Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's The Signatures, Stupid






A long, long time ago (something else, unrelated, a long, long time ago, video at end), a commercial (beneath this paragraph) featured two women, apparently twins, with the narration "stop, you're both right.. New Certs is two mints in one. Stops bad breath in seconds; tastiest mint of all."









Rush Limbaugh and Crooks and Liars' karoli are both somewhat right but are missing a crucial point about the war in Gaza.  Limbaugh notes "So Hamas puts their own children in known targets.  Israel warns at 20 minute intervals, 'Get out, we're hitting the target.'  Hamas leaves their children there.  "How dare Israel kill children on purpose!  Damn those Israelis. They hate children."  He adds "and Hamas applauds.  PR victory after PR victory."

The observation is accurate but he draws the wrong conclusion when he claims

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been convinced.  I already was.  Let me put it that way.  I have just had the exclamation point attached to my being convinced that the Obama administration has chosen sides, and the side they've chosen is Hamas. ...

And I'll tell you again, there's a predisposition to hating Israel, disliking, opposing, whatever, in this administration, there can be no doubt about it now.

Karoli links to a post from Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, who in turn links to a Politico report of a transcript of an alleged discussion between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. A confrontational Obama "demand(s)  that Israel agrees to an immediate, unilateral ceasefire and halt all offensive activities, in particular airstrikes"  and a reasonable Netanyahu maintains "Qatar and Turkey are the biggest supporters of Hamas. It's impossible to rely on them to be fair mediators."

Each side vehemently denied the report, which came from Israel's Channel 1 News and is very likely phony, and not only because reasonableness does not define Netanyahu nor confrontational, Obama.

Both Marshall and karoli suggest a link among Netanyahu; Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the USA, former GOP operative and employee of Frank Luntz; Sheldon Adelson; and Repub political strategists. Karoli recognizes the transcript as part of an effort to spin opinion in both Israel and the USA against the government in Jerusalem and believes also that Netanyahu is "obstructing Kerry and Obama's efforts to negotiate a ceasefire."  But then she goes off the rails, claiming

Netanyahu reveals his hand as a political tool of the American right wing. Forget all the sob stories about tunnels and missiles. It's convenient for Bibi to kill a bunch of Palestinians and it's even more convenient for the American right, who can parade themselves all over Fox News, the Sunday shows and the Internet crying about the President's failure of "leadership."

The billionaires are greedy, and they're calling in their markers. Bibi is just one of their tools. Putin is likely another. As for the dead children? Meh. For them it's collateral damage.

Netanyahu, seemingly unwise for launching a war whose successful outcome could result in costly Israeli occupation of Gaza, is not a "tool" of anyone.  While theory or principle for the vast majority of Americans; this conflict is serious business, perhaps even a matter of survival, for both Israel and Hamas. The allegations that "it's convenient for Bibi to kill a bunch of Palestinians" and that he and the American right view "dead children" as "collateral damage" are loathsome smears.  Dead Palestinians (actually Gazans) provoke vehement opposition to the incursion into Gaza, and therefore are hardly convenient for the Israeli Prime Minister.

But karoli and Limbaugh are both fundamentally wrong, Limbaugh convinced the Obama-Kerry duo is full tilt pro-Hamas, and karoli seemingly assuming President and the Secretary of State are motivated by an interest in a long-lasting peaceful solution.  Last week, Secretary of State Kerry abandoned a cease-fire plan proposed by Cairo, a bitter foe of Hamas, which it equates to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was favorably viewed by the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, but opposed by Hamas.

Instead, the American Secretary of State met with Hamas' representatives, Qatar and Turkey, and came up with a scheme which would have created a cease-fire in place- Israeli soldiers remaining in the Gaza Strip but forbidden to destroy any of the tunnels leading from Gaza into the Jewish state.   Supposedly "protecting civilian lives, ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip and achieving a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution of the crisis,"  the agreement would have been implemented by the Qatar and Turkey.

The latter nation is headed by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, infamous for having uttered

Israelis like to remind us of the genocide that took place in history. They take advantage of that genocide, and always act as if they are the victims all the time,   We say Germany must compensate Israel, and it has. So Germany is still paying dues to Israel. But Turkey and Muslims in this region don't have that problem. We never inflicted such pain on Israel. Israel, on the other hand, is cruel. It doesn't display any mercy.

It's not surprising, then, that in addition to the content of the two cease-fire proposals, Netanyahu is not pleased with Kerry's activities.  Neither is Egypt which, according to Newsweek, "was reportedly so angry that Qatar and Turkey had been invited to the Paris talks that it declined to send its foreign minister, Sameh Shukri.”  And the Palestinian Authority's Fatah issued a statement declaring "Those who want Qatar or Turkey to represent them should leave and go live there.”  (note that Fatha did not say ".... should leave and come here to live under the unbearable conditions of Israeli occupation.")

Kerry's outreach to the most vicious elements in the Mideast, however, is not without reason. His boss, President Obama, is not going to be President forever.  And Kerry will not be Secretary of State forever.   Drawing upon his long experience as a legislator, the former Massachusetts senator wants an agreement, any agreement.   He wants to end the war between Israel and Hamas even if, as would be likely, the situation soon after would deteriorate.

It is difficult to determine whether John Kerry's interest is merely self-interest or a belief that a lasting peace currently is unobtainable. But Rush Limbaugh, Karoli, and the rest of us ought to recognize that the Secretary of State's goal is not to upend Israel, exalt Hamas, or to create a lasting peace. It is to obtain a negotiated settlement, and little else.











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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It Gives New Meaning to "Inadvertent"




Amid all the controversy over opposition to same-sex marriage in Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant theology, there has been relatively little said about the attachment to (opposite-sex) marriage in the same faith traditions.

Roman Catholicism holds that there are seven sacraments, which are essential for salvation. One of them is marriage, described by this Catholic theologian as

created by God, and manifested fully to us through the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now you may wonder, what does marriage really have to do with Jesus?  He was never married, right? Wrong!  Jesus IS a spouse; he is a husband; he is, in fact, the bridegroom.  And we – the Church – are his bride.  And it is in our marriage to Christ – union with Christ — that our salvation is made complete....

The union of husband and wife in holy matrimony is a living, breathing, incarnate icon of that perfect union of Christ and his Church which is our salvation, our redemption, our ultimate spiritual consummation and bliss.

