Saturday, January 31, 2015

In No Mood To Be Polite






Mitt Romney has thinned the universe of possible GOP presidential candidates, as announced in the manner befitting the seriousness of the Republican Party: on twitter.

There is near consensus that Romney's withdrawal will benefit John Ellis Bush and to a lesser extent New Jersey governor Christopher J. Christie, both favorites of the media and of the Wall Street wing of the Repub Party (but I repeat himself). Crooks and Liars' karoli concludes the former Florida governor

... can't be elected President. We cannot have another Bush in the White House, and certainly not Jeb. The press and pundits will spend a lot of time trying to convince us all that Jeb Bush is a moderate candidate who can appeal to Latino voters and the white working class voter alike. It's up to all of us to make sure each and every voter understands that behind the veneer, the heart of a cold-hearted, hard-core conservative lurks.

As karoli notes, despite immigration reform and Common Core (on which his seemingly liberal views resonate well with the GOP donor base), John Ellis Bush is a hard-core right winger. We should recall The New York Times reported in 2003

Gov. Jeb Bush has asked a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim, a move that has angered women's rights groups and reignited the debate over abortion in Florida.

The governor intervened in the case this week, ordering lawyers for the state to ask the Orange County Circuit Court in Orlando to appoint a representative to protect the fetus's rights despite an earlier decision by the Florida Department of Children and Families to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the baby only after the woman gives birth.

Judge Lawrence Robert Kirkwood of the Circuit Court ruled this afternoon that the woman would remain in the care of the state's adult protective services program but declined to consider the issue of the fetus because the request had not been made before today's status hearing was scheduled. The judge said the state could submit motions on behalf of the fetus and that the court would consider them later.

At issue is whether appointing a guardian for a fetus could force a woman to maintain a pregnancy if the interests of the guardian for the fetus conflicted with the interests of a mother or her representative. In a 1989 case, the Florida Supreme Court declared that it was ''clearly improper'' to appoint a guardian for a fetus. In the current case, neither the woman nor anyone caring for her has sought to abort the fetus.  

(Opposing Bush's move were a few organizations including the ACLU, which maintained that there had never been an instance in which a governor had requested a court-appointed guardian for a fetus. The Court ruled against the JEB Administration, which appealed. A guardian appointed for the expectant mother recommended the fetus- for which an abortion never had been considered- be carried to term.  The baby eventually was delivered healthy, according to National Right to Life)

The case of "Baby Girl S" bears a similarity to that of Terry Schiavo, also a case in which Bush's anti-choice fanaticism resulted in an apparently unprecedented interference with operations of the judiciary.

Steve M. believes John Ellis Bush will be this year's Jon Huntsman, noting the former Florida governor issued a statement which

is going to haunt him until he drops out, which he will do very, very early in the race, assuming he runs at all. In fact, this quote is going to haunt him for the rest of his political life (although I guess this race will probably end his political life).

He believes "there's no way in hell Jeb's going to win even a single delegate" because he

has apparently decided that the base wants to be insulted and will reward repeated insults with votes. It's the kind of conclusion you come to when you take centrist pundits seriously -- voters want you to give it to them straight. No, they don't -- Republican voters sure don't. Elsewhere we're told that Jeb said of America's population of undocumented immigrants, “There is no way they are going to be deported. No one is suggesting an organized effort to do that. The cost would be extraordinary." Really? Is that what you think, Jeb? The people whose votes you want think deporting all undocumented immigrants is precisely what we should be doing, cost be damned -- and we should have across-the-board tax cuts at the same time! And balance the budget! While fighting more overseas wars!

SM was responding to the Breitbart story that last weekend (video below)

in San Francisco while speaking to the National Automobile Dealers Association, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) said, “First and foremost we need to control our border.”

“The 40 percent of the people that have come here illegally came with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds,” he added. “We ought to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.”

State and local enforcement should partner with the federal government to encourage illegal aliens to return to their home countries in a “compassionate” way, Bush continued.

John Ellis Bush will win a single delegate- even former Texas governor John Connally won a single delegate in 1980.  He may win even several delegates.  Bush's stance on immigration won't alone deny him the nomination, inasmuch as the donor base is quite comfortable with it and the popular base always can be thrown red meat, tried-and-true conservative rhetoric about lazy poor people not wanting to work, lazy disabled people wanting to sit at home faking injuries, lazy union members not wanting to work, or lazy old people draining tax money through earned benefits, which are derided  as "entitlements." (There might be a pattern here- say, contempt for Americans.)

But the quote ultimately will doom Bush.  He did not call for compassion or love, two things Republicans (as well as Democrats) value, usually for those who have to the exclusion of those who have not. He did, however, say "we ought to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave."

Politely ask them to leave? When this is mocked in GOP debates and shown in campaign commercials, it will not go well for John Ellis Bush.  The conservative Republican psyche is not one which favors approaching lawbreakers or anyone flouting conservative values and "asking them (politely) to leave."  The macho instinct of most GOP voters will not tolerate that, leaving right-winger John Ellis Bush, in a right-wing field, toast.












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Friday, January 30, 2015

His Buddy Called It Change You Can Believe In





Rahm Emanuel is up to his old tricks. David Sirota explains

On its face, Chicago’s municipal pension system is an integral part of the Chicago city government. The system is included in the city’s budget, it is directly funded by the city and its board of trustees includes city officials and mayoral appointees. Yet when it comes to enforcing the city’s anti-corruption laws, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is now arguing that the pension funds are not part of the city government at all.

The counterintuitive declaration came this week from the mayor-appointed ethics commission, responding to Chicago aldermen’s request for an investigation of campaign contributions to Emanuel from the financial industry. The request followed disclosures that executives at firms managing Chicago pension money have made more than $600,000 worth of donations to Emanuel. The contributions flowed to the mayor despite a city ordinance -- and an executive order by Emanuel himself -- restricting mayoral campaign contributions from city contractors.

Brushing off the lawmakers’ complaint about Emanuel’s donations from the financial industry, the mayor’s ethics commission issued a nonbinding legal opinion this week arguing that Chicago's pension systems are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city.” The commission said its interpretation means financial firms’ business with Chicago pension funds should be considered exempt from city ethics laws.

With the aldermen’s complaint about campaign contributions generating headlines and potentially complicating Emanuel’s already tough race for re-election in two months, the Emanuel-appointed commission was unusually frank about its motives: It said the release of its opinion was designed “to attempt to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.”

