September 27, 2010

The GOP’s Worthless “Pledge” to America

Ever since the media descended on that little hardware store that shall now live in infamy to listen to some of the Teapublican Party’s most worthless representatives unveil their so-called “pledge” to America, I’ve been itching to take it apart piece by piece. Thankfully, a number of other great writers have done so for me, and called out the pledge for what it is – at best a shell of empty promises the Republicans simply can’t keep, and at worst a malicious plan to cripple the American middle class, shovel tons of money into the hands of the Republicans’ best friends, and pull money back from the areas that the American government should be investing in most heavily right now, like education and job training.

But the Republicans, as always, see things differently – mostly through a lens of “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell,” which results in a legislative agenda that does nothing in the good times and actually reverses public progress and common good in the worst times; and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Over at The Washington Monthly (and reposted at AlterNet) was a fantastic piece calling the pledge out as the sham that it was – snake-oil designed to make Tea Partiers and people who are disenchanted with the fact that this hole the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress during the Clinton Administration dug is deeper than they have patience for turn out to the polls:

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn’t even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the “Pledge,” presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren’t just the “party of no”; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of “party of ideas.”

But that’s precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we’re confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

That sounds about right, but there’s definitely more:

Ezra Klein’s take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they’re wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they’ve succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the “Pledge to America.”

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn’t even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

In fact, the Republicans’ “pledge” would rob the coffers of K-12 education by millions upon millions of dollars thanks to drastic cuts in public education, but it wouldn’t strike a dime from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Defense Department’s budget, or their own salaries. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

[ GOP’s New ‘Pledge to America’: A Pathetic, Destructive Sham ]
Source: The Washington Monthly (courtesy of AlterNet)

But the beat goes on: over at the Campaign for America’s Future, RJ Eskow calls out the “pledge” for pretending it’s fiscally sound and that it’s aiming at bloated government spending when it’s really a ruse for deep cuts to public programs that are unpopular with Republicans and their Tea Party ilk: programs like health care, education, and social services. He writes:

Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich – at everybody else’s expense. Their “pledge” would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public’s health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We’d face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That’s the future they’re offering. It’s Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on … you. If you like today’s economy, you’ll love the one these guys are cooking up.

If this document wasn’t written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there’s a lot for them to love.

He doesn’t waste time diving right into some of the same laughable notions that came up in the Washington Monthly piece – things so laughable that they couldn’t possibly ever become public policy in America unless the American people like shooting themselves in the foot (although the rise of the Tea Party and the “ignorance is bliss” political movement gives me pause to wonder if they’re not the case):

Where would they cut, exactly? They don’t say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: “Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?”

Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won’t: They’re going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won’t just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” also means ending the repair work that’s currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren’t listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice … you see where this is going, don’t you? (Yes, the Justice Department’s on the list. Law enforcement isn’t always a convenient thing in their America.)

Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states—states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they’ll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.

Why not rename this pledge the “fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan”?

The Pledge also promises to give “small businesses” a tax deduction equal to “20 percent of their business income” – but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of “small business” includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.

This “deficit-conscious” plan wants to expand the “military/industrial welfare state,” too. “We are a nation at war,” it says, calling to “fully fund” a missile defense system that’s already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don’t think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We’ve already spent more than $60 billion on the “Star Wars” missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that’s nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!

They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that’s “crowding out the private economy.” That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies—from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.

And while their rhetoric’s pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.” (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: “Agenda” is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn’t fit. It’s like writing “When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement …”)

Here’s the bottom line: They’ll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This “pledge” is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.

Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.

Seriously people, remember this when you head to the polls. There may be no way to heal this wound in time for the elections, but there’s definitely time to stop the bleeding so we can continue the work of repairing the damage that these same people – and then the people who inspired the worst of them that are rising to influence – have caused and are eagerly planning to cause.

[ GOP’s “Pledge” To Rob The Middle Class: No Jobs, No Health Care, No Security ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

August 30, 2010

The Backlash Against Obama’s Blackness

The beauty of this piece is that it calls out the Tea Party and their thuggish leadership and financial backers for being essentially what they are – a loosely organized group of people whose platform stands entirely on and for hatred and intolerance. There’s no political ideology behind them, and there’s no real conservative set of ideals either. Observe:

The August madness into which America has descended is about several things. It’s about the still-sputtering economy, of course, and the fear it engenders. It’s about xenophobia, never far below the surface. And it’s about a rightwing media-political complex that plays on the public’s ignorance.

