Sunday, March 31, 2013


The New York Times has generally not made its pages a safe space for climate-change deniers or young-Earth creationists. However, the Times has given one of its precious few full-time op-ed gigs to Ross Douthat, who is determined to find evidence in social science literature that gay marriage actually does harms straight people -- a notion that even the lawyer charged with defending California's Proposition 8 at the Supreme Court couldn't defend.

Here's Douthat today, insisting that gays getting married (and approval of this societal change by useful idiots like you and me and, possibly, your mom) is actually responsible for the fact that non-wealthy straight people have stopped straight-marrying and procreating properly:
Yet for an argument that has persuaded so few, the conservative view has actually had decent predictive power. As the cause of gay marriage has pressed forward, the social link between marriage and childbearing has indeed weakened faster than before. As the public's shift on the issue has accelerated, so has marriage's overall decline.

Since [1997, when David] Frum [now a gay marriage supporter] warned that gay marriage could advance only at traditional wedlock's expense, the marriage rate has been falling faster, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has been rising faster, and the substitution of cohabitation for marriage has markedly increased. Underlying these trends is a steady shift in values: Americans are less likely to see children as important to marriage and less likely to see marriage as important to childbearing (the generation gap on gay marriage shows up on unwed parenting as well) than even in the very recent past.
Wow! And the major cause of this was that we let the gays marry?
Correlations do not, of course, establish causation. The economy is obviously playing a leading role in the retreat from marriage -- the shocks of recession, the stagnation of wages, the bleak prospects of blue-collar men.
Oh. So a massive deterioration in the value of pursuing marriage/3.2 kids/white picket fence caused by the complete betrayal of the middle class by the capitalist order could possibly have a wee bit to do with this skepticism about straight marriage among heartlanders as well?

Oh, no. Young Ross is having none of that argument. Sure, you clever sophisticates with all your gay-married friends can talk all you want about the complete hollowing-out of the middle class in America, but, dammit, you're letting the gays off the hook!
But there is also a certain willed naivete to the idea that the advance of gay marriage is unrelated to any other marital trend. For 10 years, America's only major public debate about marriage and family has featured one side -- judges and journalists, celebrities and now finally politicians -- pressing the case that modern marriage has nothing to do with the way human beings reproduce themselves, that the procreative understanding of the institution was founded entirely on prejudice, and that the shift away from a male-female marital ideal is analogous to the end of segregation.

Now that this argument seems on its way to victory, is it really plausible that it has changed how Americans view gay relationships while leaving all other ideas about matrimony untouched?
Yes, Ross, it's completely plausible. We straight people didn't all watch a gay pride march one day and suddenly smack our foreheads and say, "Dammit, I'm going to buy some condoms and have some sex with my spouse that won't lead to procreation! Or with a person I'm not even married to!" Many of us had actually already imagined doing those very things! Some of us actually did them!

The modern gay rights movement didn't pre-date Updikean suburban adultery or Sex and the Single Girl. The movement for gay marriage didn't pre-date the normalization of out-of-wedlock births or 1970s key parties or Plato's Retreat as a place you might go with your wife, not to mention the commitment in many communities to the long-term incarceration of any young African-American male caught with a joint, which has helped deplete at least one segment of the pool of marriageable males in this society.

And gay marriage has nothing to do with the complete breakdown of the social contract that once made "normal" economically worth pursuing for a lot of straight people (even if it was a sexually restless sort of normal, with lots of lies "for the sake of the children").

It's a free country, so Douthat ought to be at liberty to keep trying to pin all this on the gays. But it's a disgrace that he's doing it the Times. What's next -- a new hire who thinks the moon landings were faked?

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Charlotte and Harriet Childress have published an op-ed in The Washington Post titled "White Men Have Much to Discuss About Mass Shootings." Obviously they're right when they say that mass shooters are nearly always white males. And they're right about the fact that if both mass shooters and the defenders of gun rights were overwhelmingly of the same non-white race, the rest of the culture would accord gun-rights defenders far less respect.

But mass shooters, for the most part, aren't the alpha males within their own culture, even though most come from America's alpha race.

And maybe that's the problem. If you're white and male (and middle- or upper-middle-class), the culture tells you that you can have it all. If you're white, male, and developing paranoid schizophrenia, or having profound difficulties with socialization, you're falling short of very, very high expectations. Why aren't you thriving? You're a person who's supposed to be thriving! Everyone in your demographic category can thrive!

Young American males of other ethnicities are conditioned to expect disappointment in life. White suburban males are led to believe that the world is their oyster. Maybe it's falling short of these high cultural expectations that attracts a certain percentage of socially struggling white males to fantasies of violent revenge. They want to kill because they're expected to dominate, and this is the only way they know how.

Dr. Benjamin Carson began his current rise to fame after a tendentious National Prayer Breakfast speech in which, among other things, he railed against "the PC police," who, he said, "are out in force at all times." So it's odd to me that, after Carson stirred up controversy earlier this week with an appearance on Sean Hannity's TV show in which he lumped gays and lesbians in with NAMBLA members and people who commit bestiality as people who would improperly redefine marriage, he subsequently went on an apology tour: Andrea Mitchell's show on MSNBC, Wolf Blitzer's show on CNN, an interview with the Baltimore Sun.

Hey, Dr. Carson, I thought you were the crusader against political correctness. I thought you said at the Prayer Breakfast, "And we've reached the point where people are afraid to actually talk about what they want to say because somebody might be offended." You said what you believed. Don't apologize! Give 'em hell!

But there are big plans for Ben Carson. It's not clear who engineered his move into the spotlight -- was it all the doctor's idea, or has he been consulting from the very beginning with Fox News, the Republican Party, or both? Whose idea was it for him to get in the president's face at the Prayer Breakfast, with calls for a flat tax and harsh words for Obamacare?

Whether that speech just happened to go viral or was the result of a right-wing strategists' plan to create a viral event, Carson is clearly very useful to the GOP and the right at this moment. The party is looking to rebrand itself. The party knows it's too white. So it doesn't really matter whether Carson ever runs for president, or another public office, as a Republican -- just the sense that he might seems to Republicans like a useful tool in their rebranding efforts.

But right-wing strategists also worry that the party is perceived as homophobic. So they don't want their new star having a genuinely anti-PC response to the current controversy: Hey, I said what I said. If you don't like it, tough. The party and the right don't want a new provocateur -- a new Ann Coulter or Steve King. They want someone who can thread the needle, delivering the right-wing boilerplate while appealing to swing voters. So he has to deliver nice wingnuttery.

If his apology isn't being orchestrated by either the GOP or Fox (Fox being a possible next employer after his retirement from Johns Hopkins, which is coming up shortly), then, at the very least, he's figured out that he'd better make this embarrassment go away if he wants continued access to the starmaker machinery.

So the great scourge of PC goes all PC and apologizes. Ironic.

The alternate explanation is that he ginned up this week's controversy, or it was plotted out for him, in order to make him a PC martyr. I don't see that -- if that were the case, I'm not sure he'd be making the rounds of non-right-wing media so vigorously. But if that was the plan, it's working: petitioners have called for him to withdraw as a Johns Hopkins commencement speaker, he's offering to withdraw, and he's being treated as the latest victim of liberal fascism (John Fund at National Review: "Dr. Carson Banned from Commencement Speech?"; a right-wing blogger: "The Left Manufactures the Dr. Ben Carson Coke Can Pubic Hair Moment." Hey, maybe this really was the plan all along.

