Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why I Became A Liberal

Suzy Khimm at NBC found out why people become liberals according to the Heritage Foundation.

“Give up your economic freedom, give up your political freedom, and you will be rewarded with license,” said Heritage’s David Azerrad, describing the reigning philosophy of the left. “It’s all sex all the time. It’s not just the sex itself—it’s the permission to indulge.”

Liberals, said editor Bill Voegeli, want to create “the United States of Feeling Good About Ourselves.”

Yeah, I found out that talking about peace, equality, and saving the environment is the way to get laid.  “Ooh, baby, talk to me about those naughty Kyoto Protocols.”

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Reading

Where Will The Slippery Slope End? — Katha Pollitt in The Nation on the ramifications of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Where will it all end? “It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial,” Justice Alito writes. There is no limit to religious requirements and restrictions in our land of a thousand “faiths.” Several companies have already filed cases that object to all forms of contraception, not just the four singled out by Hobby Lobby, and the day after the decision the Court clarified that its ruling applied to all methods. And why draw the line on legal exemptions at religion anyway? Plenty of foolish parents now risk their children’s lives and the public’s health because they reject vaccines on “philosophical” grounds. What happens when Aristotle, the CEO, claims that birth control—or psychotherapy or organ transplants—goes against his “philosophy”?

Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all.

Some But Not All — From Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, marriage equality is but one of the hurdles gay couples still face.

The U.S. Constitution protects gay people’s right to marry the person they love. It does not, however, protect them from getting fired for doing so. Throughout the first decade of marriage equality, most states that legalized gay marriage also proscribed anti-gay employment discrimination, rendering this legal dissonance moot. But as more and more states find marriage equality foisted upon them by a judicial mandate, this discordance in rights presents something of a ticking time bomb for the LGBT movement.

Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with both gay marriage (thanks to a federal judge) and no employment protections for gay people. But as this dizzyingly polychromatic Guardian chart illustrates, several other states also boast same-sex marriage while lacking hospital visitation, adoption rights, or housing protections for sexual minorities. In New Mexico, a man can marry his male partner—but can be forbidden from visiting him in the hospital. In New York and New Hampshire, trans people can be evicted from their houses and fired from their jobs for being trans. In Hawaii, a gay student can legally be kicked out of school based solely on his orientation.

And when the Supreme Court almost inevitably legalizes marriage equality nationwide, the chasm between gay marriage and broader LGBT equality is going to expand rapidly in dozens of red states. Marriage equality was supposed to be an umbrella issue, pulling purportedly lesser gay rights into its sweep. To some extent, this strategy has succeeded: Most Americans now profess a generalized support for gay equality. But in direly reactionary states, it may take decades to convert this support into legislative action—even after the judiciary renders gay marriage a settled issue.

There are some stopgap solutions here. President Barack Obama has ordered most hospitals to provide visitation rights to gay couples, extended LGBT protections to federal employees and federal contractors, and forbidden gay and trans discrimination by HUD-assisted housing programs. But administrative regulations and executive orders can’t extend as far as a federal measure would, and a Republican president could swiftly reverse them on his first day in office. An ENDA-type federal law could permanently outlaw this kind of discrimination everywhere, but the Republican-controlled House refuses to pass one, and LGBT job discrimination remains legal (and common) in 29 states.

What’s the solution to this coming crisis? The fight for nationwide gay marriage will turn out to be a hollow joke if gay couples in red states are too afraid of discrimination to actually get married and enjoy the dignity of true, state-prescribed equality. Because the Republican House refuses to consider gay rights measures—and because states like Tennessee and Alabama seem unlikely to act on their own to protect sexual minorities—the best solution is probably the one gays have relied on for decades: the courts. Thanks to federal lawsuits, judges are already considering the idea that existing law outlaws anti-gay discrimination in every state and that the Constitution guarantees same-sex adoption rights. The same logic that shoehorns anti-gay discrimination into sex discrimination could be used to turn the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination clause into a protection for LGBT people.

North Korea Pans Hollywood — Paul Fischer on the film industry in a place with no sense of humor.

In mid-June, the trailer for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedy “The Interview” hit the Internet. The movie, due in October, stars James Franco and Mr. Rogen as an American talk-show host and his producer, recruited to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, while in Pyongyang to interview him. The trailer features Mr. Franco and Mr. Rogen riding tanks, the actor Randall Park as Kim Jong-un smoking a missile-size cigar, and a discussion, played for laughs, of reported North Korean propaganda claims that none of the Kim leaders defecate.

Within days, the North Korean Foreign Ministry slammed the film as “intolerable,” as well as “the most blatant act of terrorism and an act of war,” and threatened “merciless” retaliation if it was released. The next day the North Korean military launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, as if to hint, “See what I mean?”

The lesson: Never underestimate the power of marijuana in Hollywood, and phallic jokes about rockets and cigars.

It seems absurd for the leader of a nuclear state to be so incensed over an anarchic comedy by the guys who brought you “This Is the End” and “Pineapple Express.” But movies have held inordinate importance in North Korean politics, beginning even before the country’s founding in 1948. One of the earliest actions by Kim Il-sung, called Great Leader, was to create a Soviet-supported national film studio, where he gave filmmakers and crews preferential food rations and housing. His son, Kim Jong-il, called Dear Leader, was a film buff who owned one of the largest private film collections in the world and whose first position of power was in running the regime’s propaganda apparatus, including its film studios. For over 20 years he micromanaged every new North Korean film production, as writer, producer, executive and critic; to his people, he is still known today first and foremost — thanks to propaganda rather than any real talent or skill — as the greatest creative genius in North Korea’s history.

The Dear Leader was less quick to take offense than his son Kim Jong-un is today — partly because, at least early on, he preferred threats he could follow up on; in those days, North Korean covert operatives still had the know-how to hijack a plane, bomb a state function, and target a South Korean president. Also, taking offense would have been an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black. Most of his productions treated foreigners, Americans especially, the way Mr. Rogen, Mr. Franco and Mr. Goldberg treat Kim Jong-un: as cartoonish stock baddies. North Korean films of the 1980s are full of Western villains, usually admirals or colonels, with Dr. Evil bald heads and names like Dr. Kelton or Her Majesty’s officer Louis London. These characters all hatched devious schemes to destroy North Korea and take over the world for the White House.

As North Korea had no Western actors to speak of, they were first played by Koreans in heavily caked whiteface makeup. Later on, American defectors and foreign prisoners, diplomats or visiting businessmen were “persuaded” to come into the studio for a day or a week and paste a monocle and fake mustache on for the cameras and dialogue-dubbers.

Like Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg’s work, Mr. Kim’s films could be hilarious. But it was always unintentional. North Koreans don’t do comedy. To try and make someone laugh you must be ready for them not to take you seriously, something all three generations of Kim rulers have been unable to do. Where Pyongyang’s propaganda billboards used to threaten war if North Korea was invaded or attacked, now they warn foreigners “not to interfere with our self-respect.”

Doonesbury — Born to be mild.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Reading

Maximum vs. Minimum — Zoë Carpenter at The Nation looks at the disparity between fast-food CEO’s pay and the people who work to help them earn it.

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents Yum! and other restaurant companies, is expected to launch a lobbying blitz in Washington next week against a minimum wage increase. For years the restaurant industry has fought to keep the wage floor low, all while rewarding its CEOs with increasingly large pay packages. As a result, the food industry is now the most unequal sector in the American economy. Thanks to a tax loophole that encourages companies to raise “performance pay” for executives, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the imbalance.

