Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Little Night Music

One of the things I miss here in Florida is the sound of night bugs in the summer.  We don’t have too many of them in my neighborhood, and nothing like what we had when I was growing up in Ohio.  So here’s an hour’s worth of the symphony of the crickets.  Listen to as much — or as little — as you wish.

The only thing that’s missing is a cold bottle of Stroh’s beer and Ernie Harwell calling the Tigers game on the radio.

Old Lies Never Die

Bill Maher calls them “zombie lies;” tales proven to be false that still have the shelf life of a Twinkie in a landfill.  The latest to be resuscitated is the one that President Obama waived the work requirement in welfare reform.  It’s being used by Speaker Boehner as one of the things he’s suing the president for doing that he claims exceed his authority.

Steve Benen elucidates:

In the president’s first term, a bipartisan group of governors asked the Obama administration for some flexibility on the existing welfare law, transitioning beneficiaries from welfare to work. The White House agreed to give the states some leeway – so long as the work requirement wasn’t weakened.

That’s not “waiving the work requirements in welfare”; that’s the opposite. Providing governors, including several Republicans, the flexibility they requested to help move beneficiaries back into the workforce is exactly the sort of power-to-the-states policy that Boehner and his cohorts usually like.

But in 2012, the policy inspired Mitt Romney and GOP leaders to turn this into a rather shameless lie, accusing Obama of weakening welfare work requirements. The more fact-checkers went berserk, the more aggressive Romney became in pushing the lie. One can only speculate as to the rationale behind the ugly falsehood, though the Republican presidential campaign seemed quite eager at the time to use the words “Obama” and “welfare” in the same sentence, even after the GOP candidate and his team realized they were lying.

By the way, when he was the governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney signed a letter asking for the same waiver for his state.  But that was between running the Olympics and running for president, so he can be forgiven for that brief moment of governance.

I knew Speaker Boehner could not come up with any real reason to sue the president, but I thought that at least he would come up with something slightly original.  (Well, he can’t bring up the real reason, which is the GOP belief that no black man should ever have this much power unless he’s a center for the Miami Heat.)  But he’s not even trying.

Then again, why should he work at it when he knows that an old lie will work on the rubes and the press just as well as something he plucked out of his ass that morning?

Null Set

Another genius runs for the Senate in Iowa.

Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, appears to believe states can nullify federal laws. In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws “that the states would consider nullifying.”

“You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.”

Ernst, a first-term state senator, has never explicitly supported pro-nullification legislation in her time in the Iowa state senate. However, she co-sponsored a resolution that says “the State of Iowa hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” It was introduced in response to “many federal mandates [that] are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Perhaps candidates for office should be required to take some kind of test to prove they know something about the laws of this country before they propose ideas that run counter to the laws of the land.  Oh, wait; they do.  It’s called high school civics class.

States cannot nullify federal laws.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional law scholar and Dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School, told The Daily Beast, nullification is expressly forbidden under Article VI of the Constitution. “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof… shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Chemerinsky also noted that the Supreme Court had dealt with this issue as recently as 1958, when in Cooper v. Aaron, a unanimous decision signed by every justice on the court, it was made clear that states could not nullify federal laws or Supreme Court decisions.

Prior to that there was a rather long and contentious discussion about states’ rights vs. the federal law.  It was in all the papers.

Speak Of The Devil

As expected, the Hobby Lobby ruling is finding some hellish companions.

The Satanic Temple has launched a campaign seeking religious exemption from laws that restrict access to abortions, citing the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.

The group, which “facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty,” argues that states’ “informed consent” laws violate its religious freedom.

“An increasing number of states have passed ‘informed consent’ laws, requiring that women seeking abortions be subjected to state-mandated informational materials that are often false or misleading,” the group wrote on its website. “We believe that personal decisions should be made with reference to only the best available, scientifically valid information.”

Lucien Graves, a spokesperson for the group, said that the Hobby Lobby ruling supports their initiative.

Damned if you do…

Virginia Is For Lovers, Finally

And another ban on marriage equality hits the dirt.

A federal appeals court on Monday struck down Virginia’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, saying that withholding the fundamental right to marry from gay couples is a new form of “segregation” that the Constitution cannot abide.

The 2-to-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, upheld a lower court’s decision and extended an extraordinary winning streak in the federal courts for proponents of same-sex marriage.

Legal challenges to state bans filed systematically nationwide have prevailed in every test since the Supreme Court in June 2013 struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Two federal appeals courts have now said the bans are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court probably will have to make the final determination and could consider the issue as soon as next year.