Friday, March 29, 2013


In response to Alaska congressman Don Young's statement that "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Dave Weigel has tweeted:

Weigel has also compared this to Harry Reid's 2010 comment that Barack Obama speaks "with no Negro dialect." The response has generally been that "Negro" and "colored" aren't slurs, whereas "wetback" has always been a slur.

And that's true. It's always been a slur -- but white America hasn't always recognized that.

As Wikipedia notes, the first appearance of "wetback" in The New York Times was in a 1920 article:

The U.S. started a border security program in 1953 called Operation Wetback. That was the year Don Young turned 20. A Google News archive search reveals that the word "wetback" showed up in quite a few newspaper headlines in the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s:

* "Wetback Net Used Lightly; Aliens Are Useful" --Milwaukee Journal, June 29, 1950
* "'Wetback' Entry Reasons Told" --Deseret News, July 15, 1954
* "Wetback Influx Shows Decrease" --New York Times, July 6, 1958
* "Wetback Flow Cut by US-Mexico Pact" -- Milwaukee Journal, April 19, 1960
* "The 'Wetback' Problem Has More Than Just One Side" -- Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1970
* "Wetback Problem" -- Milwaukee Sentinel, December 31, 1971

But public officials were getting flak for saying "wetback" decades ago -- here's one in 1989, here's one a year later. And, well, Young lives in the same society as the rest of us, doesn't he? He has no excuse for being oblivious to the fact that the word is now considered offensive.

So, yes,, I take into account the fact that some people used the word freely well into Don Young's adulthood. But that's still no excuse.

So we've learned that Marco Rubio plans to join with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to try to block any new gun control legislation:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday joined a group of Republicans threatening to filibuster gun control legislation in the Senate.

"We, the undersigned, intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance," he wrote in a statement on his website.

"The Second Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens' right to self-defense. It speaks to history's lesson that government cannot be in all places at all times, and history’s warning about the oppression of a government that tries."
Charlie Pierce believes that this shows we're naive about filibuster reform:
One of the least appreciated phenomena of the past couple election cycles is the appearence on the scene of a claque of extremely enthusiastic show ponies. Senator Aqua Buddha of Kentucky is at the head of the parade, but Tailgunner Ted Cruz from Texas is moving on up. This has a tendency to move the debate not only to the right, but also deeper into the spotlight. So, when people talk about "reforming" the Senate rules by forcing people who filibuster actually to get up there and talk, we should always remember that there are now enough young members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body to do that with bells on. And, sooner or later, people with legitimate national ambitions -- That's not you, Rand. -- find themselves drawn in as well.

...The "talking filibuster" is a reform only if there aren't any people willing to use it. This was a deterrent only as long as most Republican senators were too old and/or lazy actually to engage in one. That is not the case any more. The show ponies are pulling the wagon now.
I agree that showboaters talking nonsense are taking over -- but I don't think talk of filibuster reform is the problem. The problem is a political culture that keeps shifting the definition of political lunacy to specifically exclude anything a tactically shrewd, high-profile right-winger says or does.

Wayne LaPierre has actually moved the gun debate to the right in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. He's done this by recognizing that he can say anything he wants, however inflammatory, and the Beltway Establishment will agree that Attention Must Be Paid -- after all, he's a well-connected millionaire D.C. lobbyist. He won't be regarded like David Duke or Louis Farrakhan, as a paranoid hatemonger who should never be given an audience on national television, or like, say, Ramsey Clark, LBJ's last attorney general, who marginalized himself when he moved far to the left after leaving office.

LaPierre is a respected insider because he's spent years at a feared lobbying organization, but Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have simply propelled themselves to the respectability by persuading the Beltway Establishment that they represent the Real Americans of the tea party movement. They've also been shrewd about how they say and do crazy things -- they've never said anything extreme for which they weren't prepared to defend themselves, as Todd Akin did. When they provoke, they do it in a calculated way. And as a result, they win Beltway respect.

And that means anything they say or do is automatically defined as within the pale.

LaPierre, Paul, and Cruz took advantage of their immunity from marginalization to push the gun debate rightward. They've won a total victory on that front. The ground they've staked out on guns -- blocking even a reform with 90% popular support, treating background checks as "being subjected to government surveillance" -- is now so safe that Rubio sees no risk in standing on it.

You probably saw this story in the last couple of days:
A Michigan committeeman with the Republican Party says that he posted an article on Facebook about the "filthy lifestyle" of LGBT people because it was “worth sharing.”

Slate's Dave Weigel on Wednesday reported that Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema had used his Facebook page to promote an article by Dr. Frank Joseph titled "Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals."

... Included in his so-called "statistics," are claims that "homosexual sexual encounters occur while drunk, high on drugs, or in an orgy setting,... Homosexuals account for half the murders in large cities" and "50% of suicides can be attributed to homosexuals." ...
Some Michigan Republicans have called for Agema to resign, but he says he won't.

But this guy's been a nutjob for a long time, on the usual broad range of issues.

He's a sharia-obsessed Muslim-basher who once filed a bill to prohibit Michigan from recognizing foreign laws -- a bill he was invited to talk about at a rally featuring Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones; Agema said he would have appeared at the rally with Terry Jones, but he had a scheduling conflict.

Agema has also made several joint appearances with Kamal Saleem, a self-described former terrorist who now roams the country proclaiming the right-wing Muslimphobe agenda -- despite the fact that his claim that he is an ex-terrorist has been widely debunked. Saleem appeared with Agema on behalf of an Agema bill requiring employers to E-verify employees citizenship status; Saleem said, "If we don't pass this bill we will be legalizing terrorism to be part of our culture."

In 2007, Agema defended the treatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners. More recently, he's accused President Obama of being a secret Muslim, writing on his Facebook page:
"Obama won't acknowledge the National Day of Prayer but allows Muslims to pary [sic] on the step of the capitol, now on Egyptian TV he says he's a Muslim according to some sources. Here he says he's a Christian. We're in trouble folks if this is true."
The guy likes Facebook. Last December, he took to Facebook to exult in the macing of pro-union protestors:
Outgoing state Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, took to Facebook on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to say he was "enjoying" protests by union supporters against right-to-work legislation.

Agema, an Air Force veteran and former American Airlines pilot, wrote on Facebook that "(r)iot police on horses are now macing and pushing back the crowds who tried to storm the building."

"I fell (sic) like I'm back in the military- I'm rather enjoying this," wrote Agema, a term-limited and outspoken lawmaker with strong Tea Party ties. "It brings back memories."

He went on to explain to followers commenting on the post that he does not enjoy riots, but that when "riots occur, its the putting down of inappropriate behavior that is rewarding. That is what we did in the military but with countries and tyrants."
Oh and, yes, he's a homophobe. He once introduced a bill to all but eliminate funding for HIV programs in Michigan and transfer the money to ... the Michigan Aeronautics Fund. (As noted above, he's an ex-pilot.)

There's more, but it's too exhausting to keep cataloging this. Suffice it to say that this guy should have been marginalized a long time ago.

(Warning: All the links above are safe, but if you go to any of them, please note that some contain links to the Michigan Messenger, a site that has apparently been corrupted and is now deemed unsafe by Google. Click carefully.)