While inequality between low-level workers and CEOs manifests in all areas of the economy, a new report from Demos concludes that the gap within the food industry is exceptional. Between 2009 and 2012 the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in food services and accommodation was about twice as large as most other sectors. In 2012, fast-food CEOs earned 1,200 times as much as the average employee.

Why is the gulf between executive compensation and average earnings colossal in the restaurant industry, in particular? One explanation is stagnation of wages at the bottom, abetted by low minimum wage standards. Fast-food workers are paid less than any other employees in the country, and that low floor has barely moved in a decade. The industry’s average hourly wage of $9.19 puts the salary for a fulltime worker below $19,000—poverty wages if she’s supporting a family of three. Most fast-food jobs aren’t even full-time; the average salary for average hours is under $12,000. Last year, fast-food wages fell to levels not seen since 2006.

Meanwhile, compensation for fast-food executives has more than quadrupled since 2000. Those CEOs pocketed an average $23.8 million in 2013, making them among the highest paid people in America.

[...]

Beyond the obvious hypocrisy of companies who throw millions at their CEOs while saying they can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage, the level of inequality within the food services industry has troubling implications for the whole economy. The jobs created in the wake of the recession have largely been in low-wage industries like food service. In other words, the jobs being added are the most unequal. Economists have pointedoutagain and again that inequality undermines economic growth, and there are more immediate costs as well, like the nearly $7 billion in public assistance that fast-food workers rely on to make up the gap between rock-bottom wages and the cost of living.

According to Demos the pay gap could hurt fast-food companies themselves, with bad publicity affecting their reputation and low wages encouraging poor customer service. “Consumer are increasingly dissatisfied with their experiences at the biggest fast food companies,” the Demos report found. “In addition to operational issues, the low pay practices of fast food employers have opened the companies to expensive legal risks.” A McDonald’s franchise, for example, settled a lawsuit with employees over uncompensated work, wage deductions and other infractions for $500,000 in March, while class-action suits are pending in at least two states over alleged wage theft.

Too Close for Comfort — Elias Isquith at Salon on how Cliven Bundy represents what Republicans are really thinking.

When renegade rancher Cliven Bundy was revealed this week to be very much a racist, most Republicans tried to separate themselves from the man with the kind of speediness and immediacy we don’t often associate with the conservative movement. (Remember, these are the same people who still carp about Benghazi and think every presidential election will be a repeat of 1980.) It was easy to see why: With references to porches, picking cotton and slavery, Bundy’s speech was like a greatest hits compilation of racial taboos. And if any group knows which words you can and cannot say in polite conversation today when talking about black people, it’s the Obama-era GOP. It’s a lesson they’ve learned the hard way.

But for all the earnestness of their attacks on Bundy — Sean Hannity alone called his former favorite rancher’s ideas “beyond repugnant,” “beyond despicable” and “beyond ignorant” — what many conservatives failed to notice is that, at their essence, Bundy’s comments were well within the conservative mainstream. Not the stuff about black people sitting on porches or needing to learn how to pick cotton, but rather the critique of the welfare state as somehow being responsible for the destruction of the African-American family. As others have noted, this line of analysis was just recently endorsed by Paul Ryan, the de facto intellectual leader of the GOP. So Bundy’s only real sin was, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie correctly wrote, not being “sophisticated enough to couch his nonsense in soundbites and euphemism.”

Perhaps even more uncomfortably for conservatives, it’s not only that Bundy’s vision of the social consequences of redistribution so closely mirrors theirs, it’s also that his way of framing his critique is the same as theirs, too. In his initial remarks as well as those he’s offered since in his own defense, Bundy has tried to engender sympathy by arguing that all he was trying to do is express his deep concern for the plight of black families in the U.S. today. It’s not that he doesn’t think they deserve “his” money, it’s that he worries government assistance will ultimately be detrimental to black people, that it will sap them of their ambition and force them to rely on others for survival. Bundy is worried that the safety net will, as Paul Ryan once put it, “turn … into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

I call this move — the adoption of a stance of disingenuous or exaggerated concern for people of color — “racial concern trolling.” And while it’s always been an element of conservatism’s rhetorical repertoire, with the advent of the country’s first black president and the related shift in national politics away from questions of foreign policy and toward arguments over redistribution, it’s become increasingly prevalent in the political discourse. Yet as dishonest a tactic as this usually is, I think it actually offers reason for supporters of the redistributive state to be optimistic about the future of racial politics in America.

The Real House Candidate from Beverly Hills — Mark Leibovich in the New York Times Magazine on what happens when the rich feel the call to public service.

Brent Roske lives on a 45-foot yacht off the coast of Marina del Rey, which is technically on the Pacific Ocean, but for jurisdictional purposes is considered part of the city of Los Angeles and, more to the point, the 33rd Congressional District of California. In January, Henry Waxman, the liberal stalwart who has represented the district with little resistance since the year after Roske was born, announced that he would not seek re-election. Now Roske, who is 39, is part of a field of 18 candidates hoping to represent the heartland of Beverly Hills, Malibu and Bel-Air in the United States Congress.

A former creative director at NBC Universal, Roske is not without assets. He is the producer of a web series called “Chasing the Hill,” which chronicles the campaign of a fictional Democratic congresswoman. He also has support from the White House — or at least the soundstage White House of “The West Wing.” Richard Schiff, who played Toby on the series, has a big role in “Chasing the Hill” and is a Roske friend. So is David Hasselhoff, who played the governor of California on the web series. Should Roske get elected, he already has some bold ideas. He plans, for instance, to hire a film crew to document his every move in office. “People have a right,” he says, “to know what their elected representatives are doing.”

News of Waxman’s departure unleashed a kind of political anarchy on the Botox Belt. “When you represent a district for 40 years, it does tend to produce pent-up demand,” Waxman told me. Initially, fantasies were spun about celebrity candidates jumping into the race and vying “Survivor”-style for the privilege of serving in the People’s Chamber. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill publication, put out a call via Twitter for the likes of Courteney Cox, Danny DeVito and Betty White, as well as a roster of other A-through-C-listers. Ricki Lake and Richard Simmons replied — to say no. Lorenzo Lamas came back with a maybe.

Even so, the existing field reflects the vibrant collection of humanity that resides in California 33. Some are serious candidates, some not — three Republicans, three Independents, one Green, one Libertarian, the rest Democrats. You’ve most likely not heard of any of them except Marianne Williamson, the self-help guru, who dislikes being called a “self-help guru.” (Her spokesman has suggested the term “thought leader.”) Williamson has spoken of turning our political dialogue into “a conversation of the heart.” Katy Perry shows up at her events, as do multiple Kardashians. Kim officially endorsed her in a blog post just before press time. Williamson also received the support of Alanis Morissette, Nicole Richie and, for added sex appeal, Dennis Kucinich.

The more conventional candidates include Matt Miller, a Clinton White House alumnus and author who co-hosts a popular talk show on the public-radio station KCRW (and had a cameo appearance as a D.C. pundit in the Denzel Washington movie “The Siege”); and Barbara Mulvaney, a former State Department official who was the senior prosecutor for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The Republican Elan Carr is a prosecutor and an Iraq War veteran and the president — or “Supreme Master” — of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. (If you want a congressman who led a Hanukkah service in Saddam Hussein’s former palace, he is your man.) Then there are the favorites: the former Los Angeles controller Wendy Greuel, who was the runner-up in last year’s L.A. mayor’s race and is backed by Emily’s List, the political-action committee, as well as by Ed Begley Jr. and Rob Reiner; and Ted Lieu, a California state senator and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, who emigrated from Taiwan as a child, lived in a basement apartment in Cleveland and helped his parents hawk jewelry as a child.