It's par for the course for a mayor who would rename the city he heads "Chicago Inc." if he could find a wealthy enough investor willing to purchase renaming rights.  The chart, accompanying a recent article by Rick Perlstein, below demonstrates the depth and breadth of Emanuel's effort to sell off city services to the highest, or not highest, bidder:





You may notice three items- custodial maintenance of Chicago public schools, private charter schools, and "Social Impact Bonds" for CPS- pertaining to education.   Brazen disregard for students, hostility to teachers, and aversion to transparency have escalated in the administration of the mayor who has closed more public schools than any any mayor in American history (save New Orleans, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina).  Given his policies, it is no surprise that Emanuel is rolling in the dough from big contributors and is expected to win re-election on February 24 despite his unpopularity. Also given that likelihood, and his enthusiasm for selling off the city to private interests, it is no surprise that

President Barack Obama endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for re-election in a radio ad that began airing Monday in Chicago, laughing off Emanuel's "hardheaded" demeanor as proof of his passion and speaking in favor of the mayor's school policies that have become key points of controversy in the election campaign.

"If you want a mayor who does what's right, not just what's popular, who fights night and day for the city we love, then I hope you'll join me. Vote for Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, February 24th," Obama says in the 60-second spot.

It's too bad Barack Obama probably won't return to live in Chicago once his second term ends, because these guys deserve each other.  There is, however, one redeeming characteristic of the Emanuel campaign: it is not "we are the ones we've been waiting for."



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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All For One, And That One Is The Corporation




It's all because of liberals whom, according to Rush Limbaugh, include Rahm Emanuel. Complaining about the National Weather Service, Limbaugh on Tuesday remarked

Well, a couple of weeks ago we had a story here, folks, where the school board president, one of the faculty members, two women actually, sent a letter home to the parents telling them to let their kids bring canned food to school in case a shooter with a gun showed up. They were going to teach the kids how to throw cans of food at a potential armed intruder. So those of you that went out and stocked up on the canned goods on the advice of Mayor de Blasio, you are prepared for intruders showing up and being able to frighten them back out of your home.

I don't know, folks.  It's just -- I know.  I know.  Some of you think I chalk everything up to liberalism, and you think I need to give it a rest.  I'm telling you, that's why this happens.  I say all the time, don't doubt me.  I know these people.  It's all intertwined.  Crisis. Remember Rahm Emanuel: a crisis is too important to waste.

Notice Rush referred to "school board president"-  who would be a public servant- thus encouraging his audience to believe the public school system, as he has argued before, is failing. CNN reports

"We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard," the letter reads, according to CNN affiliate WRBL. "The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters the classroom."

Chambers County School Superintendent Kelli Moore Hodge acknowledges that the middle school didn't educate people properly before sending the letter home, but she says the cans are a very small part of the training.

But as you already should suspect, it wasn't the school superintendent primarily responsible. Oh, no:

"The major point of the training (which is called ALICE - Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) is to be able to get kids evacuated and not be sitting ducks hiding under desks," Hodge wrote in an email.

Even if you can't escape and are barricaded behind closed doors to avoid the shooter, there are still steps to take to increase your safety, suggests an Auburn University ALICE video. Auburn is providing the training to the school district.

Once the door has been locked and barricaded and students have moved to an area out of sight, students should have a plan if the attacker breaks into the room.

That's when canned goods and other classroom items come into play.

"Start gathering several items you can use to protect yourself. Every room has something you can use to distract and defend from the aggressors' attack," says the Auburn video's narrator. "Communicate with others around you and tell them your plan. Don't wait until the aggressor gets into your safe area to have a plan of action."

Students can throw books, book bags, computers and, yes, those canned goods to distract any aggressor.

He'll be distracted as he doubles down in laughter.  The next time Alabamans complain, justifiably, that the canned goods defense is ridiculous, the public school administrator- a government employee- should leave the discomfort of providing an explanation to Auburn University. Alternatively, she should affix the blame where it belongs instead of shilling for a company or private university.

In a larger sense, the Democratic Party bears blame for covering for the private sector- as in failing to make clear that greedy financial institutions (rather than homeowners, as many people believe) were responsible for the financial meltdown of the last decade.

When Rick Santorum expounded on "blah people," he was ridiculed. But here (video, below) we have the face of anti-labor, anti-worker extremism saying  "... as Republicans we need to make the case that we're going to promote policies that promote and support and defend hard work in this company, in this country once again," he ought to be called out for conflating company and country, looking at the USA as just one big, private enterprise.

Santorum is a confused and somewhat backward fellow. However, Walker, master of humblebrag, committed a Freudian slip, expressing the guiding principle of the Repub Party and, increasingly, the nation's politicians. Public-private partnerships and turning the people's business over to for-profit operations, as the incident in Alabama indicates, is doing no good for anyone except the small number of people making off like bandits at the public's expense.













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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New England PSI




By now, we all know the New England Patriots did not know the footballs were inflated.   Owner Robert Kraft says so (and the NFL better apologize because his feelings are hurt).   Head coach Bill Bellicheat says so.  Quarterback Tom Brady, who- with Peyton Manning- lobbied for the procedural change which made underinflation possible, says so. (Brady, whom many people claim is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, allegedly was so stunningly stupid he didn't realize the balls he handled on every play were soft.) Following the quarterback's news conference, CNN reported

Brady said he picked the footballs he wanted to use five hours before the game, feeling the laces and the leather but not paying attention to the inflation level. The NFL mandates balls should be 12.5-13.5 psi.

"It's not like I squeeze the football," he said. "I grip the football."

Brady said he didn't touch the balls again until the game began. The referees inspect footballs about two hours before kickoff and deliver them to "ball attendants" who take them to the sidelines, according to NFL rules. The Patriots' opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, provided their own footballs.

Brady also said he couldn't tell any difference between the balls in the first and second halves.

This is the same guy who has won three Super Bowls.  Unfortunately, even the quarterback- who would be more likely to have known what was going on than would the head coach- never would have explicitly told the equipment manager "deflate the footballs." The latter could not have but known what the star quarterback wanted, and it was his responsibility to see that he got it- with, of course, the fellow who (with his head coach) has been by far most responsible for those championships.

The quarterback smart enough to have won as many games as he has with footballs as he wanted them was smart enough to deny, deny, deny, thus sending to individuals who might be interviewed in the NFL investigation two messages: a) if you choose to deny, nothing I say when I'm questioned after the Super Bowl will contradict your denial; and b) if you dime me out, it will be your word against the guy arguably as responsible as anyone for the success of the NFL over the past 10-15 years. (Then, practically no one would believe Brady. It might not matter.)

If Tom Terrific did not realize footballs have been deflated- and even if it hasn't helped him directly- it still has aided his team- hence his record, his reputation, and his stake in being considered the greatest ever at football's most important position.   While making no conclusions- it's not his purpose- licensed professional engineer Warren Sharp of sharpfootballanalytics.com explains Licensed professional engineer, Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analytics offers no conclusions or value judgements and does not consider intent or culpability.   But, displaying a chart comparing all NFL teams, he explains it

is apparent, the Patriots are the only outdoor NFL team the last 25 years to average 70 plays/fumble or better, and they did it from 2007-2014 (four, five year periods).  Its simply uncanny, as the statistics above similarly showed.

