Cutting Through The Crap

Monday, August 31, 2015

Speaketh The Man About Whom No One Cares

So Bobby "not an anchor baby" Jindal thinks that the mere mention of climate change is to politicize it.
... But Jindal said while the anniversary is a time "to mourn the loss of loved ones, the passing of a period in our history" and "celebrate those whose future has become brighter in the storm's terrible wake," it is "not a place for politics."
"It is therefore with disappointment that I read of the White House's plans to make this visit part of a tour for your climate change agenda," Jindal wrote. "I understand that your emphasis in New Orleans will – rightly – be an economic development, the temptation to stray into climate change politics should be resisted."...
Right. Because since one of our two main political parties considers it a hoax, it's by definition "political." So there, Obama. Keep your damn mouth shut. And while we're at it, same goes for murder by gun.

So which is the more appropriate descriptor for "Bobby:" Asshole, or idiot?

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Tom Tomorrow

Too good to post only in part. But it's from here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Donald Lashes Out At Atrocity

So two idiots beat up a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, claiming they were inspired by Donald Trump's call to get rid of such people. Told of the incident, our next president gave those two a piece of his mind, sparing nothing:
Trump, told of the alleged assault, said “it would be a shame . . . I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”
Now there's some fine leadership from a guy who's amazing; because, hey, things things happen when people are passionate about making our country great.

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Failure To Love, Much Less Understand

Interesting, isn't it? Those lovers of the Constitution really don't like it all that much, do they? And the above doesn't even mention their dislike of voting by those with whom they disagree; or the whole concept of innocent until proven guilty; or, worst of all, separation of church and state.

Now here's something amusing: in their panic to out-Trump Trump, virtually all of the R candidates are shoving their way to the front of the line to state their opposition to "birthright citizenship," as defined in the Fourteenth Amendment. It's impressive how facile they are, absent meaningful policy to address actual problems, in coming up with an appeal to the substance-averse. Five minutes ago, no one was talking about it. Suddenly, out of thin air and surely very soon with the help of Fox "news" and the rest of the right-wing screamers and haters, they'll have everyone on their side, the side of denial, nodding in agreement. Okay, fine. If you don't like the Fourteenth Amendment, passed to prevent racial discrimination, get behind an amendment to reverse it. Because who cares about climate change or wages, right? Lost on gay marriage, need a new distraction and ginned-up outrage.

But the kicker is that Donald "Great" Trump believes birthright citizenship, if challenged, wouldn't hold up in court. Wouldn't hold up in court!

Oh, the towering, cosmic, reverberating stupidity of that statement, the bottomless misunderstanding of the Constitution and its clearly enumerated process for amending it. Because, you know, the Constitution, including all its amendments, is, sorta by definition, "constitutional." Laws that run counter to it? Unconstitutional. Things in it? Yep: constitutional.

I'd like to think a leading candidate for the nomination of a formerly credible political party would have at least a minimal understanding of how things work, legally. And I'd like to think those that think he'd be a great president would find this a revelatory bubble-burster.

I'd be wrong, of course.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mass Debating

