Saturday, March 23, 2019

No Time For Neutrality

On Thursday, Joy Behar asked her fellow panelists (co-hosts? conversationalists?) on The View

... and his claim about having to "approve" the McCain funeral is a flat-out lie. I'm glad the crowd stayed pretty silent. You'll notice they weren't screaming and giving him support like they usually do.But why are so many Republicans silent about this, too?why are these cowards siding with a draft dodger over a war hero?

It's a good question, though largely a rhetorical one because we know why GOP politicians are silent about this, as they are about virtually every Trump evil: the President's endorsement is gold in a Repub primary, his opposition a lump of coal. They are intimidated by him, and most of them will consistently choose personal ambition over country.

As expected, each individual (Navarro, Hostin, Huntsman, and  Behar) on ABC's program criticized Trump's attacks against the McCain family, with Meghan McCain stating "there's a lot of power on this show" (actually, influence, but whatever).

Even a church, albeit the renowned Washington National Cathedral,stepped up:

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. clapped back at President Donald Trump Thursday, with a spokesman clarifying that no funerals held there, including the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ), require the approval of a President.

“Washington National Cathedral was honored to host the funeral service for Senator John McCain. All funerals and memorial services at the Cathedral are organized by the family of the deceased; only a state funeral for a former President involves consultation with government officials,” said Chief Communications Officer Kevin Eckstrom in a statement. “No funeral at the Cathedral requires the approval of the President or any other government official.”

 Trump took credit for giving McCain the “funeral he wanted” during a speech on Wednesday, proceeding to complain that he wasn’t thanked for the ceremony.

There is, however, one major institution which so far has punted on the controversy. That would be the United States Congress- and not only its Republicans.

When Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) recently let her anti-Semitic freak flag show, House Democrats responded, albeit with a resolution which condemned hatred across-the-board rather than by addressing the sentiment which forced their hand. When Representative Steve King (R-IA) endorsed white nationalism, he was taken off House committees by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

But President Trump has remained completely unscathed, as he usually does, in this latest display of the Trump signature combination of anger, self-congratulation and dishonesty.

This should not stand. There is little the United States Congress can do, yet there is a little. The Senate, controlled by the GOP, will do as it invariably has. It will do nothing, and only one individual Republican senator has denounced Trump's remarks.

It is, therefore, up to the House of Representatives to take action, if only symbolic. A motion of disapproval can be placed on the House floor, presumably by a Democratic Representative.  It is wise politically, in part because it paints Republicans in a corner. They would be faced with a Hobson's Choice, either to vote in favor, thereby antagonizing the President- or vote in opposition, thereby laying bare their preference for party over country.

However, it's also simply the right thing to do.  Defending John McCain does not require a positive assessment of everything he did, nor even concluding that the good outweighed the bad. Donald Trump understands. He attacked McCain for his service record, standing for principle in opposing repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and for handing the Steele dossier (as any loyal American would have) over to the FBI.

Saving health care for a few million Americans, demonstrating exceptional courage in wartime, and informing law enforcement of a security threat to the nation are reasons to defend John McCain, especially in death. If the National Cathedral and the women of The View can slap back at President Trump, so, too, can Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Forever Strong And Wrong

Host Nicole Wallace posed an excellent question (at approximately 5:52 of the video here) on Wednesday's Deadline: White House,. Discussing President Trump's recent tweets about the late John McCain, she asked "why isn't there a political price to pay for being a wuss?"

The President pays no political price for being a "wuss" because he doesn't seem to be a wuss. Looked at objectively, of course, he is weak; but rationality and objectivity often are thwarted by subjective impression.  Among the reasons that Donald Trump has been able to convey the image of strength rather than being recognized as a "wuss" are:

1) Trump's praise frequently emphasizes strength. The President described Putin as "very, very strong" after the two spoke together and and Trump has said admiringly that Putin "has very strong control" over Russia. Kim JongUn "is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head."  In regard to Egyptian strongman el-Sisi, "the United States has, believe me, backing, and we have strong backing." It's part of the reason that Trump recently warned "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.'

2) Trump's criticism often pertains to weakness, as when Senator Graham in January 2016 endorsed John Edward Bush ("JEB") and Trump responded in part "His thinking. He says, ‘I know so much.’ He knows about the military? I could push him over with a little thimble.”  More famous was Trump remarking, while campaigning the previous summer for the Iowa primary "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The implicit message: "John McCain is a loser. I like winners like myself."

3) Trump is big. He is 6'3" and not skinny, and is an imposing figure physically. (Supporters of Pete Buttigieg, take notice.)  Reagan, Clinton, Bush 41, and Obama all have been tall. George W. Bush was short- but with his swagger knew how to wear a flak suit far more effectively than, say, Michael Dukakis knew how to sit in a tank.

Having died, John McCain has (in the common phrasing) "lost his life." He cannot defend himself just as none of us will be able to once we have lost our lives. For a weak man whose popularity is founded on an appearance of strength, there can be no more inviting target than an individual who cannot defend himself.

Donald Trump realizes his best strategy is to punch down, and in so doing he not only demeans the late Arizona senator, but reinforces a facade of strength. For America's finest actor- perhaps ever- it his his greatest role.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Obnoxious Mrs. Conway And Pathetic Ms. Bash

After all these years, I don't know what to make of the James Carville-Mary Matalin marriage, let alone of the George Conway-Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway marriage. Is it real- or is it Memorex?

But Dana Bash knows- or thinks she does.