Doonesbury — Time is money.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Those People

Paul Krugman goes after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his “inner city culture” claim about the poor.

Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

[...]

One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli’s fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan’s black-men-don’t-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date.

The demonization of Those People goes beyond just welfare and economics.  Conservatives have routinely opposed measures that would raise up minorities, and they have a long track record of using them as the scapegoats for the problems that this country has faced.  From education to immigration, healthcare to civil rights, the conservatives have pointed to them, blamed them for the problems, never offered any more of a solution than lip service and hot air, and stood in the way of progress for anyone other than the rich white patriarchy.

Why would you expect to hear anything else?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Okay, campers, it’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

- President Obama moves into his second term with pretty much the same situation in Washington and Congress as he has had for the last two years, so nothing will really get done.  The budget matters, including the fake drama of the Fiscal Cliff, will still be around in some form because it’s a lot easier to kick it down the road than actually do something, especially when you have a Republican Party that absolutely refuses to work with the president on anything at all.  It has nothing to do with policy, deficits or debt, taxes or revenue.  The reason is pretty simple: they don’t like him, and so like a kid in grade school who refuses to do his math homework because he hates the teacher, they refuse to budge.  You can pick your excuses, ranging from his Spock-like demeanor to his refusal to suck up to the Villagers, but most of it comes down to the unspoken reason that dare not speak its name: he’s black.  No one dares say that out loud, but get three beers in any Republican, and I’ll bet they’ll admit it by saying “He’s not one of us.”  How many dog whistles do you need?  A big tell was that in the last-minute budget negotiations, Mitch McConnell went to Vice President Joe Biden as the go-between the Congress and the president.  Why?  Because Mr. Biden was in the Senate and knows how to talk to them, and also because he’s the white guy.  So we will have another year of gridlock, and the new Congress will make the one just concluded look good.

That one was pretty easy, and I’m sorry I got it right.

- The Supreme Court will rule the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 are unconstitutional.  It will be a very close vote, probably 5-4 on both cases, and they will narrowly rule on both cases, doing their best not to fling open the doors to marriage equality with a blanket ruling and leave the rest of it up to the states.  But they will both go down.  On the other hand, they will rule against Affirmative Action.  I also think there will be some changes to the make-up of the Court with at least one retirement, either voluntary or by the hand of fate.

Right on gay rights and marriage equality and a punt of Affirmative Action.  I had no idea about the decimation of the Voting Rights Act, but then who did?  And the court roster remains intact.

- Even if we went over the fiscal cliff or curb or speed-bump, the economy will continue to improve, with the unemployment rate going below 7% by Labor Day.  I know this only because I know that our economy, like the water level in the Great Lakes, goes in cycles no matter what the hand of Wall Street or Washington does… unless they completely screw it up like the last time and make it even worse.

A little too optimistic on the unemployment rate, but the economy really is getting better.

- After the extreme weather we saw in 2012, at long last we will move to do something about climate change or global warming or whatever it is fashionably called.  It won’t be done by Congress, however; it will be because the people who make a living off the climate, such as agriculture and coastal enterprises such as fishing and tourism, will make it happen through their own efforts.  (Yeah, I’m being extremely optimistic on this one.  A year from now I will happily concede I blew it.)

Blew it.

- The extremism from the right that entertained us in 2012 will continue, albeit muted because 2013 isn’t an election year except in New Jersey, where Chris Christie will be re-elected and start his Howard Dean-like campaign for the presidency in 2016.  The GOP will refuse to acknowledge they have a problem, but as 2014 looms and the wingers that were elected in 2010 face re-election, they will find themselves scrambling hard for candidates that can survive primary battles where the nutsery reigns and then win the general election.  The only reason Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio will be re-elected in 2014 is if the Democrats don’t move in for the kill.

Not muted, and did not see Ted Cruz coming.  That’s not because he’s a formidable force to be reckoned with, but I thought that even the Republicans have their limits.  I guess not.

- I’ve given up predicting the Tigers’ future this year.  Surprise me, boys.

They did pretty well, and it was fun to see them live at Marlins Park.  But I was happy to see the Red Sox come from the cellar to the dome to win.

- We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

Losing Nelson Mandela, Peter O’Toole and James Gandolfini in the same year was a shock, but we all lost friends and loved ones who did not get a spread in The New York Times.  I hold them in the Light.

- Personally, this year looks good on a couple of fronts.  The Pontiac is due back from the body shop this week, and I have formally entered it in its first national Antique Automobile of America car show to take place in Lakeland, Florida, in February.  Things are looking better at work with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools getting a number of important grants, including a $32 million program from Race To The Top for math preparation, and the District won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education this past fall.  One of my short plays has been selected for production in May 2013 at the Lake Worth Playhouse’s Short Cuts series, and hope springs eternal for a full-scale production again of Can’t Live Without You here in Florida.  This time I have a good director who would love to do it if we can get a theatre.  I’ll be off to the William Inge Festival in May to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Inge’s birth, and plans are in the works for our annual trip to Stratford, Ontario, next summer.  My family continues to enjoy good health and good spirits.  The blessings continue.  (PS: No, I still don’t have a Twitter account.)

The Pontiac earned its first Driver Participation badge last February and goes for its second in February 2014.  Work continues to go on and the District is doing well: no F schools this year, a marked improvement over the last five years.  My short play, Ask Me Anything, has now been produced more times than any of my other full-length works (two on-stage and one directing project), and my writing continues.  It looks like our trip to Stratford in August was our last trip, simply because of relocation and logistics, but who knows?  My family continues to enjoy good health and good spirits.  And I finally have a Twitter account: @BobbyBBWW.

Now the predictions:

- Despite the terrible roll-out and start-up of Obamacare and the opportunity it handed the Republican campaign strategists, the healthcare law will not be as big an issue in the 2014 mid-terms that all the Villagers say it will be.  By the time the campaign hits the final stretch, the law will be so entrenched that even the people who claim they hate it — even though they support what it does — will have a hard time trying to run candidates who promise to repeal it.  Still, the GOP noise machine and Tea Party hard-core is locked in on re-electing their safe base and the morning after the 2014 mid-terms will show a House still in the hands of the GOP and the Senate closer to 50-50.

- Immigration reform and gun control will go nowhere because it’s the same Congress we had in 2013 and they didn’t do jack-shit.

- By December 31, 2014 it will be a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be running for president.  Joe Biden will play coy with the Villagers about running, but in the end he’ll demur to Ms. Clinton.  The Benghazi! non-scandal will be long gone except for the nutsery who still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  The GOP will be lining up its merry band that includes Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and just for laughs, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.  President Obama’s approval numbers will be back up in the 50% range.

- Florida Gov. Rick Scott will lose his re-election bid to Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat, and Marco Rubio’s star will be as faded in GOP national politics as Pauly Shore’s is among Oscar voters.  He’ll pick up a primary challenge from the far right, but he’ll be safe in 2016 because the Democrats have nobody to run against him.

- Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will all face tough re-election campaigns, but Mr. Kasich and Mr. Snyder will probably squeak by.  Mr. Corbett is out, and just for laughs, the people of Maine will toss their gaffe-prone Tea Party guv Paul LePage.

- The national economy will continue to expand and the drive for the living wage movement will take hold.  The unemployment numbers will finally get below 7.0% and stay there.