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Richard Eskow reports (from Alternet via Smirking Chimp):
Attendees at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) were reportedly thrilled by a short sci-fi video depicting a dictatorial near-future government and the underground "Movement on Fire" that springs up to resist it. The video, a thinly veiled advertisement for violent insurrection from the "Tea Party Patriots" group, boasts professional acting and Hollywood production values. But underneath its bright, professional sheen lurk dark overtones of End Times paranoia that will resonate with millions of American fundamentalists....
You really just have to watch this thing -- its paranoia is so pure.

And here's a longer version, with some mook-rock protest music mixed in:

What's striking about this to me is that it's not the teaser for a movie or TV show, or even one of those online trailers that accompany novels nowadays. This is the thing in itself. It's just an ad -- an ad for the FreedomWorks-linked Tea Party Patriots.

As such, it works exactly like any other ad that offers a wish-fulfillment scenario. A beer ad will show a young guy, a stand-in for the targeted consumer, getting friendly with a hot chick -- that's the viewer's wish being fulfilled. This ad shows conservatives the totalitarian nightmare of their dreams, in which their stand-ins -- the young rebels -- get to be heroes who fight (and are pursued to the death by) what the viewers would consider the worst imaginable government.

Being rebels marked for death in a totalitarian dystopia is to right-wingers what hot sex with a beer-ad babe is to the average consumer of suds. It's the ultimate fantasy.


UPDATE, 4/2: Apparently I was wrong -- this is reportedly a trailer for a forthcoming movie, according to BuzzFeed's Ben Howe.

Jonathan Bernstein ponders those polls showing 90% support for universal background checks and explains why they're not spurring action:
See, the problem here is equating "90 percent in the polls" with "calling for change." Sure, 90 percent of citizens, or registered voters, or whoever it is will answer in the affirmative if they're asked by a pollster about this policy. But that's not at all the same as "calling for change." It's more like...well, it is receiving a call. Not calling.

... it's perfectly understandable why most of us, on most issues, barely have opinions, let alone take action. Action is hard! Action can be painful. Action is risky. Action is unpredictable. We all have plenty of other things to do, after all.... It's almost impossible to manufacture that artificially....
Actually, it's not "almost impossible to manufacture that artificially." In fact, we know exactly how to do it: just do exactly what the right has done for past thirty years. Develop media that politicize citizens with propaganda and get those citizens to seek out that propaganda day in and day out, as entertainment. Pay lots of people lots of money to make that audience increasingly paranoid about their imminent loss of freedom, autonomy, and money because of what the evil bastards on the other side are doing. Repeat as necessary.

Fox News and talk radio have been doing this for decades. So have organizations like the NRA on individual issues. They've learned how to prime people to take action (at least we assume fired-up right-wingers will take action, if only at the polls, and that threat is enough to make us take right-wingers' opinions seriously).

The Obama campaign got the Democratic voter base fired up about a lot of issues -- the availability of birth control, for instance. It gave voters a plan of action -- vote Obama -- and they took action.

But right-wingers do this every day of every year, in election season and out. The way Democrats get voters fired up for a presidential election, the right gets its base fired up for everything. That's why Democrats are competitive in presidential elections, but overmatched between them.

When the Supreme Court upheld the Obama health care law, a lot of liberals concluded that John Roberts had done a courageous and honorable thing. I disagreed. I assumed that he didn't want a 5-4 decision to overturn the law because he thought that would motivate Democratic voters, while diminishing Republican voters' motivation to show up at the polls. I thought the decision to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause and then OK it as a tax was meant to fire up the GOP base: Look, this is a huge tax. TAX TAX TAX.

The decision didn't help the GOP at the polls, of course -- but I still think Roberts was playing the angles that way. And now Chris Frates of The Atlantic writes about Mitch McConnell's secret plan" to repeal the health care law -- and I can't help suspecting that Roberts knew precisely the kind of groundwork he was laying:
A few minutes after the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision upholding President Obama's health-care law last summer, a senior adviser to Mitch McConnell walked into the Senate Republican leader's office to gauge his reaction....

Sitting at his desk a stone's throw from the Senate chamber, McConnell turned to the aide and, with characteristic directness, said: "This decision is too cute. But I think we got something with this tax issue."

He was referring to the court's ruling that the heart of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the so-called individual mandate that requires everyone in the country to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, was a tax. And while McConnell thought calling the mandate a tax was "a rather creative way" to uphold the law, it also opened a new front in his battle to repeal it.

McConnell, a master of byzantine Senate procedure, immediately realized that, as a tax, the individual mandate would be subject to the budget reconciliation process, which exempted it from the filibuster. In other words, McConnell had just struck upon how to repeal Obamacare with a simple majority vote.
You see, if it's a tax, a vote to repeal that's done under reconciliation rules can't be filibustered. So Republicans need a Senate majority (along with a House majority and a Republican president) and they can repeal the law without needing 60 Senate votes.

Why, if you didn't know that Roberts is just an impartial arbiter calling balls and strikes, you'd almost imagine that he saw that possibility coming when he handed down his decision.

Obviously, this would have worked out swimmingly for the GOP if the party had run the table in November. But they have an excellent chance of retaking the Senate in 2014 -- and I think they can win the White House two years later, particularly if Hillary Clinton doesn't run. (I'm sure they think they can.)

Yes, I think they'd still be up for repealing the health care law by then. The folks in charge of implementing it will probably still be working out the kinks. I don't think it's going to be an instant smash hit with the public when it's fully implemented. It's going to take some getting used to.

So, yeah, I think this war could still go on for years. Let's not forget that these are Republicans, who never let anything go.

Last November, on a cold night in Times Square, a New York cop named Lawrence DiPrimo bought boots for a barefoot beggar named Jeffrey Hillman. The story went viral -- although a few days later The New York Times found Hillman and reported that he was barefoot again:
"Those shoes are hidden. They are worth a lot of money," Mr. Hillman said in an interview on Broadway in the 70s. "I could lose my life."
But now the New York Post has busted Hillman's story wide open:
What a heel!

The barefoot beggar who made headlines when a kindly cop gave him a pair of boots has an apartment and a preacher paying his bills -- but he still pretends to be homeless and hides his shoes in a garbage bag, The Post has learned.

Jeffrey Hillman was spotted at 9:20 p.m. Sunday counting a huge wad of bills with the dexterity of a bank teller while riding a No. 2 train from Times Square to his home in The Bronx.

Wetting his thumb and glancing warily at his few fellow passengers, Hillman, 54, deftly counted out a stack of bills, placed it on the seat and started counting another as a Post reporter shot video....

The cash appeared to be mostly singles -- but still added up to several hundred dollars, judging from the size of the pile.
OK, let's stop there.

We're told that the Post reporter shot video of Hillman counting multiple stacks, but we only see him counting one in the video at the link (which I can't seem to embed). We're told that the stack is "mostly singles" but looks like "several hundred dollars." Here's a still from the video. Does this like "several hundred dollars" in "mostly singles"?

Is this guy scamming people? Sure, I guess -- and what a huge surprise that is! A beggar in New York City actually padded his resume of misery! Wow, the next thing you're going to tell me is that some of the beggars I've seen here in New York since the '70s who claimed to be Vietnam veterans didn't actually serve!

The preacher who helps Hillman out seems to agree with the Post's characterization of this as a "lucrative scam":
And, despite his lucrative scam, he insisted he wasn’t doing anything wrong....

But the Rev. John Graf of Bedminster, who pays Hillman’s utility bills and buys him phone cards, said it's wrong to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

"I don't want him conning me," said Graf, who has known Hillman since they were in fourth grade. "He promised me that he wouldn't do that."