In a puff piece to end all puff pieces, the CNN reporter begins her profile "Kellyanne Conway is a consistent figure in the otherwise revolving-door world of the Trump White House. She is a survivor."

Remarkably, it went downhill from there. It's bad enough that she gushed "But to really understand Conway's survival skills, we went to where the Jersey Girl honed them -- Atco, New Jersey, to be exact."

A trivial point: MIss Fitzgerald, as he was then, does not hail from Atco, which is merely a place name in a state in which every place is incorporated. She actually grew up in Waterford Township, a relatively rural municipality in a highly urbanized state.

Less trivial: the young Miss Fitzgerald was not a "Jersey girl." A slang term, it connotes someone from the northern, rather than the southern (where she grew up), part of the state, at a time when there was a large and distinct difference. It is not synonymous with "obnoxious."

This clarification is crucial because Bash's caricature is of a tough and genuine gal who wouldn't let circumstances keep her down. Bash writes

After law school Conway entered the man's world of Republican polling where she said she often missed out on getting clients because she wasn't on the golf course or in the bar where one would normally learn about a chance to bid on a project.

"I didn't know when I was being excluded, because I had no idea that they were doing big projects, or that five firms got to bid on something, and I never did," she said.
"But it happened."

She's making sure that she's not being excluded now. An insider with Trump both during the campaign and since his election, Conway now has made it clear what she thinks of the man's world, and she likes it just fine. Politico reported Wednesday

George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!”

Trump later on Wednesday took the Twitter feud offline, telling reporters that George Conway is a “whack job” and doing a “tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife.”

George Conway responded in kind to the latest attacks, sending more than two dozen tweets on Wednesday in which he called Trump “nuts” and re-upped his claim that the president suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.

Mrs. Conway told Bash "I think my gender helps me with the President in that he has never been afraid, and in fact, always been willing to treat men and women in his employment the same." So when the man who treats male and female employees the same called her husband "whack job." she told Politico

The president is obviously defending me. He could privately say to me, ‘Honey you’re a distraction. We love you. You'll always be a part of the family but go be with your kids. They need you. Go make a million dollars an hour. Go do that honey.’ It’s the opposite.

"I don't feel like he listens to me any less or any differently, or any less seriously," says the woman who evidently enjoys being called "honey" and wants to be thought of as "part of the family." 

This may all be choreographed by the Conways. Otherwise, it's a woman who either wants to smack her husband around in public or one who likes her man, Donald Trump, to smack her around, figuratively.   It's one of the oldest games in the book: man or woman sells out to power, media figure portrays her as heroic.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Very Definition Of An Insignificant Presidency

In an op-ed The Washington Post should have had more sense than to print, the Joe of Morning Joe displays impressive imagination. He concedes "the rise in bigotry shown to Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, blacks and 'others' has been so discouraging in the age of Trump" that "any policy differences I had with Obama now seem so insignificant."

But he claims also "100 years from now, Obama's presidency will be hailed as the most transformative of our lifetimes" and concludes

If changing the Constitution and reelecting Obama two more times would break the fever that now ravages Trump’s Washington, I would cheerfully champion the passage of that constitutional amendment, slap a “Hope and Change” sticker on my shirt, and race to the nearest voting booth to support the man historians will remember as the most significant president since Abraham Lincoln.

Presidents busted up trusts, successfully prosecuted one world war or another, ended the Great Depression, unleashed the nuclear age, integrated the armed forces, built the interstate highway system, established health and income insurance for the elderly, put the full force of the federal government behind the civil rights movement, helped end the Cold War while ushering in a still-continuing period of income inequality by trashing unions and deregulating the economy..

But President Obama ended a recession with the most sluggish economic recovery in the post-war era, so there is that.

Matt Stoller, who is far less generous toward President Obama than I ever have been, found the ex-President's acceptance of 400,000 "from a Wall Street investment bank for the first paid speech of his post-presidential career" in April of 2017 to be emblematic of Obama's policy toward financial institutions.  He notes

The policy path of the Obama administration, like the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, and in some ways like Hamilton’s Treasury Department, was largely construed around aiding the big, and hurting the small. Local banks lost out during the crisis, as did community-oriented banks. Black-owned banks, for example, were ten times less likely to receive bailout money than non-black-owned banks. This hit at the individual level as well. People in foreclosure were treated with one set of rules, while large Wall Street firms with significant debt were treated with another.

Noting "these policies were an assertion of a Hamiltonian moral vision," Stoller explains

This Hamiltonian process of concentrating power was most obvious in the banking sector, but it is also part of an overall trend towards the monopolization of our commercial society and increasing control over our lives, our liberties, and our democracy by private financiers. Some within the Obama administration noticed problems towards the end of the administration. His administration challenged the Comcast-Time Warner merger and issued an executive order on monopoly. Antitrust chief Renata Hesse made a speech explicitly rejecting the modern pro-concentration treatment of antitrust. But this was far too little, loo late.

On foreign policy, there were- still is- ISIL,. Korea, Syria, statelessness of Palestinians. Limited progress was made on the first, and little if any on the last three, each of which defies an easy solution. That does not confirm a failed presidency, and President Obama's failure to transform the earned benefits of Medicare and Social Security through a Grand Bargain was a great victory for future generations of elderly people.

Whether with Wall Street, foreign policy, or domestic policy, President Obama's presidency can be viewed favorably, unfavorably, or somewhere in between. However, to label it "transformative" is as accurate as to label Harrison, Nebraska a "seaside resort."

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hopeful Step

Well, this prediction, in the short-term, didn't hold up well (fortunately).