- Marriage equality will spread to more states as more cases based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 are heard.  Indiana will vote on a ban on same-sex marriage in November 2014, and it will lose narrowly. But same-sex won’t be the law of the land yet, and I predict that unless the Supreme Court issues a sweeping ruling, Texas will be the last hold-out.

- The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that Hobby Lobby or any for-profit non-religious corporation does not have the right “to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”

- This will be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Tigers now that Jim Leyland has retired.  They’ll do respectably well and may even win the division again, but it’s time for a breather.

- Fidel Castro will finally hop the twig, and the slow thaw between the U.S. and Cuba will begin as the generation that is as old as Castro continues to fade away.

- We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

- Personally, life will continue at its gentle pace in good health and good spirits.  In September I will turn 62 and begin the first steps towards eventual retirement, but that won’t be for a long time yet.  I’ve already started on my paper for the William Inge Theatre Festival in March, and I continue to write and produce blog posts.  My parents are happily settled into their “life enrichment community,” and I hope to visit them this summer.  I might even get a smartphone this year, but don’t bet on it.

- The Ford Mustang will turn 50 years old in April 2014.  That’s not the longest continuous run of an American car model — the Corvette started in 1953 — but it’s an impressive run for a car that re-defined the auto industry.  My prediction is that it will last another fifty.

- And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Okay, readers, it’s your turn.  What do you predict will befall us in 2014?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Reading

Their Pet Words — Brad Leithauser in The New Yorker tells us about some writers’ favorite words and what it tells us about them.

The word “sweet” appears eight hundred and forty times in your complete Shakespeare. Or nearly a thousand times, if you accept close variants (“out-sweeten’d,” “true-sweet,” “sweetheart”). This level of use comes as no surprise to anyone who loves the sonnets and plays: whether in moments of fondest coaxing and chiding (“When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear”) or abject anguish and empathy (“Bless thy sweet eyes—they bleed”), Shakespeare reliably repaired to a sugared lexicon. It’s similarly unsurprising to learn that “flower” and “flowers” bloom on more than a hundred occasions in E. E. Cummings’s poetry; for him, the rotation of the seasons meant that spring followed hard on the heels of spring. Likewise, one might rightly predict that within A. E. Housman’s verses “lad” and “lads” would tabulate more densely than “beauty” or “life” or even “love” or “death.” For him, “lad” was probably the richest word in the language—a modest, slender triad of letters on which he hung his deepest feelings of fascination, lust, exclusion, and (especially when regarding soldiers in uniform) envy and gratitude.

Every poet, every novelist has his or her pet words. Which words these may be dawns on you gradually as you enter the world of a new writer. The deeper you read, the more likely it is that a fresh line in effect becomes an old line, as a signature vocabulary term rings out variations on previous usages. Of course, with many major authors this process of identifying pet words can be hastened and simplified by consulting a concordance. Either way, you’ll likely discover that your author’s personal dictionary contains an abundance of amiable acquaintances, but a select few intimate friends.

I sometimes wonder what could be responsibly deduced about a poet whose work you’d never actually read—if you were supplied only with a bare-bones concordance providing tables of vocabulary frequency. A fair amount, probably. You might reasonably postulate that Housman was homosexual upon learning that “lad,” “lads,” and “man” together surface roughly two hundred times in his poetry, as opposed to something like twenty appearances of “woman,” “women,” “girl,” and “girls.” Or you might—a deeper challenge—presuppose the existence of an essential temperamental and creative schism between two giants upon learning that “tranquil” and its variants (“tranquility,” “tranquilizing,” etc.) materialize more than fifty times in Wordsworth’s poetry and about a dozen in Byron’s. Doesn’t this statistic present, in stark relief, the posed polarities of the poet as contemplative and the poet as a man of action?

At the end of the day, when darkness falls, a concordance turns out to be a sort of sky chart to the assembling night. It shows how the poet’s mind constellates. Even if we’d never read Milton, we might surmise something of his vast, magisterial temperament on being told that “law” emerges some fifty times in his complete poems. We might surmise something further on discovering that “Hell” surfaces nearly as often as “love.”

Bullies for Jesus — From James Hamblin in The Atlantic, a high school student feels the wrath of God for complaining about religion in his public school.

Earlier this year, while no one was looking, Gage Pulliam took a photo of a plaque that listed the Ten Commandments, as it hung on the wall of his Oklahoma high school’s biology classroom.

Pulliam emailed the photo, anonymously, to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They then sent a complaint to the school district, which asked Muldrow High School to take down the plaque.

The taste of justice was, for a moment, sweet on Pulliam’s godless tongue. Until students protested . By later in the week, his peers had compiled hundreds of signatures on petitions to save the Commandments plaque. The Muldrow Ministerial Alliance began giving away shirts that bore the Ten Commandments, in support of the protest. Parents got into the fray, too. Denise Armer said taking down the plaque was “going too far … What happened to freedom of religion, and not from religion?”

The protesters began speculating as to who was responsible for the instigating photo. Speculative whispers became cries. When some of Pulliam’s friends–who were among the cohort of openly areligious students at Muldrow High–started feeling heat, Pulliam outed himself on an atheist blog. Sacrificing himself to so that he might save others, Pulliam admitted that he was the one who sent the photo.

Pulliam later said that in the wake of his confession, his mother worried for his safety. She also worried that his teachers might grade him differently. His sister, an eighth-grader, said other students wouldn’t look at her, and “in one instance she couldn’t even get a class project done because her group members refused to talk to her.” Other students “told Gage’s girlfriend that he should stay from them or else they’ll punch him.”

Pulliam’s justification for taking the photo in the first place: “I want people to know this isn’t me trying to attack religion. This is me trying to create an environment for kids where they can feel equal.”

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is an educational nonprofit advocacy group. They have 393 affiliated student groups on U.S. high school and college campuses. That number has doubled in the last four years. Their stated purpose is to “organize and empower nonreligious students” and “foster successful grassroots campus groups which provide a welcoming community for secular students to discuss their views and promote their secular values.” This month they launched a program, primarily in high schools, intended to counter situations like Pulliam’s, which they say are commonplace.

The Secular Safe Zone initiative is designed to create “safe, neutral places for students to talk about their doubts without fear of religious bullying.” That’s done by recruiting “allies” and training them to recognize and respond to anti-atheist bullying. The initiative is modeled off of Gay Alliance’s LGBT Safe Zone program, which was started several years ago, in that it allows mentors at schools to explicitly demarcate spaces where “students know that bullying won’t be tolerated.”

School faculty members who affiliate with the program never have to say a thing; they hang the yellow, green, pink, and blue emblem, and students come to them.

“It’s shocking how often people tell secular students that they don’t belong in America,” Jesse Galef, communications director for the SSA told me. “Sometimes there are threats of violence against students who openly identify as atheists … We’re calling on supportive role models nationwide to stand up for these students.” That can include “teachers, guidance counselors, librarians, RAs, even chaplains, who want to create safe places for people to discuss their doubts and be open about their identities.”

A Different Party — Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein follow up their book on the dysfunction of the GOP with an assessment of where they’re going now.

A brighter future for politics and policy requires a different Republican Party, one no longer beholden to its hard right and willing to operate within the mainstream of American politics. After losing five of six presidential elections between 1968 and 1988, Democrats (thanks in large part to the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton) made a striking adjustment that put them in a position to nominate credible presidential candidates, develop center-left policies responsive to the interests of a majority of voters, and govern in a less ideological, more pragmatic, problem-solving mode. Nothing would contribute more to strengthening American democracy than Republicans going through that same experience. The initial post-2012 election assessment by the Republican National Committee took some steps toward frankly acknowledging their problems with the electorate and suggesting a course of action. However, with the striking exception of immigration policy, it moved little beyond message and process and in no way questioned the party’s absolutist position on taxes or crabbed position on the scope and size of government. That failure to move further made it even more difficult for the few problem-solving-oriented House conservatives, along with some of those in the Senate, to ignore the threat of well-financed primary challenges for apostasy from those absolutist causes.

