Thursday, November 2, 2017

Speaking Of Weak

Via the Washington Post:

Trump moved quickly Wednesday to gain ­political advantage in the wake of the New York terrorist attack, casting blame on Democrats for lax immigration laws and calling the criminal justice system’s handling of suspects “a joke.”

A day after a man, identified by authorities as an Uzbek immigrant, killed eight people on a Manhattan bike path in an act authorities said was inspired by the Islamic State, Trump seized on the deadly crime to renew his calls for a series of hard-line policies.

The president said he would move to eliminate a popular “diversity lottery” for foreigners seeking U.S. visas and direct the State Department to ramp up “extreme vetting” of immigrants. He also suggested he would consider sending the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, a legal permanent resident of the United States, to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It took him five days to say anything about the sniper attack in Las Vegas that killed over 50 people, and then it was on the level of “thoughts and prayers.”  No talk of cracking down on people owning an arsenal that would have fought off a battalion or tightening controls on weapons that clearly don’t belong in civilian hands, but when a legal permanent resident uses a rented truck to kill eight people, suddenly he’s Osama bin Laden 2.0 and it’s off to Gitmo with him.

Why the difference?  Because Trump knows that a guy with a foreign-sounding name, regardless of his legal status and alleged alliance with ISIS, is an easy target.  A white guy with a rifle is his base.  Trump can only play to them, which proves he hasn’t the guts to take on the NRA.  (And there’s no powerful lobby pushing for rental truck rights.)

As for the justice system being “weak,” it may have had its ups and downs but by and large it’s worked pretty well for the last 200 years or so, and if you really want to know how well it works, just wait until Robert Mueller finishes his job.  Trump himself might find out just how weak it really is.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Random Thought

Conservatives and Christian zealots applauded when a county clerk in Kentucky defied the law based on her religious beliefs, and they’re about to elect a senator in Alabama who ordered judges in that state to also defy the law based on his religious beliefs. But they got their tits in an uproar about a silent protest that breaks no law and is in keeping with various religious traditions including Mennonite, Quaker, and Amish.

What am I missing here?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Not In A Vacuum

The recent attacks of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats against Jewish community centers are part of a pattern, according to Josh Marshall.

Anti-semitism is almost inevitably and almost always part of rightist political movements. It is a natural feature. This is not always explicitly so. It is not always that way at first, but eventually it is always there.

That is the case with Trumpism.

There are various theoretical reasons why this might be so. The most obvious is that rightist politics usually base themselves on cultural, racial or religious purity and unity. This makes Jews outsiders by definition. These rightist movements are also generally looking for outsiders to define themselves against and to pivot against. But these theories matter less than history. Why this is so is much less important than a lengthy historical record which demonstrates that it is so.

[…]

We are of course seeing arguments now about whether this outbreak of anti-Semitic agitation is tied to Donald Trump. I see little point in actually participating in this argument. Republicans and Trump supporters who deny the connection don’t really believe what they are saying. It is obvious that they are connected. We’ve never seen anything like this in decades. Are the KKK and anti-Semitic white nationalist groups really just confused when they say that Trump is the best thing that has happened to their groups in decades? Are we supposed to ignore that the President’s top advisor has clear ties to all of these groups and has spent years bringing them to greater prominence?

This is all obvious – obvious enough that there’s really no point debating the point. Whether Trump personally has antipathy toward Jews is irrelevant. His movement and his actions enable and encourage hostility toward Jews and the hostility inevitably spills over into violence. It is not yet as lethal. But it is no different in its basic contours to the immigrant bashing that led to the murder of the Indian immigrant Garmin employee in Kansas.

It’s not a far stretch to say that when you lead a movement that is attacking an entire community based on their faith — Muslims, for example — you’re opening the hatch to attack other communities as well; “Hey, while we’re bombing a mosque, what about those other folks who don’t worship like us?”

Trump’s recent statement against anti-Semitism was too little too late, and when the Ann Frank Center said so, his minions slammed them for being ingrates.  That right there is enough to tell you that he’s paying nothing but pre-programmed lip service, which actually proves the point.

Friday, September 2, 2016

This Cannot Be Our Legacy

Josh Marshall has thought this through and comes to the conclusion, as a lot of us have, that Donald Trump is engaging in the same kind of campaign that we’ve seen with red and black banners and brown shirts or burning crosses.

