Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You Can't Get There From Here

Reading liberal blogs, it's pretty clear that Social Security is as sacrosanct there as defense spending is to the right wingers. These are the two issues that will define the debate over fiscal responsibility, party faith, and willingness to do what democracy demands; namely, compromise. These are, in other words, the reefs on which we will finally and fatally run aground.

Of the many reasons I'm still glad Barack Obama is president, his pragmatism and lack (RWS™ lies and teabagger credulity notwithstanding) of doctrinaire partisanship are at the top of the list. Because if we're ever to get our financial affairs in order, we'll need leaders willing to take the hard stands and to advocate for what will work. It's what Obama does. Unfortunately, it's anathema to the extremes of both parties. To the left, he does it too much; to the right, all evidence to the contrary, he doesn't do it at all. (I think it's what's called projection.)

Robert Gates, to his credit (and credit to Obama for keeping him), is willing to buck his party mantras and the brass and advocate for defense cuts (albeit, so far, not huge ones). Obama, I'm sure, would be willing to piss off his base (he's done it many times) and accept some kind of cuts to Social Security. The question is whether there are enough people in Congress to take the hard stands to get it done. The answer, I'm all but certain, is "Yer outta yer friggin' mind."

Do we really still need bases in Germany? In Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Netherlands, UK, Italy? How about virtually all fifty states? If we do need them, is the necessary number twenty or more in Japan, Germany, and California? How many Navy ships, how many missiles, how much spent on unproven Reagan-era Star Wars? These are not fatuous questions.

Likewise, do Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Frank Drackman need Social Security and Medicare? Given the increase in life expectancy since Social Security was enacted, is it completely off the table that retirement age be increased? Or, at least, that benefits be indexed to means? That the lid on withholding be lifted? Similar questions, of course, must be asked about Medicare.

At the fringes I see no more willingness to compromise in liberals (who, I generally believe, are more reality-based than conservatives, the representatives of whom, during the unlamented Bush years, famously claimed "we make our own reality"), and it's simply not tenable. On either side. It's why I'm also glad Alan Simpson, crazy ideologue that he is, is on the deficit reduction commission. If they come up with recommendations that both he and Erskine Bowles and the rest of them can sign off on, it will mean compromise has been accomplished and that both sides came toward the middle. The perfect contract, I've heard it said, is one in which both parties think they got screwed.

As impossible as that might be, the concept of Congress accepting the commission's recommendations is nearly unthinkable. The screamers of both sides will demagogue it to its death. (Which is not to ignore which party has been willing to do the compromising so far, and from what side are coming the vilest screams.) The deficit hawkishness of the current campaigns will disappear like teabags in a dumpster. Or cats.

On some level, it'll be interesting, especially to the adequately medicated. We are witnessing -- unless the tenor of the times reverses faster than physics allow -- the collapse of the myth of democracy, of the sort of politics that rose above the shallow mongering of stupid memes (vacation time, mosques, birth certificates, death panels, communist liberal America-haters) to do what was necessary. It's easier to believe lies and to fall back on the comfortable cushion of hate than to face problems squarely on the merits, pitch in, dispense with scapegoatism and pettiness. Fox "news" and the RWS™ figured that out a long time ago, and are getting very, very rich on it.

The voodoo deceptions of no tax, no regulations were easy to swallow when the inevitable was far enough off that the consequences could be ignored. But the attendant selfish ignorance has become enshrined and hawked effectively enough by the RWS™ and Fox "news" to have uprooted the ideas of shared sacrifice and common ground on which democracy depends.

Zero sum has become zero chance.

[Update, 9/2: yup.]

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Beckoning

If blogging is an exercise in egotism, then what's it called when you rent the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of one of the most important speeches in American history, and use the occasion to proclaim that by the force of your personal perfection, it marks the moment when the country turns back to God?

I doubt I have anything to say about the Glenngasm that hasn't already been said, other than it finally occurred to me what the origin was of the calls I kept getting that were ID'd only as 828.

Despite not having a lot to add, I'll say I'm still waiting for an answer to my question: if, out of respect to those who object, the non-mosque at non-ground-zero shouldn't be built, what's the counter argument, vis á vis Beckopalypse and those who considered the day and place sacrosanct?

Okay, I guess I do have to ask: in what way has our honor been lost, and by what means shall it be restored? Did the dishonor start when we let black people live in the White House, or was it when we opened Gitmo? Did it have anything to do with Abu Ghraib, or is it just the attempt to provide health care for all? Will we get it back when we get rid of all Muslims in America, or will outlawing gay marriage once and for all do the trick? As we turn to God, what will he whisper in our collective ear? Is he still into the "love thy neighbor" thing or, like the flock at the 'flecting pool, has he moved on from that namby-pamby liberal crap?

Nor is it exactly as if this country has turned away from God, especially the one to which the Beckofoxians would have us genuflect. There's no country in the West that even approaches our claimed levels of belief or our houses of worship per capita; nor the percent that disbelieve evolution or consider the Bible literally true. So what the hell is he talking about? The fact that so many people eat pork and shellfish, and fail to stone their kids to death? Turn back to God. As opposed to what? The purpose of a self-centered event produced by a egomaniacal lunatic is to get people to do what they've already done. Weird, isn't it? Sort of a microcosm: the anger at what isn't.