Republicans have reason to believe the 2014 midterm elections will strengthen their position in Congress, even if they continue on the oppositionist course they set in the 112th Congress. Midterm elections usually result in losses for the president’s party, and if there is disgruntlement over continued dysfunction, voters may take it out on the perceived party in charge. But Republicans also know that there are risks associated with brinksmanship and obstruction, and they could be setting themselves up for a trouncing in 2016. Nothing concentrates the minds of politicians and their parties so much as the prospect of electoral defeat and political marginalization.

Doonesbury — Conventional wisdom.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Bright Future

Sen. Ted Cruz looks for the best and the brightest.

“If you sit back and you list who are the brightest stars in the Republican Party, who are the most effective advocates for free-market principles, you come up with names like Marco Rubio, like Mike Lee, like Rand Paul, like Pat Toomey, like Scott Walker,” Cruz said as a man in the audience at the New York State Republican Party dinner yelled his name.

“You have to go back to World War II to see such a transformation of the people leading the fight, leading the argument for conservative principles, being an entirely new generation of leaders stepping forward.” Cruz continued, describing the men who grew up while Reagan served in office. “In this new generation of leaders, you see the echoes of that same communication, that same love story of freedom, echoing we are right and all of us together are working to communicate that message.”

The irony is that each of the people that Mr. Cruz mentioned have all demonstrated that they would have kicked Ronald Reagan out of the GOP because he was far too liberal for their dogma.  He signed an abortion bill while he was governor of California, and while he was president, he raised taxes.  They’re talking about “Ronald Reagan,” the man who single-handedly tore down the Berlin Wall and unleashed capitalism and the Baby Jesus across the land.

As far as being the “bright future” of the Republican Party, you don’t have to be a partisan to notice that among the names Mr. Cruz has listed, not one of these hopefuls has raised a new idea or put forward anything other than boilerplate 19th century jingoism and warmed-over rhetoric that couldn’t get past the Eisenhower administration.

If that’s what we have to look forward to, bring back Timothy Leary.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Reading

Obstruction — Jonathan Bernstein at Salon on why blocking every move by the president will blow up in the hands of the GOP.

It’s obvious that the unprecedented Senate Republican obstruction of executive branch nominations is bad for the president; it’s bad for the smooth functioning of the government; and it’s bad for voters who elected a Democratic president and a solid, 55-seat Democratic majority in the Senate. I’ve argued, too, that it’s bad for the Senate.

Less obvious? It’s bad for Republicans.

Now, in electoral terms, it can’t be bad for both parties, since electoral politics is a zero-sum game. Indeed, that’s sort of the problem for Republicans; obstruction of these nominations almost certainly has zero electoral effect. After all, most voters couldn’t tell you who the nominees for secretary of labor or to head the Environmental Protection Agency are, let alone the obscure rules Republicans are using to delay their confirmation.

So the effects of massive, across-the-board obstruction are going to be on policy, not elections. And that’s not a zero-sum game – and it will hurt Republicans and Republican-aligned groups, too.

Obstruction backfires against Republicans because it makes it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for them to collectively use the nomination process to make policy demands. Consider, for example, what they’ve done with EPA nominee Gina McCarthy. Senators traditionally ask nominees questions in order, in part, to get them to commit to policies those Senators find acceptable. McCarthy received not the normal dozens of questions, but more than 1,000. That appears to be an extreme case, but it’s not just her, either. As the New York Times reported, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew had to answer 395. By contrast, George W. Bush’s last Treasury Secretary received 49 questions from Democrats and 32 from Republicans. When you answer hundreds of questions, you might as well answer none; by failing to focus on specific areas of policy they care about, Republicans are likely wasting the opportunity to actually win some policy commitments.

Which Was the Worst? — James Fallows at The Atlantic weighs in on which of the so-called scandals is the one that could be the worst for President Obama.

Obama’s endorsement of the seizure of phone records and investigation suggests surprising blindness to two great and not-very-hidden realities of presidential history.

One is, secrets always get out. Presidents always hate it, and they always do their best to prevent it. Usually they manage to guard the truly life-and-death, real-time operational details — for instance, in Obama’s case, the suspected whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But always there are leaks. Always. Always. And they are nearly always less consequential than is alleged at the time.

The other great historical constant is that after-the-fact hunts for leakers always go wrong. That is because they criminalize the delicate but essential relationship between reporters and government officials. The prosecutors always come across as over-reaching and too intrusive. The reporters and their news organizations always end up in a no-win situation: sometimes spending time in jail, often put in financial distress by legal costs, always torn between their professional/personal obligation to maintain confidence with their sources and the demands of prosecutors. And no good purpose is ever served.

Obama should know this. He must know it. He must know that no president looks better in history’s eyes for anti-leak prosecutions, and that many look worse. He must know the temptations that work on any president: the temptation to steadily arrogate executive power, to become so resentful of the limits on his power in domestic-legislation fights that he is drawn toward his untrammeled international authority, to slide imperceptibly from his (unavoidable) role as the person who must make countless hard decisions to a sense that his judgment automatically equals what is best for the country. He must know what the open-ended “war on terror” has done to the balance of powers, the fabric of life, and the rule of law in our country. Obama’s (and America’s) ideal, Abraham Lincoln, infringed heavily on civil liberties in the name of wartime emergency. That war, like Franklin Roosevelt’s, had a definable end.

I think Barack Obama has made a bad mistake in endorsing this investigation. It is one of the rare times I question not his effectiveness or tactics but his judgment. I hope he reconsiders.

Pity Party — Frank Bruni says that winning in America, be it on The Voice or in politics, relies on having a hard-luck story to tug at the heartstrings.

There’s a vivid streak of this in history, from Abe Lincoln’s log home to Bill Clinton’s turbulent one. But it seems more florid now. The economy’s stubborn funk has ratcheted up our suspicion of perks and privileges and our support for underdogs, to a point where we’re less taken with what people have achieved than with what they’ve endured.

In politics and in prime time, the contestants with the most traction are frequently the contestants with the gravest trials: afflictions, addictions, lost loves, lost dogs. I’m kidding about the canines, but only slightly. If there aren’t any epic setbacks in your biography, your political consultants or your “Voice” producers will find and amplify whatever garden-variety sorrows do exist. They’re like divining rods for tears, Yo-Yo Ma’s of the heartstrings.

That’s surely why a sort of weariness and skepticism was the response among a few New Yorkers I know to last week’s revelations by Christine Quinn, the mayoral candidate, that she’d struggled with bulimia and alcoholism. They’ve grown so inured to the process of public figures rummaging through the past for hard knocks that they greet it in a jaded fashion, wondering how to tell the real aches from the exaggerated ones.

Fetishized misfortune — hardship porn — has numbed them. That’s the biggest problem with it. It equates and mashes everything into one sentimental mush, cheapening uncommon suffering by showcasing it alongside the rest. It bends all life stories into identical arcs, no matter how different those stories are.

Doonesbury — Facial recognition.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Reading

A Different Language — Former Congressman Tom Allen on the modern GOP.