Graf admitted his buddy has a history of working the streets.

"He's done it 10-plus years. He can make 1,000 bucks a day" even though "he's got 30 pairs of shoes at home," he said.
Really -- a thousand bucks a day? I rather doubt that. If I could make a thousand bucks a day, I sure as hell wouldn't be sitting in freaking Times Square in the winter in bare feet.

This guy may be conning people with a sob story, but he still has a screwed-up life. If, in fact, he makes princely sums at this -- and I'm unconvinced -- anybody see any hints here of where the money might conceivably be going? Here, I'll use boldface to give you a big, fat hint:
Hillman ... has rap sheets in New York and Pennsylvania that stretch back to the early 1980s.

He was most recently busted in New York City in 2008 for possession of a controlled substance.

He had a similar drug bust in 2003 and a number of charges in 2002 for harassment, menacing, criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, possession of stolen property and resisting arrest.

In 1998, he was pinched for public lewdness after allegedly masturbating in front of a crowd in Hamilton Heights.
You know who masturbates in public? People who have serious psychological problems. You know what people like that do when they don't have good jobs with excellent health insurance? They self-medicate. I don't know if that's Hillman's story, but it's a hell of a lot more plausible narrative than the Post's suggestion that this guy is living the glamorous life while spending large portions of his day begging with no shoes on.

Post op-ed columnist Michael Walsh spins this into a Grand Unified Theory of national corruption:
But then, Hillman’s just a piker when it comes to the rising culture of sham dependency that is rapidly turning this country from a nation of self-reliant citizens to shuffling pseudo-mendicants and conniving criminals who have one hand extended to collect government largesse while the other is busily picking your pocket.
The usual right-wing whines follow: increased disability claims, Medicare fraud (which, apparently, didn't exist before January 20, 2009), and of course Obamacare.

But you know who actually isn't "busily picking your pocket"? Jeffrey Hillman. He's a beggar -- you don't have to give to him. That preacher doesn't have to give to him. The cop didn't have to give him shoes. His donors are free citizens making free choices. I thought the right approved of that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


It looks as if the Defense of Marriage Act is likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court -- and after reading Politico's story on what's likely to take place if that happens, I'm pretty sure the GOP will be able to respond with some old, familiar talking points:
... Same-sex couples are excluded from federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the estate tax exemption and Social Security and Medicare payments for spouses.

That would all change if justices rule that DOMA, or the other law in question -- California's Proposition 8 -- violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

But along with new benefits would come a bigger tax bite, for some.

That's because of the so-called marriage penalty. When couples with relatively equal incomes file jointly, the tax breaks they receive often are not as great as if they were filing as single....

"The joint return is not going to provide them a benefit," University of Illinois law professor Richard Kaplan told POLITICO. Many same-sex couples "are in better shape right now by not being obligated to file a federal return as a married couple." ...

[But if] the IRS recognizes same-sex marriages, it will likely be revenue neutral or raise insignificant revenue, Kaplan predicted.

That's because while the government might collect more from joint filers, it would also owe these couples benefits it currently doesn't provide same-sex couples.

"Actually, the government could be paying out a lot more money, because some of these people will be getting benefits that they would not otherwise receive," Kaplan said....
The Republican spin? It's obvious:

Liberals love taxing people, so that why they support gay marriage: it means they can collect more taxes from gay people. And liberals also love making people dependent on government. Gay marriage means more taking collecting more government money and becoming more dependent.

I guarantee you will actually hear right-wing pundits making this argument.

What the hell is Sarah Palin's excuse for this video tribute to herself?

(Via The Political Carnival.)

Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff asks:
States are cracking down on abortion—and legalizing gay marriage. What gives?

Tuesday marked for a watershed day for gay rights activists as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case with the potential to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.

Across the country and 1,500 miles west of Washington, an equally notable event took place: North Dakota enacted the country's most restrictive abortion law, barring all procedures after six weeks.

For decades, support (or opposition) for gay marriage and abortion went hand in hand. They were the line-in-the-sand "values" issues that sharply divided the political parties.

Not anymore....
Kliff says it's because young people are much more supportive of gay marriage than older people, while there's been no similar generational shift on abortion. But why is that?

One reason, I think, is that LGBT people have fought relentlessly for respect and rights, especially since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. They've shouted and implored and appealed to the rest of the public's better nature. And they've maintained a sense of group identity -- they're very politically active on multiple fronts as an interest group. This really isn't happening anymore regarding abortion rights -- in large part because many people don't see any threat to legal abortion (often because, where they live, there is no real threat), there isn't an impassioned, organized societal bloc fighting to keep reproductive rights alive.

Elsewhere at The Washington Post, Matt Miller makes a similar point about gay rights:
Did you hear that Dick Cheney came out for universal health-care coverage after his uninsured daughter went bankrupt because she fell expensively ill?

Or that Sen. Rob Portman just proposed a big new program to guarantee great teachers for every child after finding out that his son had awful, untrained professors at Yale?

...Why is this issue different from all other progressive issues? Why has this one moved so quickly?

There are surely plenty of reasons, but the one that gets little attention is class.

It’s obvious but still bears underlining: When every economic and social class shares in the experience of injustice or intolerable wrongs, things change faster. If only poor people were gay, does anyone think our political leaders would have "evolved" at this pace? Likewise, if we had a draft, does anyone think our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have proceeded as they did?

... I never thought most Americans would support gay marriage before they supported, say, basic health insurance for every citizen. Or excellent teachers for every child. Or some minimally decent reward for full-time work....

Boy, was I wrong....
But gun violence has claimed upscale, prominent victims as well as poor and middle-class victims, and somehow there isn't unstoppable momentum toward gun control. On the other hand, Hispanics in America are, on average, less well off than whites, yet politicians are expressing great concern about issues deemed to matter to Hispanics.

Again, I think that when people regard themselves as an interest group, and make it known in the political arena that you ignore their group concerns at your peril, things change. On guns, gun-control proponents don't fight relentlessly as a bloc -- whereas pro-gunners absolutely do, which is why they win nearly all the time. Poor and working-class people don't vote and agitate as a bloc -- certainly not across racial lines. And so they're ignored.

I think members of a group need to be politicized, and not easily mollified. If politicians feared that women (or fertile womwen, or fertile heterosexuals of both genders) were highly attuned across the country to the reproductive-rights threat, they might fear punishment at the polls if they pushed for draconian abortion laws. If poor and middle-class voters routinely voted their class interests, politicians would fear crossing them.

Gay people (and their families and friends) have made it clear that they're politically engaged on gay issues. And that makes a big difference.

Adam Serwer on yesterday's oral arguments in the Supreme Court Prop 8 case:
When it came to same-sex couples who already have children, [plaintiffs' lawyer Charles] Cooper argued that some nebulous harm could come to children raised in same-sex families. But California already has thousands of children with same-sex parents, and it is unclear what interest is served by preventing those parents from marrying. Finally, Cooper argued, the tradition of marriage is really old and you never know what might happen if it is "redefin[ed]... as a genderless institution." Kagan asked Cooper what harm he could see happening to opposite-sex marriages. Once again, Cooper couldn't answer. Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote will likely decide the fate of Proposition 8, impatiently asked Cooper, "Are you conceding the point that there is no harm or denigration to traditional opposite-sex marriage couples?"