Traditional, orthodox (note the lower case "o") Protestantism recognizes only two sacraments- baptism and communion- neither of which is necessary for salvation, which is accepted by most evangelical and mainline Protestants.   (Evangelical Christianity is not a separate sect and defies strict definition, with a connotation that goes beyond theology.) But as aficionados of the Bible, they, like Catholics, are devoted to (same-sex) marriage, though not personally averse to divorce when circumstances dictate.

Protestants (to the extent they really are Protestant) rely a little more heavily than do most Roman Catholics on specific Scriptural passages.   They will include Genesis 2:18, in which "the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for[a] him” and 1Corinthians 7:2, 9-10), in which Paul lectures

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband... To the unmarried and widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord); the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

(In verse 5, Paul advises "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again..." That would make most people too tired even to pray. Satisfied, though.)

Paul apparently believed of marriage nearly what the figuratively immortal football coach Vince Lombardi reportedly once said about winning: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Given the opposition of many individuals to homosexuality on the basis of their understanding of Scripture, there is an irony in the majority opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals when its majority struck down Virginia's same-sex marriage ban on Tuesday. "Virginia's same-sex marriage bans," the Court determined, "impermissibly infringe on its citizens' fundamental right to marry." The money quote may have been

[I]nertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security. 

Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. Because courts consistently have found a fundamental right to marriage, strict scrutiny must be applied to any effort to abridge its practice.  Christians relying on Scripture have long argued for the sanctity of marriage and for marriage as the primary organizing principle of society.  Judges apparently have been convinced and as a result, have issued a string of decisions favorable to same-sex marriage. It has been a shutout, thus far (cartoon below from Jeff Parker following DOMA ruling).

Further, Judge Floyd, who wrote the majority opinion (joined by another judge with the third judge dissenting), opted for a curious choice of words when he referred to civil marriage as one of the "cornerstones" of American life.  Though its use may have been unintentional, the term "cornerstone" is (choose one) curious, ironic, or poignant.  Believing the Messiah would come from the Judah, the prophet Zechariah advised "from them will come the cornerstone." Paul assured the Ephesians he wrote that  they were "of God's household" with "Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." To Peter, "the stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone."

All in all, the cultural right has been very effective in laying the foundation- or cornerstone- for legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S.A. Well done, in a sense.








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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Man Of Bad Ideas Has Another One







It may be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or it may be as Karoli of Crooks and Liars puts it, that "Robert Reich would know better than to call this a "serious proposal if it were actually Reich on that program. No, this was his evil twin Skippy..."







Robert Reich says he was "frankly very impressed" and Paul Ryan's proposal "deserves a careful look by Democrats"  It may be an evil twin, because otherwise we have to conclude it's the same Robert Reich who understands

simply having a job is no bulwark against poverty. In fact, across America the ranks of the working poor have been growing. Around one-fourth of all American workers are now in jobs paying below what a full-time, full-year worker needs in order to live above the federally defined poverty line for a family of four.

The Ryan plan would consolidate 11 federal anti-poverty programs into one program coordinated on a state-by-state basis. It also would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, in part by eliminating other programs of the social safety net,such as The Social Service Block Grant, the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, the Economic Development Administration, and the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. 
More controversially than robbing Peter to pay Paul, each recipient of aid would sign a contract and 

each state will approve a list of certified providers that are held accountable for providing quality service and achieving results (such as moving people to work, out of poverty, and off of assistance).

Next, a person will select a provider, and the provider will conduct a comprehensive assessment of that person’s needs, abilities, and circumstances. 

Then, the two of them will develop a customized plan to address the recipient’s needs. The plan could take the form of a contract—with sanctions for failing and bonuses for exceeding expectations. The plan would offer financial assistance to address immediate needs, like food, clothing, child care, and housing. But it would also work on setting goals, learning skills, and developing a broader support system.

Slate's Jamelle Bouie, however recognizes 

the idea that life skills are necessary to climb out of poverty—that the poor are plagued by low income and bad habits—doesn’t jibe with the facts on the ground.

Mandatory life coaching makes sense if most poverty is persistent and generational. Even with federal assistance, adults with little-to-no market income—and little experience in the workforce—are at a long-term disadvantage and likely to pass those barriers on to their children. But poverty in America is fluid; depending on the season, the unstable nature of market work may force a period of personal retrenchment.

It's not surprising that the scheme hatched by the right-wing chairperson of the House Budget Committee is paternalistic, nor that it entails a major expansion of government bureaucracy, necessitated by the notions of a comprehensive assessment, customized plan, setting goals and "developing a broader social system."  But Ryan may be thinking long-term, strategizing to effect a radical reduction in assistance to the nation's increasingly large block of poor, and working-class, people. Max Sawicky explains

the common theme throughout the report is to convert Federal programs into block grants. A block grant is a fixed pot of money provided to a state or local government for broadly-defined purposes. Ryan’s report is at pains to assert that the conversion would not entail spending cuts. This could not be further from the truth.

The story goes back to the days of Richard Nixon. I told it here. I was not the first to figure out the deal. The short version is that a program or programs converted to a block grant is being set up to wither away. Block grants are designed through formulas to grow slowly or not at all, despite the likelihood that whatever the included programs were aimed at typically costs more to deal with every year. There are also two malignant political dynamics at work. One is that Congress doesn’t like to spend money without a say in what happens to the money. Block grants transfer control to state governments. They have the fun of spending the money, Congress has the fun of raising the taxes to pay for it. The other is that the more vague — “flexible” — the purposes of the grant, the less focused is its political support.

State officials are always happy to play this game because the money is front-loaded. In the initial years the grant is close to what they were getting before, and by the time the grant shrinks, they will be out of office anyway.

The transfer of program responsibility from the Federal government to the states is known as devolution. It is the standard way of attacking domestic spending for social purposes, going back to Richard Nixon’s dismantling of the original, more interesting War on Poverty launched by Lyndon Johnson.

Paul Ryan still believes most people are struggling because of their own faults, possibly their culture.  But this is a country whose largest employer (Wal-Mart) raked in $17 billion in profits two years ago while paying its typical worker, a sales associate, an average of $8.81 an hour, or approximately $18,300 per year. Or as Digby observes

Ryan wants to "help" the poor the same way conservative have always wanted to help them --- by giving them the "tough love" of making their lives even worse than they already are. If they want "help" they can go to a church and pray to their God and maybe they'll get a sandwich. 