But there’s a unifying theme that few wish to acknowledge. What we are witnessing at the moment is the full, ugly furore of white backlash, aimed directly and indirectly at our first black president.

The case was made, inadvertently, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last week by Republican congressman-turned-lobbyist Dick Armey, the godfather of what might be called the Tea Party movement’s corporate wing. Armey and his co-author, Matt Kibbe, proudly dated the birth of the Tea Party to 9 February 2009.

Barack Obama’s $800m stimulus bill was not approved until three days later. Which is my point. The most notorious political movement of the Obama era, grounded in racial fears if not flat-out racism, sprung into being within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, before he’d had a chance to do anything, really. If Obama was for it, they were against it.

The Tea Party winter and spring of 2009 led to the “death panels” of summer, and to rightwing hero Glenn Beck’s declaration that the president harboured “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture”. Minor issues involving Acorn, a heretofore obscure agency that helped register urban, mostly minority voters, became a cause célèbre. A little-known African American bureaucrat, Van Jones, was hounded out of office for having allegedly expressed offensive views about the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 – views he later said he had never voiced and did not hold. Protesters spat upon and directed racial epithets at African American congressmen as the healthcare debate reached its climax.

And now we come to the full fruition of all this race-baiting. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 18% of Americans – and 34% of conservative Republicans – believe Obama is a Muslim, proportions that have actually risen since the 2008 campaign. Another poll, by CNN/Opinion Research, finds that 41% of Republicans believe Obama was definitely or probably not born in the United States.

It’s something of a sad summation, and proof positive that more progressive groups, as opposed to paying attention to their pet causes, should rally together to help control the message and spin a bit. When you have an “opposition” who stands not to inspire ideas or call to action but instead to do nothing but bait and inflame the masses, you need a voice of reason on the other side of the line – and the halls of government can’t do it, they have a job to do in terms of keeping our democracy running, and they would only be perceived as defending themselves from attacks by the people. The American people – the True Majority – need to stand up and end the silence that’s allowed this hatred to bloom as much as it already has. For example:

But to experience the pure fury, you have to watch this video of a black man who had the temerity to walk through a group of people protesting the centre. It is a terrifying moment.

There is more – so much more. The anti-immigration law approved in Arizona, which made a star of Republican governor Jan Brewer, notwithstanding the inconvenient truth that illegal immigration across the Mexico-Arizona border is at its lowest level in years. The political crucifixion of Shirley Sherrod. The continuing phenomenon of Sarah Palin, who, at long last, feels empowered enough to reach inside the deepest, darkest recesses of her tiny little heart and embrace a fellow rightwinger’s repeated use of the N-word.

It’s a frightening time to be an American and to watch this insanity unfolding all around us. There’s a sense that anything could happen, none of it good.

What’s all too easy to forget is that though Obama was elected with the strongest majority of any president in recent years, he received only 43% of the white vote. Now, it’s true that no Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has won a majority of whites. But it’s also true that 100% of voters who would never support a black presidential candidate cast their ballots for someone other than Obama. Now they’re roaming the countryside, egged on by the Republican party and the Tea Party and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, looking for new objects on which to unload their bitterness.

The traditional media, built as they are on the notion of fair-minded coverage of equally responsible, equally reasonable political forces, can barely process what’s going on. You literally cannot understand the current moment without watching the political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But, hey, they’re only comedians.

Strangely, there are virtually no political observers who hold out the prospect that the folks whom the right has alienated will turn out to vote against the Republicans this November. George W Bush, after all, worked mightily to appeal to Latino voters. That’s gone. Bush even won 70% of the Muslim vote in 2000. That’s long gone.

The Republicans hope to ride the white backlash back to power, and perhaps they will. But they may also find that the hatred they have embraced will come back to haunt them this November – and well beyond. For the rest of us, though, the consequences of that hatred have yet to play out.

And that’s the clincher: there’s nothing to make us believe that any of these rabid tea partiers will actually turn out to vote. These people had nothing but hatred in their hearts from the moment that President Obama took office – there’s no way they could be somehow against his platform, opposed to his policies, or prefer a different course of action in government. There were none of those things when they formed, and they had already lit their torches and tied up their nooses before the Bible he was sworn in on was put back into safe keeping.

There have been a few surprise primaries lately, but they’re primaries, and mostly in areas where any representative with fire in their bellies and money in their pockets can overturn an incumbent or play to the beliefs of their base and their party. The truth will come in November, and while I don’t expect it to be completely positive news, I do hope that it plays out moderately well for our country.