No, Cooper said, without providing any examples of harm. When asked by Justice Sonia Sotomayor whether states would also have an interest in legalizing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, Cooper, his voice trailing off, said, "I do not have anything to offer you in that regard." It felt like he had left the room.

Justice Antonin Scalia, trying to throw Cooper a life preserver, contended that there is "considerable disagreement among sociologists" whether or not being raised by same-sex couples is bad for kids. Actually, there's only disagreement if you count the work of sociologists hired by same-sex marriage opponents. The American Psychological Association has found that "lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children." And Scalia ... added the disclaimer, "I take no position on whether it is harmful or not."
If the wingers' hearts were really in this fight, they'd have massive amounts of evidence that gay marriage causes harm -- because they'd have made it up. They'd have done what they've done on climate change and guns. They'd be lavishly funding think tanks that are to gay marriage what the Heartland Institute and other well-funded climate-denial groups are to global warming. The disinformation generated by these groups would be on Fox News and in other winger media outlets every few days year round, and would flood the zone at key moments in the national debate. They'd try to groom a go-to "expert" who'd be on gay marriage what John Lott is on guns -- a tireless figures-lie-and-liars-figure propagandist who'll reliably show up whenever needed to reinforce the narrative with pseudo-science.

As Adam says, there is some effort to generate phony facts on this subjects -- but the big kahunas of the right-wing media don't seem motivated to catapult this propaganda at every possible opportunity. (Maybe the GOP doesn't want to lose too much of that sweet, sweet cash from gay-friendly Wall Streeters.) If the right really wanted to fight on this issue in its usual way, there'd be so many lies being promulgated that we'd barely be able to keep up.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Yes, modern conservatism is a cult, and no, its members are never going to stop engaging in cult behavior until they're deprogrammed:
Actor and director Jake McClain has taken on the monumental task of tweeting every single word of the 906-page "Obamacare" health reform law in hopes of drawing attention to the bill's content, which he argues is detrimental to the nation's fiscal health.

...[He made] it through the first 22 pages of the lengthy legislation in just four days. He tweeted Monday night that he would begin to tweet out the 23rd page on Tuesday morning, and the effort is drawing attention and admiration from many critics of the law.
Mr. McClain is a 34-year-old actor with a rather, um, thin resume -- four acting credits, one credit as a production assistant and one "special thanks." It's hard to imagine that any of his other work (e.g., his performance as "Choke Boy" in the apparently unreleased Communications Breakdown) could ever top his performance as a zombie (he's the guy on the right) in this episode of the Web series Two Naked Men Making a Sandwich (in the series, the rotating cast of naked men and occasionally naked women leave their aprons on, so the following is SFW):

So McClain hasn't exactly had a stellar career in entertainment -- but now his Obamacare project has been praised by higher-ups in the conservative cult:
He has already landed a spot on Mike Huckabees's radio show....
And now the project has gotten him a link at the Drudge Report. Can multiple interviews on Fox be far behind? Or the inevitable Jake McClain for President Facebook page?

If you want to experience this project -- which, let's not forget, is utterly insane and futile -- here's the Twitter feed.

The Supreme Court accepted two gay marriage cases a month after the 2012 election. Obviously, after President Obama was returned to office, the majority's hope was that these cases could be decided with as conservative a Court as possible, before the president could add any liberal justices. But I suspect that the politics of gay marriage are moving so fast, and in such a non-conservative direction, that Chief Justice Roberts doesn't see any good choices, at least in the Proposition 8 case.

The state of California refused to act as a plaintiff, so the plaintiffs are activists who fought for the state's ban on gay marriage. They seem to have had difficulty persuading the justices today that they themselves are harmed by gay marriage. And so, according to SCOTUSblog's Tom Goldstein, Roberts seemed to share the opinion of the Court's liberal members that the plaintiffs have no standing to sue, which would give the Court an opening to kick this can down the road:
Several Justices seriously doubt whether the petitioners defending Proposition 8 have "standing" to appeal the district court ruling invalidating the measure. These likely include not only more liberal members but also the Chief Justice. If standing is lacking, the Court would vacate the Ninth Circuit's decision.

... a majority (the Chief Justice plus the liberal members of the Court) could decide that the petitioners lack standing. That would vacate the Ninth Circuit's decision but leave in place the district court decision invalidating Proposition 8. Another case with different petitioners (perhaps a government official who did not want to administer a same-sex marriage) could come to the Supreme Court within two to three years, if the Justices were willing to hear it.
Another possibility is that there won't be a five-vote majority for either side, because Anthony Kennedy can't make up his mind:
Justice Kennedy seemed very unlikely to provide either side with the fifth vote needed to prevail. He was deeply concerned with the wisdom of acting now when in his view the social science of the effects of same-sex marriage is uncertain because it is so new. He also noted the doubts about the petitioners’ standing. So his suggestion was that the case should be dismissed.

... the Court may dismiss the case because of an inability to reach a majority. Justice Kennedy takes that view, and Justice Sotomayor indicated that she might join him. Others on the left may agree. That ruling would leave in place the Ninth Circuit's decision.
Did Roberts and his conservative confreres formerly hope to uphold the constitutionality of state bans on gay marriage, whereas now Roberts thinks that's potentially harmful to the GOP? Right now, nobody in the GOP establishment is sure what the shrewd play is if the party wants to win over new voters in the future without alienating old voters.

The Court's liberals don't seem to be itching to use the Prop 8 case as a way of declaring a constitutional right to gay marriage in all 50 states -- clearly they don't have a majority, and maybe they think they will in the not-too-distant future, but they may also agree with what David Cole wrote in New York Times op-ed today: that such a ruling would inspire a huge right-wing backlash. (I agree with that -- do you really think legislators and local officials in, say, Mississippi are going to take kindly to being compelled to allow gay marriage? And I wouldn't limit that to Mississippi -- I'd include Rust Belt states that still have lots of aging cultural conservatives, such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I don't want the 2014 midterms playing out under that cloud.)

I'm thinking that no one wants to touch this right now. And I don't think it's bad that this will play out in the states (especially now that the good guys are winning more and more).


OR AS THINK PROGRESS PUT IT: "The Justices Are Not Ready To Bring Marriage Equality To Alabama, And They Want Prop 8 To Go Away."


I don't know how effective Mike Bloomberg's new gun control ads will be. But in the New York Daily News -- the local tabloid that isn't run by Rupert Murdoch and is very much in favor of gun control -- the ads, correctly or otherwise, are being portrayed as having the potential to do more harm than good:
Mayor Bloomberg's $12 million ad blitz to drum up Senate support for background checks on all gun purchases could backfire, Senate strategists said Monday....

The push is causing headaches for Senate Democratic leaders who want to pass the legislation but worry that senators who vote for it could get bounced, which means Democrats might lose control of the Senate next year.

The leaders want to protect Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who are up for re-election next year in largely rural, gun-friendly states and are among those Bloomberg's ads target....
This could just be the usual cowardice of swing-state Democrats -- or Democrats in general. The ads focus exclusively on universal background checks, which we're told in poll after poll are overwhelmingly popular.

But a big problem here is that Bloomberg has made himself a huge part of the story. He's actually made himself more of the story than Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers have in the battles they've fought -- political junkies know who those guys are, but most Americans still don't. Bloomberg has been very, very public. He's made himself the face of this issue. Everyone in America knows that a victory for gun control would be a victory for him.