On March 9 I remarked that with Nancy Pelosi's actions and rhetoric suggest she believes Ilhan Omar

is not anti-Semitic, leading one to wonder how obvious a colleague must be before the Speaker recognizes anti-Semitism. Hopefully, Omar will learn to curb her tongue and Twitter finger- or we will find out how far the leader of the Party will go in condoning the hate she purports to be offended by.

In light of the failure of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to condemn Representative Ilhan Omar or her comments specifically, nor to dismiss her from the Foreign Relations Committee, I did not expect the Minnesotan to tone down her criticism of Jews or Israel.

It took a mere eight days for me to be proven wrong, at least somewhat and at least temporarily because on Sunday morning there appeared in The Washington Post an op-ed in which Rep. Omar wrote

U.S. support for Israel has a long history. The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people’s connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it. Many of the founders of Israel were themselves refugees who survived indescribable horrors.

We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians. And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity.

A balanced, inclusive approach to the conflict recognizes the shared desire for security and freedom of both peoples. I support a two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination. This has been official bipartisan U.S. policy across two decades and has been supported by each of the most recent Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as the consensus of the Israeli security establishment. As Jim Mattis, who later was President Trump’s defense secretary, said in 2011 , “The current situation between those two peoples is unsustainable.”

Working toward peace in the region also means holding everyone involved accountable for actions that undermine the path to peace — because without justice, there can never be a lasting peace. When I criticize certain Israeli government actions in Gaza or settlements in the West Bank, it is because I believe these actions not only threaten the possibility of peace in the region — they also threaten the United States’ own national security interests.

My goal in speaking out at all times has been to encourage both sides to move toward a peaceful two-state solution.

This does not seem heart-felt and, with boilerplate Mideast remarks, appears to have been written for her.  "A two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination" and some Israeli actions "threaten the United States' own national security interests" sound like what mildly pro-Israel politicians have been saying for many years. Her arm may have been figuratively twisted to help keep peace in the Party.

Yet, she wrote it- or at least signed on to the op-ed, thereby taking responsibility. Although it does not confirm that she has had a change of heart pertaining to Israel or even Jews, it seems that as a member of the Foreign Affairs committee, she is more balanced on Mideast policy than her earlier remarks suggested she was.

She may change her mind. Or she might put a little meat on the bones of a relatively general statement of principles, and that might renew concern about her support of a two-state solution in the Middle East. (She might, for instance, favor a Jewish state on only a small fraction of the land on which it now sits.) But as for now, my fear that Ilhan Omar would be only encouraged in her hateful speech appears unfounded now that she has taken one fairly significant step forward.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Back It Up, Congresswoman

A few days before being sworn in as a US Representative from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib promised of President Trump "we're gonna impeach the mother****er." Promptly after being sworn in, Tlaib stated she "will never apologize for being me and for being passionate and upset."

It didn't help when her freshman buddy, Representative Ilhan Omar of Michigan, accused a pro-Israel lobby ( and only a pro-Israel lobby) of being "only about the Benjamins baby," then warned American Jews of "allegiance to a foreign country" (albeit without saying "Jews"), and avoided being specifically criticized by Democratic congressional leadership. So we shouldn't be much surprised that Representative Tlaib, the first Muslim Palestinian-American in Congress

said Sunday that she believes Islamophobia "is still very present on both sides of the aisle" in Congress.

The remark from Tlaib, who represents Michigan, came as she was discussing criticism aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who, along with Tlaib, serves as one of two Muslim women in Congress. Omar faced scrutiny in February and March for controversial comments she made about Israel. In the wake of her comments, the Minnesota Democrat also became the subject of death threats.

"I pause and think to myself 'is it because she's a black American and she's Muslim?' And so that's where I pause and say to myself, 'Is there an issue here?' And I guess our mere presence there. The fact that now there's not only one but now three Muslim Americans serving in Congress," Tlaib said to CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union"...

"That our mere presence is going to able to possibly break down any of these kinds of racialized, you know, opinions, this kind of Islamophobia that I do feel like is still very present on both sides of the aisle. And I think my colleagues are not seeing that as an attack. It's just saying that we just have a lot of work to do," she said.

It's not because Omar is black or Muslim. More likely, inasmuch as the House is controlled by the Democratic Party, the Minnesotan was given nary a slap on the wrist precisely because she is Muslim. She is tolerated because she is not Christian. Jewish. or openly agnostic/atheistic. And now, with congressional Republicans marching in lockstep with Donald Trump and 90% of GOP voters backing him, to her it's "both sides."

Inarguably, the decision by Pelosi & Company not to condemn Representative Omar's comment(s), instead opting to criticize speech directed toward a myriad of groups, meat loaf, bad quarterbacks, and loud police sirens (other things, additionally) was motivated in part by a fear of being labeled "Islamaphobic."

When a Democratic member of Congress has publicly reinforced the media's bothsiderism narrative (as she did previously, below), it is only a matter of time that Republicans boast that "Democrats" agree that racism and "Islamaphobia" is a problem in both parties. In the long run, directly or indirectly, this will prove to be a major problem for the only party which resists President Trump.

Richard W. (not house) Painter has it right:

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Legacy Admissions, And More

On Wednesday's The View. Joy Behar stated 

Legacy admissions, which means if your parents went to Brown, or to Howard, or UP (sic), you can go. But it's interesting because the idea of legacy admissions is racist in nature and I'll tell you why. It started in the 20's to keep out upwardly mobile immigrants who had started pushing for admission to elite schools. And I think that is a very, very bad system, legacy. Why should your kid get in because you got in?