Nothing I had learned about politics before my election prepared me for the intense polarization of contemporary congressional politics. When I first went to Washington to work for Sen. Ed Muskie in 1970, Republicans and Democrats debated public issues vigorously, but there was more genuine give-and-take and mutual respect, and the players did not treat politics as a blood sport. Six years on the Portland City Council taught me that most local issues could be resolved without petty or partisan combat.

Dwight Eisenhower accepted the major legislation of the New Deal. John Kennedy started the legislative push for a substantial tax cut. Lyndon Johnson came from a Senate known for working across the aisle. Richard Nixon signed clean water and clean air legislation. Ronald Reagan raised taxes many times to deal with mounting deficits created by his 1981 tax cut; George H. W. Bush did the same, to resounding criticism from the Right. Bill Clinton antagonized elements of his Democratic base by supporting a balanced federal budget, free trade and welfare reform.

George W. Bush was different. His election in 2000 was, in hindsight, stage two of the Newt Gingrich revolution. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.) recalled, shortly after Bush’s election, that Dick Cheney quickly laid out to a small group of moderate Senate Republicans, “a shockingly divisive political agenda for the new Bush administration, glossing over nearly every pledge the Republican ticket had made to the American voter.” In his first term, President Bush abandoned international treaties, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and drove through two massive tax cuts that primarily benefitted wealthy Americans.

Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign employed “microtargeting” as a part of their successful strategy of mobilizing the Republican base instead of reaching out to the middle. That political strategy was consistent with the Bush administration’s style of governing and the way Gingrich and Tom DeLay controlled Congress: Drive through the most right-wing policy that the Republican caucus could support; only move legislation that has the support of a substantial majority of the majority party; take no prisoners.

As I listened over the years to baffling arguments in committee, on the House floor or in private conversations, I lost hope in our capacity for bipartisan agreement on our major public policy challenges. On budgets, taxes, health care and climate change, the evidence that mattered to us made no difference to our Republican colleagues. What Democrats took as well-established fact, Republicans understood as easily dismissed opinions. When we wondered, “Do these guys believe what they say?” our answer was usually no. But if the Republicans didn’t believe the things they were saying, they were extraordinarily gifted performers on the House floor.

Major Dilemma — Matthew O’Brien on liberal arts majors and the economy.

Is our college students learning?

Rarely is the question not asked nowadays. Graduates now face a tough labor market and even tougher debt burdens, which has left many struggling to find work that pays enough to pay back what they owe. Today, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann points out, young alums aren’t stuck in dead-end jobs much more than usual (despite the scare stories you may have heard). But that’s a cold comfort for grads who borrowed a lot to cover the high cost of their degrees.

There are two, well, schools of thought about why freshly-minted grads have had such a tough time recently. You can blame the smarty-pants majors or blame the economy. In other words, students can’t get good jobs either because they aren’t learning (at least not the right things) in college, or because there aren’t enough good jobs, period.

This is far from an academic debate. If recent grads can’t find good work because they didn’t learn any marketable skills, there’s little the government can do to help, besides “nudging” current students to be more practical. And that’s exactly what conservative governors in Florida and North Carolina are considering with proposals to charge humanities majors higher tuition than, say, science majors at state schools.

But there’s an obvious question. If liberal arts majors “didn’t learn much in school,” as Jane Shaw put it in the Wall Street Journal, why haven’t they always had trouble finding work? Are there just more of them now, or is this lack of learning just a recent phenomenon?

Breaking News — Jim Romenseko with a story about The Onion that should be from The Onion.

When WSFA-TV (Montgomery, Ala.) reporter Jennifer Oravet read in The Onion that PR firm Hill & Knowlton was advising the U.S. to cut ties with Alabama, she went to work, made a phone call and posted her findings on Facebook:

“I contacted the PR firm listed in this article, they claim the article is ‘ficticious’ and have no involvement in the alleged study.”

Actually, Jennifer, all Onion articles are fictitious. (Just one c.)

Did she know that when she put in the call to Hill & Knowlton? I called WSFA to find out and was told that Oravet is taking the day off. A newsroom colleague – she wouldn’t give me her name – insisted that the reporter/anchor knew the Hill & Knowlton/Alabama story was fake from the start.

“It doesn’t sound like it based on her Facebook post,” I said.

“Did you see her report?” the colleague asked.

I said I had, and figured she had been set straight about The Onion before going on air. Wrong, I was told — Oravet always knew it was a satirical paper.

WSFA Facebook commenters have their doubts, too. One writes:

“I don’t know what’s better, her original post, or her backpedaling to ‘cover up; her mistake. I’ve done dummy things like that (most recent when I applauded Beyonce at the inauguration… lip sync anyone?) but come on, admit you’re stupid sometimes just like the rest of us.”

Another person writes:

“LOL, so I read through the comments and I see that someone “demands” we give [her] a break. Seriously?? Someone takes the Onion as serious and we should give a break??? Eff that, this was a fail of epic proportions and should be exploited to the nth degree. There’s honestly no coming back from this! Only in Bama!”

I’ve emailed Oravet for comment, hoping she occasionally checks in on days off. I also called and emailed WSFA news director Scott Duff earlier this afternoon.

Doonesbury — Baby, baby.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The New Edsel

Some automotive history:

In February of 1959, Ford Motor Company executives sent a letter to the remaining Edsel dealerships expressing their confidence in the Edsel line, and that the all new 1960 model would be introduced in October. Even though research had indicated that Edsel could not make it through another year with the negative publicity that surrounded the name, Ford decided to give the car one last chance.

In spite of millions of dollars in research, market testing, and confidence that the consumer would buy just about whatever the manufacturer would put out there, the Edsel became synonymous with disaster, and in spite of redesigns in the following two model years that rendered it basically indistinguishable from other Fords, the plug was pulled in November 1959.

1960 Edsel

1960 Edsel

I was reminded of that last-minute grasp at straws when I read about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s pep talk to his fellow Republicans.

Over the next two years, the House Majority will pursue an agenda based on a shared vision of creating the conditions for health, happiness and prosperity for more Americans and their families. And to restrain Washington from interfering in those pursuits.

[...]

We will advance proposals aimed at producing results in areas like education, health care, innovation and job growth. Our solutions will be based on the conservative principles of self reliance, faith in the individual, trust in the family and accountability in government. Our goal – to ensure every American has a fair shot at earning their success and achieving their dreams.

And roses and rainbows, lollipops and ponies!

It’s very clear that the Republicans know they have a problem.  But they don’t seem to know exactly what that problem is.  (Hint: good people don’t like you.)

At least the folks at Ford knew they had made a mistake.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Polishing a Turd – Ctd.

The GOP is still at it.

Eric Cantor is set to give a speech tomorrow in which he is supposed to take new rhetorical steps designed to “soften” the GOP’s image. However, Ron Fournier reports that there will be no softening of GOP ideology, only a softening of tone:

The speech will attempt to cast the House GOP’s traditionally conservative policy agenda in terms that appeal to parents, explaining why school vouchers, tax breaks, repealing the health care law, and other Republican standards would “make life work better.” [...]

Cantor plans to ask Congress to require universities to warn students when their academic majors lack employment opportunities; to repeal the tax on medical devices, a provision of Obama’s health care overhaul; and to shift spending from political sciences to “hard” sciences such as cancer research.

One thing he won’t do is moderate Republican policies. Cantor is talking about a change in tone, not ideology, which begs the question: With a demographic tide threatening to crush the modern GOP, is it enough to just tweak talking points?

Short answer: No.