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Saturday, July 26, 2014

It Takes A Special Writer To Defend The Taliban







Andrea Grimes has a valid thought: "we do not have, and have never had, a nuanced, thoughtful national conversation about Islam."  Good thing that, because it is among her few good ideas in 31 paragraphs. With greater emphasis she argues "there is indeed a powerful, well-funded and rigidly patriarchal religious movement behind America's most misogynist laws, and it isn't any iteration of Islam. It's Christianity."

How insightful to reject stereotyping of Islam while maintaining that "Christianity" is "a powerful, well-funded and rigidly patriarchal religious movement behind America's most misogynist laws."  That will surprise members of, for example, the United Church of Christ (evidently misogynist videos, below):
















Grimes writes

I saw it on posters last summer at the Texas capitol, during protests against the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law: “TEXAS TALIBAN.” I’ve heard pundits and preachers on cable news, decrying the “American Taliban” that wants to take away birth control and abortion access.

These phrases aren’t clever, and they aren’t insightful. They’re racist, and they’re Islamophobic, and people—especially white people—who work in social justice movements and who do advocacy for women’s rights need to stop using them yesterday.

Especially white people? Why especially white people? Are non-white people especially entitled to be "racist" and "Islamophobic?"

They're not, though the slogans "Texas Taliban" or "American Taliban" clearly are not racist, anyway.  "An Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan adhering to Wahhabist ideology," as Wikipedia coldly and objectively describes it, the Taliban do not constitute a "race" and criticism of them does not constitute "racism."

It's understandable, however, that Grimes would be confused about the intersection of race, nationality, and religion.  She remarks "There have been a grand total of two Muslim Americans elected to the United States Congress."  Repeating her error, she would refer to "Muslim Americans, and people who are perceived to be Muslim Americans,"

This should come as a surprise to Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), who is affiliated with the Muslim religion and who, as a black man, is African-American.  American Muslim, surely; Muslim-American? Not any more than most of you reading this (at least inside the USA) are "Protestant-American" or "Catholic-American."  If throwing around terms like "racist,"  "homophobic," and "misogynistic,"one ought to guard against misidentification.

Responsibility must be laid at the feet of deserving individuals.  Instead, Grimes contends "Maybe you’re not the kind of American who’s going to plant a pipe bomb at a mosque, but when you try and foment fear by hollering “AMERICAN TALIBAN!” at the top of your lungs, you give those who might an awful lot of culturally sanctioned leeway to try."

There is no "maybe" about it; it's safe to say that no one reading this, nor any of Grimes' neighbors, will plant a pipe bomb at a mosque. It's nearly equally true that if you holler "American Taliban" (all in caps- nice touch, Andrea) "at the top of your lungs" you will not incite a bomb thrower. My guess is that an accusation of being Talibani will not prompt an individual to become a domestic terrorist, and only twisted reasoning would lead someone to conclude that the charge, hurled as an insult, sanctions the behavior.

Unable to conceal her hostility toward Christianity (not fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity, but Christianity), Grimes remarks "Never mind the fact that white, male Americans are doing just fine at oppressing women with bibles at their right hand."  She appears to be unfamiliar with the transcript the Hobby Lobby decision.

The Justices employed 15 times the word "faith" and 103 times the word "religion," both of which would include fundamentalist Islam.  They mentioned "Bible(s)" only twice and "Scripture(s)" not at all. They did not falsely claim Biblical  truth as their motivation,  rather claiming their ruling was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Whatever their actual motivation, they did not make with "bibles at their right hand." the decision, which had little or nothing to do with the Old or New Testaments.

The parallel between the religious right and the Taliban, however tenuous, does lie in religious extremism and the willingness to require government action and civil behavior to submit to a religious test.. Grimes will not acknowledge that the culture of the Taliban, who provided sactuary for al Qaeda leading up to the attacks of 9/11/01,  is singularly antithetical to Western cultural tradition. Wikipedia explainshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban_treatment_of_women

Afghan women were forced to wear the burqa at all times in public, because, according to one Taliban spokesman, "the face of a woman is a source of corruption" for men not related to them. In a systematic segregation sometimes referred to as gender apartheid, women were not allowed to work, they were not allowed to be educated after the age of eight, and until then were permitted only to study the Qur'an.

Women seeking an education were forced to attend underground schools, where they and their teachers risked execution if caught. They were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which led to illnesses remaining untreated. They faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws. The Taliban allowed and in some cases encouraged marriage for girls under the age of 16. Amnesty International reported that 80% of Afghan marriages were considered to be arranged by force.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously wrote "Let me tell you about the rich. They are different from you and me."  The Taliban are different from you and me. If you are Muslim, the Taliban still are probably different from you and me. And when protesters excoriate the "American Taliban," they are acknowledging the group is beyond the pale, outside of the mainstream of Western religious thought, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.




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Friday, July 25, 2014

He Is, After All, Only The President






Can we stop making excuses for Barack Obama?  Normally sane bloggers Ed Kilgore and Kevin Drumtake a whack at Thomas Frank for his recent Salon piece entitled "Right-wing obstruction cold have been fought: An ineffective and gutless presidency's legacy is failure."

Historian and author Frank wrote

The Obama team, as the president once announced to a delegation of investment bankers, was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” and in retrospect these words seem not only to have been a correct assessment of the situation at the moment but a credo for his entire term in office. For my money, they should be carved in stone over the entrance to his monument: Barack Obama as the one-man rescue squad for an economic order that had aroused the fury of the world. Better: Obama as the awesomely talented doctor who kept the corpse of a dead philosophy lumbering along despite it all.

Frank speculates about the future Obama presidential library and notes

... all presidential museums are exercises in getting their subject off the hook, and for Obama loyalists looking back at his years in office, the need for blame evasion will be acute. Why, the visitors to his library will wonder, did the president do so little about rising inequality, the subject on which he gave so many rousing speeches? Why did he do nothing, or next to nothing, about the crazy high price of a college education, the Great Good Thing that he has said, time and again, determines our personal as well as national success? Why didn’t he propose a proper healthcare program instead of the confusing jumble we got? Why not a proper stimulus package? Why didn’t he break up the banks? Or the agribusiness giants, for that matter?
Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them—their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls—they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.

In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight. Demonizing the right will also allow the Obama legacy team to present his two electoral victories as ends in themselves, since they kept the White House out of the monster’s grasp—heroic triumphs that were truly worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Which will be dusted off and prominently displayed.)