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Captain John McCain and granddaughter of Admiral John McCain, both of the United States Naval Academy, struck back, confusedly. In response, Cenk Uygur, the top Turk of The Young Turks, remarked

But back to the legacy admissions. It does go to the point that we're all making here, which is legacy admissions don't make sense. I want my kids to go to all the same schools but that's unfair, an unfair advantage for them to have when if you're poor in West Virginia or Kentucky or the Bronx or wherever you are and you worked up and you didn't have the advantages my kids had, well, then, you earned it even more, not less.

Starting out strongly, Brooke Thomas added "we don't talk about  it enough, legacy admissions are the original affirmative action, which should make liberals/progressives question the concept of affirmative action itself." However, it was not to be, because fully recognizing the role of class is unacceptable when we can lay the entire blame upon race. So Thomas, unfortunately, continued

when you think about the college application process, you gotta get those letters of recommendation, you got to do, you know, your extracurriculars, you gotta list all this stuff, the personal essay, your score, all of that. Legacy admissions- they skip all of that and still account for almost 30% at some of these Ivy League programs and only the original people who could to go the universities were like wealthy white men and so these are their descendants.

As a form of affirmative action, granting preference where it is not earned, legacy admissions discriminate against blacks (and Latinos and Asian-Americans). But it is discriminating also against whites from backgrounds which aren't privileged, especially whites who attended high schools in lower-ranked high schools, generally in economically distressed (majority-white or majority-minority) communities.  And white- and especially Asian- applicants are additionally handicapped by more conventional affirmative action programs. The sins of the fathers, failure to attend the most elite schools, should not be visited upon their sons or daughters.

As Uygur emphasized, legacy admissions are unfair. They disadvantage students based on a factor- where their descendants attended college, if at all- which they cannot possibly control. The criterion of race does the same, rendering advantages and disadvantages based upon one's descendants, the color of their skin and/or the continent inhabited by their descendants.

The current scandal alleging massive bribery schemes to secure admission of individuals to several elite colleges may strike a blow against the practice of favoring applicants based upon the academic history of their descendants.  But we shouldn't stop there. Applicants should be accepted at colleges based on who they are and what they've done rather than who their parents are

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Another Gun Fiction

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

That might be what Meghan McCain was thinking about when on Friday's "The View" she stated (in remarks beginning at 11:02 of the video below)

I agree that bigotry has to be called out wherever you see it, however you see it, agreed. New Zealand in particular- um, you know, guns are banned in New Zealand. So this obviously. There's obviously conversations regarding that to be had and it was obviously smuggled in or bought on the black market.

She might have gotten this from the NRA, or from a GOP politician, or from her husband, conservative Republican speechwriter/blogger/columnist Ben Domenech.

It's not surprising, then, that the allegation is fallacious.(She corrected herself after a couple of commercial breaks, but still....) As The New York Times reports, in New Zealand

an extraordinary number of people own weapons, with few restrictions. The authorities say the suspect in the assault used five guns he had acquired legally, including two semiautomatic assault weapons....

There is no dispute that acquiring a military-style semiautomatic weapon is relatively easy in New Zealand, where guns are plentiful. According to a 2017 small arms survey, there are more than 1.2 million firearms among the population of 4.6 million, or more than one gun for every three people.

Under New Zealand law, anyone 16 or older may seek a firearms license, and anyone 18 or older who has applied for a firearms license can seek a permit to possess a military-style semiautomatic weapon.

Perhaps McCain confused New Zealand with Australia, in which gun laws

were tightened following a 1996 mass shooting in which 35 people were killed by a lone gunman in Port Arthur, Tasmania. Within two weeks, Australian lawmakers banned rapid-fire rifles and shotguns and introduced tighter laws governing ownership of other weapons. New applicants must undergo thorough background checks and present a "justifiable reason" for ownership -- with self defense not applicable.

The laws have had a dramatic effect on the frequency of mass shootings, as well as homicides. In the years after the Port Arthur massacre, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia fell by more than 50% -- and stayed there.

This is the core of the mythmaking conservatives practice. Something inaccurate gets passed off as fact to an unwitting audience and then is repeated a hundred times over.  It's what they do.  Meghan McCain should stick to her habit of honoring her father.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

A Peculiar Advantage

In "Beto 2020 Has No Reason To Exist," Slate's Josh Voorhees outlines the case against nominating Beto O'Rourke for President and even for his candidacy.   He does so, oddly, without referring to Barack Obama" as a tall, slender charismatic politician who carried his impressive charisma and limited experience and ideological grounding to the White House.

The comparison is hardly diminished when Voorhees knocks "O'Rourke's allergy to specifics (which) is worsened by his refusal to give voters any real clue of his guiding ideology." Nor is it when he explains

This is not some new verbal tic O’Rourke developed while thinking about the White House. It was on display before he was elected to the U.S. House, as Politico Magazine illustrated recently with the story of how he came to run a 2012 campaign commercial floating the possibility of raising the Social Security retirement age to 69—emphasis on possibility. During his Senate campaign, O’Rourke was similarly open to ideas without advocating for specific ones. He specifically avoided policy-specific language like “Medicare for all,” instead saying he was open to a variety of paths to universal health care coverage, “whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise.” (“Beto 2020: Or Otherwise!”)

Given Obama's continuing, impressive support among Democratic party voters, perhaps O'Rourke should be a little more specific and suggest that he merely wants to fulfill the 44th President's vision, such as in the matter of earned benefits. 

