he writes

Reading the tweets and the first stories, hearing of ground stoppages at airports and security moves at the White House, it was all too easy to remember the mood in the wake of 9/11, a moment in history when justified horror fed panic. But this was translated into a crackdown on civil liberties, an unnecessary war — and some very dark days for the United States.

Tragedies like these call for swift response from police and emergency workers, not to mention Homeland Security officials. But experience tells us that the ultimate accessories to the terrorist are the innocent and well-intentioned who spread and exaggerate the terror. Just as we should track down perpetrators, we should also remember that if we remain calm and rational, we can minimize the effectiveness of these acts and in so doing make them less attractive for terrorists to undertake.

This is how people in countries plagued with violence, like Israel, have long handled attacks. Be resolute about security, intelligence and enforcement. But place equal emphasis on maintaining order and ensuring the minimum possible disruption of daily life.

With more than 100 casualties reported at the time of this writing, it is easy to let anguish fuel anger and worse. Sadly, we have been here before.

The Associated Press struck a blow for calm when on April 4 revised in its stylebook the use of the term "Islamism" to mean

An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi. 

The change has been derided by critics as "political correctness," conservative shorthand for "what we on the right don't like."   Although the AP two days earlier unwisely had announced a decision to eliminate the term "illegal immigrant," using "Islamist" more judiciously was not an effort to eliminate an idiom, but rather to use it correctly.
 
Like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which has its own, unfortunate agenda), the Associated Press may be repulsed by the almost exclusively pejorative context in which the term is used.  However, it might- and probably should- refer only to individuals with such a stubborn or extreme attachment to the Muslim faith that he/she believes it ought to be the basis of a government or society.  An "ism" is "a distinctive, doctrine, system, or theory";   it is not a synonym for militancy, violence, or terrorism.

"Terrorism" itself is a legitimate and valuable term, unlike its companion "terror," often treated as a derivative of the former.   "Terror" has been in existence, both as a concept and word, since the beginning of human, and probably even animal, existence.  Until squeamishness at use of the use of the term "terrorism," "terror" was understood as a generic term denoting fright.   The first- and proper- definition of "terror" is "a state of intense fear," which all of us, unfortunately, experience periodically.  One wonders:  when the word "terror" is used, as in frequent headlines today, is it used as a synonym for "terrorism," even though the origin of the bombings in Boston has not been definitively determined?  Or is it meant to evoke a sense of fright, an all-too-common human affliction?

You may know the answer to that question while your neighbor, reading the same headline, may have quite another.  And that is another similarity to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which featured manipulation of the language conservatives rarely if ever decried.  Typically,  mainstream media and supporters of the Bush Administration (but I repeat myself), less often opponents of administration policy, referred to "weapons of mass destruction."  Usually, this was meant to evoke thoughts of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, though only the latter is truly a weapon of "mass destruction." By contrast, at times the reference was (more properly, but still confusingly) solely to nuclear weapons.

Words have meaning, and obfuscation is the enemy of good grammar and clear thinking. In times such as this, distortion of the language can engender fear and panic and help set the stage for bad policy.



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The President Of The One-Track Mind

You've all seen this tweet, sent by President Trump twelve hours before polls closed in an election I had totally wrong: Donald...