This ruling is for Virginia, but the court also oversees three other states: Maryland and the Carolinas.  Maryland already allows same-sex marriage; it’s not yet clear whether the ruling has a direct impact on the other two states.  North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced that he will no longer defend that state’s ban.

Meanwhile, couples in Virginia have three more weeks to wait until the ban is ended, pending appeal.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moneybegs

Winston Churchill said “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  That certainly has been the attitude among the various Democratic PAC’s and campaign committees ever since Speaker Boehner announced he was going to sue the president and the Orcosphere started tossing around impeachment.  My e-mail inbox has been flooded with missives from “Nancy Pelosi” to “Michelle Obama” with screaming subject lines about IMPEACHMENT! and HELP! in an attempt to get me to donate money to them.  I read them, I chuckle, and hit Delete.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to their plight; every political group wants money from like-minded donors, and the keeper of a liberal blog is an obvious target.  But I can’t help but think this whole scenario was dreamed up by fund-raising types on both sides.  The Republicans, naturally, are continuing their never-ending battle to deny the black president a second term, and the Democrats know that every time someone on the right says something stupid they can raise money off it.  They both have lots of pigeons to pluck.

What’s ironic about this latest campaign to get my money is that for all the scary headlines about Speaker Boehner and the road to impeachment is that the White House is positively delighted that it’s being talked about, even to the point that one of their top aides, Dan Pfeiffer, floated it out there so that it would get attention.  They know how well impeaching Bill Clinton went for the Republicans in 1998, and it would be a huge gift to the Democrats if the Republicans actually tried it now.

Not only is the White House not afraid of impeachment, they want it with candy and stripper.  It would solidify the disparate Democratic base, it would put the right-wing nutsery out there in all their 3-D Technicolor glory, and the cash would pour into the Democratic campaign coffers from people who think that the GOP could actually pull it off.  Hence the spam with cheese in my in-box.

But I’m hip to the game so I’ll continue to hit Delete.

Mustn’t-See TV

Guess who’s launching her own TV channel!

The Sarah Palin Channel, which costs $9.95 per month or $99.95 for a one-year subscription, will feature her commentary on “important issues facing the nation,” as well as behind-the-scenes looks into her personal life as “mother, grandmother, wife and neighbor.” Palin serves as executive editor, overseeing all content posted to the channel.

“I want to talk directly to you on our channel, on my terms — and no need to please the powers that be,” Palin, who is also a Fox News contributor, said in a video announcing the channel. “Together, we’ll go beyond the sound bites and cut through the media’s politically correct filter.”

Given her record, I’ll bet it only lasts half a season.

George Will Channels Emma Lazarus

Fox News may be rethinking their contract with George Will.

Conservative columnist and Fox News contributor George Will has long been an advocate for immigration reform, including a conservative version of a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, for some time, but he took his position a bit further Sunday morning on Fox News Sunday. Referring to the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border from Mexico and other Central American countries — over 52,000 since last October — Will told host Chris Wallace that the United States should welcome these children with open arms.

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,’” Will implored. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”

Wallace warned that detractors will accuse Will of not understanding the issue, but he was undeterred. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he reassured. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”

He’s going to have to give back his Ted Nugent t-shirt collection now.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On This Date

Ten years ago today Barack Obama walked onto the national stage at the Democratic convention in Boston.

For all his soaring rhetoric masterfully delivered, his statement that we are one America was woefully wishful.  In fact, you could make the case that he made it worse; not because of anything he did but simply because of who he is.  There is still a Red America and a Blue America and plenty of grifters and haters who depend on it being so.

Sunday Reading

Compassionate Conservatism 2.0 — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic on why GOP attempts to make nice never really work.

In the late 1990s, after Bill Clinton campaigned for reelection against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on government spending, George W. Bush decided that he too would make congressional Republicans his foil. In September 1999, when GOP budget hawks tried to cut the earned-income tax credit, the Texas governor declared, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.”

Now the same pattern is repeating itself. In 2012, Mitt Romney boasted that he was “severely conservative.” He chose Paul Ryan as his running mate in large measure to mobilize Republicans who loved Ryan’s assault on the welfare state. But Romney and Ryan lost in part because Barack Obama, like Clinton before him, scared Americans about the GOP’s assault on government. Moreover, as in the late 1990s, the budget deficit is going down.