What is really on the minds of that virtually all-white crowd? What part of their country do they want back, and, like the dog that chases the car, what will they do with it when they get it? Clearly, they don't want the dirty parts; the ones with Mexicans and gays and Muslims. Shouldn't their signs read "I want certain parts of my country back, preferably without having to pay for them, please. Or govern them."

I did note the comments of one attendee and they were cogent: the federal government, he said, should only be there to protect us, and to help us when we need it. Otherwise, he added, everything should be up to the states. Okay. That's a clear statement of classic states rights and old-school conservatism, and I get it. Arguments can be made, and have been, by intelligent people. It's at the very heart of the debate over our founding documents; where one falls along the spectrum defines (or used to, anyway) the extent to which one is a liberal or a conservative. I'd much rather have that discussion than to abide people whose only position is that they don't like what's happening, and whose only suggestion is to cut taxes, along with other ideas that would actually make things worse. And, in their spare time, to deny marriage rights to gays.

I'd like to hear what that Beckophile thinks constitutes help, and what defines need. And whether he thinks there's a federal interest, say, in food and drug safety, or would rather it be left to the kids who are taught in young-earth creationist schools that science is evil, and grow up to run his state.

Update: sticky wicket?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Well Said

Probably a breach of blotiquette, not to mention the law, I'm just going to reprint in its entirety this piece. It says everything, hitting all the important notes I've tried to play. Everything I've been saying, he says; but in a respected and widely-read venue, not to mention in gooder writing than I's. So here it is (and what could be a more appropriate day than this one in D.C.):

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

AUGUST 25, 2010, 8:30 PM

Building a Nation of Know-Nothings

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.

Having shed much of his dignity, core convictions and reputation for straight talk, Senator John McCain won his primary on Tuesday against the flat-earth wing of his party. Now McCain can go search for his lost character, which was last on display late in his 2008 campaign for president.

Remember the moment: a woman with matted hair and a shaky voice rose to express her doubts about Barack Obama. “I have read about him,” she said, “and he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

McCain was quick to knock down the lie. “No, ma’am,” he said, “he’s a decent family man, a citizen.”

That ill-informed woman — her head stuffed with fabrications that could be disproved by a pre-schooler — now makes up a representative third or more of the Republican party. It’s not just that 46 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

Take a look at Tuesday night’s box score in the baseball game between New York and Toronto. The Yankees won, 11-5. Now look at the weather summary, showing a high of 71 for New York. The score and temperature are not subject to debate.

Yet a president’s birthday or whether he was even in the White House on the day TARP was passed are apparently open questions. A growing segment of the party poised to take control of Congress has bought into denial of the basic truths of Barack Obama’s life. What’s more, this astonishing level of willful ignorance has come about largely by design, and has been aided by a press afraid to call out the primary architects of the lies. [Emphasis mine.]

The Democrats may deserve to lose in November. They have been terrible at trying to explain who they stand for and the larger goal of their governance. But if they lose, it should be because their policies are unpopular or ill-conceived — not because millions of people believe a lie. [Me, again.]

In the much-discussed Pew poll reporting the spike in ignorance, those who believe Obama to be Muslim say they got their information from the media. But no reputable news agency — that is, fact-based, one that corrects its errors quickly — has spread such inaccuracies.

So where is this “media?” Two sources, and they are — no surprise here — the usual suspects. The first, of course, is Rush Limbaugh, who claims the largest radio audience in the land among the microphone demagogues, and his word is Biblical among Republicans. A few quick examples of the Limbaugh method:

“Tomorrow is Obama’s birthday — not that we’ve seen any proof of that,” he said on Aug. 3. “They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday; we haven’t seen any proof of that.”

Of course, there is proof as clear as that baseball box score. Look here, www.factcheck.org, for starters, one of many places posting Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate.

On the Muslim deception, Limbaugh has sprinkled lie dust all over the place. “Obama says he’s a Christian, but where’s the evidence?” he said on Aug. 19. He has repeatedly called the president “imam Obama,” and said, “I’m just throwing things out there, folks, because people are questioning his Christianity.”

You see how he works. He drops in suggestions, hints, notes that “people are questioning” things. The design is to make Obama un-American. Then he says it’s a tweak, a provocation. He says this as a preemptive way to keep the press from calling him out. And it works; long profiles of Limbaugh have largely gone easy on him.

Once Limbaugh has planted a lie, a prominent politician can pick it up, with little nuance. So, over the weekend, Kim Lehman, one of Iowa’s two Republican National Committee members, went public with doubts on Obama’s Christianity. Of course, she was not condemned by party leaders.

It’s curious, also, that any felon, drug addict, or recovering hedonist can loudly proclaim a sudden embrace of Jesus and be welcomed without doubt by leaders of the religious right. But a thoughtful Christian like Obama is still distrusted.

“I am a devout Christian,” Obama told Christianity Today in 2008. “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That’s not enough, apparently, for Rev. Franklin Graham, the partisan son of the great evangelical leader, who said last week that Obama was “born a Muslim because of the religious seed passed on from his father.”