Kilgore responded

Underlying Frank’s attacks on Obama is an implicit conspiracy theory nearly as lurid as the Kenyan Muslim Marxist Alinskyite fantasies of the right: that Obama was deployed as a judas goat by the threatened Neoliberal Order to preempt and then prevent the righteous beatdown capitalism had earned for itself by 2008, when “every thinking person could see that the reigning ideology had failed.” Keeping to the appointed script, the phony agent of change then propped up the evil system that was teetering on the edge of catastrophe and subsequently blamed his betrayal of The People on the crazy people of the Right.

Soon after ridiculing Frank's notion that Obama's defenders have "blamed his betrayal of The People on the crazy people of the Right," Kilgore goes on to blame the President's troubles on those mean and nasty Republicans in the Senate:

There is this institution called the U.S. Senate. Even after two big Democratic cycles in 2006 and 2008, Republicans held 40 seats, enough given absolute unity and a single Democratic defection to thwart anything the majority party attempted, under rules ripe for abuse that neither Barack Obama nor Harry Reid invented or imagined. Just a year after Obama took office, Republicans won a special Senate election and obtained the power to block absolutely any Democratic measure.

Drum argues

Back in 2009, was Obama really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob? Don't be silly. Americans were barely even upset, let alone ready for revolution. Those pathetic demonstrations outside the headquarters of AIG were about a hundredth the size that even a half-ass political organization can muster for a routine anti-abortion rally. After a few days the AIG protestors got bored and went home without so much as throwing a few bottles at cops. Even the Greeks managed that much.

Why were Americans so obviously not enraged? Because -- duh -- the hated neoliberal system worked. We didn't have a second Great Depression. The Fed intervened, the banking system was saved, and a stimulus bill was passed. Did bankers get treated too well? Oh yes indeed. Was the stimulus too small? You bet. Nevertheless, was America saved from an epic collapse? It sure was. Instead of a massive meltdown, we got a really bad recession and a weak recovery, and even that was cushioned by a safety net that, although inadequate, was more than enough to keep the pitchforks off the streets...

All of us who do what Thomas Frank does -- what I do -- have failed. Our goal was to persuade the public to move in a liberal direction, and that didn't happen. In the end, we didn't persuade much of anyone. It's natural to want to avoid facing that humiliating truth, and equally natural to look for someone else to blame instead. That's human nature. So fine. Blame Obama if it makes you feel better. That's what we elect presidents for: to take the blame.

But he only deserves his share. The rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of it. The mirror doesn't lie.

Sorry, Kevin: Frank, as well as others, doesn't blame Obama because it makes them feel better. It is other progressive (and some moderate) folks, falling head over heels for a cautious, centrist Senator in 2007-2008, who were motivated in part by a need to feel really, really good.

Drum's faux humility, in which he claims "the rest of us, who were unable to take advantage of an epic financial collapse to get the public firmly in favor of pitchforks and universal health care, deserve most of" the blame," has the feel of an Andy Reid mantra. As the Philadelphia Eagles continued to lose, their head coach would insincerely repeat "I have to do a better job," knowing that would cut off any debate about either his coaching strategy or the players he chose not to bench.  Clever tactic, that.

Drum labels "silly" the idea that "Obama (was) really the only thing that stood between bankers and the howling mob."  There was no "howling mob," admittedly.  But the American people were expected to elect either major Democrat because, recognizing "the reigning ideology had failed," they were primed for significant, fundamental change of the progressive/liberal variety.

Moreover, it was Barack Obama himself who remarked (video, below) "we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship" brought the nation by President Reagan who "changed the trajectory of America" because "he put us on a fundamentally different path."









And who (and individuals such as Kilgore and Drum with convenient memories) can forget the candidate (video, below) declaring ("with profound humility") that his election would mark the time "the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal"?










Matt Stoller of the now-defunct Open Left observed (as did few others) at the time

Obama admires Reagan because he agrees with Reagan's basic frame that the 1960s and 1970s were full of 'excesses' and that government had grown large and unaccountable...

Those excesses, of course, were feminism, the consumer rights movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and the antiwar movement.  The libertarian anti-government ideology of an unaccountable large liberal government was designed by ideological conservatives to take advantage of the backlash against these 'excesses'.

Stoller's voice was one of only a few, though, because as Obama himself once wrote, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." That is no excuse, however, to deny facts which smakck us in the face.  Ed Kilgore and Kevin Drum don't understand but at least Thomas Frank, as is his wont, does.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Maybe All McCain Needs Is A Good Meal





Senator McCain must get on a plane.  Restaurant week  is still going on in Los Angeles. But if he can't get away before the 27th, he still has time to catch New York City's restaurant week, which extends to August 15. No doubt in the Big Apple, by far the largest city in the country, exciting, and even exquisite, culinary options are available.

But as expensive as New York- or at least Manhattan- is, McCain may want to wait until August 13 and get in on Denver's restaurant week.  Then he can hop a plane and go to Stamford, Connecticut, which is celebrating restaurant week from August 18 to September 2.

This all sounds silly but Senator McCain really, really is anxious to go somewhere special for dinner. Politico reports

Sen. John McCain turned amateur psychologist on Wednesday and diagnosed President Barack Obama with a lack of desire to “social interface” with people and with “self-pity.”

“The self-pity that Obama continues to exhibit is really kind of sad, really,” McCain said on Wednesday during Fox News’ “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”

McCain’s comments came in response to a comment from Obama at a California fundraiser that suggested that the GOP is not “loyal and rational.”

“You know, I can’t work with him at all,” McCain said. “When is the last time he really called leaders of both parties together over at the White House, say, for a dinner, a social event.”

When asked why Obama has not sent out bipartisan invites to the White House, McCain said, “I cannot explain it except to say that he does not have this desire to have social interface with people and sit down and try to work things out.”

Senator McCain's interest in bipartisan action, however, appears not to be held by House Speaker John Boehner who, responding to the crisis of thousands of children illegally crossing the southern border, declares of President Obama's proposal  "I don't have as much optimism as I'd like to have" about action before Labor Day.

Senator McCain probably wasn't thinking about "social interface" and working things out when he referred to "a cowardly administration that failed to give the Ukrainians weapons with which to defend themselves."  Nor when he called U.S. policy in Syria an "abysmal failure and a disgraceful one."   Nor when he labeled the situation in  Iraq a "colossal failure of American security policy."