[The Backlash Against Obama’s Blackness ]
Source: The Guardian UK

Barking at the Sun, and Other Glenn Beck Hijinks

By now, the completely unremarkable crowd of about 2500 people who descended on Washington DC to the utter and prompt annoyance of us locals, complete with their attitudes of ownership of the city and their privilege (seriously, these folks assumed that because they were white and “proud” so much that they wouldn’t have to actually, you know – spend money to get around town on the Metro) are all gone, leaving the rest of us to go back to the duties at hand that are important to the fate and future of our Republic.

Behind them in their wake, aside from the trash they left behind on the streets and lawns of Washington and the stench of their putrid ideology in the air, they leave behind questions about why Sarah Palin can’t seem to speak in public ever and make a coherent sentence, and why Glenn Beck ever hid behind his so-called “divine providence” that led the event to be on the same day at Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 47 years ago.

There are a couple of reasons behind this, but I think Henry Rollins said it best and with finer words and a finer point than I could hope to put on it in a recent blog post at Vanity Fair:

I get the feeling that this pitiful gathering will be more about angry white people who think they have lost something. These are people who can’t handle the fact that with time, things change. The restoration of honor they strive for is nothing more than regaining a perceived position of superiority they feel is rightfully theirs, that has been taken away. Who took it? The Muslim from Kenya? Liberals? Activist judges? Probably.

Glenn Beck has told his followers not to bring signs. Smart thinking. He knows his demographic well. He knows that there would have been some atrocious sentiments expressed on those signs. Not that Fox News would carry the images, but certainly real news outlets would have. Had the signs been present, would anyone be surprised at what they said? You know what this grouping of woefully misinformed and willfully ignorant participants is all about. It’s not about honor, it’s not about freedom, and it’s definitely not about what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for and died for. It is about white anger, indignation, desperation and severe plot loss. Their numbers will be few. Many of them have to be bussed in, perhaps unable to even find the nation’s capital on their own. It is yet another pathetic exercise of a small group of people whose beliefs are regressive and repellent. They are only left with their hate, ignorance, and fear. This non-event is their moment to bark at the sun.

[ Comedy Critic’s Choice: Glenn Beck’s Restoration of Honor ]
Source: Vanity Fair

I think that’s absolutely well put, and even after the event, Henry Rollins felt bad for him more than he thought the event or the speeches were contemplative in any fashion, and I wholeheartedly agree. Conservatives in general put up a lot of bluster and pomp and circumstance, but at the end of the event, what were the tea partiers supposed to go home with? What were they supposed to do, except be themselves? How were they supposed to go about “Restoring Honor” in their communities?

After Mr. Beck had mercifully ended his speech and the man in the kilt came onto the stage playing Amazing Grace, it fully registered with me what a huge non-event this was. The speech, full of references to God, over and over, possessed not one concrete thing to take away. When the people who were at this event get back to their normal lives this week, what changes will they make? What steps will they take to restore honor? Seems to me there would be no place for racism or homophobia in the life of an honorable American, so I guess we won’t be having to deal with any more of that. Mr. Beck wants his people to make God the central force in their lives. Does that mean they get all generous, tolerant, and kind now? Cool.

When was the honor lost? Operation Ajax in 1953? The bitter opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964? The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968? The covert bombing raids into Cambodia in 1969? Watergate? The invasion and occupation of Iraq? I am not listing president Clinton and his sexcapades because no one was killed, although millions of dollars were wasted. So, were these instances where America lost some traction on the honor-highway? Or perhaps it was things like the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that abolished child labor and established a minimum wage or Social Security that pushed America off the shining path to honor?

So, Citizen of the Republic, what are you going to do to make a change? What is your resolution to the restoration of America’s lost honor? More prayer? Tithing? Perhaps maybe even reading some of the speeches of Abraham Lincoln? Where is the next stop, great restorer of honor? To Florida for the 9/11/2010 Koran burning, perhaps?

[ Pity, I Guess ]
Source: Vanity Fair

This makes me think about Sarah Palin’s speech, where she – true to her own “did anyone actually read this before she opened her mouth” style, claimed that she and her followers are resistant to change, and instead they want to “preserve” America in the image of its past. Which of course amounts to changing the way it is today. But they don’t want change, they want to preserve….by changing it from what it is today. You see the problem?