Actually, he was born from two non-practicing parents, and his Kenyan father was absent for all of his upbringing. Obama came to his Christianity like millions of people, through searching and questioning.

Finally, there is Fox News, whose parent company has given $1 million to Republican causes this year but still masquerades as a legitimate source of news. [Yep.] Their chat and opinion programs spread innuendo daily. The founder of Politifact, another nonpartisan referee to the daily rumble, said two of the site’s five most popular items on its Truth-o-meter are corrections of Glenn Beck.

Beck tosses off enough half-truths in a month to keep Politifact working overtime. Of late, he has gone after Michelle Obama, whose vacation in Spain was “just for her and approximately 40 of her friends.” Limbaugh had a similar line, saying the First Lady “is taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms at a five-star hotel — paid for by you.”

The White House said Michelle Obama and her daughter Sasha were accompanied by just a few friends — and they paid their own costs. But, wink, wink, the damage is done. He’s Muslim and foreign. She’s living the luxe life on your dime. They don’t even have to mention race. The code words do it for them.

Climate-change denial is a special category all its own. Once on the fringe, dismissal of scientific consensus is now an article of faith among leading Republicans, again taking their cue from Limbaugh and Fox. [Yes, e. m.]

It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier. [Irony mine.]

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present? [Me: We know the answer, I've said it: they're literally killing us all.]

Note: In an earlier version of this piece, a statistic for the percentage of Republicans who believe the president is Muslim was given wrong; it has been corrected.

Of course, it's in the NYT which means it'll be dismissed, without as much as the depolarization of a single axon, by the true believers. Why listen to reason when you have Rush, and Glenn, and Sarah?

Friday, August 27, 2010

All The News That Fits

Man Of La Manchuria

A person I know writes to me and says,

What drives me nuts with you, honestly, is that you cannot see that BO is here by design, from his handlers in Islamic nations who financed his election, who paid for his campaign, to cut us down and destroy us as a nation. He is a Muslim or at least a black Marxist fundamentalist extremist...with a smooth delivery and a good looking face which bought your dollars and those of Soros and others.

I'm quite certain he's serious.

So let's consider how this works: clearly the indoctrination would have had to start when he was in Indonesia, when he lived amongst them; probably at that non-denominational school. Maybe, even, they selected his father in Kenya; probably would have had to, really. So then they must have also picked his mom, back here in the USA, and somehow got her to comply. For the sake of brevity, I'll not detail how either of those must have been pulled off.

So, lessee, then what? Well, for starters they had to be so sure they had the right baby, they planted news of his birth in Hawaii, and put the fix in, forty years later, with the Republican governor of that state to lie about seeing a piece of paper. They selected a black kid because back then it was clear that, while the US was still hosing blacks and siccing dogs on them, by the time he grew up we'd be ready to elect one. They did this, I suppose, because it was a surer thing than picking a white Muslim.

Somewhere along the line they convinced him, against his fervent Muslim beliefs, that it was worth it, for the deception, that he and his whole family would be going to hell in order to get him to eat pork and drink alcohol, marry outside his religion, get his kids baptized. Strong stuff, but, hey, who needs virgins: unless they re-grow their hymenoptera, he'd be done with them in a couple of months. Black guy: maybe a couple of days.

Then, the same guys who were so prescient and powerful had to get their Manchurian candidate into Columbia, Harvard, get him on the law review, then elected president of it. (Would it have been the same guys, or, by then, their progeny?) Turn down a million dollar job to head back to Chicago. Not a problem; I know I'd have. Hooking him up with a minister who'd later be reviled was a brilliant move; somehow they just knew it wouldn't affect his electoral chances. After all, they also picked the shoe bomber and the underpants guy.

Which is where the true brilliance comes in: first, they have him run against a really big name in Chicago politics, and get trounced. That, they figure, should naturally get him to the US Senate within a couple of years. In order to do that, they engineered the marital infidelity of his main opponent, and then -- the most brilliant stroke of all -- got Alan Keyes to carpetbag his way into the race and run the most ridiculous campaign of all time. Smooth. (Come to think of it, there'd have been no way they could have been certain of this nefarious plan unless they'd chosen what's-his-name [Ryan] long since, too, and cultivated in him his penchant for infidelity. On the other hand, it can't have been hard to convince Keyes of anything crazy, so they knew they had that in the bag years earlier.)

And here's the best part: in order throw us off the track so he could "cut us down and destroy us as a nation," they hypnotized him into saving the US auto industry, making us the last western country finally to provide health care for its citizens (I admit I'm a little suspicious here, because he did it by enriching Republican health care CEOs, including ones who've paid billions in fines to the government for their frauds), and, for the first time since our recent wars, providing somewhat adequate help to our vets. And, just to really nail it down, improve our electrical grid, set aside money for high speed rail and alternative fuels and research on electric cars; and give money to states to save the jobs of teachers, cops, and firefighters. Dastardly, that. It sure as hell fooled me.