Given McCain's propensity to slam every inch of President Obama's foreign policy, his remarks about Iraq are mild, perhaps because the Senator may sense that the whole escapade has been a dismal failure.  At an event hosted yesterday by CNN and National Journal, McCain commented "I think I would have challenged the evidence with more scrutiny. I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time... You'll find this surprising but I think I would have been more reluctant to commit American troops."  That's at least halfway to an admission of mistake.

Such introspection, however, doesn't reveal to McCain that much of the testosterone-infused commentary about Iraq amounts to a classic case of sunk cost fallacy.   Neither does it deter Senator McCain from attributing Obama's approach to Iraq as infused with "self-pity."

"Self-pity" is the biggest crime in GOP-land.    Many Repubs live by the credo of never admit error. Never admit uncertainty. Never admit weakness.  Do not contemplate; do what feels right.  If President Obama were even more bipartisan (cartoons below by, respectively, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald Leader, Steve Sack of the Star Tribune and Ben Sargent ), it would be perceived as even greater weakness. then the Republican Party would be really annoyed.




















Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And He Doesn't Own A Dog Named Checkers




Nixon for President!









No, not that Nixon (button, above) and probably not Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, either, who is visiting Iowa to advance the economic interests of Missourians. According to The Daily Beast, the governor (photo below) with the most unfortunate surname

is visiting Project Liberty, a brand new ethanol plant that processes cellulosic ethanol, which is made from the waste parts of corn like the husk and the cob. In contrast, traditional ethanol is made from the actual corn kernels. 

Poet, the company which operates the plant, has several plants in Missouri and Nixon is apparently going to promote the new process and encourage similar plants to be built in his home state.





Still, given the dearth of Democrats willing to challenge putative nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, the visit by Missouri's chief executive is intriguing, especially given his apparent understanding of at least one issue, public school security.  ABC News last week reported

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed specially trained teachers to carry concealed guns, asserting that the move could jeopardize student safety in public schools.

The veto by the Democratic governor sets up a potential showdown with the Republican-led Legislature, which could override Nixon if it gets a two-thirds vote of both chambers during a September session.

Nixon announced the veto with a written statement on the deadline day for him to take action on bills passed earlier this year.

"Arming teachers will not make our schools safer," he said. "I have supported and will continue to support the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resource officers, but I cannot condone putting firearms in the hands of educators who should be focused on teaching our kids."

The Missouri legislation called for allowing public school districts to designate certain teachers or administrators as "school protection officers," who would undergo special training to carry concealed weapons.

Most significantly, the Governor has vetoed a bill which would have provided for some public school employees to portray law enforcement officers.  Educators "should be focused on teaching our kids," the governor noted, understanding that neither teachers nor administrators are police.   If educators are expected to carry concealed weapons, they likely won't focus on teaching the children. If they do, it's thenew role which won't be executed effectively.

Additionally, this would establish a two-tiered system in which one set of teachers would be granted a special kind of status, with the other educators of a lesser standing. That is injurious to the profession, as it would be to the members of it.

Nixon also recognizes what some on our side don't, given that he has evidently "supported and will continue the use of duly authorized law enforcement officers employed as school resource officers."  Police judiciously stationed in some schools can provide a needed law enforcement function and might present to young people a positive image of the profession disturbingly absent in many neighborhoods.

In most instances, police officers understand their power, the limits duly placed on that power, and the consequences of abusing that power.  Educators can be trained but they are, at base, individuals whose personalities led them to choose careers in teaching children rather than in carrying weapons and responding to delinquency or crime.  

Teachers are teachers. Police officers are police officers. That should be easy to understand and in Missouri, the governor does.







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And Helping You Helps Me- How?





The online edition of the Star-Ledger of Newark, NJ reports

Gov. Chris Christie was campaigning as chairman of the Republican Governors Association in Connecticut today, but don’t expect him to be making any similar upcoming trips to New York.

The governor, boasting about his ability to make a quick campaign trip for a Republican gubernatorial hopeful here because of its proximity to the Garden State, suggested it’s unlikely he’ll be supporting the Republican hoping to oust New York’s Democratic incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo anytime soon.

“I will spend time in places where we have a chance to win, I said that right from the beginning,” said Christie, who took the reins as chairman of the RGA in November.

“We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes,” he said when asked about the possibility of campaign trips to the Empire State. “If the New York race becomes competitive, I’ll consider campaigning in the New York race, but right now, by the public polls, there’s a lot more competitive races like this one in Connecticut.”

According to a poll released Monday, Cuomo holds a 37 percentage-point lead among likely voters over his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. Cuomo led Astorino 60 percent to 23 percent, the Sienna College survey found.

Astorino maintains if Christie

is unable to help a Republican candidate for governor, then maybe he should consider stepping down as chairman of the RGA. That’s his job....

I don’t know if there’s a connection between him and Andrew Cuomo on Bridgegate, or if Cuomo has something that he’s holding back, information that could be damaging to the governor.

Whatever Gov. Christie knew or didn’t know is probably the same for Gov. Cuomo. And if there’s anything being held back that Gov. Cuomo knows and if he’s holding that over Gov. Christie’s head, I don’t know.

Of course he should, certainly there is, and Mr. Astorino needn't be so reticent.  On December 12, The Wall Street Journal had reported (subscription required; this from Daily Kos)

Mr. Christie, a Republican, complained in a private phone call to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, that Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., was cut from three to one in early September, according to this person. The lane closures occurred without notice to local authorities, officials have said, and snarled traffic for a week in the small borough on the Hudson River bluffs.

There is a blizzard's chance in Miami Beach that the Repub New Jersey governor and the ostensibly Democratic New York governor (photo below of them and Astorino from Getty/AP) don't have something going together.  But when Christie, who could have said something nondescript such as "we will apportion our resources in a manner which would be most effective," is taking his cue from his political ally.

Just after Memorial Day, 2013, when the Governor was gearing up for an election campaign against Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, he was granted the privilege (at that time, in New Jersey, a major gift) of appearing in public with President Obama while feigning interest in Hurricane Sandy victims.  The President's schedule was so completely filled that summer and autumn, he was unable to find the time even to endorse the Democratic nominee, thereby helping to boost Christie's victory margin as the Governor dreamt of the White House.

Barack Obama gave the back of the hand to his own party's gubernatorial nominee so he could come to the aid of Chris Christie.  Now Governor Opportunist is doing the same to Rob Astorino so he can boost Andrew Cuomo, who would jump into the Democratic presidential race yesterday if Hillary Clinton declines to run. (And if she does run, as expected, a Cuomo re-election landslide would boost his hopes in 2020 or 2024.) Whatever works for me is the guiding principle.