And he's a big-city East Coast billionaire. He's the guy who's literally trying to take away New Yorkers' large sodas -- a crusade for which he's been mocked by people across the political spectrum -- and at the same time he's trying to win a gun control victory he can't win unless he persuades heartlanders he's not trying to take away their guns. So he's not exactly the ideal messenger for this.

To me, the ads look reasonable -- but whoever made them apparently didn't notice that the gun owner who's shown calling for universal background checks spends the ads' entire duration with his finger on the trigger of his rifle, a violation of fundamental gun safety principles, and also seems to have the rifle pointed in a way that could threaten the kids playing in the background. All of this is self-righteously noted in a Washington Times op-ed that will surely go viral in the gun culture.

The safety principles in question are principles the NRA promotes, as a fig leaf for its main work of selling guns -- so this is the Real American NRA vs. ignorant big-city gun-grabber Bloomberg. This was an unforced error. If you're going to do an ad like this, you have to ensure that it can't be nitpicked this way. I've been lurking on right-wing Web sites for years -- pointing out logical and factual flaws in what gun control advocates say (they don't know the difference between a magazine and a clip!) is an incredibly effective techniques gunners have to build tribal solidarity and resentment of the outsider.

Bloomberg wants to be the guy who rides to the rescue and saves America from gun violence. Bloomberg wishes he could be president, and knows the polls show he could never win, and his highly visible role in this is his way of saying, See? This is how a president should lead. I'm doing what the president should do.

But what he should be doing is paying for focus groups to find out what might tarnish the NRA's apparently untarnishable luster in the heartland. It doesn't matter whether 90% of the country supports universal background checks if nearly half of that 90% still trusts the NRA, and if a lot of those folks still pay the dues that keep the NRA's propaganda flowing. And Bloomberg should back off -- Adelson and the Koch brothers failed in 2012 because they financed lousy ads, ads they would have found convincing, but swing voters didn't; Bloomberg is at risk of losing on guns because he's massaging his own ego in a different way, by making himself the embodiment of gun control.


UPDATE, THURSDAY, 3/28: As Media Matters notes, the gun isn't actually pointed in the direction of the kids and the finger isn't actually on the trigger. But as Media Matters also notes, this line of attack is spreading -- now it's being pushed on Fox. (Evidence and video at the link.)

Monday, March 25, 2013


Media Matters reports: writer Matt Boyle reported on the specific location where President Obama's teenage daughters are vacationing for spring break, ignoring the decades-old journalistic tradition that media outlets should not report on a president's minor children when they are not attending "official or semi-official events" for privacy and security reasons.
Similarly detailed stories about a trip taken by the Obama daughters were published in 2010 by AFP and Politico, but were subsequently subsequently deleted or edited.
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported at the time that this is part of a longstanding and informal agreement between successive administrations and the White House Correspondents' Association, and that "traditional news organizations have long abided by such arrangements"...
But, obviously, not Breitbart. (Its story is here.)

Simon Maloy of Media Matters tweets:

Well, that's not exactly true. It serves two purposes: it engenders economic anger against the Obamas (with an undercurrent of racial resentment), and it reinforces the right-wing meme that the spending cuts in the sequester could be painless to ordinary Americans if it weren't for waste and self-indulgence among the governing classes.

Here's the Free Republic thread in response to the Breitbart story. The Freepers immediately respond as they've been conditioned to:
The sequester is tough on everybody.


"Sequester for thee, but not for me!", so sayeth the Emperor.


Movin' on up.....


That would be pricess sasha and princess malia. Too bad about their parents. You know, king hussein and queen moochelle antoinette. (not sure, but hussein may be a/the queen but no doubt metro)


This stuff doesn't matter. Not in the least.

The people who voted Obama want a king. They want him and his family to be "big ballas" and live a privileged lifestyle. The Obama voters get a thrill out of seeing their king live large, showing whitey what it's all about.


So let me get this straight. Because some people who are now dead were rotten to other people who are now dead, the royal family feels entitled to live high off the hog at our expense.
I'll spare you the rest. But I think you'll agree that the "utility" of this is obvious.

According to Politico's lead story today, Paul Ryan's star has fallen this year as he's knuckled down to his job in the House; folks like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul seem to be getting all the 2016 buzz.

Part of the reason for Ryan's buzz decline, Politico tells us, is that he and his budgets are identified with (ick!) austerity. Did you know that the GOP is totally over its austerity thing? Well, it's true!
There's a growing desire on the part of Republicans to move away from the Washington wing of the party and the sort of austerity politics with which the congressional GOP has come to be defined.

Look at the remarks from individuals like Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and even Romney's remarks at CPAC: They all are nudging Republicans away from their spending fixation toward a growth orientation their governors personify.

"We must not become the party of austerity," says Jindal in his speeches. "We must become the party of growth."

... it isn't just them -- it's happening in Congress, too. Consider House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s recent effort at Republican rebranding, focusing on aspirational issues like education, and Rubio’s moves on immigration and college affordability.
Did you know this? Did you know that austerity was so last year as far as the GOP is concerned?

Of course, what the GOP is really trying to get away from is not austerity -- it's the perception of being the party of austerity. The GOP is still selling the same damn vulpine economic policies; it's just trying to dress them up in "Growth"-brand sheep's clothing.

So, yes, Bobby Jindal did seem to disdain austerity in a January speech. However, he said that a month or so after this:
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will announce $129 million in budget cuts Friday aimed at making up a revenue shortfall in the past six months of the state's fiscal year. The cuts are expected to fall heaviest on the state's higher education and health care systems, which have already seen significant cuts in recent years....

With this round of cuts, Jindal will have enacted mid-year budget reductions in each of his five years in office in response to revenue shortfalls. And, based on another set of revised projections approved Thursday, next year's state budget, which was already facing a nearly $1 billion shortfall could be about $207 million tighter....

"The only thing that's off the table is raising taxes," [Commissioner of Administration Kristy] Nichols said....
And, um, Eric Cantor is upset at being identified with austerity? Then maybe he ought to take this down from his Web site:

But if the GOP is going to engage in a totally phony rebranding effoert, then, dammit, Politico's going to catapult the propaganda. So I should just shut up and eat the spin.

Just ran across this story from late last week about gold lunacy in Texas:
Call it the Rick Perry gold rush: The governor wants to bring the state's gold reserves back from a New York vault to Texas.

And he may have legislative support to do it. Freshman Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, is carrying a bill that would establish the Texas Bullion Depository, a secure state-based bank to house $1 billion worth of gold bars owned by the University of Texas Investment Management Company, or UTIMCO, and currently stored by the Federal Reserve.
There'd be nothing wrong with Texas having physical possession of its own gold -- but, um, what's wrong with the status quo? Well, what's wrong with it is the usual right-wing fear/craving of apocalypse combined with the unscratchable Texas/Confederate itch for secession. The implication seems to be that the Civil War might start up again, or Texas might get an urge for goin', or Cyprus/Greece/Spain might happen in America (paranoid right-wingers are going crazy these days waiting for that shoe to drop -- they're like an economic doomsday cult). Um, frankly, if a meltdown that awful ever did come to America, the federal government might screw all kinds of people, but it sure as hell would protect the investment of Texas. But it's pleasing to crazy right-wingers to believe otherwise.