Here's my latest newspaper column:
Watching the “debate” on Fox “news” felt like a reverse lobotomy: I may never be able to forget it. If buzzwords were ice cream, global warming would be solved. If gullibility were raindrops, my lawn would be green. Firearms were banned, though. Weird, huh? 
First, a word of praise: the moderators asked good questions. Sadly, they didn’t push when the candidates ignored them, but credit for trying. On the other hand, they made the Fox “news” agenda very obvious. Not a word about climate change. No mention of the influence of big money on our political system, except when the Donald copped to buying politicians. On those issues, greater threats to our country than Iran or ISIS, silence. On its fiftieth anniversary, the gutted Voting Rights Act was unmentionable, but not the evil of women’s healthcare. 
For Ted Cruz, launching an investigation of Planned Parenthood is job two on day one. The economy, education, health care? Not on his inaugural to-do list, because falsehoods are the perfect distraction from what he really plans to do. “Selling body parts” has a good chance to be this year’s Lie of the Year, like “death panels” a while back. Those cynically edited videos show nothing of the sort and nothing illegal; but to get a vote, they’ll say anything. Mike Huckabee won’t be president; for him, it’s about selling books. 
Poor paranoid Ben Carson looked lost. With a goofy smile from a time warp, he name-dropped Saul Alinsky. Checking his Tea Party list, he called for increased military spending. And torture. His tax code will be the Bible, so save ye your bushels of wheat. According to polls he’s the favorite of people who consider abortion the biggest problem we face. I assume they’re fine with his published research using tissue from aborted fetuses.  
Rand Paul was petulant. Evidently he and Chris Christie really don’t like each other. Christie won the who-hugged-whom challenge; in the battleground of ideas, though, it’s a toss-down. 
They all hated the possibility of avoiding war with Iran. Trump proclaimed we “got nothing” from the nuclear agreement. Scientists disagree, as do dozens of generals, admirals, and Israeli security professionals. But those people are, you know, “knowledgeable.” So, no. Negotiating is weakness, the candidates droned, unanimously. It’s about our military, they tumesced. Respect for America only happens when we’re tough guys. The world admires our weapons, not diplomacy. Unlike them, I’ve been to war. To me the president’s recent words make more sense. 
Marco Rubio, pundits (but not polls) tell us, won. Must have been his lies about Dodd-Frank, or disavowing his record on abortion exceptions. But he’s good-looking, and a smooth talker. Seriously. He is. Since there’s little difference among them, why not? Jeb looked worried, and still needs better coaching on Iraq. 
On same-sex marriage, John Kasich was impressive. Afraid that he might have appealed only to the dozen or so remaining true conservatives, he was quick, a couple of days later, to refer to climate change as “an unproven theory.” Nice recovery, sir. That was close. 
I’m no psephologist, but watching Trump I’m thinking we might be seeing performance art. Making not even a pretense of depth, maybe his aim is to show how easy it is to dupe voters with catch phrases alone, and how his voters prefer attitude over substance; that they, in fact, demand it. If it turns out that’s his game and people wise up and then he drops the mike, I’ll take back everything I’ve said about him. 
These things were confirmed: a vote for any of them is a vote to ignore climate change, to allow more money from fewer people to run the country, to abandon our structural needs at home (other than a border wall), defund women’s health care and wipe out consumer and environmental protections. It’s to choose war with Iran, repeal the ACA with no replacement, and, yet again, to re-gift the oligarchy with the pre-failed economics of trickle-down. They may have fudged questions, but on that they were unambiguous. Then Megyn Kelly chose a viewer question: which of them talks to God and what’s He had to say lately.
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Thursday, August 13, 2015


This might be the most even-handed analysis, by a reporter who's spent much of his career in the region, of the current state of Iraq, as applies to our withdrawal, in response to Jeb Bush's recent claim that it's all Hillary Clinton's fault.

... Moreover, I think the Republican argument that a handful of American troops could have saved Iraq misses a larger point. The fundamental problem was American policy—in particular, the American policy of supporting and strengthening Maliki at all costs.... As Emma Sky, who served as a senior adviser to the American military during the war in Iraq, put it, “The problem was the policy, and the policy was to give unconditional support to Nuri al-Maliki.” (Sky’s book, “The Unraveling,” is the essential text on how everything fell apart.) When the Americans helped install him, in 2006, he was a colorless mediocrity with deeply sectarian views. By 2011, he was an unrivalled strongman with control over a vast military and security apparatus. Who enabled that? 
First, it was the Bush White House. Then the Obama White House—Clinton was a part of that team, of course, but the official with primary responsibility for Iraq was Vice-President Joe Biden. Biden was a firm backer of Maliki, because it was through Maliki that the Americans seemed sure of an easy exit... 
... So, back to Jeb Bush’s claim. What’s the verdict on Hillary Clinton? She played a supporting role in a disastrously managed withdrawal, which helped lay the groundwork for the catastrophe that followed. And that was preceded by the disastrously managed war itself, which was overseen by Jeb Bush’s brother. And that was preceded by the decision to go to war in the first place, on trumped-up intelligence, which was also made by Bush’s brother...
I've said a million times that the chaos that followed the invasion was predictable (and predicted) from the time the idea burbled up from the swamp in Dick Cheney's brain. Perhaps keeping troops there for pretty-much ever would have been the better choice among lousy ones. But in the end it seems the problems that preceded our invasion and were uncorked by it will remain until they themselves, without or in spite of our help, manage to rise above their sectarian hatreds and insanity. It hasn't happened in centuries, and I'd bet it never will.

So our troops would have, inevitably, returned to being cannon-fodder and stokers of even more resentments. And, as awful as things are over there, and as horrific and inhuman as ISIS is, I'm not convinced -- not by a long shot -- that they represent the sort of threat to us, here, that all the R candidates would have us believe. I still think our future is under much greater and more demonstrable threat by climate change, by the usurping of our republic by self-interested plutocrats, by ignoring our enormous needs at home.