Sixty years ago in The Lone Ranger, it was "varmints." Now it's scoundrels. Either way, it's how they roll.










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Claiming The Moral High Ground For Himself






The Boston Globe reports

Governor Deval Patrick strongly defended his plan to provide temporary shelter for up to 1,000 children who have crossed the US-Mexico border illegally and said he had identified two possible locations for them, one in Western Massachusetts and another on Cape Cod.

The facilities are Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Camp Edwards in Barnstable County, which housed evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The bases are being submitted for federal approval, and only one will be selected, said Patrick.

It appears to be a sound, sensible, and (as Bush 41 would have put it) prudent decision. But the Massachusetts Governor wants you to know it was a moral decision- and the only moral decision.

Staff writers Levenson and Ortega note that the Governor

reiterated that the shelter will be managed, paid for, and staffed entirely by the federal government. It would be ready for up to 1,000 children ages 3 to 17 and remain open for up to four months, he said. The children, aides said, would receive health screenings and vaccinations before entering the state. They would not attend local schools, but remain on the base while federal officials give them food and schooling and schedule them to appear before federal immigration judges.

In other states, the average stay for children was 35 days, he said. Ultimately, Patrick said, the migrants will either be deported or reunited with relatives in the United States.

Nonetheless,

Speaking at a news conference, the governor sought to move the issue beyond the caustic national debate over immigration and used the Bible to frame the problem as a moral one. He seized on the influx of migrant children in a way that other governors have not, showcasing the sort of oratory that helped propel him to office in 2006....

“My faith teaches that, if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him, but rather love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” he said.“I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions — and our inactions,” Patrick said, choking up as he was flanked by religious leaders, including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston.

“Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated,” he added. “I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t, and won’t, turn to it in moments of human need"....

At his press conference, Patrick said he had “searched my own conscience,” and decided to shelter the children in Massachusetts for two reasons: “love of country and lessons of faith.”

Spare me.  The right wing tells us Jesus opposed abortion, same-sex marriage, and requiring employers who claim a religious exception to offer contraception to employees without the same religious beliefs.  And now we have a liberal Democrat, one of President Obama's most loyal supporters (somehow, not surprising), lecture us on his consultation with Jesus Christ to discern the latter's political will.

It was made all the more dramatic because the Governor was

flanked by religious leaders, including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston...

O’Malley said the Archdiocese of Boston, though already struggling to help the needy, will do what it can.

“I ask my faith community and the wider public to understand compassionately the extreme circumstances these children are facing,” the cardinal said. “As a country and a church, we are capable of providing crucial assistance.”

Cardinal O'Malley is willing to provide "crucial assistance" (though not the facilities of his diocese) to the young refugees and immigrants.  To women, however, not so much assistance, given we read fourteen months ago in The Huffington Post that he

won't attend Boston College's graduation because the Jesuit school's commencement speaker, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, supports legislation to permit abortion.

The bill allows abortion if a doctor authorizes it to save a women's life. Opponents say the bill would lead to widespread abortion by also allowing it if a woman threatens suicide.

In a statement Friday, O'Malley said abortion is "a crime against humanity" and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholic institutions not to honor officials who promote it. Kenny is set to receive an honorary degree from BC at the May 20 commencement.

O'Malley said that since Boston College hasn't withdrawn its invitation, and Kenny hasn't declined it, "I shall not attend the graduation."

That wasn't abortion on demand the Belfast government was considering.  Nor was it to permit abortion beyond the point of viability (determined by the US Supreme Court to be 24 weeks), or when complex fetal brain activity begins (approximately the 25th week) or when a fetus starts to breathe (week 32).  It was abortion to save a woman's life. (Legislation passed; Kenney spoke. Courage prevailed.)

A scriptural argument can be made against abortion or same-sex marriage or as Governor Patrick has, in favor of children who have illegally entered the country. Or against or for anything, even reproductive freedom, for  "the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature," suggesting that life begins at birth. Perhaps Patrick's critics might refer to Romans 13: 1-7, Titus 3:1, or 1 Peter 2:13, each of which counsels individuals to obey duly-constituted authorities who, in this country, have over the years established immigration law.

So Patrick and O'Malley may be right, though the Church is not under the same duress as the residents of Chicopee, Massachusetts and Bourne, Massachusetts.  A civic leader arguing his case on behalf of "faith," the Bible, or Jesus Christ may find that this door swings both ways (bringing to a disorganized mind Herman's Hermits, below), and sometimes right into the backside.












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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Military Mischief






One of the greatest gifts of the Founding Fathers was civilian control of the military, which a Department of Defense press release in May, 2001 maintained "is so ingrained in America that we hardly give it a second thought. Most Americans don't realize how special this relationship is and how it has contributed to the country."

This is not so clearly practiced elsewhere. The Associated Press early Monday reported

Since the start of Israel-Hamas fighting almost two weeks ago, 348 Palestinians have been killed and 2,700 wounded, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. One-fourth of the deaths have been reported since the start of the ground offensive late Thursday.

Two Israeli soldiers died in the Gaza fighting late Saturday and early Sunday morning, bringing the Israeli military death toll to five in the three days since ground operations began. Two Israeli civilians have also perished from Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli territory.

Nevertheless,

The Hamas military wing said its fighters exchanged fire with Israeli forces in Shijaiyah and a nearby neighborhood. The sound of gunfire could be heard from the center of the city.

The heavy fighting came as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to Qatar to try to push stalled cease-fire efforts forward.

Hamas last week rejected an Egyptian call on both sides to halt hostilities, saying it first wants guarantees that Israel and Egypt will significantly ease their border blockade of Gaza.

If you think there is a major disconnect there, you're reading correctly.  The Egyptian proposal rejected by Hamas was supported by the U.S.A., the Arab League, and the Palestinian Authority and, according to the New York Times, included provisions "for border crossings into Gaza to 'be opened,' and for the movement of people and goods to be 'facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.'."  Hundreds of Gazans have been killed while the Israeli death toll, due in large part to the Iron Dome missile defense system, inches toward the double digits (map of Gaza below; of the region, below that). Hamas rejected a truce, however, requiring Israel to give up, to "cry uncle," before it would agree to a cessation of violence.