In June 2016, three Huffington Post writers reviewed Social Security politics in the Obama Administration. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was created by the President forge an agreement "to reduce the long-term debt, through a combination of Social Security and Medicare cuts" (video below, from 3/12). After its proposals stalled and the GOP took over the House of Representatives in 2011

Obama decided to put one of the commission’s proposals — the chained Consumer Price Index — on the table.

The chained CPI would change the formula used to adjust Social Security and other benefits for inflation. Although scholars debate whether it represents a more accurate price index than the one currently used, one way or another, it lowers the value of benefits over time relative to what they would be otherwise.

Obama appears to have come closest to striking a deal with the benefit cut during last-minute budget negotiations with Republicans at the end of 2012, in the lame-duck session of Congress after he won re-election. The country faced what was dubbed a “fiscal cliff” at the start of the new year as a slew of Bush-era income tax cuts were due to expire and automatic spending cuts were set to take effect.

Obama offered Republicans chained CPI in exchange for providing more tax increases. But under pressure from hardline anti-tax legislators, Republican leaders in Congress refused to compromise more.

At one point, the White House reportedly suggested putting chained CPI back on the table after Republicans had not presented a counteroffer on taxes with the budget deadline less than 36 hours away.

President Obama's effort to cut Social Security benefits initially was stalled when

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apparently so peeved at the idea that he threw a note with the proposal into a blazing fire in his office fireplace.

Reid ruled out reconsidering chained CPI because it seemed to him that Republicans weren’t serious about giving ground on the Bush tax cuts, according to Jim Manley, a longtime spokesman for Reid who by then had stopped working for the senator. And that was the last time Reid ever entertained the idea of messing with Social Security.

“Since then it’s been, ‘Hell no,’” Manley said.

Damaging an essential leg of the social safety net was further stymied by the right in that

“One of the ironies is that the tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits,” said Adam Green, co-chair of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an online activism group at the forefront of the fight against cuts. “They were so crazy and unwilling to take ‘yes’ for an answer. That allowed us to live to fight another day.”

“Thank you, tea party!” Green added.

But the President wasn't done with trying to undermine the retirement benefits of current and future retirees (their health benefits through Medicare, also) and

In his second term, Obama even appeared to embrace chained CPI as his own, including it in his annual budget proposal in April 2013, which came after a fierce internal debate, according to one participant.

The budget encountered stiff resistance from congressional Democrats and progressive activists, spurring a petition delivery and protest outside the White House where Bernie Sanders spoke.

The following year, the provision disappeared from the president’s budget.

So perhaps unfortunately and for all the wrong reasons, Beto O'Rourke's effort to win the Democratic nod for President is not a lost cause. All he has to do is to convince a major block of primary voters and caucus attendees that he is not only the inspirational leader that Obama the Great was, but also the ideological heir. It wouldn't be good for either theParty or the nation but as Voorhees understands, that really isn't the objective, anyway.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

One Small Step, Opposed By Republicans

If blood is thicker than water, as the old saying goes, guns are thicker than immigration. This was demonstrated with the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would extend both the background checks to private dealers, such as purchases made at gun shows and on the Internet, and the time limit for the checks.  On March 2 the New York Daily News reported

An unapologetic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unloaded Saturday on the “splinter group” of fellow Democrats who backed Republicans on a controversial gun control bill amendment involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“If you’re mad that I think people SHOULD KNOW when Dems vote to expand ICE powers, then be mad,” the freshman Democratic congresswoman wrote in a series of sharp-edged tweets.

“ICE is a dangerous agency with (zero) accountability, widespread reporting of rape, abuse of power, + children dying in DHS custody. Having a D next to your name doesn’t make that right.”

The party infighting followed a bipartisan vote where the minority Republicans, aided by middle-of-the-road Democrats, added a provision to a gun control bill that requires notification of immigration authorities if an undocumented immigrant attempts to purchase a weapon....

“Mind you, the same small splinter group of Dems that tried to deny (Nancy) Pelosi the speakership, fund the wall during the shutdown when the public didn’t want it, & are now voting in surprise ICE amendments to gun safety legislation are being called the “moderate wing” of the party,” she wrote.

Ocasio-Cortez is flat-out wrong on this, as was Speaker Pelosi, who urged Democrats (largely successfully) to vote against the motion to recommit. The vast majority of illegal immigrants work, obey the law, and keep a low profile while trying to remain in the country. Those brazen enough to try to purchase a weapon not only should be reported to ICE but are precisely those immigrants (along with those who commit a felony) who most need to be detained and deported.

All but 26 Democratic House members voted against this GOP proposal, On final passage, Ocasio-Cortez was one of 232 (one not voting) of 235 Democrats voting in favor of the bill while 188 of 197 Republicans (one not voting) voted against the proposal.

So Republicans- and a few wise and courageous Democrats- got what they wanted with agreement to have immigration enforcement notified when a person in the country illegally attempts to purchase a firearm, the most lethal weapon an individual might commonly possess. (Note to most Republicans and a few Democrats: not all persons are entitled to a firearm for any purpose at any time.) 

With opposition from the National Rifle Association, a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell's GOP, and a President who won't cross the gun lobby, passage is unlikely.  However, this is a reminder (including to those liberals and progressives who couldn't bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton in November 2016) that there are a lot of differences between Democrats and Republicans, some of them deadly.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Policy Argument Can Be Made. Omar Declined.

With passage in the House of Representatives of a resolution denouncing hate, meat loaf, and neighbors with loud lawn mowers- and GOP surrender on the issue- the Ilhan Omar saga itself appears over.