… Watch Trump’s speeches, with the yelling, the reddened face, the demand for vengeance and you see there’s little to distinguish them from what we see at Aryan Nations or other white hate rallies that we all immediately recognize as reprehensible, wrong and frankly terrifying. This isn’t ‘rough’ language or ‘hard edged’ rhetoric. It’s hate speech. Precisely what policy solution Trump is calling for is almost beside the point. Indeed, it wouldn’t be hate speech any less if Trump specified no policy solution at all.

This isn’t normal. It was normal in the Jim Crow South, as it was in Eastern Europe for centuries. It’s not normal in America in the 21st century. And yet it’s become normalized. It’s a mammoth failure of our political press. But it’s not just theirs, ours. It’s a collective failure that we’re all responsible for. By any reasonable standard, Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday night should have ended the campaign, as should numerous other rallies where Trump has done more or less the same thing for months. There’s a reason why the worst of the worst, the organized and avowed racists, were thrilled and almost giddy watching the spectacle. But it has become normalized. We do not even see it for what it is. It’s like we’ve all been cast under a spell. That normalization will be with us long after this particular demagogue, Donald Trump, has left the stage. Call this what it is: it is hate speech, in its deepest and most dangerous form.

And it must stop.  This is not the country that we want.  This is not what we can leave to the generations who will follow us and look to us and tell us that this is the legacy we gave them.  I can’t look at my 15-month-old great-nephew or the 350,000 students of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and say, “Here you are, this is the best we can do for you.”

I grew up as a baby boomer in the 1950’s and ’60’s believing that the marches for equal rights and brotherhood were really changing America from a land that just talked of those values to one that made them a reality even as there were those who fought back with the fire of fear and loathing.  We even thought — naively — that once they were achieved in large part that as the years passed we — all of us — would accept and welcome new cultures, new voices, new names and leave the distrust of the different behind.  But human nature does not change by legislation or popular sentiment and there will always be in us the instinct to shy away from the change.  And there will always be those who will exploit it for their own gain.

This cannot be our legacy.  We have worked too hard and come too far to leave it to the haters and the fear-mongers.  The days of going to war to end discrimination and a holocaust only to return home to a land of Jim Crow and restricted country clubs is the legacy of one generation that worked to change that.  Ours must be that we shun those who would bring it back and in the name of “freedom” turn that word and its values into a cudgel or a wall.  Not now, and never again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Brave Soldiers

All hail the brave soldiers of the United States Senate who bravely withstood the will of 92% of the people and voted down not one but four attempts to keep assault rifles out of the hands of murderers.

A divided Senate blocked rival election-year plans to curb guns Monday, eight days after the horror of Orlando’s mass shooting intensified pressure on lawmakers to act but knotted them in gridlock anyway — even over restricting firearms for terrorists.

In largely party-line votes, senators rejected one proposal from each side to keep extremists from acquiring guns and a second shoring up the government’s system of required background checks for many firearms purchases.

With the chamber’s visitors’ galleries unusually crowded for a Monday evening — including relatives of victims of past mass shootings and people wearing orange T-shirts saying #ENOUGH gun violence — each measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to progress. Democrats called the GOP proposals unacceptably weak while Republicans said the Democratic plans were too restrictive.

The stalemate underscored the pressure on each party to stand firm on the emotional gun issue going into November’s presidential and congressional elections. It also highlighted the potency of the National Rifle Association, which urged its huge and fiercely loyal membership to lobby senators to oppose the Democratic bills.

“Republicans say, ‘Hey look, we tried,'” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “And all the time, their cheerleaders, the bosses at the NRA, are cheering them.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Orlando shootings — in which the FBI says the American-born gunman swore allegiance to a Islamic State group leader — show the best way to prevent extremists’ attacks here is to defeat them overseas.

“No one wants terrorists to be able to buy guns,” McConnell said. He suggested that Democrats used the day’s votes “to push a partisan agenda or craft the next 30-second campaign ad.”

Well, Mitch, it’s about damn time we made it a partisan issue because the NRA has been doing that for the last forty years, and it won’t be just one 30-second campaign ad; this is going to be plastered all over: THE REPUBLICANS WANT TERRORISTS TO BUY GUNS THE WAY YOU BUY CHEWING GUM with your reptilian smirk underneath it all.

General LaPierre and his ranks are very proud of you, though.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Playground Battles

I’ve often referred to the back-and-forth in this cycle’s primaries as being on the level of playground squabbles with the name-calling and the taunting.  It seems to be having an impact on real playgrounds.

Something ugly is happening inside America’s classrooms.