Like Rollins says, the entire thing amounts to saber-rattling on the part of the far right, which sadly does nothing except get them out to the polls, which could be bad enough for the future of our country, frankly.

These folks don’t have ideas on how to improve our communities, our schools, our jobs, or our environment – ideas and thinking are their strong suit. What they do have, is a lot of anger, hatred, and bluster, and a deep-seated fear of the changing demographics, dynamics, and power structure of America in the 21st century. They see their old standby, privilege, slowly being eroded in favor of equal opportunity and equal rights, and they fear it and hate it with the same fervor as a infant whose rattle has been taken away. And they behave as such.

It’s up to the rest of them to note the fact, marginalize them, and move on without them. We must.

August 23, 2010

Rebutting Climate Science Disinformer Talking Points in a Single Line

This one’s well worth reading, especially if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to defend the place of science as a primary motivator of decision making in public life. All too often we wind up hearing about people who drag out ancient, disproven, or unproven statements about climate science to try and claim that global climate change isn’t happening, or if it is happening that it’s somehow natural and has nothing to do with human activity on Earth.

Of course, anyone with any sense who’s been following actual research on the matter (see Real Climate) will know otherwise, but this piece over at Climate Progress has a series of fantastic one-liners to rebut these kinds of lies and half-truths instantly:

Progressives should know the most commonly used arguments by the disinformers and doubters — and how to answer them. You should know as much of the science behind those rebuttals as possible, and a great place to start is SkepticalScience.com.

BUT most of the time your best response is to give the pithiest response possible, and then refer people to a specific website that has a more detailed scientific explanation with links to the original science. That’s because usually those you are talking to are rarely in a position to adjudicate scientific arguments. Indeed, they would probably tune out. Also, unless you know the science cold, you are as likely as not to make a misstatement.

Physicist John Cook has done us a great service by posting good one-line responses, which I repost with links below. For instance, if somebody raises the standard talking point that the climate has changed before, you can say, “Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time, which now is dominated by humans.”

Fantastic. There are dozens of these too – I almost wish they could be printed out on a small card and given to people who, you know, live in fact-based reality. They’re glorious.

[ Rebutting Climate Science Disinformer Talking Points in a Single Line ]
Source: Climate Progress

Conservatives Try to Smear Islam the Way they Smear Judaism, but Voters don’t Care

I’ve been pretty quiet about the matter of the community center near ground zero that everyone is calling a “mosque,” when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. I’ve also been quiet because logically it doesn’t make sense to care so much about a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, because if people cared so much about such things they would have shut down the other community centers nearby, the strip club nearby, and just about everything else the conservative right could work themselves into a lather over that’s just as close or closer than the community center that’s being planned for the region.

Sadly, it’s just another example of first – how there’s a small group of very vocal people who are still trying to use a tragic event in American history that occured almost 10 years ago to benefit themselves both monetarily and to their own political gain, with no respect for the events of the day or the people who died, and how there’s a small group of people who are still trying to use that same event to steer political policy in a way that retains their power and privilege, making sure that Americans live in the same state of fear we experienced that day – only now backed with a strong dose of hatred against a minority group that, the way the Germans did with the Jewish people after World War I, are easily blamed for all of society’s ills and dangers without demand of evidence.

Over at Tablet Magazine, Daniel Luban explains why this is exactly the issue at hand, and why this isn’t about one community center, this isn’t about a mosque, this is about the rampant Islamaphobia that’s spread out from the ignorance and bigotry of Americans far from New York City and is sweeping the nation thanks to the fervent push from the conservative right to actively deny and smother education to the contrary:

After Abraham Foxman waded into the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy,opposing plans to construct an Islamic community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, the Anti-Defamation League chief was assailed by critics who charged that the ADL was giving license to bigotry and betraying its historic mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” A week after initially coming out against the mosque, Foxman announced that the ADL was bowing out of the controversy, but the damage to the group’s reputation had been done.

The problem for the ADL is that there simply isn’t much anti-Semitism of consequence in the United States these days. While anti-Semitism continues to thrive elsewhere in the world and to molder on the fringes of American society, Jews have by now been fully assimilated into the American ruling class and into the mainstream of American life.