Averages:

Over the last 25 years, indoor teams averaged 43 plays/fumble (in all games they played that season, regardless of site, understanding that half their games would be played indoor sans-weather).

Since 2000, they improved to 46 plays/fumble.

Over the last 25 years, outdoor teams averaged 41 plays/fumble.

Since 2000, they improved to 43 plays/fumble.

The Patriots averaged 73 plays/fumble the past 5 years, almost 70% better than the 43 plays/fumble that outdoor teams averaged since 2000.

Next, lets look only at the current 5 year period:

The league average plays per fumble from 2010 thru 2014 was 50 plays/fumble.

For indoor teams, the average was 55 plays/fumble.

For outdoor teams, excluding the Patriots, the average was 46 plays/fumble (9 fewer).

The Patriots averaged 73 plays/fumble, almost 60% MORE than outdoor teams, and almost 50% MORE than the league average the past 5 years.







Since we now can clearly in the data, both near term and long term, that dome-based teams (who play at least 8 games out of the elements) have an advantage in the fumble department, we can exclude them from comparisons to the Patriots.


If we do, I can produce a chart identical to the one at the very top which looked ONLY at fumbles lost.  This one looks at ALL fumbles, whether lost or recovered.  I think the point still remains (Graph, difficult to read, includes each NFL team; Patriots at far right- MSL):







If this chart looks nearly identical, it should.  The Patriots are so “off the map” when it comes to either fumbles or only fumbles lost.  As mentioned earlier:  this is an extremely abnormal occurrence and is NOT simply random fluctuation.


You can't blame the New England Traitors owner for trying to intimidate commissioner Roger Goodell, who is "Robert Kraft's pegboy" and who as a bully himself, probably can be bullied. The direction of the league's investigation, let alone its conclusions, is still up for modification.  But the notion that New England hasn't been cheating in this manner for a significant time is borderline farcical.




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Monday, January 26, 2015

Culture Clash




Nothing misogynistic- or crude- here. From Metro Lyrics, the words to "Cat Scratch Fever" by one-hit-wonder Ted Nugent:


Well I don't know where they come from
But they sure do come
I hope they comin' for me
And I don't know how they do it
But they sure do it good
I hope they doin' it for free

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever

The first time that I got it
I was just ten years old
I got it from some kitty next door
I went and see the Dr. and
He gave me the cure
I think I got it some more

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever

It's nothin dangerous
I feel no pain
I've got to ch-ch-change
You know you got it when you're going insane
It makes a grown man cryin' cryin'
Won't you make my bed

I make the pussy purr with
The stroke of my hand
They know they gettin' it from me
They know just where to go
When they need their lovin man
They know I do it for free

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever


Right Wing Watch points out

After Mike Huckabee criticized Beyonce's music as "obnoxious and toxic mental poison" unfit for children and compared the singer to a prostitute, it didn't take long for people to point out that he himself had once joined with Ted Nugent to perform a sexually explicit song on his national television program.

Huckabee is, predictably, reacting by pretending that what happened didn't actually happen, telling the Christian Post today that Nugent "changed the lyrics pretty dramatically" when he sang the song "Cat Scratch Fever" on Hucabee's Fox News show.

In fact, anyone who watches a video of the performance can see that Nugent didn't change any of the song's explicit lyrics as Huckabee accompanied him, 5:25 in.











Sarah Palin, who says "You can absolutely say that I am seriously interested in running for President" (not a clear statement of intent, but we can only hope for the entertainment)  is somewhat similar. Roger Simon observed at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Sunday the former governor exclaiming "coronation, rinse, repeat," "the man can only ride you when your back is bent," and Obama "is so over it, America, he's just not that into you."

Simon reported that there was no context for the remarks. And if you think "the man can only ride you when your back is bent" makes little sense, this- considering the source- from Palin on Saturday made even less sense: "screw the left and Hollywood."

Not screw the left, of course, but "screw Hollywood" is at best insincere coming from Palin, who recently appeared with Tara Pyle at a charity event

thrown in honor of special ops veterans at the Vegas Show Show on Thursday (January 22) in Las Vegas.

If you don’t know yet, Taya is the widow of Chris Kyle, the late Navy SEAL that the movie American Sniper is based on.

“Taya is carrying on her husband Chris’ legacy boldly – spending hours visiting with all the heroes there and sharing Chris’ book, inspiration, and story through American Sniper,” Sarah wrote in a Facebook post.

If Sarah wanted merely to raise money for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and further to honor his life and legacy, she could have done so without the shout-out to American Sniper which, as a movie, is part of Hollywood culture (and nominated for six Oscars). But she didn't. Instead, she lauded a film which, arguably is not true to the real-life Kyle and his book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History."  In The New Republic, Dennis Jett writes

Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle, seems beset by uncertainty and moral anxiety in the above scene. But anyone who has read Kyle’s autobiography of the same title knows that his bravado left no room for doubt. For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs. At another point, he boasts that the unofficial ROE were pretty simple: “If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see.” 

Notwithstanding the differences between Chris Kyle and the portrayal by Bradley Cooper, Palin chose to identify herself in part with the biopic- and with the Hollywood she claims to want screwed.

No one should doubt Mike Huckabee's sincerity, while Palin sometimes infers she has a direct pipeline to God, though given her sometimes bizarre behavior (photo below via TPM) it's hard to believe she would be the one the Almighty would decide to communicate with.   But both of them at least appear not to have come to terms with modern culture, say, post 1990.




There are undeniable advantages for Republicans to fight the culture war as they contemplate GOP primaries.  But the slight scent of hypocrisy hovers.  By contrast, potential GOP presidential candidates could sidestep cultural issues, as has Chris Christie, whom Bill Clinton has termed "probably just a sideshow" or John Ellis Bush, a likely flame-out.  The prospective field is not, so it seems, all that far from the "clown car" Roger Simon observes..





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Sunday, January 25, 2015

As A Matter Of Fact






When Bill Maher recently made remarks, some of them on his HBO show "Real Time," that radical Islam might just be responsible for the anti-democratic principles prevalent in the Arab (and, presumably, Persian) world, he got a lot of flack.

Most of it came from what can loosely be considered the left or more specifically, advocates of identity politics.  Rula Jebreal referred to "TV info-tainers such as Bill Maher who insist that the problem lives within Islam itself." Patrick L. Smith condemned "ignorant vulgarians such as Bill Maher pretending to careful deliberation, only to gush the primitive prejudices that pass for knowingness in the cultural mainstream." In a more thoughtful analysis, Digby argued the comedian "seems to think the Muslim religion is at fault for acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam."

Completely irrationally, though, was the claim from Karen Armstrong that Maher is guilty of "the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe."  (The latter critique is breathtaking in its ignorance.) Students at Cal-Berkeley circulated a petition urging their university to rescind the invitation it extended to Maher to be a commencement speaker. (The university boldly declined and Maher did speak.)