Ron Paul shows up in this story, of course:
... "If you think gold is a hedge, or a protection, you always want it as close to the individual and the entity as possible," [Ron] Paul told the Tribune on Thursday. "Texas is better served if it knows exactly where the gold is rather than depending on the security of the Federal Reserve."
Right -- you wouldn't want to trust the security of a podunk outfit like the Federal Reserve in New York.

America's other high-profile fruitcake gold bug also shows up in this story -- Governor Perry discussed this last Tuesday on Glenn Beck's radio show.

But you know who else wants this? Bidnessmen:
"Something on the scorecards of a lot of these businesses in deciding whether they want to come to Texas is stability and gold as being one of those items," Capriglione said.
Seriously? You're running a large corporation and you're as paranoid as a crank in Mom's basement listening to Beck and Alex Jones with Fox News blaring in the background? Is that why I'm not a wealthy entrepreneur -- I'm not paranoid enough?

Someday history will reckon with how right-wing media made a significant portion of this country clinically insane for decades. For now, the rest of us just have to live with the consequences.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Tell me again about how the Republican Party is the party that distrusts foreign policy interventionism:
There's mounting evidence that over the last two years the Assad regime has used "at least a small quantity" of chemical weapons against rebel forces in Syria's raging civil war, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said today on "Face the Nation," adding that the time is now for U.S. intervention.

... Rogers said the fact that President Bashar al-Assad has ordered scud missile attacks on civilians "in and of itself should prompt action." The "wholesale slaughter" of Syrian rebels and civilians, he said, "is now spilling up to the doorstep of Israel."

"This is a growing, destabilizing event in the Middle East," Rogers continued. "Our Arab League allies talk to us frequently, and they are as frustrated as I have seen them because of the lack of U.S. leadership at the time table." ...

Rogers said Mr. Obama "can do this in a way that doesn't lure the United States into a big, boots-on-the-ground conflict." Intervention, he said, "doesn't mean 101st Airborne Division and ships; it means small groups with special capabilities reengaging the opposition, so we can vet them, train them, equip them so they can be an effective fighting force."

"The president went to the Middle East and said, 'This is a hard decision: If I go in, it might be wrong, if I don't go in it might be wrong,'" Rogers said. "Indecision, in this case, is dangerous." ...
All the emoprogs who watched the Rand Paul drone filibuster and started dreaming of a Republican Party that's consistently -- or even regularly -- to the right of the Democrats were smoking crack. Rand and his dad have given the GOP a way to attack Democrats from the left, but their default position is always going to be to attack from the right, because "Democrat" will mean "1960s hippie" for as long as there's one angry white voter out there still thinks Jane Fonda urinal targets are the height of hilarity.

Ross Douthat's latest column is wrong and incoherent in ways that are hard to pin down, but let me try. Douthat believes that the failed Iraq War was a really lucky break for liberals:
History is too contingent to say that had there been no Iraq invasion in 2003, there would be no Democratic majority in 2012. (It's easy enough to imagine counterfactuals that might have put Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.) But the Democratic majority that we do have is a majority that the Iraq war created: its energy and strategies, its leadership and policy goals, and even its cultural advantages were forged in the backlash against George W. Bush's Middle East policies.

All those now-apologetic liberals who supported the war in 2003 are a big part of this story, because without their hawkishness there would have been no antiwar rebellion on the left -- no Michael Moore and Howard Dean, no Daily Kos and all its "netroots" imitators.

... Had the Iraq invasion turned out differently, this movement and the Democratic establishment might have spent a decade locked in conflict. But when the W.M.D. didn't turn up and the occupation turned into a fiasco, the two wings of the party made peace: the establishment embraced the grass roots' anti-Bush fervor, and the insurgents helped transform liberalism's infrastructure and organizing and communication.

This synthesis was then solidified by the Obama campaign....
I don't know which way to attack this argument first. Douthat seems to be suggesting that, absent the rise of the netroots, Democrats would never have won another presidential election -- this despite the fact that Democrats beat Republicans in the presidential popular vote in 1992, 1996, and 2000.

Also, what's Douthat's counterfactual? Is he asking us to imagine a world in which the Bushies were correct in their assessment of intelligence about WMDs and competent in their management of the war, even though the rest of the Bush presidency was an exercise in incompetence, from letting 9/11 happen to letting bin Laden get away to busting the budget to destroying the financial system, with Katrina incompetence along the way? Didn't America turn against Bush not because he screwed up Iraq, but because he screwed up everything? How do you filter just one failure out?

Douthat goes on to write:
But Obama didn't just benefit from the zeal that entered the Democratic Party through the antiwar movement; he also benefited from the domestic policy vacuum left by Bush's Iraq-ruined second term.

... once Bush's foreign policy credibility collapsed, his domestic political capital collapsed as well: moderates stopped working with him, conservatives rebelled, and the White House's planned second-term agenda -- Social Security reform, tax and health care reform, immigration overhaul -- never happened.
Douthat is flat-out wrong if he thinks there's a link between Bush's loss of foreign policy credibility and the failure of his Social Security overhaul. Bush put forward the Social Security proposal immediately after his second inaugural; by March 2005, the plan was so unpopular, with members of Congress and the general public, that it never had a chance. And yet at that time Bush still had approval ratings hovering around 50%. Bush's freefall in the polls didn't kill his Social Security plan; it really may have been Social Security, not Iraq, that led to Bush's poll plummet.

And by the time Bush was proposing immigration reform, the only people still generally on Bush's side were the right-wing end-timers -- and they're the ones who opposed him, while continuing to be unswervingly loyal to him on just about everything else. (They opposed him on this, Harriet Miers, and Dubai Ports World -- that's it.) Many of his supporters on immigration were Democrats who opposed him on most other issues. The politics of Iraq were irrelevant.

And then there's this from Douthat:
Nor is it a coincidence that [current] liberal policy victories have been accompanied by liberal gains in the culture wars.

...even though Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney weren't culture warriors or evangelical Christians, in the popular imagination their legacy of incompetence has become a reason to reject social conservatism as well. Just as the post-Vietnam Democrats came to be regarded as incompetent, wimpy and dangerously radical all at once, since 2004 the Bush administration's blunders -- the missing W.M.D., the botched occupation -- have been woven into a larger story about Youth and Science and Reason and Diversity triumphing over Old White Male Faith-Based Cluelessness.
But if we're talking about gay rights, remember that we're talking about a movement that made a great deal of progress during the Reagan era, an era otherwise marked by an extreme conservative backlash -- and that happened despite the AIDS epidemic and initial calls for action such as quarantine and tattooing of homosexuals.

And if we're going to talk about public revulsion against Republicans on issues of science vs. superstition, one name has to be mentioned (of course Douthat doesn't): that of Terri Schiavo. The public was revulsed by the Bush/GOP approach to the Schiavo case, and that had a significant impact on Bush's popularity. Once again, how do you imagine Bush administration competence on Iraq while also recalling that debacle?

Ultimately, the problem with Douthat's argument is that it tries to separate what Bush believed from how he carried it out. Yes, Bush screwed up, but a major reason he screwed up was that his ideas were wrong -- and they weren't just his ideas, they were mainstream Republican ideas: neocon attitudes toward Iraq, Social Security privatization, a religious-right approach to end-of-life issues, contempt for the largely non-white population of New Orleans, and, ultimately, a laissez-faire approach to financial regulation that destroyed the world economy. If an opposition party promoting different ideas went on to victory, it's because the public rejected many of the ideas of Bush conservatism as well as their execution, not because of one isolated debacle.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has died, allegedly a suicide because he had investments in Cyprus.