At the same time, many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

Heard this story before? Of course you have – it’s what led to the Germans locking up Jewish families and barricading Jewish communities during the early years of World War II. Now I normally hate to Godwin’s Law up any discussion like this, but the parallels are too close to ignore – and the frothing hatred is starting to get to that eerie fever pitch where an entire group of people are to be subjugated to culling and retribution by the masses because of the actions of a few. The last time I saw behavior like this was in the 1970s and 1980s when the conservative right, largely White Americans, were outraged at the so-called epidemic of “Black on White crime,” while killings among and between other minority groups went largely ignored. I fear we’ll see the same apathy until the drug war simmering in Mexico spills over enough to take White American lives; then Latinos may find themselves bundled up with Muslims.

Here’s the clincher though – voters really don’t care. Over at The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel points out some interesting statistics about recent polls:

Pundits and politicians are working themselves into hysteria over a mosque near Ground Zero. But this election won’t be about mosques in Manhattan. It won’t even be about the deficit, really. It will be about manufacturing on Main Street, and which party can talk effectively about the progressive solutions Americans desire.

Not surprisingly, polls from Gallup to the Wall Street Journal show Americans are worried most about the economy and jobs. And a just-released poll—from progressive outfits Campaign for America’s Future and Democracy Corps with sponsorship from MoveOn.org Political Action and two labor unions—gives a more detailed look at what voters are looking for. Respondents, in particular the “rising American electorate” —youth, single women and minorities that constitute a majority of voters and are President Obama’s most supportive base—support bold steps for renewing the economy.

The poll tested a range of messages, with the greatest support for one calling for “rebuilding infrastructure” and another calling for constructing “an economy on a new foundation”—that is, investing in education and a 21st century infrastructure, leading in the green industrial revolution and balancing our trade.

But what about that deficit? Americans worry about the deficit, but less for reasons usually given by deficit hawks than because they think it may get in the way of creating jobs and of protecting Social Security. The poll shows equal support for a five-year plan to revive America’s industry and a five-year plan to cut deficits—and in equal intensity. The two are linked. Put people to work and revive manufacturing, and you will bring the deficit down. Bring the deficit down, and you’ll help put people to work.

And by large margins, Americans don’t think deficit-cutting should include cuts in the federal benefits workers have already fought to get. It is widely rumored, for example, that President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission is considering raising the retirement age on Social Security as part of a deficit-reduction plan. It better think again. Poll respondents want Social Security and Medicare protected. Over 60 percent of Republicans, of independents and of Democrats oppose raising the retirement age on Social Security—or Medicare, for that matter. Similarly, when AARP asked if Social Security should be cut as a “way to help reduce the federal deficit,” 72 percent of respondents were strongly opposed.

Proof of the matter is that right now, the American people care more about the economy and jobs, and care enough in an intelligent way, that it’s safer to say “It’s the economy, stupid,” and that the President is doing the right thing by dismissing the entire controversy about the community center in Lower Manhattan as exactly what it is – an arbitrary attempt by a few bigoted people who are more interested in carrying the American flag for their own benefit and trampling the graves of those who died on 9/11 in a rush for their own personal and political gain than it is any substantive controversy or matter of concern. He points instead at the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as a shining example of exactly why such a community center should be built, over all opposition.

He’s right – but the conservative right in America has never listened to reason over the voices of hatred in their own heads – it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they listen to us and our voices at the polls instead.

[ Rage Against Islam: The New Anti-Semitism ]
Source: Tablet Magazine (courtesy of AlterNet)

[ It’s About Main Street, Not the Mosque ]
Source: The Nation

June 14, 2010

Americans Have Worse Opinion of Tea Parties Than Ever Before

From the “about time” department, the American people are starting to see in front of their eyes exactly what the Tea Party “movement” is, something I’ve been saying for a while, a gathering of political thugs with torches and pitchforks and no real understanding of politics, history, or the world outside of their own windows – unless that world is shown to them through the fine, bright, whitened lens of Glenn Beck and Fox News.

Devona Walker has some thoughts on the matter:

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that whatever populist hypnosis many Americans were under when the Tea Party folks first came onto the scene may now finally be wearing off. The poll says that now the percentage of Americans who hold an unfavorable view of the movement has jumped from 39 percent to 50 percent. The group that has led the drop has been a collapse in support from 18 to 29-year-olds. In March, they had a positive, 43-38 view of the Tea Party. But now they’ve shifted in the other way, to a negative view, 27-60.

Who can we thank for that? Perhaps it was Rand Paul and his insanely unrealistic worldview that government cannot police racism, and that parts of the U.S. Civil Rights Act should be repealed. Perhaps, it’s because the Tea Party is losing some of its independent luster, as people realize that folks like Dick Armey are behind the curtains pulling the purse strings.