As a result, potential GOP presidential candidates are falling over one another to run as Bush did in 2000: as compassionate conservatives. Rand Paul is arguing for shorter prison sentences. Republican Governors John Kasich and Mike Pence are expanding Medicaid. Marco Rubio recently said it was time for Republicans to stop trying to balance “the budget by saving money on safety-net programs.” Even budget cutter extraordinaire, Paul Ryan, wants to “remove it [the fight against poverty] from the old-fashioned budget fight.”

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.

First, it didn’t even help Bush all that much. Let’s remember, he won less than 48 percent of the vote in 2000. Between them, Al Gore and Ralph Nader won more than 51 percent. Exit polls that year found that of the 10 qualities Bush voters cited as reasons for voting for him, “cares about people like me” was number seven. In 2004, pollsters asked the question differently. As Ben Domenech has noted, Bush won only 24 percent of voters who said their top priority was a candidate who “cares about people.” He won only 23 percent of voters who said their biggest concern was health care. That’s better than Mitt Romney, who won only 18 percent of voters who prioritized “car[ing] about people.” But it’s exactly the same as John McCain’s percentage in 2008. And on health care—a key domestic-policy issue on which Republicans want to show they’re not hard-hearted—Bush in 2004 did slightly worse than McCain and Romney.

The big reason Bush won in 2004 isn’t because he wowed voters with his compassion. It’s because he won 86 percent of those who said their number one concern was “terrorism” and 80 percent of those who prioritized “moral values.” Since then, national security has faded as a political issue and the GOP’s historic advantage on it has disappeared. Something similar has happened on the culture war, which has shifted in the Democrats’ direction because gay marriage—which Bush won votes for opposing in 2004—is now far more popular.

If the first problem with running as a compassionate conservative is that it didn’t work so effectively for George W. Bush, the second is that being seen as compassionate is probably harder for a Republican today. Suspicion of the GOP among key demographic groups is greater, and the Republican base is less tolerant of reaching out to them. When Bush was president, the leaders of both parties opposed gay marriage. Now it’s a partisan issue, which makes it harder for a Republican candidate to win LGBT votes, at least without provoking a rebellion among the GOP’s Christian conservative base.

Paul Ryan 2.0 — Charles P. Pierce on the rehabilitation of the studmuffin with the balance sheets.

On Thursday, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin went to the American Enterprise Institute — and there’s one of your tells right there — to reboot his public image as a serious man of serious ideas. This image took quite a beating over the past decades as he produced budget after budget that were economically illiterate and politically suicidal. Then he ran for vice-president with G.I. Luvmoney at the top of the ticket, and Joe Biden laughed at him, and that was pretty much that. Since then, Ryan has been fashioning an entirely new persona for himself as the Republican who cares about the poor. On Thursday, he announced his new anti-poverty initiative. It has been received fairly well. Ezra Klein has at least one foot back on the Paul Ryan Is A Serious Thinker bandwagon.

Ryan is, at heart, more interested in reforming government programs than in simply cutting them. When deficits exploded after the financial crisis he used deficit-reducing budgets as the vehicle for far-reaching reforms. Now that deficits are lower and poverty is more salient, he’s using poverty as a vehicle for far-reaching reforms. The constant thread in Ryan’s career isn’t his concern for budgets but his efforts to overhaul the safety net.

And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

On his electric teevee show, Lawrence O’Donnell found 101 different ways to talk about what “a good start” this plan is. (Ryan himself is hedging, calling the plan a “discussion draft.” Guess who’s leading the discussion?) There are ideas within the stated plan to which I have no objection: the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, prison reform, etc. There is also one major and insurmountable flaw in the plan, and that is that Paul Ryan is a consummate charlatan, the fact that he has discovered a new formula for snake oil notwithstanding.

One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you’re welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has “changed” in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don’t even have to know that the more “compassionate” of his proposals don’t have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.

Carter 2.0 — Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times profiles Jason Carter, running for governor of Georgia.

Like many candidates, Jason Carter, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, is courting the Jewish vote. But when Mr. Carter, a state senator, declared his “powerful connection” to Israel, it was more than a campaign sound bite.

It was a not-so-subtle attempt to distance himself from a man he has loved and admired since boyhood: his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter.

The former president’s views on Israel are not the only ones to make his grandson squirm. Of the elder Carter’s call to ban the death penalty, his grandson said, “I love my grandfather, but we disagree.” And when grandfather Carter offered to attend a campaign rally in Albany, Ga., not far from here, his grandson politely asked him to stay home.