But that didn't mean that the right would defend Maher, a usually-left, atheistic libertine. David Brooks, for instance, slammed "the jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher at the kids' table."

One of the relatively few defenders of the comedian was a friend, filmmaker Michael Moore, who put Islamic extremism and Christian right terrorism in context as he explained

W]hen he bravely ridicules and attacks Christian assassins of abortion doctors who cite the Bible as justification for their evil acts, we heartily applaud him. But when he mercilessly stomps on Islamic assassins who cite the Koran, we grow uneasy, Sure, I can make a daily list of all the horrible things so-called Christians still do in this country. Rarely, though, do their actions involve decapitation. But if you’re a Dutch filmmaker who makes a movie about violence against women in some Islamic countries, or if you’re a Danish cartoonist who draws an image making fun of the Prophet — well, you are then either shot to death or you are now in hiding.

Moore thus highlighted the instinct to defend violence as long as it's committed by the good guys rather than the bad guys.  And Moore thus recognized what Maher understands, as the latter demonstrated (video below) on Friday when he maintained

'Hurt Locker' made 17 million because it was a little ambiguous and thoughtful.  American Sniper'] is just 'American hero! He's a psychopath patriot, and we love him'....

Eisenhower once said I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can. I just don't see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower. If you're a Christian, 'I hate the damn savages' doesn't seem like a Christian thing to say.

It's a little shaky for anyone to label as a "psychopath" someone he or she has not met. Still, Maher noted the real American sniper, Chris Kyle, asserted in his autobiography

  • (about the Iraqis) "I hate the damn savages and I've been fighting and I always will."
  • "I love killing bad guys."
  • "Even with the pain, I loved what I was doing."
  • "Maybe war isn't really fun, but I certainly was enjoying it."

At first impression, there is a disconnect between the conservative notion of holding Islamic fanaticism responsible for worldwide terrorism and a liberal's refusal to hail a gleeful killer as a hero.

But there need not be.  Arguing (unfortunately) in favor of atheism recently, Maher emphasized the value of making decisions based on science and facts. It's a nasty habit he refuses to break.









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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Violent Crime And Incarceration





It was a State of the Union address which, like all State of the Union addresses, roamed from topic to topic, in this case including  job training, community college, paid maternity leave, health care (these and others presumably constituting "middle class economics"), Afghanistan, Iran, the new Cuba policy. (State of the Union messages are the only speeches that, were they not routine and ceremonial, invariably would be described as "rambling," not unlike some of the posts here.)

One of the other subjects, buried as these days it can be, was crime/punishment, about which the President maintained

We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

"We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York." In mentioning Ferguson and New York, this was, first, a nod and a wink to the matter of race. Primarily, though, it was yet another effort at downplaying an issue Obama has spent his entire presidency trying to avoid, both so that attention might be focused on concrete proposals and because of his never-ending, tiresome and thoroughly naive, focus on bipartisanship and comity.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our bases fears. It is the greatest irony of this presidency that a chief executive, stating "I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true: that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America" (echoing his most important speech) has presided over a nation ever more ideologically and functionally split. Thank you, GOP.

The President's focus on coming together was reflected in his interest in a "starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system."

Let's initially dispense with the disingenuousness of linking the incarceration rate with the crime rate. It is true, as Obama noted and as the graph (from the American Prospect) below comparing the USA violent crime and incarceration rate indicates, that "for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together."







As a response to the exploding crime rate (concomitant with the crack "epidemic") and resultant public fear in the 1980s and early 1990s, states had enacted "three strikes you're out" and other punitive policies, incarceration rates soared as the incidence of crime fell. The thrust of the statement "the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together" is true only of late or, as Obama put it, "for the first time in 40 years."

It is unlikely that harsh punishment was the primary factor in the reduction of crime beginning, roughly from Bill Clinton's inauguration (a delicious coincidence which, of course, Barack Obama ignored). However, contrary to this article's implication (rebuttal upcoming in this space), it probably played a role.  Undeniably, crime soared, government responded by locking up offenders, and crime came down.

The crime rate has continued to decline while many states have paused their lock 'em up philosophy the past few years, too short a period to rule out serendipity. So when the President notes "for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together," he is accurate. But if we consider the trend of only the past few years while ignoring the larger pattern, we will jump to the wrong conclusion and implement remedies likely to be seriously flawed.





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Friday, January 23, 2015

An Old Playbook





Incensed that President Obama wants to fund community college for good students by increasing income tax on the top 1% of earners, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes remarked

we all know that President Obama wants universal community college: free tuition for every person in America. But I’m having a hard time finding where the Constitution mandates that every American is entitled to an associate’s degree. We are now six years into the Obama presidency and they have a reputation for being less than truthful. Take for example this notion of free community college. 

It turns out that free education is going to cost American taxpayers $60 billion over the next decade, and that doesn’t even include all of the free condoms and cell phones and medicinal marijuana bongs. You know, back when I was growing up, college kids were expect to work their way through school, it was considered shameful to ask for a handout. But this is Obama’s America and the entitlement crowd thinks that they are entitled to our money.

Digby comments "They're giving away free condoms and medicinal marijuana bongs in college? I think that's great. Good public health is good for all of us. And if everyone had cell phones we'd all be safer. These strike me as excellent, low cost benefits. "

Free condoms actually would be a splendid idea. But the policy would strike at the heart of the conservative vision of women as baby factories, a role even the Pope now finds antiquated, leaving Rick Santorum confused. Medical marijuana would be of great comfort to many Americans in pain, so Republicans won't allow that, and we already know the right resents poor people with cell phones.

Digby notes also that Starnes was subsidized handsomely by the taxpayers of Georgia as a student at Georgia State University.  It is a Galt fantasy of having done it all alone, which is reminiscent of one of the greatest conservative songs of all time, of a bygone era which virtually never was.









It has its modern expression in the GOP beyond Starnes. In her (official GOP) rebuttal to the President's State of the Union address, freshman Senator Joni Stepford of Iowa (truly a grinmeister) maintained of her family:

They had very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands. But they worked, they sacrificed, and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren.

And because they did, an ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.

This is a variation of humblebrag, in which a man or woman of accomplishment implies "my parents afforded me few privileges, so everything I got I accomplished on my own." But it probably goes beyond phony to dishonest for, as the Des Moines Register's Jack Pompe explains

Any self-respecting poor Iowa farm kid knows that one doesn't wear bread sacks over their shoes to protect their good shoes. You wear the bread sacks between your socks and shoes to keep your feet dry. If worn over your shoes, a bread bag would be ripped and torn before a kid got out the door. Also a truly poor farm kid probably does not have a pair of good shoes worth protecting.

John Cole, at 44 the some age as Senator Stepford, argues bread bags "didn’t mean you were poor. It meant you didn’t like wet feet."