That view, most obviously, was not shared by the audience at the recent Republican "debate," to whom Planned Parenthood and (the diminishing number of) illegal immigrants are the monsters under the bed.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Keeping Their Eyes Off The Ball

In another perfect example of Republican misdirection aimed at keeping voters looking away from their deceptions, there's the constant harangue over in-person voter fraud, which has led to laws whose real purpose is to keep Democratic voters from being able to vote. (Happily, one such was just declared to be in violation of what's left of the Civil Rights Act. Sadly, that'll stand only till it gets kicked up to the Supremes, at which point, as per John Roberts' view that there's no more discrimination, it'll be upheld.)

Meanwhile, they've managed to keep attention away from their voting machines, generally manufactured by shady R-owned companies, big donors to R candidates. Questions have occasionally been raised but, compared to the non-existent but over-hyped issue of illegal voting, it gets no traction. Meanwhile:

... According to the Wichita Eagle, Wichita State mathematician Beth Clarkson has found irregularities in election returns from Sedgwick County, along with other counties throughout the United States, but has faced stiff opposition from the state in trying to confirm whether the irregularities are fraud or other, less-nefarious anomalies. 
Analyzing election returns at a precinct level, Clarkson found that candidate support was correlated, to a statistically significant degree, with the size of the precinct. In Republican primaries, the bias has been toward the establishment candidates over tea partiers. In general elections, it has favored Republican candidates over Democrats, even when the demographics of the precincts in question suggested that the opposite should have been true...

"Stiff opposition." Gee, I wonder why.

These guys are evil geniuses, I'll give them that.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

More Columny

My latest newspaper column:
Inconceivable as it is that a Jewish Socialist could become president, I’m glad Bernie Sanders is running. For one thing, it might stimulate inquiry into what Bernie means when he describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” People toss around political labels like grenades nowadays, refusing to consider solutions (not to mention problems) on their merits, flinging the preferred vulpine epithet to dismiss ideas out of hand. It’s long past time to go deeper. Considering the magnitude of the problems we face, it might already be too late. 
There’s a discussion worth having in the US, without the demagoguery and apocalyptic superficiality that’s become the norm since the election of our Kenyan Muslim Nazi Socialist Communist America-hating terrorist-loving powerless dictator of a president. Why, we should ask ourselves, do Scandinavian countries consistently rank better than we do in so many important categories? Health. Education. Longevity. Crime. Quality of life (whatever that means.) If we’re certain we prefer our economic priorities to theirs, we ought to be able to say why, to say what it is about those countries, given the aforementioned areas of ascendency, that we find objectionable. After all, their versions of socialism – what we might call “democratic socialism” – differ widely from that which, until recently, characterized China and Russia. Private enterprise is central to and flourishes in Scandinavia. Who hasn’t brought a bookshelf home from Ikea in a Volvo? 
In the midst of the Cold War, I spent a summer in the Soviet Union on a language study tour. Khrushchev’s shoe was still reverberating in the UN and race riots were boiling across the US. Even as naïve biology major, and well before the appearance of Gorbachev and Reagan on the scene, I could see that the Soviet system (textbook socialism but never communism) was failing. I saw factories in disrepair, where posters on walls declaring the mortal danger of America seemed to be the only motivation workers had to do their jobs. Only Party members had cars, made in the USSR, more of which were uphooded alongside the road than driving on it. Living in cramped gray apartments in shoddy buildings while their leaders enjoyed comparative luxury, people wearing drab clothes and worn-out shoes pushed others aside to get to the loaves of bread on shelves. Newspapers, meanwhile, featured pictures of US police turning dogs and fire hoses on black people, headlines declaring the evils of Uncle Sam. Absent an existential enemy and constant propagandizing, I concluded, regular people there would never put up with such one-sided austerity. (Shall I enumerate similarities to the playbook of one side of our current political spectrum? Too easy. It’d be like shooting ducks in a fish.) 
If communism is inconsistent with human nature (it is), and if pure socialism creates torpor and eventually rots and collapses under its own weight (it does), we’ve seen (but not learned) in our own experience that unfettered capitalism is unsustainable too; yet every Republican candidate would take us there again. The party that considers itself most aligned with business is the one leading the way down, arguing for widespread deregulation and elimination of all manner of protections for citizens (not to mention the planet.) Sequestering most wealth in the hands of few is inimical to successful capitalism. So is limitless squeezing of workers. It’s history, it’s arithmetic, and it’s obvious. Boiled down, that’s what Bernie Sanders is trying to say. 
If the Senator has any chance to win, and I don’t think he does, I’d like to see him moderate his rhetoric. The point about wealth sequestration can be made without blanket demonization of corporations and the very wealthy; but, as ought to be obvious to everyone not receiving gargantuan tax breaks, or hiding profits overseas, or polluting, or all three, there are myriad ways in which their outsized political influence is changing America for the worse. We need more jobs, safer roads and dams and bridges, a modernized electric grid, better access to healthcare and quality education. Government has a necessary role in that. We know where the money is, and it’d require only a small portion of it to make it happen. Corporations and billionaires would be fine. At the least, Sanders’ campaign might result in talking about it.
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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Disgusting Sleazebag, Is How I'd Put It