Which brings me to my response to my emailer:

In fact, there's more evidence that GW Bush is an al Queda plant, given that everything he did in his presidency served their purposes and weakened America while handing AQ more recruits than they could handle. What wreckage there was left, smoking and dying, at the end of his eight years of reign: economy in shambles, military exhausted (and its wounded uncared for), while his oil buddies (and their Arab cohorts) made out like Ted Haggard with a pretty boy. Coincidence? And the historical coziness of the Bush family to the bin Laden family does nothing to diminish the theory. So, you pick your conspiracy, and I'll pick mine. Except mine has facts to support it (and even so, I don't believe it.)
So, who's right? Teabaggers notwithstanding, certain facts are pretty clear: the state of the union at the end of Bush's presidency was immeasurably worse than when he started, by any standard you can name; and, by nearly all measures, the state of America now is better than when Obama began. Not all that great, but better than the disaster that was his baseline. Auto companies, stock market, military care, health care, banks, Wall Street regulations... all to the gooder. The one thing that's clearly worse is deficit/debt. But Obama's portion thereof is small compared to that of GWB: and GWB's deficits didn't need to happen. They were all about greed and voodoo economics, as his dad once so accurately argued. Virtually all economists agree Obama's had to -- and of his critics, many are saying he didn't go far enough, rescue-wise. And let's not forget: Obama has consistently said that when the time is right, deficits will be addressed. He even appointed this guy to get working on it. Bush, on the other hand, through the guy who pullled his strings, repeatedly told us "deficits don't matter." (A chestnut carried forward even now, by those most loudly railing against them: turns out it's deficits created by tax cuts for the wealthy that don't matter.)

There are lots of bad things I believe about Obama: he caved too easily to Congressional Rs on the stimulus, over and over; his health care plan gives away too much of our money to insurance companies; he should have stood up to the Gitmo nimbys; he shouldn't have continued GWB's rendition policies; he should get the heck out of Afghanistan or do a much better job of explaining why we need to stay (especially since the CIA just announced the biggest AQ threat now resides in Yemen); he should have forcefully defended the location of the non-ground zero non-mosque and explained why.... there's more, too.

But the idea that he's a Muslim or any sort of extremist, bent on destroying the country, is laughable on its face (how can you be an extremist when you have both political extremes in this country pissed off at you?) and dishonors anyone who claims it.

But maybe the emailer was kidding.

(He wasn't.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Got this in the mail the other day. My peeps. Joe doesn't look all that happy about it, though.

The Hate Monger

Words from Imam Feisal Rauf, just now, in Bahrain:

"Bahrain is already a bridge but we need to put more traffic on it," he told a group of religious experts representing Islam, Christianity and Judaism, at the majlis of Gulf Council for Foreign Relations chairman Dr Mansoor Al Arayedh in Segaiya.

"How many Americans know Bahrain has a US naval base and a Christian and Jewish community and that Bahraini Ambassador to the US Huda Nonoo is Jewish?

"How many Muslims know there is a sizeable community of Shi'ites in Bahrain? So we need to be more proactive in educating Muslims."


"We are Christians, Jews and Muslims, but one of our faults is instead of worshipping God, we worship our religion and use that to cause division between us," said Imam Feisal.

"The sense of brotherhood and unity that the prophets had for each other as servants of the true God is the primary lesson we should all learn.

"The demand is on us (Muslims) to feel a special brotherhood with the Christian and Jewish faiths and certainly our own.

"We shouldn't see differences, but see the differences that unite us and are part of one theme.

"It's time we also saw that if we followed the laws of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed they were not opposed to each other."

This, lest anyone not know it, is the guy the Foxobeckains would have us believe is a terrorist.

[On a somewhat related note, here's a question for those that claim the mosque issue is about respect for "hallowed ground" (to which there are strip clubs and fast-food joints closer than the proposed center): What shall you say to those, including MLK III, who are offended by and see as deeply disrespectful Glenn Beck's self-aggrandizing stunt at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech? Just askin'.]

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Between Darkness And Light

The best I can say about those that oppose the so-called mosque at so-called ground zero is that they've been played like Glen Hansard's guitar. "I'm not prejudiced," they claim. Right here, even, in comments. Okay. Like Mitch McConnell, who takes President Obama "at his word" that he's not a Muslim, I'll do likewise toward their claim. Although it's hard to say which ought to be more shameful: bearing prejudice and hatred towards those of differing religions, or the dullish credulity that allows them to be manipulated so easily by people with cynical agendæ. Either way. Take your pick. You're bringing us down.

But the real issue here, as I've tried to say many ways, is the shallowness and self-centered hatred that underlies the movement (and not just the anti-mosquers. Teabaggers, too, and their golden calves.) Manipulated or just dumb, these are not nice people, these mosquovites, these mosquitoes. These are NOT people who believe in one of the most foundational principles of the country they claim to love. Love. Right.

And it's not trivial, as some would suggest. It's fundamental.