As Greg Sargent points out, there are three prongs to the GOP plan for revival:  Change the tone, not the message; rig the system so that they win elections with fewer votes; and hope for a Messiah to save them from the wasteland they’re in now.

None of those plans change the constant: the majority of Americans don’t like what the party is selling, and they’re getting tired of being played for suckers.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back/Looking Forward

As I do every year on New Year’s Eve, I make predictions about the upcoming year.  Let’s see how I did for 2012:

Barack Obama will narrowly win re-election against Mitt Romney. It will be a campaign of fear, loathing, excess, and outrage… and that’s just on the GOP side until the inevitable coronation of Mr. Romney. The amount of money to be spent on both sides will be enough to run several mid-sized countries. Re-election campaigns are, of course, a vote on the performance of the incumbent, and Mr. Obama will have to defend his record, but the Republicans have, by their own actions, inactions, and lurch to the right in response to their hatred of all things Obama, made the choice in the election pretty clear. The stated GOP agenda has been to deny Barack Obama a second term, but other than that, they have offered nothing of substance if they win the election. That’s not surprising; they never do. They live on bumper sticker slogans and ten-word answers — Repeal Obamacare; Ban Abortion; Deport the Brown People; No More Taxes; Kill the Queers — but they offer no solutions, unless you want to go back to revive the bold and new ideas from the administration of William McKinley. The campaign will resemble that of the one in 1948 where Harry Truman, coming back from dismal approval ratings, beat the patrician and automatonic Thomas E. Dewey. Mr. Truman ran against an intransigent and right-wing-whacky Republican Congress, and Mr. Obama has pretty much the same situation. It won’t be a landslide, but unless there’s a complete meltdown of the Obama campaign juggernaut, he’ll win and might even win back Congress for the Democrats. It will not be the end of the right-wingers by any means; if anything, the re-election of Barack Obama will drive them even further over the cliff, and we will find out that the level of lunacy is infinite.

As I noted shortly after the election in November, I nailed it.  The only thing I missed on was the possibility of winning back the House, but the Democrats did gain seats.

The Supreme Court, by a vote of 5 to 4, will uphold the new healthcare law, and the California Prop 8 case will get on their docket for 2013.

Right on both counts.

Despite the best efforts of the Republicans, the economy will continue to improve, but at about the same pace as it currently is, meaning that by Election Day the unemployment rate will be around 8%. Consumer confidence will continue to grow, and while the housing market will still be soft, bigger ticket items like cars and appliances will start to sell; those old cars can’t run forever.

Right again, although I underestimated the strength of the auto market.  They are having their best year in a long, long time.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be recalled, which will send a shiver through right-wing governors from Ohio and Michigan to Florida. As the thousands of people in the streets from Madison to Wall Street proved, you mess with the middle class at your peril, and that sleeping giant has been awakened.

Okay, I blew that one, and Rick Snyder in Michigan is making Scott Walker look like a liberal.  But I think the backlash will continue, and he has to run for re-election in 2014.

Here in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will win another term in a tight race against Rep. Connie Mack (R), and Rep. Allen West (R) will be tossed out on his ass by the good people of Broward County. Alan Grayson (D), who lost in 2010, will win back a seat in Congress, and this will send a strong message to the Florida Democrats that if they can find some good people to run for office, they can beat Rick Scott in 2014.

Nailed that one, too, but the strongest contender in the race against Mr. Scott is the newly-minted Democrat Charlie Crist.  Hold your nose, Democrats; to quote E.J. Hornbeck in the film of Inherit the Wind, he may be rancid butter, but he’s on your side of the bread.

The Tigers will go all the way this year. They got very close this year, and there’s always next year.

They did make it all the way to the World Series, only to blow it in a four-game shut out.  Argh.

We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

This year seemed especially harsh, both with friends at work and at home, and names that have been part of our lives.  Peace.

Personally, some things never change. I’ll go to the William Inge Festival in April — my 21st time — where we’ll honor David Henry Hwang. I’ll go to Stratford in July with my parents, and I’ll go back to work on Tuesday. I’ve done some tinkering with the Pontiac as it verges on becoming a certified antique, which happens when the 2013 models go on sale. I have no plans to move or change jobs, and the only momentous thing that will happen is that I turn 60 in September. Big whoop.

All true, and to celebrate the Big Six-Oh I threw a little party.

Okay, let’s move on to the predictions for 2013:

- President Obama moves into his second term with pretty much the same situation in Washington and Congress as he has had for the last two years, so nothing will really get done.  The budget matters, including the fake drama of the Fiscal Cliff, will still be around in some form because it’s a lot easier to kick it down the road than actually do something, especially when you have a Republican Party that absolutely refuses to work with the president on anything at all.  It has nothing to do with policy, deficits or debt, taxes or revenue.  The reason is pretty simple: they don’t like him, and so like a kid in grade school who refuses to do his math homework because he hates the teacher, they refuse to budge.  You can pick your excuses, ranging from his Spock-like demeanor to his refusal to suck up to the Villagers, but most of it comes down to the unspoken reason that dare not speak its name: he’s black.  No one dares say that out loud, but get three beers in any Republican, and I’ll bet they’ll admit it by saying “He’s not one of us.”  How many dog whistles do you need?  A big tell was that in the last-minute budget negotiations, Mitch McConnell went to Vice President Joe Biden as the go-between the Congress and the president.  Why?  Because Mr. Biden was in the Senate and knows how to talk to them, and also because he’s the white guy.  So we will have another year of gridlock, and the new Congress will make the one just concluded look good.

- The Supreme Court will rule the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8 are unconstitutional.  It will be a very close vote, probably 5-4 on both cases, and they will narrowly rule on both cases, doing their best not to fling open the doors to marriage equality with a blanket ruling and leave the rest of it up to the states.  But they will both go down.  On the other hand, they will rule against Affirmative Action.  I also think there will be some changes to the make-up of the Court with at least one retirement, either voluntary or by the hand of fate.

- Even if we went over the fiscal cliff or curb or speed-bump, the economy will continue to improve, with the unemployment rate going below 7% by Labor Day.  I know this only because I know that our economy, like the water level in the Great Lakes, goes in cycles no matter what the hand of Wall Street or Washington does… unless they completely screw it up like the last time and make it even worse.

- After the extreme weather we saw in 2012, at long last we will move to do something about climate change or global warming or whatever it is fashionably called.  It won’t be done by Congress, however; it will be because the people who make a living off the climate, such as agriculture and coastal enterprises such as fishing and tourism, will make it happen through their own efforts.  (Yeah, I’m being extremely optimistic on this one.  A year from now I will happily concede I blew it.)

- The extremism from the right that entertained us in 2012 will continue, albeit muted because 2013 isn’t an election year except in New Jersey, where Chris Christie will be re-elected and start his Howard Dean-like campaign for the presidency in 2016.  The GOP will refuse to acknowledge they have a problem, but as 2014 looms and the wingers that were elected in 2010 face re-election, they will find themselves scrambling hard for candidates that can survive primary battles where the nutsery reigns and then win the general election.  The only reason Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio will be re-elected in 2014 is if the Democrats don’t move in for the kill.

- I’ve given up predicting the Tigers’ future this year.  Surprise me, boys.