I tired of Chris Matthews a long time ago and haven't watched MSNBC in years. But when I heard that Marco Rubio quote I concluded (as if I didn't already know) that he (Rubio) is a pandering political pretender scumbag with zero class. So when I found this clip, I figured it's worth posting. Because I know a few people who think Rubio is the next big thing.

His comment, of course, will endear him to his base in the same way Trump's comments about McCain have endeared him to his.

What an awful group of candidates. Every last one of them.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

Forty-Eight Billion!

If anyone still believes our system of health care financing makes any sense as long as it includes the health insurance industry, this ought to disabuse them of the misapprehension: 
The health insurer Anthem said on Friday that it had agreed to acquire its rival Cigna for $48.3 billion in a deal that would further concentrate the United States market to just a few major players. 
The combined company would have estimated revenue of about $115 billion and serve more than 53 million people with medical coverage...
Sure, the Affordable Care Act is better than no change at all. But, as many have said from the beginning, it's a sop to insurance companies and sucks billions in profits and administrative costs out of the system, dollars that ought to be spent on actual care.

And, of course, it makes even more of a joke out of the claims of the right-wing screamers that it's a government takeover, socialist commie nazi Kenyan thing that makes you hate America and marry someone of the same sex while you stand, gunless, before a death panel.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Columnating Trump

Here's my latest newspaper column:
Not long ago Donald Trump addressed a crowd in Arizona, where he retrod his undocumented claims about the Mexican government “sending” its rapists to the US. The venue was a convention center with a capacity of 4,100. Afterwards he tweeted a picture of the audience with the notation, “This is what 20,000 people looks like.” Perfect. 
Donald Trump is indeed perfect. Detail by detail, he embodies the voter-ideal the Republican hierarchy and its media enforcers have been working so hard to create: a person to whom facts are irrelevant, whose idea of strength is the my-way highway, whose definition of patriotism is bullying braggadocio, and whose answers to the most complicated problems are so simple they fit on bumper stickers. Nuance? Unwelcome as a climate change conference. He’s the mephitic spawn of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater. Or maybe he sprang from the ids of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, and the rest of our rightwing spewers. It’s as if they each brought a favorite body part to a lab and stitched him together. His popularity tells us much about today’s Republican voters. 
Rising to political prominence by questioning President Obama’s birthplace, Trump sent “investigators” to Hawaii where, he claimed, they were finding “amazing” things which, for some reason, he’s never gotten around to sharing with us. (Maybe it was pineapples. Pineapples are pretty amazing over there.) Now he tops the polls and Republican leaders are between a rock-head and a hard case: to criticize is to disown the denialism and deceptions they’ve been crafting for years. It’s no mystery why “the base” admires Donald Trump. He’s born of decades of deliberate disinformation, efflorescing now like a corpse plant. His ideas are boilerplate: tax the poor, cut needed spending to lower taxes on the rich, talk tough, reject science, monger fear and resentment. Offering nothing new, he does it louder. 
Predictable as the next round of record-breaking heat, Trump attacked the agreement with Iran as soon as it was announced. “It’s a disgrace,” he informed us. “We look so desperate,” he reasoned, as if strict sanctions leading to years of negotiations involving several countries happened in a panic. Yes, because anything except war is a sign of weakness, and because our previous invasions have worked out so well. Trump, of course, wasn’t alone in opining before the details were made public. Lindsey Graham crawled out from under his bed to speak to Joe Scarborough, predicting the end of the world. Joe mostly agreed but allowed as how he’d like to read it first. “Me, too,” said Mr. Graham, without evident irony. 
Not that it’ll make any difference, but experts, including nuclear scientists and weapons inspectors, have marveled at how airtight the agreement is. So far, arguments against it ring hollow. I don’t know if it’ll work, but apocalyptic claims notwithstanding, it’s hardly naïve. The only way we’ll get past the constant threat of war is to give Iran’s young people reasons to reject their ayatollahs and admire the US. After all, we found our way from “you’re with us or with the terrorists” to offering alternatives. Given the opportunity, they might, too. 
Even if they voice objections, Trump has made it impossible for Republicans to deny their real agenda: illegal immigration and “taking our country back” are exactly what Tea Partiers have been fed by those wanting to keep them angry in the wrong direction. Who knows whether Trump’s claims are deliberate lies or simply uninformed? (He does seem to favor making up numbers on the spot.) But, exactly as intended, they’re keeping impending oligarchy under the rug, 
I’ll admit Trump is facile, if thin-skinned, in interviews. Wiggling out of tight spots with flimflam, he’ll do well in debates, at least in the eyes of the fact-averse. Which, I suppose, is the point. Unless their party produces a candidate with realistic ideas, they may as well go for the guy who slings it the furthest. And now we have his asinine comments about John McCain, which, no matter the fallout (because Rs hate  [Kerry!] attacks [Cleland!] on decorated veterans [Duckworth!]), won’t change the fact that a superficial blowhard like Donald Trump has led the Republican presidential pack.
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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Thoughts For A Sunday