Opponents of the Park51 Islamic community center held a rally yesterday in Lower Manhattan, and a 4-minute video, posted below, reveals the true sentiments behind this campaign. It has little to do with The Hallowed Ground of the World Trade Center -- that's just the pretext -- and everything to do with animosity toward Muslims. I dislike the tactic of singling out one or two objectionable people or signs at a march or rally in order to disparage the event itself. That's not what this video is. Rather, it shows the collective sentiment of those gathered, as well as what's driving the broader national backlash against mosques and Muslims far beyond Ground Zero.
Anyone not in a coma has already seen it, but below is what the writer is referring to.

What an ugly people we are becoming. Americans, constitutional scholars.

Time was -- so I'm told -- when hard times brought people together. We are so far asunder now we'll never make it back. And, far be it from me to pick a side here, but the ugliness is pretty much entirely on the right of late. The upcoming elections are, quite literally in my view, about choosing dark versus light. About selfish hatred and fear, about ignoring the needs of a country in favor only of oneself, succumbing to lies and deliberate deceptions so that the powerful will keep more of their money; or about looking above and beyond and being willing to reach out to people in need, to buttress ourselves by claiming higher ground ("we won't build a mosque here until they can build a synagogue in Saudi Arabia" -- what high standards they have!), to take the harder path required of us to save ourselves. Not to mention the earth.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I'm serious. I don't think it's ever been more clear what the two major parties stand for, and how they intend to get there. One: facing facts, trying to do the hard stuff, aiming to provide for the needs of the people and the planet on which they live (and, no, they haven't been perfect, or free of pandering or lilliness of liver); the other: desperate to protect narrow interests (meaning, of course, their ability to keep riding the escalator to ever greater gaps between their wealth and everyone else's) and willing to lie and deceive to get there. Theirs. To use whatever hateful means necessary, appealing (successfully) to the basest in us, to create an electorate foolish enough to do their bidding while thinking they're doing something else entirely. It could not be more clear.

It's one thing to disagree or to be disappointed in Obama's programs. In many ways, that describes me. But he's trying to deal with enormous problems, born of the very failures to which the right wing wants us to return. Why? Because they've made out like bandits every time Republicans were in charge. It's not in their interest to help; the things that the country needs might make them go from unimaginably rich to merely filthy rich. It's not by accident that the teabaggers are created and funded by billionaires, and run by a Republican hack pretending to be a grass roots guy. Unbelievable that they've pulled the pashmina over so many eyes; but hardly accidental.

I lost more money in the market crash than I'll ever pay in taxes. I don't love taxes, I don't like regulations that encumber me. I like to drive fast. But I'd rather see some regulations, and even pay more in taxes, if it would stabilize our economy and make another crash -- and personal loss -- less likely. I don't blame immigrants for our problems. I think our economy will be better off if Americans aren't going bankrupt over health care; the worse off "they" are, the more at risk I am. So I'm willing to pay taxes for that. And roads. On which I wish I could drive faster.

I think Muslims like Osama and the Taliban are lower than scum, but I don't hate all Muslims. I don't hate all Christians, either, for that matter. But I don't think much of the ones who were at that rally, shouting about Sharia while wanting their own form of theocracy.

The division in this country is between people who think like me and who think like those at the rally. And whereas I realize not everyone who disagrees with me is like those people, they are remaining deathly silent, because they're convinced those who think like me, ie willing to sacrifice to a higher good, are more dangerous than those haters. Or, to put it another way, they don't want to face the fact that they've been fed a load since Ronald Reagan told them what they want to hear: government is the problem; people in need are lazy and undeserving, you can think only of yourselves, and have it all. For yourself. For free.

Things are bad; but not, evidently, bad enough for people to abandon discredited rationales for selfishness. I don't doubt that we'll be moving to the dark come November. The time is coming when the realization will be unavoidable; but by then, it'll be too late.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


For some reason, I can no longer embed clips of The Daily Show. They work in my preview mode, but when I try to publish, I get an HTML error message. It's a shame, because Jon Stewart has been excellent of late. So, here's a link to last night's opening, in which he addresses the fundamental question of our time: is Fox "news" evil, or is it just stupid?

It's definitely worth a watch; most especially for [you know who] those that consider Fox credible in any way.

Siege Mentality

One of the crazier of the R congresspeople (a comparative around which it's hard to get one's mind) says the US is "under siege" by terrorists.* Now, I'm no scholar but when I hear the word "siege" I think of a place, a village maybe, surrounded by enemies, communications cut off, running out of food, its survival in question. So I think the guy may be a little over the top.

Which is exactly where he and the rest of the RWS™ want us all to be.

Of course terrorism is real, and a threat. But to the extent that we are "under siege," it's a mentality created and nurtured by our disingenuous right wing. Fear is all they've got. And they'll use it without shame, secure in the knowledge that they have a full-time propaganda machine ready and more than willing to promote and distort to an audience too steeped in desire to be deluded to care.

To the average American, which is more likely to happen: personal bankruptcy from health care costs, or death at the hands of a terrorist? Defaulting on a mortgage, or capture by al Queda? In this plane of existence, what would be the sequence of events that could lead to radical Muslims -- even were they able to suitcase a nuke into a city -- taking over our country? And yet we've managed to let ourselves be shoved into reverse while heading forward, because of a few insane-cynical-desperate-powerstarved screamers.