Berezovsky was, um, an interesting figure. In 1996, Forbes published an article about him titled "Godfather of the Kremlin?" -- the subtitle of which was "Power. Politics. Murder. Boris Berezovsky could teach the guys in Sicily a thing or two." Berezovsky didn't like the article's insinuation that he was involved in the murder of a Russian TV producer; he successfully sued, and Forbes denied linking him to the killing. The article's author, Paul Klebnikov, was subsequently murdered in Moscow.

Berezovsky also had business dealings with Neil Bush. From The Washington Post in 2005:
... In September, Neil Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, visited Latvia with Boris Berezovsky, a fugitive Russian tycoon who made millions in the violent scramble for control of Russian government assets after the fall of communism. Their mission, according to the Baltic Times, was educational -- promoting teaching software created by Bush's Texas-based firm, Ignite Learning.

The visit to the former Soviet republic earned lots of media attention in Eastern Europe and provoked an international incident....

Russian authorities asked Latvia to extradite Berezovsky, who has been indicted in Russia in connection with a $13 million fraud case, charges that Berezovsky says are politically inspired. "The request was ignored by Latvian law enforcement officials," the Baltic Times noted.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow distanced itself from the Neil Bush-Berezovsky visit, according to the St. Petersburg Times in Russia....

Berezovsky depicted himself as a business adviser to Bush, who founded Ignite Learning in 1999. "He asked me to think about possible projects in the regions that I know about." Berezovsky told the St. Petersburg Times....
Ignite profited from the No Child Left Behind law Neil's brother George W. signed when he was president, as the L.A. Times reported in 2006:
A company headed by President Bush's brother and partly owned by his parents is benefiting from Republican connections and federal dollars targeted for economically disadvantaged students under the No Child Left Behind Act.

With investments from his parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and other backers, Neil Bush's company, Ignite! Learning, has placed its products in 40 U.S. school districts and now plans to market internationally.

At least 13 U.S. school districts have used federal funds available through the president's signature education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, to buy Ignite's portable learning centers at $3,800 apiece.
The links to Neil's brother Jeb are harder to pin down, but Jeb has denied that Neil is profiting from Jeb's decision as governor to stress a standardized test for which Neil's company produces prep software. Oh, and Neil's company is called Ignite!, while Jeb's Foundation for Excellence in Education says its mission is to "ignite a movement of reform to transform American education."

If I had to bet, I'd say Jeb probably won't ever become president. But I could imagine him becoming secretary of education in a Rubio administration. And if he gets that gig, this is what I'll be thinking about.

In today's New York Times, Joe Nocera discusses new gun safety technology and expresses exasperation about resistance from the firearms community. But really, what does he expect?
For nearly two months, my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I have been publishing a daily blog in which we aggregate articles about shootings from the previous day. Of all the stories we link to, the ones I find hardest to read are those about young children who accidentally shoot themselves or another child.

... why can't we come up with a technology that would keep a gun from going off when it is being held by a child? Or, for that matter, by a thief using a stolen gun? Or an angry teenager who is plotting to use his parents' arsenal to wreak havoc in a mall?

It turns out -- why is this not a surprise? -- that such technologies already exist. A German company, Armartix, will soon be marketing a pistol that uses radio frequencies that prevent a gun from being used by anyone except its owner.... There are others who have invented similar technologies.

Why aren't these lifesaving technologies in widespread use? No surprise here, either: The usual irrational opposition from the National Rifle Association and gun absolutists, who claim, absurdly, that a gun that only can be fired by its owner somehow violates the Second Amendment....
Nocera talks to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Alan Boinus who thinks this acceptance will come:
"The market will prove this out," he said. "People want to be responsible. People want safety."
I don't believe that. As far as I can tell, the gun community doesn't want safety and doesn't want to be responsible -- not if we gun-grabbing liberals are the ones who seem to be defining safety and responsibility.

And that seems to be the case:
Last week, there were two important meetings about gun personalization technology. On March 13, in Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. met with several dozen advocates.... The purpose of the meeting was to get Holder up to speed on the technologies so he could make recommendations to President Obama.

The following day, in San Francisco, Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by citizens of Newtown, Conn., publicly launched its "innovation initiative" in collaboration with some Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs....

The innovation initiative, which will make grants, and even award prize money for good ideas, includes an emphasis on gun personalization technology.
If gun control advocates want the gun community to embrace this concept, they should stop promoting it. Otherwise it's going to wind up like green energy: many right-leaning heartlanders will never, ever embrace alternatives to fossil fuels for their homes and cars, no matter how much they may hate many of the countries that sell us those fossil fuels, because alternative energy is hippie-liberal technology. So, yeah, Saudis, keep taking our money.

Same thing here. You'd think, if done right, that biometrics would fit beautifully with the notions of personal autonomy that fuel the gun culture. It's my gun! I bought it to protect my family! Therefore I get to program in the identities of those who can use it! Freedom!

But no -- we're the ones who want this. So I strongly suspect that they never will.

Jim Treacher, Stacy McCain, and other folks in the right-wing peanut gallery are having great fun with this story (which comes from the U.K.'s less-than-reliable Daily Mail, but is being seconded by more reliable news outlets):
A state representative in Massachussetts is being investigated after allegedly sending pictures of his genitals to a government computer.

The investigation is ongoing and the committee has not formally reprimanded the individual in charge, but it is being widely reported that Democratic State Representative John Fresolo is the one behind the scandal.

... This is not his first scandal, as he has a history of violence towards his family members that has put him in trouble with social services.

In 2005 he reportedly physically abused his then-13-year-old daughter, and that came nearly a decade after he was arrested for beating his then-wife in 1996. She later dropped the charges.

Blogger Michele McPhee reports that he is now on paid administrative leave....
Treacher, McCain, et al. have made certain to include the word "Democrat" in their coverage of this story as often as humanly possible. McCain's headline is "The Other War on Women, or: It's Not Harassment When Democrats Do It."

Bullshit. Harassment is unacceptable. If the charges are accurate, I'll be delighted to watch this guy resign.

I'm disgusted that the guy is a Democrat in any case, but in what's mostly a one-party state, I guess that was the course of least resistance. I'm sorry he was unopposed in 2012 and 2010, and coasted to victory in 2008 -- but in 2004 and 2006, an ex-aide, Melissa Murgo, cleared 40% in unsuccessful runs against him. Murgo got a favorable 2006 write-up from Blue Mass Group, which also noted the charges of violence against his daughter and wife. From that Blue Mass Group story:
Recently, Fresolo got into hot water again, this time for claiming he had been endorsed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and saying he had graduated from Central New England College, which he had attended but did not complete.
And his positions? A few highlights:
Vote-Smart lists Fresolo's positions as...

* Anti-choice – he got a 0 from both NARAL and Planned Parenthood in 2005....

* Poor on women's issues, with NOW ratings of 40, 43, and 33....

* Rated 0% by Mass Voters for Clean Elections and 0% by Common Cause

* Opposed to gun control, with consistent A's from the NRA...

According to the Mass Scorecard, Fresolo's record includes votes for instituting the death penalty, against allowing parents on welfare to go back to school, against bilingual education, for extending the corporate tax credit for 5 years, against funding stem cell research, and for the amendment banning gay marriage (twice)....
More recently, he got an 83% rating and an A- from the NRA, and a 0 from NARAL.

Democrat? The hell with him -- you can have him, Republicans.