His thoughts on the morality -- or lack thereof -- of the Biblical view of God are exactly those that I concluded as I thought about it over time, and went from the sort of belief that I (sort of) inherited to the reality-based conclusion that life is better lived based on the very human traits of empathy and inquiry.

I understand that people will have "answers" to his propositions, and I recognize the necessity. My point, though, is that it's fine for people to use whatever thought processes they need to make it through life; but when they insist that these internally inconsistent or morally questionable beliefs become the basis for public law, it's time to call them out on it.

If it works for you, fine. Life is hard. But if your need is so great that you consider it an assault on your religion when others see things differently, or insist that your views must become the law of the land, well, watch the video again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

More Columny

My latest newspaper column, somewhat revised and refined from a previous post here:

Whatever else they may be, in their marriage-equality dissents the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court are neither impartial nor innocent callers of balls and strikes, as Chief Justice Roberts famously feigned at his confirmation hearing. It doesn't take much understanding of the role of the Supreme Court to recognize which of the verbiage in their dissents had nothing to do with it. Even Justice Kennedy's opinion for the majority, poetic as it was in places, was laden with chaff. He concluded:
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
I agree, of course. But the entire opinion could have been rendered with the last two sentences alone. Clarence Thomas (in whose lifetime his own marriage was illegal until the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting it) was having none of that dignity stuff, asserting, as jaws dropped: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.” That's some strict interpreting!
No longer bothering even to pretend, Antonin Scalia could only splutter and fume: “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative — indeed, super-legislative — power. … Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition … the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like. … A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”
Every high school student should know how wrong that is. Surely he's heard of judicial review. If not, what did he mean by “except as limited by a constitutional prohibition”? That's precisely the job of the court: to determine when laws violate the Constitution. He may not like the decision (I've disliked many of his, in which he did exactly what he decries in this opinion: did he forget them?) but to say that it's inconsistent with democracy is to ignore a founding constitutional principle, settled since Marbury v. Madison. So he went for hysterical hyperbole. So did Mr. Alito, warning “people will have to whisper their beliefs in the recesses of their homes.” That's what plops from the south end of a north-facing horse, the sort of fear-mongering vote-fishing jiggery-pokery we expect from Fox “news,” not from a member of the highest court in the land.
Other than his bizarre anthropology lesson, Mister Justice Roberts was slightly more temperate, if no less wrong: “It is instead about whether … [the definition of marriage] should rest with the people. … The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer.” He's right in his last sentence, but like Scalia, startlingly wrong in its application. This no more about “redefining” marriage than “Loving v. Virginia” was. It's about equal rights under the law; no more, no less. It could just as well have been about the ability of states to restrict public education to heterosexuals. What could be a more central role of the Supreme Court than determining whether the Constitution allows such proscription? Claims about love or children or lessons on Aztec and Carthaginian conjugal habits are beside the point. In making those arguments, the court is trying to define marriage, which is not their job. Theirs is to act when “the people” produce laws contrary to our Constitution. If the furious four were what they claim to be, instead of agenda-driven ideologues, the decision would have been unanimous.
Predictably, presidential candidates from the party of patriotism have rushed to the unconditional embrace of Fox “news,” unfurling their intention to ignore the law, adjuring others to join them. That's not merely historical ignorance: it's traitorous sedition, leaving us to wonder why they hate America so much. As they shamelessly whip up outrage over a non-existent attack on religion, let's note that none has explained why all must follow their preferred religious views, or how same sex marriage harms the rest of us. I just checked, and, by golly, I'm still married. Forty-four years.

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