Ernst's response bumps up against reality also because, the District Sentinel News Co-Op recently reported

The truth about her family’s farm roots and living within one’s means, however, is more complex. Relatives of Ernst (née: Culver), based in Red Oak, Iowa (population: 5,568) have received over $460,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Ernst’s father, Richard Culver, was given $14,705 in conservation payments and $23,690 in commodity subsidies by the federal government–with all but twelve dollars allocated for corn support. Richard’s brother, Dallas Culver, benefited from $367,141 in federal agricultural aid, with over $250,000 geared toward corn subsidies. And the brothers’ late grandfather Harold Culver received $57,479 from Washington—again, mostly corn subsidies—between 1995 and 2001. He passed away in January 2003.

The Sentinel cross-referenced the Environmental Working Group farm subsidy database with open source information to verify the Culvers’ interest in the Department of Agriculture’s crop support program.

Sen. Ernst’s family’s financial interest notably came up once during her campaign. In October, Salon reported that Richard’s construction company was awarded $215,665 in contracts from the Montgomery County government in 2009 and 2010, while Ernst was the body’s auditor. The bids won by Culver included Federal Emergency Management Agency projects worth $204,794.

President Obama, channeling, somewhat ineffectively, a great liberal vision, had stated "I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long" and  "Let's begin this new chapter – together – and let's start the work right now."

Joni Ernst, too, suggested "we work together"- for more free trade deals throwing Americans out of work; lowering taxes for corporations, whose declining tax burden has been replaced by one growing for the middle class; and by approving Keystone XL, because ramping up climate change and supplying the energy needs of mainland China must be our greatest priorities.

Starnes, Ernst, Roy Rogers, whomever, it's still the Republican dream, sold as reality: you can do it on your own. More realistic and patriotic is this:











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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Para Y Against Immigration Reform





It was an excellent theory- rational, objective, and thoughtful. And we can't hold Maddow Blog's Steve Benen responsible for being wrong, or at least partly wrong, given that his stab at an explanation occurred 13-14 hours before, rather than after, the State of the Union addresses and the rebuttals to it.

Benen noted there would be several GOP responses to the President's Tuesday evening speech.   The official response would be given by ultra-right wing Joni Ernst, the new senator from Iowa. Freshman Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, an outlier among Republicans in his support for a path to citizenship, would offer what Benen understandably described as the "’Spanish-language response, which will reportedly mirror the substance of Ernst’s speech."  An official Tea Party response would come from Representative Curt Clawson of Florida, with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz also responding to the President.

For those keeping score at home, that would be five(5) rebuttals, so Benen understandably argued

As we talked about last year at this time, let’s not forget that there used to be one Republican response because the party wouldn’t tolerate any other scenario. GOP lawmakers who deliberately chose to step on – or worse, contradict – their party’s scripted message risked raising the ire of party leaders and insiders. Only one SOTU response was given because no Republican in Congress would dare challenge – or even think to challenge – the party’s message operation.

Those norms have collapsed. “There is no clear leadership in the Republican Party right now, no clear direction or message, and no way to enforce discipline,” Mark McKinnon, a veteran Republican strategist, said last year. “And because there’s a vacuum, and no shortage of cameras, there are plenty of actors happy to audition.”

Rand Paul clearly wants to be President and Ted Cruz, who wouldn't mind being in the Oval Office, has an underestimated interest in someday being Senate Majority Leader.  And an official Tea Party response gives credibility to Joni Ernst (and congressional Republicans, whom she clearly was representing; video below) as being something other than a well-dressed, reasonably articulate, female neo-Bircher with a smile that never ends.










The response by Carlos Curbelo was of quite a different nature, however. Politico reports

Republicans sent mixed signals on immigration in their two official rebuttals to President Obama Tuesday night: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s rebuttal made no mention of the topic, but the Spanish-language version of the rebuttal, delivered by Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said Republicans wanted to work with Obama to fix the immigration system.

“We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” said Curbelo in Spanish. “In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these. Now we ask him to cooperate with us to get it done.”

Earlier on Tuesday, House Republicans had described Curbelo’s response as “the Spanish-Language translated address of Sen. Joni Ernst response.” That language was later removed from the release, according to Mother Jones.

The addition to Ernst's speech may have been a mistake or the immigration-friendly congressman going rogue. Not quite, however, inasmuch as

In an interview after the speech, Curbelo said he chose to focus on immigration as well as other issues personally important to him – such as education and Cuba – aside from the party’s broader economic message that was reflected in Ernst’s rebuttal.

He had asked for a copy of Ernst’s prepared remarks a few days in advance of Tuesday’s address, and then made his own additions, including the references to immigration. Leadership saw the remarks beforehand and were fine with them, Curbelo said. “I did not get any pushback whatsoever.”

Of course he didn't. In the GOP's defense Ernst, prudently, said nothing about immigration. Still, inclusion of support- in Spanish- of creating "appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system" in what was promoted as a mere Spanish translation of the Party's official response clearly was a shout-out, a thumbs-up, to Hispanic voters, who overwhelmingly reject the approach of the Repub Party.

It's not only Democrats who can read the political tea leaves, or demographic charts. Repubs understand as a win-win a successful effort to chip away at the Hispanic vote while opposing policies which might actually help Latinos: raising the minimum wage, lowering the cost of a college education, requiring sick leave, reducing the relative burden of taxation upon the middle class, or implementation of carbon-reduction initiatives.

The GOP's popular base may not understand the Repub Party will not fight to the death only immigration which includes an achievable path to citizenship. The co-existence of a rebuttal in English and an altered one in Spanish, delivered to predominantly different audiences, fits in well with a strategy of guys and gals determined to keep their real intentions from the average people who vote for them.  If the Party consistently votes as one (or close to it) to destroy the aspirations of the middle and working classes, the least it can do is treat them as children and keep  them in the dark.





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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Normal Martin Luther King Jr. Day





Raw Story had the story yesterday about Bill Finlay at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention claiming (video below)

Manufacturing racism for political purposes is a big business in the USA, and manufactured racism has been used to hurt the Tea Party from Day 1. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today the liberal left would spit in his face because he would be such a threat to their political agendas.

We are the people who practice Dr. King’s dream. It is the Tea Party where people are not judged by the color of their skin, and it’s Tea Party Americans who believe that character still counts.

So today, I am officially announcing that the Tea Party is taking Martin Luther King away from the liberal left.  And to you race-baiting promoters of division and hatred, you’re not getting him back until you renounce your shameful skin-color politics and start practicing the politics of character.








In his book "Why We Can't Wait," Reverend King maintained "Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic."

So Reverend King advocated what has become known as "affirmative action." However, while Wild Bill is not terribly significant, on the same day as his statement, Rush Limbaugh remarked

I mean, given all this controversy out in Hollywood, showing up here on Martin Luther King Day could be seen as an act of disrespect.  What I'll do is just fall back on the idea I had no idea, the staff didn't tell me again that this was a celebrated Monday holiday, and I've got history on my side.  I don't take too many Monday holidays.  Besides, Dr. King wanted everybody to work.  That's what separates him from the modern-day Democrat Party. 