It's not hard to understand: demagoguery has become the stock-in-trade of the current Republican leadership. Fear is their commodity of choice, it fills their booth in the marketplace. Right next to House O' Hatred. If they can find a phony cause, they'll whip it like a preacher in leather (or a senator in diapers). Because if people stopped being scared, where would the current so-called conservatives be?

Credit to President Obama for speaking out, when polls indicate 70% of the country disagrees with him. He knew he'd be pilloried, and he was. It's political bravery on his part. It's what America has always stood for; and it's a mark of shame for the country as it succumbs to the mongering and lies of the right wing. [Then he waffled a little.] [Of course it doesn't matter what he says. It will be demagogued. Which is the disappointing part: Obama still thinks there are people among the right-wing leadership who are open to reasonableness.]

What a pathetic bunch are the congressional Rs: like kids on Halloween, they're beside themselves with glee. The mosque will be a campaign issue across the country. And they won't even feel embarrassed at their lack of political importance. But, of course, it'll work. It's who we've become.

Frank Rich points out how the screamers at Fox "news" have betrayed General Petraeus and may have made their favorite war unwinnable.
Here’s what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the “ground zero mosque” just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they’re wielding is not merely pounding Park51, as the project is known, but is demolishing America’s already frail support for that war, which is dedicated to nation-building in a nation whose most conspicuous asset besides opium is actual mosques.

So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right — abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats — that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

It's worth reading the whole piece (published days after I'd written most of this one), because it reveals the naked cynicism of the Fox crusade against the mosque. Hint: they were for it before they were against it. Non-surprise comment to teabaggers: you're being played. Again. And you'll never learn, because you don't want to. Also: you're really really ugly people.

And here's another very thoughtful and accurate statement, not at all unlike what I've been saying, by a US Senator from the state of my birth:
.... Some have also argued that the construction of the mosque would hand a propaganda victory to Osama bin Laden. I think the opposite is true. Al-Qaida justifies its murder by painting America as a nation at war with Islam. Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans' place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida's ideology of hate and division. We strengthen America by distinguishing, clearly and unequivocally, between our al-Qaida enemy and our Muslim neighbors.

.... Speaking at a mosque just six days after the World Trade Center attack, President Bush said, "These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that."

I have great respect for the sentiments of the survivors and family members of those who died on 9/11, and understand that some may not regard the situation this way. But our fundamental religious freedom and our national security -- in addition to fairness for our fellow citizens -- will be well served by drawing a bright line between our Muslim friends and neighbors at home, and our al-Qaida enemy abroad.

A mosque which isn't a mosque, at ground zero in a place not at ground zero, a dangerous guy who isn't dangerous (according to George Bush!) "An unnecessary provocation," Smiley Sarah called it. How ironic the words.

*I read it the other day, and damned if I can find it now. But it's true.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Propaganda + Sheep =

Is, in fact.

The most patriotic among us like to believe in American exceptionalism, whatever that is. We're number one. We lead the world in... well, for sure basketball, I guess. How different are we, how unlike those other countries. How impossible it would be for us to become... a mob.

Except that the people who think they are seeing fascism where it most certainly is not, are finally being shorn of their grass-fed sheep's clothing to reveal (were they able to see it) the real rabble underneath. This "mosque" thing: this horrible, debasing, shallow, hateful, despicable mosque thing. It's peeling away the remaining layer of the thinnest veneer, the fantasy that Americans are too civilized, too evolved (if they believed in evolution, that is) to be propagandized, to march in lockstep, succumbing to manipulation. To raise their arms and shout and scream and threaten people of a certain religion (and let's not forget gays), citizens or not; to be led by power-mongering demagogues into the streets. But now, finally, we can no longer lay claim: we're as bad as any gang witnessed by history; we're them; we're willingly led across the divide. Easily, formulaically; frailties exploited in the most demeaning of clichés. Victimhood and scapegoats. Banal, unoriginal stuff. Embarrassing.

How many times, how many ways can it be said: the "mosque" is a community center (containing a prayer room; and there's already an actual mosque one block away); it's not at the "hallowed ground" (strip clubs and pizza joints are closer to the hallowed grounds [good name for a coffee shop, by the way: "Hallowed Grounds"]); it's run by a Sufi Muslim who espouses the opposite of radicalism. Its presence -- anywhere, but especially there -- is a statement of who they aren't, and who we are. It flies in the face of Wahabbism, it represents hope for reconciliation. And it's a building in NYC!! Across the country people have been convinced they should be intensely interested in -- offended! outraged! attending rallies! waving signs! -- a decision by a local planning board. In another city. Y'know: the one that Sarah Palin thinks isn't even America.

Boy, how I'd have loved to have had that kind of support when my neighbor decided to cut down my tree.

It's as obvious as a burning bush that Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the RWS™ don't really care what it is. What they care about is finding a cause -- any cause -- with which they can stir the masses into a rage. It's all they have, it's what they do. And they did, so easily as to eliminate any shred of doubt over what we've become. Mindless, people are spitting venom over a completely innocuous situation -- or what would have been, had the demagogues not seen an opportunity. If a concerted effort by cynical politicians (or, in the case of Sarah, professional tweeters) and a nationwide propaganda machine can so easily convince people they should be really really angry over such a meaningless issue (to the extent that it's not meaningless, they've got it exactly wrong), what does it say about how we'll behave when the real crises come to a head? Who will be next, how will the rage be felt?