For now, anyway. Yet the disagreement over the path of Mideast peace and justice continues, and will continue.

One week ago the New Republic's Ben Ehrenreich argued that following Omar's remarks at the event at Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington, D.C. "All attention went to just five words: “allegiance to a foreign country.” Never mind that Omar was talking about politicians, and not about Jews at all..."

Alas, a transcript has been provided by a defender of Omar's remarks. Two paragraphs prior to the Minnesotan stating "so for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," Omar had maintained

And so for me I know that when I hear my Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues speak about Palestinians who don’t want safety, or Palestinians who aren’t deserving I stay focused on the actual debate about what that process should look like. I never go to the dark place of saying “here’s a Jewish person, they’re talking about Palestinians, Palestinians are Muslim, maybe they’re Islamophobic.” I never allow myself to go there because I don’t have to.

She refers here to "my Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues speak about Palestinians who don't wan't safety or Palestinians who aren't deserving." That's Jewish constituents or friends or colleagues who in her view are narrow-minded. 

Ehrenreich wants us to understand that "criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism."  Of course, it only seems to be anti-Semitic when the words come from an individual who had the previous month tweeted "it's all about the Benjamins, baby" in favorable response to a tweet by Glenn Greenwald criticizing the allegedly reflexive support of politicians for Israel. And suspicion of anti-Semitism was inevitable when the subject had several years earlier referred (in a tweet , like the other, now deleted) to Israel's "evil doings," to which she hoped Allah would "awaken" people. 

To be sure, Ehrenreich is not alone in failing to recognize Omar's motivation.  Less critical of the congresswoman than I, Michelle Goldberg (though below, overly generous of Omar's motives) noted

As that resolution was being hashed out, The Hill published an interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn that poured gasoline on a trash fire. Defending Omar, who spent four years of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, he seemed to describe her suffering as more visceral than that of Jews. "There are people who tell me, 'Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.' "My parents did this.'" Clyburn said. "It's more personal with her: I've talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain."

Truly, when you see that your god has not extinguished a nation which you consider "evil," it would mean a lot of pain. The likes of Clyburn and Ehrenreich may not understand that criticism of the Israeli government would be more credible coming from someone more credible.  Allow New York Times columnist and Jew Thomas Friedman to explain that, like Omar, he doesn't like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, in his case

because I strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to build a nation-state in their ancient homeland — a nation-state envisaged by its founders to reflect the best of Jewish and democratic values. And I believe Aipac for many years has not only become a rubber stamp on the right-wing policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has resulted in tens of thousands of Israeli settlers now ensconced in the heart of the West Bank, imperiling Israel as a democracy. Aipac has also been responsible for making support for Israel a Republican cause, not a bipartisan issue, which poses a real danger to Israel’s support in America in the long run, and particularly on college campuses.

I dislike Aipac because I am devoted to Israel as a Jewish democracy and because I believe that only a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians can ensure that. Given how Aipac has let itself become the slavish, unthinking tool of Netanyahu, who opposes a two-state solution, I believe Aipac works against Israel’s long-term interests.

Aipac is a self-appointed lobby that does not represent my feelings as an American Jew. But neither does Representative Omar.

Everything I have heard from her leads me to conclude that she dislikes Aipac because she dislikes Israel, because she does not really believe the Jewish people have a right to an independent state in their ancestral homeland. She seems to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as B.D.S.

Representative Omar has not made a similarly, or even differentiated, reasoned argument against the policies of the Netanhayu government. She has not even had the awareness, courage, or whatever it would take to call out AIPAC itself. Rather, it has been about the Benjamins, the Almighty, and dual allegiance, twin brother to treason. Nor has the vast majority of Representative Omar's defenders, unlike Friedman, explained why they believe that the current Israeli government is simultaneously injurious to Palestinians and Israelis. 

This certainly does not mean that most of them are anti-Semitic. But for many of them, it does mean that they condone that sentiment at this moment in history from this individual, and that does not bode well for either American support of Israel or justice in the Middle East.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Rooseveltian Wisdom

Understandably, it's doubtful that Elizabeth Warren would endorse the recommendation of author David Frum in his article in The Atlantic that the USA begin "reducing immigration, and selecting immigrants more carefully." It's also unlikely that Senator Warren or any other candidate seeking the Democratic presidential nomination would suggest an immigration policy which would

enable the country to more quickly and successfully absorb the people who come here, and to ensure equality of opportunity to both the newly arrived and the long-settled—to restore to Americans the feeling of belonging to one united nation, responsible for the care and flourishing of all its people.

Nonetheless, when MSNBC's Ari Melber on Friday asked the Massachusetts senator whom her "dream running mate" whether "living or dead" would be, she picked Theodore Roosevelt

Because he was brave, and he took on the trust and he didn`t care how many people were going to be mad about it, and he did it.  This is what`s amazing for the right reasons.  It wasn`t just that they were big. It wasn`t just that they were dominating an economy.  It wasn`t just that they were putting farmers out of business and competitors out of business and small companies out of business,  it was that they had too much political power.

 Not only was it a good choice and for very good reason, but another reason to celebrate Theodore Roosevelt is embodied in this passage from Frum's ("from Frum?") piece:

Where once the nation’s cultural leaders condemned “hyphenated Americanism,” today the hyphen has become a tool of cultural power. Those white Americans who might not have a hyphen obviously at hand now scramble to invent one. They have become “hardworking Americans” or “everyday Americans” or “real Americans”—separating themselves from a shared destiny with other Americans.