The view that not enough civilians have yet been killed is not a sentiment equally prevalent throughout the organization.  Israeli reporter Shlomi Eldar, described here as "a well-respected Israeli reporter who has extensive first-hand experience with Hamas," explains

the spokesmen of Hamas’ military wing once again threatened that, through its rockets, it would shake the earth of Israel. Again, the military wing, which managed to force down the political wing and drag it along its path, proved not only the extent of its detachment from reality, but also the fact that the suffering of Gaza's 1.6 million residents is nothing to be measured, nor is it a consideration to be taken into account.

At the same time, the film unit of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades labored over “propaganda products” to scare the Israeli home front. The production house of the Qassam Brigades even uploaded a “song” in Hebrew to YouTube, which has become a joke for many Israelis. It became a joke not only because of how garbled it was and the pathos with which the Hamas men sing an embarrassing song in Hebrew, but mostly because of the distorted worldview of these armed men, who convinced themselves that they were heading a military power with technological and military superiority over Israel.

And so they sang: “Thus you will carry out attacks, burn military bases and soldiers … strive for contact with the Zionists, shake the security of Israel, kill all the Zionists. A country of weakness and delusions, they do not have a standing in war, they are like a spiderweb.”

The Hamas militants borrowed the term “spider web” from the speech of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who, in the course of the celebration of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, said, “It [Israel] has nuclear weapons and the most powerful air force in the region, but in reality, it’s weaker than a spiderweb.”

This is merely a “song” that Hamas produced, which is accompanied by dramatic music and photos of the production and launching of rockets. But it illustrates the huge gap between the grasp of reality of the Hamas military wing, which has once again led the Gaza Strip on a tragic adventure, and the end result of this adventure — enormous ruin, destruction and great suffering for residents of the Gaza Strip.

As a journalist covering the Gaza Strip for Israeli television networks, I met Hamas leaders many times, from both the political and military wings, as well as armed militants from the Qassam Brigades, masked men who even then made overblown threats. Most of the young men who were recruited to the military wing of Hamas lived in dire circumstances in Gaza, mainly in the refugee camps. From a young age they had absorbed the messages and militant principles of the Islamic movement, which laid roots in all of the refugee camps starting from the mid-1980s.

The Qassam Brigades' militants of today are children of the second intifada. Even before they were recruited or enlisted in the Qassam Brigades, they drank the jihadist messages that the movement spreads among all the needy of Gaza who knock on the gates of its institutions (the dawa — Hamas’ welfare institutions). The great neglect of Gaza in the years Israel controlled it helped Hamas to grow.

In the past, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel, learned its language, got to know its culture and even formed ties of friendship with their Israeli employers. In the course of the second intifada and Hamas’ rise to power, these ties have all been severed. The older generation found itself unemployed and without income and the youth found work with the militant wing of Hamas and the other organizations (Islamic Jihad as well as the popular resistance committees). These young men, who have not once in their lives left the borders of the Gaza Strip and have never seen Israel, have been fed the stories of the wonders of the Palestinian rocket, which was developed in Gaza’s workshops and can shake Israel. The stories of the glory of Hamas have been impressed well in the young recruits and the doctrine that has been so deeply etched in them has given them the feeling, or the delusion, that salvation could be gained through the rockets that have been developed in Gaza.

As delusional as the military wing of Hamas appears, it may be providing a service to the political wing of Hamas, if the latter can avoid being completely overwhelmed and dominated. It is not unlike the far right wing of the congressional Republican Party in the U.S.A., which is criticized and ridiculed for its narrow-minded extremism.  It gives a patina of respectability to what are then referred to as GOP "moderates," who- considered objectively- would themselves be recognized as extremists.

If the military boys get out of their own way at the right time, the obsession with  violence could possibly persuade the Israelis, fed up with death and destruction, to agree to a deal which would hand Hamas a political victory unobtainable by strictly military means. Although most of the world would breathe a (momentary) sigh of relief, that resolution not only the Israelis, but the Palestinian movement as a whole, would eventually find quite discomfiting.



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Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Amount Of Death Is Enough






Demonstrating the danger in a Twitter account, Bill Maher has tweeted "Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u - u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her."

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams notes "Hamas is not a crazy lady who needs to be bitch-slapped;" Slate's Amanda Marcotte argues Maher" is making light of the serious problem of domestic violence."

Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars takes a slightly different tack, claiming the comedian is an "a_ _ _ _ _ _" who "ridicules religious extremism but sounds like the most extreme neocon nutjobs when it comes to Israel, because 9/11, etc. and all Muslims are evil and violent."

But Maher never has maintained all Muslims are evil and violent, though he does recognize that some Muslims, as with some Christians, are prone to hatred, bigotry, and homophobia. Maher always has managed to incite enemies on both the left and the right, the latter because of his aversion to Christianity, the former because he acknowledges that Muslims are not immune to the faults some progressives ascribe to Christians. He consistently has been, as advertised, politically incorrect

Were a  label of evil or violent  to apply accuraely to any Muslims, it would surely apply to Hamas. It is telling that the group has never denied the IDF's contention "Hamas places weapons and missile launchers in densely populated areas. They also send men, woman and children to act as human shields for terrorists." As a terrorist organization, Hamas is pleased their enemies know that its lust for blood is insatiable.

Similarly, while Hamas was rejecting Egyptian calls for a cease-fire, one of its spokesmen proudly declared "all Israelis have now become legitimate targets."  And turning on its head the aphorism of Finley Peter Dunne's fictional Mr. Dooley, on July 15

A Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Mushir al-Masri, dismissed reports of efforts to calm the situation, and derided Egypt for proposing a ceasefire.

"Those who ignore the Palestinian resistance should not be dealt with. "The sections calling for calm are offering a free service to the Israeli enemy," al- Masri said, adding that the decision by Jerusalem to accept the initiative was, "indicative of Israel's weakness."

The following day, The New York Times reported

Israeli leaflets dropped in northern Gaza and some neighborhoods of Gaza City this week warned, “Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.”

It was unclear how many Gaza residents were heeding the call; Hamas has urged people to stay put, calling the warnings “psychological warfare.

Recognizing that Arab terrorists resemble other terrorists (as Madrak avoids acknowledging) in being evil and violent, Slate's William Saletan generously remarks

The fundamental problem is that Hamas doesn’t think like a government. It thinks like a militia. It likes to tinker with drones, show off rocket launchers disguised as bread carts, and announce missile attacks pegged to the evening news hour in Tel Aviv. It treats these childish displays as victories. And it doesn’t care who dies.

But Hamas does care who dies- and not only as many Israelis as possible (video from IDF below), but as many Gazans as possible. Maher's error was in comparing Hamas to a crazy woman, for it is not likely a crazy woman or man, but rather something demonstrably, terrifyingly, much worse.