It's only a matter of time. And look how shamefully easy it has been, how similar to Germany in the thirties: appealing to a sense of victimization, picking scapegoats, abetted by deliberate propagandists, leaders whip up anger ever more shrilly to ever more receptive and grateful audiences: yes, yes, we're being heard; our victimhood, our entitlement, our suffering at the hands of others. It's unfair. We're better than they are. They're taking away our freedoms. They hate our country, they hate us. They are undeserving, they don't belong here. They threaten our very way of life. They do.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not That It Matters

But then, the less something matters, the more the RWS™ will make of it. Distraction being their main method of unreminding us of the failures of the very things they want to do again.

So it's vacations. That Obama, like all Muslims, takes vacations at a horrendous rate. It's shocking. It's unconscionable. It's ..... half the amount George Bush had taken at this point in his presidency.

Friday, August 20, 2010

First, Last

Among the many examples of RWS™, Congressional Rs, and their willing teabagging fodder neither respecting, agreeing with, or understanding the US Constitution is the way they respond to the occasional person who questions their venom or lies. "My First Amendment rights are being violated!!!" they shriek, tears flowing, waves of victimization slopping the shores of their self-pity.

The latest boos and hoos come from "Dr" Laura, who's parlayed her lack of qualification into a multimillion dollar enterprise, based on rudeness, hate, biblical misunderstanding, and advising people on stuff about which she bears strong opinions, and no education (a hallmark, pretty much, of mamas of grizzle). To Sarah Palin and to Michele Bachmann and to Sharon Angle, the First Amendment not only guarantees their right to say stuff, but it also wraps its arms about them (when they're not trying to amputate them) like the ivy at Liberty U., protecting them from criticism. You can say whatever you want, right or wrong, true or false, and if anyone pushes back, it's a violation of the Constitution. Take to the streets.

The mind reels; or would, if it had any reels left.

Sorry, pandas: if you're not being rounded up (or put behind a fence!), taken to court, or censored (by the government!), your free speech hasn't been infringed. You'd think it didn't need explanation, except that it evidently does:

You, the realest of real Americans, have every right to talk stupid. You have every right to be stupid. Heck, there's one whole political party for you that counts on it, and there's a nationwide propaganda machine that's predicated on it. So go crazy. But you'll have to show the rest of us where exactly it says in the Constitution that your rights to stupid include the abrogation (big word) of the rights of everyone else to call it what it is. Or that you will suffer no consequences.

At least there's one conservative who sees a teensy problem. I wonder if there are any others. And I wonder how low the people who listen to and admire such idiocy will have to sink before they come out the other side.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Anathema to the RWS™ and to all of those who sup at their untidy table, there follow some facts about the Cordoba Initiative. As I mentioned recently, the leader is Sufi. To those who, at the urging of the demonstrably mendacious and venal Newt Gingrich, mindlessly repeat the notion that the center would be a symbol of terrorist triumphalism, I say (recognizing it'll make no difference, as facts are like rubber bullets on a mylar vest to these people) read this informative piece:
The problem with such claims goes far beyond the fate of a mosque in downtown Manhattan. They show a dangerously inadequate understanding of the many divisions, complexities and nuances within the Islamic world — a failure that hugely hampers Western efforts to fight violent Islamic extremism and to reconcile Americans with peaceful adherents of the world’s second-largest religion.

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists. His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.

For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.

It's just another example of how our mindless and simplistic approach to our problems is leading us to self-destruction. As Sarah Palin continues to laugh at thinkers, and as Newt presents his non-thinking as the Republican version of intellect, teabaggers and people like them empower their own destruction.

How sad. For letting it happen, in the case of most of our media, and for making it happen, in the case of the rest, and for our unwillingness to speak up, we deserve what we're about to get. Long since, we've abdicated our place in the world as a voice of reason, innovation, and education. It's assisted suicide.

And Rauf helped the FBI in its fight against terrorists.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Unfair Fight

The deck is stacked.

In the political scene, such as it is, the thing that's depressed and disappointed me the most is the ease with which the RWS™ control "the message," and the ineptitude with which the Democrats deal with it. Here we are in the most uncommon era, with near-fatal calamities all around, and with only one party and its president trying -- and, to a large extent, succeeding -- to deal with them. Just look: the American auto industry -- saved; health care -- reformed for the first time in five decades; Wall Street -- first significant regulation in years; failing economy -- well, okay, at least they've tried. And it's pretty persuasive that absent the stimulus it'd be hell of a lot worse....

People can disagree about the efforts: health care -- too much reliance on insurers; auto industry -- should have let it fail, free markets being more important than jobs and recovery; stimulus -- too little or too much spending, too little tax relief or too much... But it's hard to disagree that efforts were made, and that successes have been seen. Or that Republicans decided early on that Obama's successes would be their undoing; and that if completely stopping him was impossible, convincing people that up is down was most certainly not. Cue the screamers.