No American more eloquently deplored hyphenation than Theodore Roosevelt. Read his words in full, and you see that Roosevelt’s insistence on a singular national identity was founded not on any sense of hereditary supremacy, but on his passionately patriotic egalitarianism.

The children and children’s children of all of us have to live here in this land together. Our children’s children will intermarry, one with another, your children’s children, friends, and mine. They will be the citizens of one country.

That does not dictate a specific formula for determining the number and nature of individuals who should be admitted to the country. However, as Frum notes, "the challenge for today’s Americans is to allow that new demography" of ever-greater ethnic diversity "to develop in an environment of social equality and cultural cohesion." It is a concept T. Roosevelt would have understood, Democrats should embrace, and by which President Trump is appalled.

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Baseless Charge

You will read many stupid and/or dishonest things today but none more so than this:

Frum is being condemned across Twitter for taking on a topic few people will, in an article entitled "How Much Immigration is Too Much?" in the print edition and "If Liberals Won't Enforce Borders, Fascists Will" online.

Imagine whether Donald Trump would ever say

across the developed world, very high levels of immigration have coincided with widening class divisions, the discrediting of political and economic elites, and the rise of extremist politics.

Discrediting of political and economic elites and the rise of extremist politics, exemplified by the rise of Turkey's Erdogan, Egypt'sel-Sisi, Hungary's Orban, and the USA's Trump, has coincided with a high level of immigration, or what Americans believe is a very high level of immigration.  Class divisions, not unlike what the the American left refers to as "income disparities," also have increased. That is not a good thing.

Frum explains

Neither the fiscal costs nor the economic benefits of immigration are large enough to force a decision one way or the other. Accept the most negative estimate of immigration’s dollar costs, and the United States could still afford a lot of immigration. Believe the most positive reckoning of the dollar benefits that mass immigration provides, and they are not so large that the United States would be crazy to refuse them.

For good or ill, immigration’s most important effects are social and cultural, not economic. What are these effects, then? Some are good, some are bad, and some depend on the eye of the beholder.

Since Donald Trump became a candidate, the number of times he has said- in whatever words- "for good or ill" or that some effects "are good, some are bad, and some depend on the eye of the beholder" ranges from zero to, well, zero.

It is not surprising, then, that Frum is right about the impact of immigration.  So, too, is he when noting immigrants "are lowering America's average skill level." He notes also that they "are making America safer" and "are making America less self-destructive."  These are things Donald Trump has said, and will say, approximately never.

If you're wise enough to read this blog, unlike President Trump and the Twitterer quoted above, you might have noticed that visa overstays are a critical problem. Frum boldly takes aim at the GOP's rallying cry of "secure the border," arguing

The phrase border security seriously distorts our understanding of illegal immigration. By some tallies, more than half of the most recent immigrants in the country illegally arrived legally—typically as a student or tourist—then overstayed their visa. They obeyed the law when they entered. They broke it by failing to leave. They get away with this because the U.S. concentrates its immigration enforcement on the frontier—while slighting the workplace. President Trump seethes against illegal border crossings. Yet at least five of his golf resorts employed undocumented laborers for the first two years of his presidency. At one of his resorts, fully half the winter-season employees worked illegally.

We never have heard candidate or President Trump argue

Even more urgently, employers who take advantage of immigration status—to cheat workers of their pay, or harass or abuse them sexually, or force them to work in unsafe conditions—should be prime targets for criminal prosecution. As states raise their minimum wages, the temptation to hire people of precarious immigration status will intensify. It is the workplace that most needs additional enforcement resources.

As one of those employers himself, Donald Trump is not anxious to target such unscrupulous employers for criminal prosecution, and is at best barely interested in additional resources for workplace enforcement. Accused of saying the same things as the President about race, Frum mentions Mexicans only once, in which "illegal immigration to the United States by Mexicans is now declining."

Without details- because "Americans are entitled to consider carefully whom they will number among themselves"- Frump believes the USA would benefit by "reducing immigration" and "selecting immigrants more carefully."  Nonetheless- or perhaps therefore- he recognizes "the Trump-era debate about a wall misses the point."  Trump "thinks about immigration in terms of symbols, " especially the "slabs of concrete arrayed like incisors in a line running from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean."

Trump was elected President most of all because of his promise to build a wall financed by Mexico. If Frum believes the same things about immigration and race as that guy, there must be a second "Donald Trump" running around somewhere.

Next up: Frum/E.Warren/T. Roosevelt 

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Donald Trump, Author

Eleven months before the crook from Queens was elected president, Michael D'Antonio wrote

Trump's sense of entitlement has been affirmed throughout his life. In 1987, at a party marking the publication of Trump's book "The Art of the Deal," boxing promoter Don King turned to the crowd and proclaimed the arrival of Trump and his then-wife Ivana by saying, "Here's the king and the queen!" A few years later, when he appeared at an event at one of his Atlantic City casinos, an announcer bellowed, "Let's hear it for the king!" — and Trump burst through a large paper screen. When he visited the humble village of his Scottish ancestors he told his relatives that because of his TV show "The Apprentice," he was American royalty. "If you get ratings, you're king, like me. I'm a king. If you don't get ratings, you're thrown off the air like a dog."

And Trump does not believe he is superior because of hard work, upbringing, or education.  It's a case of nature over nurture, which helps explain why he is a classic racist. D'Antonio continued

Like history's monarchs, Trump believes that the qualities that make him successful are in-born. He once said he possesses a genetic "gift" for real estate development.