True enough – and I have to admit, the political dramady that is Rand Paul is hilarious and fantastic to watch, but here’s the real breakdown:

But the biggest credit belongs to the Tea Party itself. You see this whole mantra of small government and freedom, which only works in a society where there is corporate altruism. That place does not exist. If the BP oil spill has proved one thing, that is you cannot have a government that is intimately connected to industry. Think of the BP oil spill and all of those secret meetings that former Vice President Dick Cheney had with the oil industry in developing energy policies. Think of that fact that Cheney went from being the top brass at Haliburton, who is actually partly to blame for the leak in the Gulf coast to running the country. Think about the fact the Bush and Cheney era Treasury Secretary was a former executive at Goldman Sachs.

For the Tea Party folks to appeal to most reasonable-minded people, you have to accept that industry, that corporations are less threatening than government. You could make the argument that government is perhaps incompetent when it comes to policing corporations, you can also make a damn good argument that they are too influenced by corporations, but you can’t really say they are more threatening.

The truth is, it ain’t your guns and the government you need to fear, but Haliburton, British Petroleum, Bank of America, etc. And they could care less about your guns, they are coming for your life’s blood: the air you breath, the ocean, the land. They want it all.

[ Americans Have Worse Opinion of Tea Parties Than Ever Before ]
Source: AlterNet

June 1, 2010

The Party of “No” is Officially Now the Party of “No Clue”

Over at AlterNet, Devona Walker has an excellent dissection of the Republican Party’s “opposition” to President Obama and the progressive movement in America today: it’s not so much about actually coming up with ideas of their own, it’s not about coming up with solutions to the problems that America is facing, it’s not about providing an actual alternative to the Democrats in power, it’s about stalling, obstructionism, and blockading.

The thing that the Republicans have forgotten is that this is the same mentality that lost them seats in 2006 and 2008, and lost them the Presidential election in 2008: they’re devoid of ideas, governance, and moral direction – all they know how to do when in power is give away money and power to their friends:

Ever since the 2008 presidential election, the GOP has positioned itself firmly as the opposition party. Opposed to everything and clearly unable to deliver any policies on their own. Republican legislators have had a laser focus on one thing; regaining control of Congress. They are unwilling to see past that and that has made them entirely useless as it relates to legislating.

In fact, Republican Whip Eric Cantor admitted as much to the Washington Post. He said the Republican Party’s approach to the Obama agenda is “just saying no.”

So what do they do now that they’re out of ideas? They wade back into their horrible attempts at crowd-sourcing ideas by building a website where people can suggest the things they want to be American policy direction. And again, as the Republicans always find out when they do things like this, that their “base” are really the dregs of American society and that they represent the fringe of American politics – not the mainstream. For example:

Well, now the Repbulicans have outdone themselves. Their new scheme to regaining the political majority in Congress and reclaiming the White House? A website. Americanspeakingout.com, they are hailing as “revolutionary” in its democratization of the political process.

Here’s the plan: We, citizens make policy suggestions, vote on them, then the most popular policy suggestions, Republicans claim, they will take to Congress and turn into law. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich framed the idea as the first step in the process of remaking a Contract with America — a set of policy proposals that Ginrich pulled together back in 1994 and led to the Republican takeover of Congress.

One suggestion, so far, has been to repeal section II of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Another suggestion: Keep closer tabs on Muslim-Americans than other citizens. And here’s this gem: “When my ansestors came to this country, they knew that GOD had given it to them and not the animals that was here before. It makes me sick to see this scum pullutin our godly values with there heathen ways. all forerners must leave or die!”

But here’s the real problem. Doesn’t this website illustrate the very thing that many Americans suspect is wrong with the GOP, that it is void of ideas and clueless when it comes to moving this country forward?

Here’s the other obvious problem with the site, it’s not revolutionary. What do they think the netroots have been doing on the left for the past several years. Well, the site is already being mocked for that: DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said in statement that “only House Republicans would think that talking with the American people is an ‘unprecedented new initiative.’”

If that’s not proof that representative democracy is absolutely essential to keep the mindless hordes from trampling on the rights and liberties of minorities, I don’t know what is. But even that statement gives these people too much credit – it implies that there are lots of people who share this belief. I’m sure there are some, but they’re by no means a majority in any sense, even likely within the Republican party. But the problem is that the Republicans are listening to these folks, and these are the folks who are turning out to elect their Libertarian and Tea Party brethren – not only do the American people need to be kept safe from wingnuts like this, but you could argue that for the Republican party to really remian as a viable alternative party in any sense that they need to be stopped from cannibalizing themselves like this.