“He wanted the people of southwest Georgia to see that he was a man of his own,” the former president said in an interview in his office, in a house where his mother, Lillian, once lived. Referring to his wife, he added, “He didn’t want the attention to be focused on me and Rosalynn.”

So it goes in what may be the nation’s most awkward legacy campaign.

Political families — from the Roosevelts to the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons — have long been a part of American politics. And they are not new in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn, the Democratic nominee for Senate, is running for a seat her father, Sam, once held against a Republican, David Perdue, whose cousin was governor. Mr. Carter’s bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal, the Republican incumbent, is testing the strength and durability of the Carter name in Georgia, a red state that Democrats hope to turn blue.

But it is also a test of something more: a deep bond between a 38-year-old grandson and an 89-year-old grandfather who, in the words of Roy E. Barnes, Georgia’s last Democratic governor, “would walk on fire to help get Jason elected.”

The elder Mr. Carter and his wife, regarded in the family as its sharpest political mind, have plunged into their grandson’s campaign. Mr. Carter has offered so much unsolicited advice (“Some of it is his famous micromanaging,” Senator Carter said) that strategists now include him on their daily email updates, even if some of his counsel seems dated.

“He got elected governor of Georgia by shaking 600,000 hands,” the younger Mr. Carter said. “That’s what he would tell you: ‘You’ve got to go to the grocery store and shake everybody’s hand.’ ”

The former president said he had helped vet campaign strategists by examining “their credentials,” sent to him by his grandson. The elder Carters have also been aggressive fund-raisers, headlining events in New York, Washington and Los Angeles — as well as a $20,000-a-couple weekend here in Plains last month, which included a church service and a personal tour of the former president’s boyhood farm, now a national historic site.

Such leveraging of his former office has prompted Republican attacks. “Follow the money: President Carter a cash cow,” the Deal campaign declared in an email missive.

At that, Senator Carter grew testy. “My grandfather gets attacked all the time by all different kinds of people, and he’s over it,” he said. “The judgment that he is looking for is not from my political opponents or his political opponents or even anyone else. The judgment he is awaiting is one that he is very comfortable with.”

Analysts call the race a tossup. Mr. Deal, 71, a former congressman elected governor in 2010, is on the defensive over a string of ethics questions, and his approval ratings are below 50 percent. Though Mr. Deal has more cash on hand — $2.6 million to Mr. Carter’s $1.8 million — Mr. Carter outraised the governor from April to June. Polls show them running essentially even.

Doonesbury — JFGI.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

One Step Closer

Florida edges closer to marriage equality.

Florida Rainbow Flag Mug 07-26-14For the second time in eight days, a South Florida circuit judge has declared the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry.

Late Friday afternoon, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ordered that six same-sex couples who sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for marriage licenses in January should be allowed to wed.

There will be no weddings yet: In her ruling, Zabel ordered an immediate stay until after the case is appealed.

“To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the … classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law,” Zabel wrote in her order, citing a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a state ban on interracial marriage.

On July 17, Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia also ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered that two gay Key West men be allowed to marry. That decision has also been stayed and Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones have not yet been allowed to marry in Florida.

The six couples Miami-Dade couples who sued in Zabel’s court are Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami.

Both this case and the one in Monroe County are local; they have no impact outside of those counties.  But there is a case pending in Tallahassee that could overturn the ban statewide.  If it does, it will be stayed pending appeal.  That means no weddings just yet.

But we’re getting there.

Read the full ruling here.

They All Look Alike

Freshman Tea Party Congressman Curt Clawson of Florida mistook two senior State Department officials as being representatives from India.

In an intensely awkward congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about “your country” and “your government,” in reference to the state of India.

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if “their” government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.

“Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there,” he said. “I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?”

The question prompted a lengthy pause and looks of confusion from State Department and congressional staff attending the hearing.

[...]

It’s extremely uncommon for foreign officials to testify before Congress under oath. Even so, it’s unclear if at any point Clawson realized his mistake, despite the existence of a witness list distributed to the various members detailing Biswal and Kumar’s positions. Clawson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

During the hearing, he repeatedly touted his deep knowledge of the Indian subcontinent and his favorite Bollywood movies. None of his fellow colleagues publicly called him out on the oversight — perhaps going easy on him because he’s the new guy.

Actually, I hope his fellow colleagues didn’t call him out on it because they were having too much fun letting this idiot make a fool of himself on live TV.

Friday, July 25, 2014