In 2014, then-Senator John Walsh (D-MT) introduced the Bring Jobs Home Act, which was supported by every Democratic Senator but which fell short of the 60 votes needed to end the GOP filibuster. According to Bloomberg News, it

would have denied U.S. companies a tax deduction for the costs of moving out of the country and provided a tax credit for companies bringing operations home. It wouldn’t have affected the trend of companies moving their legal addresses to other countries through transactions known as inversions.

Senate Democrats in 2012 had introduced a nearly identical bill, which fell because only two Republicans voted for it.  No one recalls Rush Limbaugh promoting the legislation nor any legislation which would create jobs.

Limbaugh also is opposed to increasing the minimum wage, arguing in August, 2013

To a lot of people, what I'm going to say next and what I did start to say with Sean is the first time that they've heard any of this.  The people who say, "Hey, $7.25 is unfair! That's not fair. They need at least $10, $15. It isn't fair," don't have any idea how the market works. They're not taught how the market works -- and if you don't like $7.25 an hour, then go work somewhere else.  If you're not qualified to earn more than that, then go get qualified.  That's how things work.

That doesn't sound like Dr. King, who commented "We know of no more crucial civil rights issue facing Congress today than the need to increase the federal minimum wage and extend its coverage." Congress responded, raising the minimum wage the following two years, from $1.25 in 1966 to $1.40 in 1967 and $1.60 the following year.  When Dr. King spoke in 1967, the $1.25 was worth $6.05 in constant/1996 dollars; at $7.25 in 2014, it is now worth $4.82 in 1996 dollars.

A year ago in his State of the Union Message, President Obama called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour (the level to which he himself raised it for workers on new federal contracts). A bill to that effect was blocked in the U.S. Senate with every Democratic Senator (except Majority Leader Reid, for procedural reasons) and only one GOP senator voting for it.

As with his support for affirmative action and increasing the minimum wage, so too did Dr. King oppose militarism, the massive divide between rich and poor, and practically everything else Rush Limbaugh and the Repub Party promote. Aside from the movie Selma to add a little, largely inconsequential, twist to Martin Luther King Day in 2015, it was the same old, same old, with Repubs claiming Reverend King while fighting everything he stood for.







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Monday, January 19, 2015

An Industry With A Sense Of Entitlement





This post isn't about Selma (photo below from Atsushi Nishjima/Paramount Pictures via Slate), a movie undoubtedly quite entertaining with impressive acting and directing. I probably won't see it, nor practically any movie. We all use our entertainment dollars as we wish.

Selma- as well as the controversy surrounding it- is not the issue anyway, or at least shouldn't be. Being straight with his readers, Slate's Jamelle Bouie concedes

At worst, DuVernay depicts Johnson and King as wary allies. In the film, Johnson agrees with King on the need for a Voting Rights Act, but he wants him to wait—Johnson has a Great Society to build—and warns that he doesn’t have the votes to push another civil rights bill on the heels of the 1964 Act, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations. It’s not that King and Johnson are enemies—they both want to dismantle Jim Crow—as much as they have different responsibilities and priorities. In order to act, Johnson needs a push. And King gives it to him.

Now, there’s a case that even this is unfair to Johnson. While it’s true he didn’t want to introduce a voting rights bill so soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964—he needed votes for his economic program, and he didn’t want to alienate Southern Democrats—it’s also true that, in late 1964, 

Johnson told Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to write the “the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act you can devise.” This draft was written with help from Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, and was the basis for the bill the leaders introduced in March 1965. The Johnson of Selma, in other words, is much more reluctant than the Johnson of reality.

Still,  Bouie argues

Selma, simply put, is about the men and women who fought to put voting rights on the national agenda, and it engages history from their perspective. By hardening Johnson—and making him a larger roadblock than he was—DuVernay emphasizes the grass roots of the movement and the particular struggles of King and his allies. In the long argument of who matters most—activists or politicians—DuVernay falls on the side of the former, showing how citizens can expand the realm of the possible and give politicians the push—and the room—they need to act.

By those terms, Selma mostly succeeds.

And so it  does- but at what cost? Astonishingly, Bouie excuses a slightly older Hollywood production when he writes

Just as egregious is the narrative of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which shows a relentless Central Intelligence Agency—personified in Jessica Chastain as Maya—whose methods, including torture, lead to Osama Bin Laden and the military raid that killed him. The factual problem, as detailed in December’s Senate Intelligence Committee report, is that torture didn’t lead to unique intelligence. As such, it’s not clear that it helped find Bin Laden. But Bigelow made a choice to say otherwise, and in the context of the film, it’s defensible. Zero Dark Thirty—to my eyes at least—is less about the particulars of finding Bin Laden and more about the costs of obsession. What happens when you’re willing to give up everything for a single goal? What will you sacrifice? In this reading, torture is the moment when we—through Maya—commit to darkness in pursuit of our ends.

These movies don't pretend to be documentaries. But works such as these and American Sniper are not marketed as fiction or mere entertainment. They are meant to enlighten or, as in the case of Zero Dark Thirty, propagandize.

Bouie adds

This is all to say that it’s wrong to treat nonfiction films—even biopics—as documentaries. Instead, it’s better to look at deviations from established history or known facts as creative choices—license in pursuit of art. As viewers, we should be less concerned with fact-checking and more interested in understanding the choices. Why did the director opt for this view and not a different one? If she omits and distorts, why? What is she trying to communicate?

People don't think of nonfiction films as documentaries, which is much of the reason they pay to watch nonfiction films while documentaries are ignored by Bouie and almost all of media.  But viewers believe them- in part, ironically, because they believe what Bouie terms "nonfiction" films are not meant to be political, to present a particular side of an issue. Consequently, the folks who create the film bear a responsibility for accuracy no less than do documentarians.

Bouie does, however, lay bare the larger issue when he argues "it is better to look at deviations from established history or known facts as creative choices- license in pursuit of art."

No, it is not- not when a work is presented as history.






It gives the film industry too much license- and too much credit.  (Understanding history, especially the history of a movement and of an American president, is more important than understanding art.) Similarly, though in a different context, too much credit is given Hollywood by one of America's greatest political bloggers. Linking to Think Progress, Heather Digby Parton points out

After leaked emails in the Sony hack showed unequal pay between male and female actors, Charlize Theron insisted she get the same payas her male co-star Chris Hemsworth for “The Huntsman.”

She succeeded, netting a $10 million increase that puts her on par with Hemsworth.

Conceding she is "not in favor of hacking," Digby adds

... this revelation is important. It's been an open secret in Hollywood for years but this may have made it impossible to pretend that it wasn't so.

And on what planet can it possibly be true that Chris Hemsworth is worth 10 million dollars more than Charlize Theron? It's ridiculous. 