To a huge number of people, it's been easily sold as socialism (it isn't), fascism (ludicrous), tearing away the very fabric of civilization. People have been led to believe that Obama has raised taxes on the middle class (he didn't), that the bank bailouts were on his watch (they weren't), that he closed auto dealerships based on political affiliations (totally debunked), and stuff way crazier than that (he's not Kenyan). Or, without so much as a clearing of the throat, the subject has been changed, to mosques and gays. Successfully. Look around: in the midst of actual problems, people are convinced they should be concerned -- they're enraged, I tell you -- about a non-mosque at non-ground zero. Brilliant.

Holding in their hands the fruits of the most productive Congress in ages, the Democrats are letting it spoil, helpless to turn the tide. What's wrong with them? With all the cards, they still can't convince people of the value of what they've done. What a pathetic lot.

Except, wait: they are up against an unprecedented and unbeatable force. There simply is -- and, because of the nature of the liberal mind, there never will be -- no machine on their side comparable to Fox "news" and the RWS™ of the airways. Dedicated without apology to the pushing of a right wing agenda (while continuing to call themselves fair and balanced!), willing to lie and distort to accomplish it, they blanket the public 25/8/366 with pure propaganda. So it doesn't matter what the President or Democratic officials say: it will be countered relentlessly with spin and distortion, stupidity and distraction. And their audience, cultivated and groomed for years, considers it "fair and balanced" or, even worse, prefers to have their prejudices and preconceptions reinforced rather than challenged or exposed as wrong. Ever since Ronald Reagan, right wingers continue to sell people on the idea that you can have everything and pay nothing.

It's an unfair fight that liberals can never win, because whereas there are indeed some shouty liberals on the airwaves, they generally refuse to spread overt lies: and liberals tend not to need or want to have constant reinforcement; at least not in the numbers corralled by the RWS™. Thus, the ratings. Thus, the impossible fight.

It hardly mitigates the frustration that Democrats are unable to get their accomplishments recognized -- much less debated on their merits. But I've come to accept that it's really not their fault. If Harry Reid were Demosthenes, if Nancy Pelosi were Angelina Jolie, if Robert Gibbs were Robert Welch, how could they counter a totalitarian right-wing network that has no scruples? By what means could they get through to a populace carefully groomed for the times: scared, angry, actively and proudly mis- and uninformed, whipped into a frenzy, equating education with treason?

We'll never know.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Briar Patch

The last thing bin Laden and other radical Islamic terrorists want is a Muslim community center, open to all and run by an imam who preaches peace and tolerance, built anywhere near Ground Zero; or, for that matter, anywhere in the US. It defeats their most central message of jihad against the crusaders. Whatever else is true about those guys, they're not unaware of American politics nor of how to play it like an oud.

Remember how B'rer Rabbit got himself flung into the briar patch?

Hamas says the Cordoba Center ought to be built as planned. On cue, suckered, the RWS™ pounce. Then Harry Reid, evidently feeling threatened by one of the most laughable candidates ever, caves.

Game, set, match. Straight sets. We'll never learn.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lonely Voice

I've referred to him before, if obliquely, in my never-ending search for a reasonable conservative, an entity all but disappeared from the national scene, even as it's sorely needed. He, Ronald Reagan's former chief economic advisor, has spoken again:
.... In my own mind, I have the same political philosophy I've always had--basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism. But I am no longer a member of the Republican Party and no longer consider myself part of the "conservative movement." That's not because I changed, but because I believe that they have. The Republican Party of today is not the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan that I was once a member of; it stands for nothing except the pursuit of power as an end in itself, with no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country. In a recent interview with The Economist magazine, I characterized the Republicans as the greedy, sociopathic party. I stand by that.

I think Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley would be absolutely aghast at the things it stands for today and the people that are acclaimed as its leaders. When clowns like Glenn Beck are its leaders and right-wing bigots pander to ignorant yahoos about a planned mosque in lower Manhattan, I want to be as far away from any such movement as I possibly can. And readers of this blog know what I think of the know-nothing tea party movement, which conservatives have latched onto en masse.
What he says is self-evident, except to those who need to hear it most. "... no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country."

From the mouth of the ultimate Reaganite, one who sat at the right hand of God: "...
no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country." Readers of this blog have read virtually those exact words before.

"... the greedy, sociopathic party."

"... stands for nothing except the pursuit of power as an end in itself..."

We need a strong conservative party. I'd pray for it if, well, you know... Our form of government is predicated upon discussion, dissent, argument. But it also presumes good faith and a sense of common purpose, namely a shared desire to find a way through the woods. Absent that, I suppose we could live -- tenuously -- if it were only the leaders of Republicans who refused to be thoughtful and to present credible ideas. But we can't live -- it's becoming more and more clear -- with voters in numbers that now exist, who gobble up the ghastly gruel they're being sold by Sarah and Glenn, by Mitch and John and Newt and Louie. Wholesale. In Costco quantities. Without so much as a final flicker, a terminal twitch, a rictus, a death rattle.

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