Regardless, the poor Republican party, completely out of ideas, turns to their base for feedback and what do they get in return? Racism, hatred, and intolerance. Fitting.

[ The Party of “No” is Officially Now the Party of “No Clue” ]
Source: AlterNet

May 24, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?

A number of other blogs and sites have had a great time bashing poor Rand Paul these days, and while I’ve been sitting back and watching the whole thing happen, I can’t help but laugh and join in.

This is the same man who said – and was forced to significantly backtrack from – that not only would he have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which ensured Black Americans had the unfettered right to vote and ended segregation and the policies of the Jim Crow south – but that he also had reservations about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The way he characterized his remarks implied that he would also have issues with the Lucy Ledbetter “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Act, with the right of women to vote, and just about any other Federal law that protects basic human rights in America without exemptions for private industry.

I think J Smooth said it best in this video about Rand Paul and his beliefs:

He’s absolutely and utterly correct, of course – and while he’ll stop short of saying that Rand Paul is racist, I think it goes back to another one of his videos that describes the difference between being a racist and saying or doing something that is racist. One is calling someone out on their behavior, the other is a character judgement you simply can’t make – and I think that’s Rand’s issue – he’s doing things that pave the way and open the doors to institutional racism, but is he a racist? Can’t say – all I can say is that his ideals and policies support institutional racism and he clearly prefers those policies to actual people.

What’s that? You haven’t seen the interview to which J Smooth is referring? Rachel Maddow has the lowdown on her blog, where she corrects a New York Times story on Paul and links to her own interview where Paul does some artful dodging of pointed questions:

[ New York Times gets Rand Paul wrong ]
Source: The Maddow Blog

Still, over at TruthDig, the venerable Robert Scheer – writing before the explosion of idiocy that’s been spewing from Rand Paul’s mouth like so much BP oil into the Gulf of Mexico, asks the question, “Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?” and pointing out both sides of why we should be concerned about him – not because of the so-called rise of the Tea Partiers, because they’re willing to elect anyone who embodies their rage without checking to see whether they actually share that person’s beliefs, clearly – but because they may prove a way for fringe and extreme right-wingers to get elected. But in the long run, at least he’s not a traditional Republican, right?

Tuesday’s election results were pretty good for progressives. The retirement of that windbag chameleon Sen. Arlen Specter is long overdue, and pro-labor forces were able to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. Even the big tea party win in Kentucky has its bright side.

Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.

[ Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul? ]
Source: TruthDig

Scheer tries desperately to make the best out of the election of Paul, which could very easily have been spun positively, but since he’s outed himself as anything but libertarian and more of a fringe-right corporatist when the pressure is on and only libertarian when it comes to revoking human rights by law and instead preferring the law of the market to rule not just business life but all life, I doubt even Scheer could defend him now.

Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, completely dissects Rand Paul’s attempt to be libertarian and winding up father right than most Republicans, specifically with regards to his desire to let BP off the hook entirely for the oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico:

Rand Paul’s supporters argue that his greatest flaw is his relentless honesty. In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gushed that “Far from being evasive, Paul has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault.”

But in an Appearance on Good Morning America, Paul proved that he is just another corporate-power-loving wing-nut who believes companies can do no harm, and there’s nothing principled or libertarian about that stance.

As Matt Corley reported earlier, Paul said Obama’s promise to put his “boot heel on the throat of BP” was “un-American.” He mused that it was an example of our “blame game society,” in which “it’s always got to be someone’s fault,” and added: “maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

The context here is important. Obama was talking about forcing BP to accept full liability for its actions. Libertarians believe that we are all autonomous agents who should be free to make our own rational choices, and then we must take responsibility for the results of the decisions we make. BP has caused billions and billions in damages to others, and its liability for the mess is capped at just $75 million plus the actual costs of the clean-up (but since BP will likely be found negligent in operating the rig, those caps are not necessarily going to apply).

Along the way, the company made choices. Its managers chose to drill in 5,000 feet of water, and then cut corners in terms of safety not only on the Horizon, but as a general operating principle. They made a rational decision to drill with a blow-out preventer that had a dead battery and was effectively “useless.” And they chose not to invest a half million dollars in a back-up system that might have prevented the worst damages.