(I actually can't believe anyone is worth that kind of money but that's a different subject ... )

Uh, no. It's not a different subject. No one is worth that kind of money; not even professional athletes nor the owners of their teams, though they can afford that and a whole lot more. We have no difficulty complaining about exorbitantly paid athletes, even though they can do what the rest of us can only dream about. But we invariably turn a blind eye- except when gender discrimination is involved- toward the huge sums paid out to actors, who do what many others in the population could do.

Good thing Charlize Theron got a $10 million raise. (Transparency, however, is vital.) A woman can barely get by, hardly even put food on the table or pay the rent, when she's worth $110 million. But then that's Hollywood, where we weep over someone not getting the millions she's owed and fiction is licensed as a holy "pursuit of art."




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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Time To Lambaste







They have learned to proceed with all due caution when questioning you-know-who.

Fourteen months ago Sarah Palin knocked Pope Francis, whose political ideology is some 60-80 degrees to the left of President Obama, remarking "he's had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me," She added "unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media."   No doubt the original media report was largely accurate but Palin, remembering the first (or second or third) rule of politics "Thou shalt not criticize His Holiness," later added "It was not my intention to be critical of Pope Francis," Oh, of course not.

Thirteen months later, Marco Rubio, a Roman Catholic and second-generation Cuban-American, would walk amongst the same land mines as had the ex-governor. He argued at a news conference "I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives. "   Prudently, in the same response he maintained "My understanding is that the influence that His Holiness had was on the release of Mr. [Alan] Gross, which I've not criticized."

Careful there, Senator, lest your principles win out over sound political instincts.

Comedian Bill Maher did it (video, below) last night on his "Real Time."  Professor of ecology and evolution Jerry A. Coyne has done so in the pages of The New Republic. But we are unlikely to hear from a public figure a (justified) cry of outrage because (as in video at top)

On a trip to the Philippines this week, Francis, after decrying “murder in the name of God,” carefully delimited how far magazines like Charlie Hebdoshould go: "One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people's faith, one cannot make fun of faith."

Then, punching the air, he made an implicit comparison between the “offensive” behavior of those who satirize religion and those who would insult his mother.

"If Dr. Gasbarri, a great friend, says a swear word against my mother, then a punch awaits him," Francis said. "It's normal, it's normal."

The Associated Press' Nicole Winfield, who has a future in stand-up, remarks "His pretend punch aside, Francis by no means said the violent attack on Charlie Hebdo was justified. Quite the opposite: He said such horrific violence in God's name couldn't be justified and was an 'aberration.' But he said a reaction of some sort was to be expected."

Hey, Nicole:  what part of "that is a provocation and...." don't you understand?  (my excuse for "what part of no," below). It was "a pretend punch," Winfield claims, as if the Pope needed to pummel his companion to make his point.

Ever diplomatic, Pope Francis refrained from warning "nice little life you have there. Hope nobody blows it away if you offend Muslims."























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Friday, January 16, 2015

Only Ricardo Montalban Missing On This Fantasy Island




There are numerous reasons Repubs are finding it difficult to win a national election. Chief among them, as conventional wisdom would have it, is the expansion of the electorate such that it bears a rough approximation to the nation as a whole. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, too few of whom vote in off-year elections, go to the polls in presidential election years and the awful ideas of the GOP do not escape their attention.

There are other reasons Mitt Romney went down to defeat in 2012. Fortunately, however, few if any Repubs have been able to figure out why.

Among the apparently delusional is the former mayor of New York City (video below TYT Network), for

"He’s going to have to convince them that he’s going to run a different kind of campaign this time," Giuliani said on "Fox and Friends."

The former mayor said Romney needs to show that "he’s not going to back away from topics like Benghazi."

"Even if he didn’t win, if he had made Benghazi a bigger issue, I think we would have had a better chance," Giuliani said about Romney's 2012 run.







Giuliani evidently didn't clarify what he meant by "topics like Benghazi;" perhaps he was referring to ginned-up scandals ripe for exploitation.  He may not have noticed that a GOP-dominated congressional panel cleared the Administration of the most serious charges in the matter. Or maybe he did notice.

Benghazi wouldn't have saved Romney, nor would have a repackaging of the candidate, notwithstanding the perspective of Rupert Murdoch, who likes John Ellis Bush "very much" but

Murdoch was less kind toward Mitt Romney, who is considering a third bid for the Republican nomination after failed attempts in 2008 and 2012.

"I rather agree with the [Wall Street] Journal this morning, which sort of lacerated Romney," Murdoch said in reference to an editorial in the paper, which he owns. "He had his chance, he mishandled it, you know? I thought Romney was a terrible candidate."

Murdoch also hit Romney for winning the nomination "by destroying every other Republican with his own money" and for failing to deflect criticism that he was "super rich."

Even if the former Massachusetts governor had not been taped making his "47%" remarks- which were merely an overt statement of GOP philosophy- he couldn't have convinced anyone he wasn't a billionaire.  As of the fall of 2012, the guy reportedly was worth approximately a quarter of a billion dollars- and he carries himself like a man of considerable means.  It's his persona, and nothing was going to change that.

But that is not why he lost.   There are three reasons including, obviously (except to a many Repubs), it's tough to beat an incumbent. However, Romney was also hoisted on the petard on one of his kind,someone also of the northeastern governors' club.  Here is the photographic evidence:
















The words- themselves quite favorable- Chris Christie spoke while hanging out with Barack Obama at the Jersey shore during campaign 2012 didn't matter as much. It was primarily the pictures, which are worth a thousand words (and more) in their political impact. At a time that many independent-minded voters were convinced by the mainstream media that they just wanted both sides to get together, to have leaders of both parties shaking hands, hugging, and making nice, Christie provided just the right image for candidate Obama. The photographs were in Christie's self-interest, given that the governor of a Democratic state was gearing up to win big in his re-election bid and wanted to send a message to the GOP donor class of his electability for national office.

Still, there was an even bigger reason Romney failed.  At a debate in Tampa in January, 2012, the ex-governor merely had been reflecting the view of the donor and the popular bases of the GOP, as well as of his fellow presidential candidates, when he stated

I do not support a federal mandate. I do not support a federal one- size-fits-all plan. I believe in the Constitution. That`s why the attorney general here is saying absolutely not.

You can`t impose Obamacare on the states. What I will do if I`m president, I will repeal Obamacare and return to the states the authority and the rights the states have to craft their own programs to care for their own poor.

Romney wasn't referring to Medicaid expansion, but to the Affordable Care Act in general and the individual mandate in particular.  That line of reasoning- that the ACA was unconstitutional- suffered a severe blow five months later at the hands of the John Roberts and the United States Supreme Court.  When the 5-4 ruling that the core- the individual mandate- of health care reform was a tax and hence constitutional, a lot of the air was taken out of the Romney campaign. No longer was it easy to get gullible voters to believe the Jeremiah Wright-loving, czar-appointing dictator was abusing his authority.