While it has become almost de rigeur for the far left, whose passion for liberation movements appears to end where Israel begins, to find fault with Israeli actions as immoral or unethical, there is a far more valid criticism to level at the nation's foreign policy under Benjamin Netanyahu.  Fred Kaplan of Slate writes

In the abstract, it’s shrewd to play Gaza’s radical Hamas against the West Bank’s more moderate Palestinian Authority, but at the moment, Israel is offering the latter no rewards. Abbas would like to play along with this game — he has in the past — but Israel has called off peace talks, continues expanding its settlements and has not remotely backed away from its humiliating fences and checkpoints. In short, Israel has provided nothing that might lead Gaza residents to envy a West Banker’s life to the point of pressuring or toppling their own leaders. Or, to put it another way: Israel has done nothing that might equate the weakening of Hamas to the strengthening of Abbas.

Seeing his leverage slip away, Abbas took steps in late May to form a unity government joining the West Bank and Gaza. The idea was to co-opt and thus weaken Hamas. But Netanyahu, fearing that Hamas would exploit the arrangement to its advantage, condemned the move and shut down diplomatic forums with Abbas. Netanyahu’s fears might be valid, but by cutting Abbas off (thus making it harder for Abbas to offer his people an alternative to Hamas), he’s helping to make the worst fears come true.

The tendency of the Netanyahu government to treat Mahmoud Abbas like Hamas and to act as if it wants to drive the PA into the arms of Hamas should be a matter of grave concern to some of the critics of  Israel, especially as they would be expected to be sympathetic to the more accomodating, less radical and violent elements of the Palestianian establishment.  Alas, it is not, and Bill Maher's remark, though intemperate and technically inaccurate, reminds us of the one party in the conflict for which the shedding of blood is an unmitigated blessing.








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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Judges Will Not Work 100 Hours A Week






"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos," remarked Jim Hightower, who on his website bills himself, not extravagantly, as "America's #1 populist."

That applies to the USA's ongoing issue of illegal immigration, which ought to be settled- but won't- with either widespread deportation or a rapid process toward citizenship.  However, it does not apply to a crisis, one in which well over 50,000 children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have crossed the border only since October 1.

Thanks to a Bush-era law, these youngsters cannot be driven back into Mexico or dropped by parachute into Tijuana, but rather must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services and sent to shelters or accommodating families while awaiting deportation hearings.  This is not an ongoing issue, but a crisis, and one in which quick- and inevitably costly- action must be taken.

And so it was disappointing to hear this exchange between Chris Hayes and U.S. Representative Beta O'Rourke (D-Texas) on Tuesday's "All In":

HAYES: Let me ask you to weigh in on your colleagues from Texas, Senator John Cornyn, Henry Cuellar, another border representative, a Democrat.

They have introduced legislation that wouldn`t completely get rid of the process for these kids, but would give them essentially expedited review. There would be judges that would render a decision I think within a week and basically be able to make a aye or nay decision. And if it`s nay, they get sent back.

Do you support that legislation?

O`ROURKE: I have a 7-year-old son, Ulysses. I can only imagine him having to appear before an administrator or immigration judge within a 72- hour period and determine whether he`s going to take an asylum or non- asylum track to petition for residency within this country when he`s fleeing violence, has maybe had his friends, his brothers, his sisters killed; he may, himself, have been threatened.

He`s just passed through a three-week grueling process to move up through the interior of Mexico to present himself for asylum at the U.S.- Mexico border. Absolutely not. The wrong way to go -- I know both men, Henry Cuellar, John Cornyn, good people with good hearts. I just think this is not the best thought-out proposals and would have some terrible unintended consequences for these kids who are fleeing violence right now.

Remember, these are kids, these are 7-year olds, these are 11-year olds, these are people who are leaving a situation that is intolerable by any measure. And by way of comparison, Nicaragua, which is the second poorest country in this hemisphere after Haiti has sent almost no children.

We`ve seen 2,000 family members in El Paso, not one single one of them has come from Nicaragua. This is a unique situation to Honduras, to Guatemala, to El Salvador. I think we need to respond accordingly.

You might have expected in this lengthy reply, or somewhere else in the interview, a suggestion from a progressive on how to deal with what some conservatives have rashly and inaccurately labeled an "invasion" but which is, nevertheless, an unprecedented situation.   Instead, O'Rourke bleeds sympathy for the children and suggests (in response to a previous question) that "it also speaks to ultimately our need to reform this country`s immigration laws."

Exploiting the crisis by arguing for comprehensive immigration reform brings to mind the ludicrous charges of a few ultra conservatives that the problem is contrived, manufactured by President Obama to make urgent what Democrats call "reform" and Republicans call "amnesty." It does so even though efforts to pass immigration reform are unrelated to the current crisis, in which some of the entrants are refugees and some merely illegal immigrants.

O'Rourke apparently opposes the Cuellar/Cornyn legislation, but the Texas congressman could have used the occasion to offer a challenge to Representative Cuellar and Senator Cornyn, who have introduced legislation which

would require children looking to stay in the U.S. to file a legal claim with an immigration court within a week of being screened by Department of Health and Human Services officials. A judge would then have 72 hours to make a determination about whether the child is eligible to stay in the U.S.; if not, the child will be sent back to their family in their home country.

The bill also calls for 40 new immigration court judges, as part of the plan to expedite a process that some have called too slow to deal with the buildup along the border.

Forty new immigration judges working eight hours a day (less one hour for lunch, a short break for most judges) for four weeks would yield would yield 1020 hours from the bench.  If the average judge handled (realistically) two cases an hour, that would result in resolution for little more than 2000 children, hardly enough even with existing judges to do more than put a dent in the problem.  As it is, the immigration court backlog is staggering.

Consequently, O'Rourke and like-minded Democrats should call the bluff of Republicans and Democratic Lites (such as Cuellar) by matching their bid and raising them four-fold.  Confront the GOP, which has demonstrated its lack of concern by balking at President Obama's request for $3.7 billion.

With forty new judges grossly insufficient, progressives/liberals can call for 160 new judges. Or 200. Or beyond.    Henry Cuellar, in particular, is determined to call this a "crisis"  (as on Fox News, video below). Skeptics should challenge him to put resources where his mouth is by proposing legislation that would realistically address the situation. Then we could find out what is real- and what is posturing and preening for the camera.













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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...