"I'm a big believer in natural ability," Trump told me during a discussion about his leadership traits, which he said came from a natural sense of how human relations work. "If Obama had that psychology, Putin wouldn't be eating his lunch. He doesn't have that psychology and he never will because it's not in his DNA." Later in this discussion, Trump said: "I believe in being prepared and all that stuff. But in many respects, the most important thing is an innate ability."

Perhaps Trump's conviction that DNA — not life experience — is everything explains why he proudly claims that he's "basically the same" today as when he was a boy. "When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I'm basically the same," he said. "The temperament is not that different."

 Like father, like son:

His son Donald Jr. told me: "Like him, I'm a big believer in race-horse theory. He's an incredibly accomplished guy, my mother's incredibly accomplished, she's an Olympian, so I'd like to believe genetically I'm predisposed to [be] better than average"....

The racehorse theory of human development explains Trump's belief in his suitability for political leadership, despite the fact that he has never held office. He's absolutely convinced that America's problems will be solved by his God-given management skills, bankruptcies notwithstanding. You are either born with superior qualities — the right DNA — or you are not.

And it appears that Trump thinks that he himself is responsible for his God-given skills, now that 

Residents of a small Alabama city, still reeling after deadly tornadoes devastated their corner of the state, said President Trump’s visit Thursday was “a godsend.”

He punctuated his trip at a Southern Baptist church in Opelika, Ala., with another religious overture, one that was distinctly on-brand: When asked, the president signed several of the churchgoers’ Bibles.

After Trump added his unique, frenetic signature to a 12-year-old boy’s Good Book, the crowd of onlookers erupted in applause, a pool report noted. One church volunteer, Ada Ingram, told the reporters that Trump’s visit was a blessing. Hopefully, it brings the community together, she said.

“I enjoyed him coming,” Ingram said. “I think it’s a godsend.”

Another volunteer, Emily Pike, said the president and first lady Melania Trump signed her 10-year-old daughter’s Bible, which was already decorated with pink camouflage....

Some experts said that any signature on or in a Bible, no matter the penmanship, should be frowned upon.

“Growing up in a religious home, it would’ve been seen as blasphemous as having someone signing your own name,” said Jamie Aten, an evangelical and psychologist at Wheaton College.

Aten, who specializes in the effects of disasters on the religious mind, said it’s common for disaster survivors to use the Bible to help make meaning of what happened. However, he said, he has never seen survivors bring Bibles for someone to sign.

“Maybe you penned your own name so people knew it was yours,” Aten said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Making it just a little worse, the President with his indecipherable signature signed the cover of the Bibles. The best comment, however, came from Twitter:

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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Really Not Complicated

Seven years ago and seven years younger, Ilhan Omar tweeted “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel."  Responding in agreement to a tweet from Glenn Greenwald, last month she tweeted "It's all about he Benjamins baby."

In case Nancy Pelosi and Omar's other defenders didn't get her message, on March 1 Representative Omar explained "So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Anti-Jewish message most certainly not received, given that

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doubled down on her defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Friday, telling an audience at The Economic Club that the Minnesota congresswoman is not anti-Semitic.

During an interview Friday in Washington, Pelosi reiterated her belief that Omar does not hold anti-Jewish views, and maintained that her criticism of Israel had led her to espouse language that some viewed with a second meaning.

"The incident that happened with [Omar], I don't think our colleague is anti-Semitic," Pelosi said Friday.

"I think she has a different experience in the use of words, doesn't understand that some of them are fraught with meaning," Pelosi added of the freshman Democratic congresswoman who came to the U.S. as a refugee with her family in 1995.

Nonetheless, if there is such a thing as the soft bigotry of lowered expectations, it is that a 37-year-old member of the United States House of Representatives "has a different experience in the use of words, doesn't understand that some of them are fraught with meaning."  Omar has a different experience in the use of words because, Pelosi claimed.... well, she didn't say why the Somali-born, American-raised Omar is daft enough not to understand words have meanings.  There are Jews in Minnesota, doubtless even in her own district.

Believing Representative Omar was victimized by a double standard, Michelle Goldberg argues

Earlier this week, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, accused Representative Jerry Nadler of doing the bidding of the wealthy liberal donor “Tom $teyer,” whose father was Jewish. (“To be clear, this tweet counts both as inane AND anti-Semitic,” Nadler responded.) Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, once brought an internet troll who’d denied the Holocaust to the State of the Union. Omar gestured at the idea of dual loyalty, but Donald Trump, speaking to American Jews last December, referred to Israel as “your country.” Indeed, no president has done more to mainstream classically anti-Semitic ideas about an authentic volk at war with parasitical globalists. It’s maddening to watch men who’ve flirted with outright fascism — like former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, who wore the medal of a Nazi-aligned Hungarian group to one of Trump’s inaugural balls — act like sanctimonious defenders of the Jews.

Between approval of a House anti-hate resolution urged by the Speaker and the latter's remarks to the Economic Club, we heard from Five Thirty Eight's Nate Silver:

Not a bad suggestion, but Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to state unequivocally that she disagrees with Representative Omar's remarks. The Minnesotan, she maintains, is not anti-Semitic, leading one to wonder how obvious a colleague must be before the Speaker recognizes anti-Semitism. Hopefully, Omar will learn to curb her tongue and Twitter finger- or we will find out how far the leader of the Party will go in condoning the hate she purports to be offended by.

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No Time For Neutrality

On Thursday, Joy Behar asked her fellow panelists (co-hosts? conversationalists?) on The View ... and his claim about having to &...