Chief Justice Roberts had his own reason for a ruling which misconstrued a penalty as a tax, leading to the proper conclusion about the Act (aside from Medicaid).  Governor Christie had presumably different motives, enhancing his (upcoming) re-election margin and ruining Mitt Romney's bid, for a New Jersey governor hardly would have been able in 2016 to challenge the re-election of an incumbent Republican.  (Mitt since has spoken very well of Chris; make of that what you wish.)

With any luck, major Republicans will continue to live in a fantasy world, unwilling or unable to face up to reality.




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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saudi Straglehold




This is the first time ever that I agree with National Review editor Rich Lowry and Reza Aslan (who seem to agree with three former or current members of Congress.) It will be the last time ever. And it might be the last time ever I agree with either one of them.

Aslan would not enjoy Lowry's "Of Course It Is Islam," appearing in Politico Magazine. But there is an odd convergence in one of Lowry's statements and one of the Aslan's major themes.

Lowry believes "the point is that there is a broad war of ideas within Islam between the forces of reaction and violence and the forces of moderation and modernity."  In response, he argues

Perhaps the administration’s highest-profile initiative in response to Paris is a Summit on (what else?) Countering Violent Extremists. It seeks “to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence.”

Who are these violent extremists with such magnetic pull and global reach? They could be anybody, to believe the administration. It is certainly true that you will always have random haters and nuts, including Christian nuts like the evil Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. And it is certainly true that there are a few non-Islamic groups on the State Department terrorism list.

But they aren’t top of mind, and for good reason. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo isn’t launching many attacks on the West. Basque terrorists aren’t recruiting would-be operatives around the world to come back to Spain and learn how to make bombs for spectacular attacks overseas (in fact, the ETA has declared a cease-fire).

This, and Lowry's reminder "On the ground, Muslim popular sentiment often is, at the very least, inconsistent with modernity," lands him on the solid ground occupied by Bill Maher, and abhorred by Aslan. But Lowry adds "Saudi Arabia, the Sunni counterpart of Shia Iran that also imagines itself the keeper of the faith, promotes a harsh version of Islam that has proved a potent breeding ground for terrorism. Are the Saudis not Muslim, either?"

A critic of Christianity who usually doubles as a Muslim apologist, Aslan nonetheless also questions the Wahabbi state, noting Sunday on Meet the Press

There’s no question that there has been a virus that has spread throughout the Muslim world, a virus of ultra-orthodox puritanism.  But there’s also no question what the source of this virus is — whether we’re talking about Boko Haram, or ISIS, or al Qaeda, or the Taliban.

All of them have as their source Wahhabism, or the state religion of Saudi Arabia. And as we all know, Saudi Arabia has spent over $100 billion in the past 20 or 30 years spreading this ideology throughout the world.

And there are very real consequences of Saudi behavior.  At a news conference (video and excerpts below from 28pages.org) in Washington on January 7, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Steven Lynch (D-Mass) appeared at a news conference to announce introduction of their resolution (introduced also in the previous Congress) to declassify the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September, 2001. They were joined by Bob Graham, then a Senator from Florida and member of the committee.

Co-chairpersons Graham and Richard Shelby (R-Ga) in December 2002 released the report to the White House for final review. Six months later, Graham noted at the news conference, the declassified version was released and "we were shocked to see that an important chapter in the report had not been redacted, that is, as Congressman Lynch and Congressman Jones said, a word or a phrase here or there, but an entire chapter."

Danger to national security is the excuse given for redacting the 28 pages. But, Graham continued (emphasis his), "As the two Congressmen have just said, they both read the report — not 12 years ago, as I participated in writing the report — but they have read it recently, and have both come to the same conclusion that we did, a dozen years ago, that there is no threat to national security in disclosure."

The Florida Democrat explained

The Saudis know what they did. They are not persons who are unaware of the consequences of their government’s actions. Second, the Saudis know that weknow what they did! Somebody in the Federal government has read these 28 pages, someone in the Federal government has read all the other documents that have been covered up so far. And the Saudis know that.

What would you think the Saudis’ position would be, if they knew what they had done, they knew that the United States knew what they had done, and they also observed that the United States had taken a position of either passivity, or actual hostility to letting those facts be known? What would the Saudi government do in that circumstance, which is precisely where they have been, for more than a decade?

Well, one, they have continued, maybe accelerated their support for one of the most extreme forms of Islam, Wahhabism, throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. And second, they have supported their religious fervor, with financial and other forms of support, of the institutions which were going to carry out those extreme forms of Islam. 

The Obama Administration  in September launched against the Islamic State in the Levant an offensive which, though righteous in motive and aim, was concerning given the possibility it was a diversion and hence unlikely to achieve its objectives.   The institutions of which Graham spoke on January 7,  he noted, "have included mosques, madrassas, and military. Al-Qaeda was a creature of Saudi Arabia; the regional groups such as al-Shabaab have been largely creatures of Saudi Arabia; and now, ISIS is the latest creature!"

The ex-Senator spoke for many people, but apparently few inside the Beltway, when he argued

Yes, I hope and I trust that the United States will crush ISIS, but if we think that is the definition of victory, we are being very naive! ISIS is a consequence, not a cause—it is a consequence of the spread of extremism, largely by Saudi Arabia, and if it is crushed, there will be another institution established, financed, supported, to carry on the cause.

The regime in Riyadh is not chastened. The Guardian reports

Raif Badawi, the Saudi liberal convicted of publishing a blog, has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday – the second part of his 1,000-lash sentence which also includes a 10-year jail term.

The US, Britain and other western governments had all called for the punishment to be dropped but there has been no sign of any diplomatic action against Riyadh.Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the UK government to challenge Saudi Arabia, which has ignored all protests over the case.

Badawi will be given 50 more lashes outside a mosque in his home city of Jeddah unless a Saudi prison doctor determines he is not yet fit to face the punishmentowing to injuries sustained last Friday. If nothing changes, he will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is now in Canada, has said she fears he may not be able to physically withstand a second round. “Raif told me he is in a lot of pain after his flogging, his health is poor,” she told Amnesty. “I told our children about the news last week so that they would not find out about it from friends at school. It is a huge shock for them. International pressure is crucial; I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off.”

The first floggings attracted huge attention and anger because they followed the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris and intense discussion of the freedom of expression and Muslim sensitivities about portraying the prophet Muhammad. Saudi Arabia publicly condemned the killings.

British ministers “rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director. “Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK’s credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.”

A Saudi analyst, in light of the murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, told the Guardian, "it's not good PR for the kingdom." Yet, it may matter little, because it's not only the United Kingdom, but also the world's greatest- and arguably, sole- superpower, the United States, which are shielding the Saudis.

USA administrations come, and they go. But the last two have in common one major foreign policy objective, to protect the regime which Rich Lowry, Reza Aslan, Bob Graham, Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and too few others recognize as an extremely powerful obstacle to stopping the spread of terrorism worldwide.










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