That’s right – 11 people died on that rig from a completely preventable explosion and now near immeasurable damage is being done to the ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico – and as rare and unusual as it is for such a thing to happen, Rand Paul wants to chalk it up to an “accident” and move on without looking into it any further or holding anyone accountable for their actions. This is the kind of behavior I would expect from a Tea Partier or a webertarian (eg, the ignorant, mom’s-basement libertarians that troll YouTube and Reddit), but not someone who actually understands and wears the label of libertarian.

Holland continues:

The people of the Gulf whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the spill had no say in those decisions. It’s what economists call a “negative externality” — effects of a private transaction on a 3rd party. True libertarians believe that government’s only role should be to keep the peace and to correct market failures when they occur. Negative externalities represent the classic market failure.

Libertarians believe the government doesn’t need to regulate — to, for example, force oil-rig operators to have redundant systems and tightly monitor their safety routines — because the market will punish those actors who make the wrong choices. BP, according to the “logic” of the free market, should now bear the full burden for the results of the choices it made. Libertarians believe that when a free individual makes choices that harm others, litigation from other private actors will result. That’s known as “private enforcement,” and true libertarians argue that it is far preferable to “public enforcement,” AKA regulation.

I have a whole chapter in my book about how ours is a political culture that embraces the idea of free markets, but only in principle. BP made those choices I mentioned above because they were the economically rational things to do — they knew that if they destroyed a large swath of the Gulf Mexico in the process, they wouldn’t end up paying for it in its entirety, so management could rationally take more risk than they would have in a real free market system.

If Rand Paul were truly a principled libertarian, he’d be out in front of Obama, demanding that BP take full responsibility for its actions because it’s the free market thing to do. Instead, he dismisses the whole notion of taking responsibility for one’s decisions with an airy statement that “accidents happen.”

That makes Rand Paul just another Republican whose first instinct is to bow down in obeisance to the corporations that he apparently believes can do no harm — they only suffer “accidents” — even while thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak into the Gulf.

That about sums it up – Paul is completely willing to shield BP from the ramifications the market will take on their actions, when in reality what he would be doing if he were remotely libertarian. But then, this psuedo-libertarian scourge goes all the way back to his father – the man that Robert Scheer was trying in vain to defend in some regard, which I wrote about at length in my column The Ronulan Menace back when he was running for President.

Will this nonsense be the end of us all or the dooming of American politics? Not likely, especially as long as people like Paul pretend that he doesn’t have another election to win come November and keep his foot firmly planted in his mouth, but even if he does win that Kentucky senate seat, he’ll be so fringe he’ll likely find his time in Washington short either by will of the poeple or his own inevitable weakness.

In the interim though, it all makes for excellent, if not facepalm-worthy, political theatre.

[ That Was Fast — Rand Paul Throws Libertarian “Principles” Out the Window ]
Source: AlterNet

May 17, 2010

What’s Really Behind the Conservative Movement? Fear

A glorious short post by devonawalker over at Alternet’s Speakeasy that I think is glorious enough to capture in most of its entirety, but it points straight to the heart of what so many conservatives in America are thinking these days: nothing. That’s the point – they’re not thinking, and when confronted with their radical beliefs, they’ll be the first people to back down from them – what’s really behind this so-called “movement” is fear – fear of change, fear of progress, fear of a future that looks different from their past.

Do teabaggers really believe Obama is a socialist? Do they really believe someone is taking theircountry away from them? Did they really believe that kanard about death panels? Do birthers honestly believe the President is some Kenyan Manchurian candidate?

Behind all of these entirely illogical suppositions is fear. As I was looking at recent Census projections it occurred to me what they fear is diversity. They fear not being the single most dominant culture in this country. They fear the day they will no longer be able to force thier culture, their religion and their own ideas about liberty down our throats. They fear the future.

It just so happens that President Obama represents every element of this cultural fear. His father’s Kenyan heritage and citizenship makes him a first generation immigrant in the eyes of some. He’s the product of race mixing. He’s black. He’s way smarter than the white guy who previously held the office, and perhaps this is the scariest thing of all: He charmed the pants off the country during the 2008 election. Nothing, not the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, not calling his wife names, calling him a welfare thug, nothing appears to be able to ruffle the guy’s feathers. What they fear most is that maybe, just maybe the black man can do the job, and maybe, just maybe race really doesn’t matter.

Absolutely perfect. Kudos to devonawalker for distilling it so perfectly.

[ What’s Really Behind the Conservative Movement? Fear ]
Source: AlterNet