- We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

- Personally, this year looks good on a couple of fronts.  The Pontiac is due back from the body shop this week, and I have formally entered it in its first national Antique Automobile of America car show to take place in Lakeland, Florida, in February.  Things are looking better at work with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools getting a number of important grants, including a $32 million program from Race To The Top for math preparation, and the District won the coveted Broad Prize for Urban Education this past fall.  One of my short plays has been selected for production in May 2013 at the Lake Worth Playhouse’s Short Cuts series, and hope springs eternal for a full-scale production again of Can’t Live Without You here in Florida.  This time I have a good director who would love to do it if we can get a theatre.  I’ll be off to the William Inge Festival in May to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Inge’s birth, and plans are in the works for our annual trip to Stratford, Ontario, next summer.  My family continues to enjoy good health and good spirits.  The blessings continue.  (PS: No, I still don’t have a Twitter account.)

- And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Field Guide to Conservatives

David Brooks goes looking for the next batch of big thinkers in the conservative wilderness.

First he spots the Paleoconservatives lurking in the underbrush, keeping a wary eye on the Lower-Middle Reformists.  And look, over there is nest of Soft Libertarians — aren’t they adorable with their tiny little open minds — who are gently trying the coax the Burkean Revivalists down from the limb they’ve been sawing off for a century or so.  Yes, it’s a miracle of nature that these hardy creatures have survived so well after that big storm a couple of weeks ago that threatened to blow them into the next county.

And, as Mr. Brooks noticed, a lot of them do not bear such names as the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), but go by such exotic cognomens as Reihan, Ramesh, Yuval and Derek Khanna.  Are these invasive species something to worry about, or is it new blood that can reinvigorate the biosphere?

This kind of diversity isn’t limited to the conservatives.  A cursory glance at the liberal side of the meadow reveals the DFH’s grooving along with the Limousine Liberals while the Socialists and the Grumpy Iconoclasts do their own thing.  There are no monoliths in politics (except for Mitt Romney’s hair), and every party cycles its species through stages ranging from feral to bordering on extinct.  Right now it’s the conservatives who are looking for their winter nesting ground; the next time it could be the liberals, just as they did after 1972 and 1988.

To bring this metaphor to a merciful close (and extend heartfelt apologies to the legacy of Roger Tory Peterson), nature seeks a balance, and no matter what you do, it always gets its way.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Stupid Party

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal thinks he knows what’s wrong with the Republicans:

“We’ve got to make sure that we are not the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything,” Jindal told POLITICO in a 45-minute telephone interview. “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”

Um, we already have a party that isn’t like that.  Perhaps you’ve heard of them; they’re called the Democrats.

“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal said. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

If Mr. Jindal really wants the GOP to stop being “the stupid party,” he can start with himself; Steve M has a wide assortment of offensive and bizarre comments uttered by the governor.

I’m willing to bet that there are a number of folks in the Republican Party who are proud of the reputation their party has created and would take great pride in being the dumb-down party.  After all, no one ever lost an election by underestimating the greed, fear, and loathing of the American electorate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Off Balance

Mr. Brooks muses on the two differing theories of modern conservatism and finally admits that the loons have taken over the asylum.

It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don’t even know it exists. There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels.

The results have been unfortunate.

Actually, they’ve been predictable.  There’s a tendency in any political movement to look for a scapegoat for the problems of the world and blame them, but the Republicans have made it their party platform for the last fifty years.  The switch to simplistic economic conservatism, along with a healthy dose of moralistic scolding, has turned a lot of them into grifters, torturers, and intellectual sock-puppets.  That’s what happens to people with power without discipline or a sense of duty to others beyond your own tribe.

It’s about damn time you noticed, David.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It’s Tough When They Grow Up

Jonathan Krohn, who at the age of 13 wowed the conservatives with a stem-winding speech at the CPAC convention in 2009 (and was the subject of Bill Maher’s New Rules a couple of weeks ago), is now 17. And he’s leaving the reservation.

“I think it was naive,” Krohn now says of the speech. “It’s a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time.… I live in Georgia. We’re inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.… The speech was something that a 13-year-old does. You haven’t formed all your opinions. You’re really defeating yourself if you think you have all of your ideas in your head when you were 12 or 13. It’s impossible. You haven’t done enough.”

Krohn won’t go so far as to say he’s liberal, in part because his move away from conservatism was a move away from ideological boxes in general.

“I want to be Jonathan Krohn,” he said, “and I’m tired of being an ideology, and it’s not fun and it gets boring and it’s not who we are as individuals.”

But a quick rundown of his current political stances suggests a serious pendulum swing away from the right.

Gay marriage? In favor. Obamacare? “It’s a good idea.” Who would he vote for (if he could) in November? “Probably Barack Obama.” His favorite TV shows? “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” His favorite magazine? The New Yorker. And, perhaps telling of all, Krohn is enrolling this fall at a college not exactly known for its conservatism: New York University.

Welcome, Jonathan; you’ve escaped from the dork side.

It’s Tough When They Grow Up

Jonathan Krohn, who at the age of 13 wowed the conservatives with a stem-winding speech at the CPAC convention in 2009 (and was the subject of Bill Maher’s New Rules a couple of weeks ago), is now 17. And he’s leaving the reservation.

“I think it was naive,” Krohn now says of the speech. “It’s a 13-year-old kid saying stuff that he had heard for a long time.… I live in Georgia. We’re inundated with conservative talk in Georgia.… The speech was something that a 13-year-old does. You haven’t formed all your opinions. You’re really defeating yourself if you think you have all of your ideas in your head when you were 12 or 13. It’s impossible. You haven’t done enough.”

Krohn won’t go so far as to say he’s liberal, in part because his move away from conservatism was a move away from ideological boxes in general.

“I want to be Jonathan Krohn,” he said, “and I’m tired of being an ideology, and it’s not fun and it gets boring and it’s not who we are as individuals.”

But a quick rundown of his current political stances suggests a serious pendulum swing away from the right.

Gay marriage? In favor. Obamacare? “It’s a good idea.” Who would he vote for (if he could) in November? “Probably Barack Obama.” His favorite TV shows? “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” His favorite magazine? The New Yorker. And, perhaps telling of all, Krohn is enrolling this fall at a college not exactly known for its conservatism: New York University.

Welcome, Jonathan; you’ve escaped from the dork side.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Unites Us

E.J. Dionne has a new book out about the state of modern conservatism and how it’s broken. He encapsulates much of his thesis in his Washington Post column today. What it boils down to is that the nice quiet manicured and well-bred conservatives that we remember from the good old days have been taken over by the fringes.

For much of our history, Americans — even in our most quarrelsome moments — have avoided the kind of polarized politics we have now. We did so because we understood that it is when we balance our individualism with a sense of communal obligation that we are most ourselves as Americans. The 20th century was built on this balance, and we will once again prove the prophets of U.S. decline wrong if we can refresh and build upon that tradition. But doing so will require conservatives to abandon untempered individualism, which betrays what conservatism has been and should be.

Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed.

Perhaps it’s unfair to give him a hard time for finally figuring out something that a lot of us have been noticing for so long. If you’re my age (and Mr. Dionne is five months older than me), you’re a baby boomer who came of age when the Beatles arrived in America, so you’ve seen it for most of your life, starting in Selma and making its way through America via a lot of different routes, including Kent State and New Orleans.

Mr. Dionne quite correctly notes that what has led us from the country club conservatives to the seething mob with their misspelled signs is the breakdown in the sense of community; we’re all in this together and together we can handle the problems that come along. We may have different approaches, but we don’t need to separate ourselves from each other. That has been taken over by mistrust of the community and turned into an I-got-mine-screw-you mentality.

What it comes down to is that it’s a lot easier to blame someone else for all your problems than work to find a solution. We unite a lot faster when there’s a common enemy, and a lot of people have made a lot of money and gained a lot of power by exploiting that basic fact of human nature.