Headscarf-wearing Muslim girls are being called terrorists. Latinos are warned of deportation and teased about wall-building along the US-Mexico border. The N-word is making a comeback, and children younger than ever before are using it.

Although name-calling has always been a feature of playground life, teachers across the US say it has grown nastier since Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric during the election campaign.

“I think there’s a real danger of harm taking place in all American schoolchildren,” Maureen Costello, an education expert at the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a civil rights group, told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve seen 10 or more years of anti-bullying work get rolled back by a hostile atmosphere in many schools. Teachers describe disillusionment, depression and discouragement among kids who feel like they now know what people have thought about them all along,” Castello said.

An SPLC survey of some 2,000 US schools found that two-thirds of teachers described their vulnerable students – including blacks, Muslims, Latinos and other minorities – as affected by rhetoric in the 2016 White House race.

It shows a spike in racist bullying. For Muslims – or even some non-Muslim brown-skinned children – the acronym “ISIS” has become a stock taunt, referencing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, which is also known as ISIS).

The bullying causes more than just upset. Some Mexican pupils now fear that Trump’s promise to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented migrants will come to pass and that they, and their loved ones, will get kicked out of the US, Costello said.

While Trump’s focus on African Americans has been limited to ejecting civil rights protesters from campaign rallies, some black youths expressed “irrational” fears that segregation or slavery will make a comeback, researchers found.

I’m old enough to remember the taunting and the demonstrations when schools started to be integrated in the 1950’s and ’60’s.  I thought we had grown out of it.  Silly me.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Right To Think Is On Trial Here

Continuing the theme of imaginative fiction (see below), there’s a new movie out that turns “Inherit the Wind” on its head and comes up with a teacher being sued by the evil ACLU for having the temerity to think that Jesus was a real person.

In a pivotal scene from the famous 1960 film “Inherit the Wind,” a biblical scholar, prosecuting a defendant on trial for teaching evolution in a town whose laws forbid it, is called to the stand as an expert witness. Slowly but surely, he begins to unravel on the stand. The defense attorney, Henry Drummond (rendered vividly by Spencer Tracy), pulls apart his literal reading of the Bible. If Joshua had really made the Sun stand still, wouldn’t the Earth have been destroyed? Where did Cain’s wife come from if “in the beginning” there were only Cain, Abel, Adam and Eve? How can we be sure the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. if the Sun, the metric by which we measure time, was not created until the fourth day?

“God’s Not Dead 2,” the sequel to the commercially successful movie of the same name, is an inversion of this theme. In the film, Grace, a history teacher played by Melissa Joan Hart, is asked whether the nonviolent philosophy preached by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. has parallels to that preached by Jesus in the Bible. In response, she quotes scripture, and endorses the analogy. A scoffing student ridicules her by sneering, I kid you not, that Jesus could not have been great because he died. Grace responds that Jesus, like King, died out of dedication to causes larger than himself, and that this does not detract from the greatness of either man. Teachers, administrators, and the ACLU alike are outraged by this lesson, and Grace winds up in court, where her lawyer finds himself proving, as one of the satanic ACLU attorneys puts it, “the existence of Jesus Christ.”

It’s impossible to stress how deeply unrealistic the film’s premise is, and important to stress that this case was not “based on a true story,” itself a loose specification. Nor was it a dramatized version of real events as “Inherit the Wind,” based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, was. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who saw the film with a vaguely critical eye, but should be surprising to anyone who took its message to heart. The movie suggests the persecution of Christians in our society is readily apparent in the real world, and not just as artistic license. (“Join the movement,” the closing credits implore). Then why on earth would its writers and producers have to invent such a case out of thin air, rather than portraying one of the multitudes of victimless crimes for which Christians throughout the country are presumably being prosecuted? Perhaps because employees demanding contraceptive coverage or gay couples service might be more sympathetic than fiendish ACLU lawyers?

If this is an attempt to shame the play and the film of “Inherit the Wind,” it misses the point entirely.  Playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee went to great pains to avoid taking sides in the debate over evolution — the end of the play shows Drummond weighing the bible and Darwin’s book equally — and comes out instead clearly on the side of allowing people to think for themselves.

This notion that Christians are somehow being persecuted for their beliefs and that they are at risk of losing their lives or property because of it is just bizarre.  They have this idea that if they are criticized for being bullies or actually denying other people their lawful rights, somehow they’re the victim and they’re the martyrs.  So they feel the only way to allow Christianity to prevail is to pass laws that legalize hatred, paranoia, and bigotry.  And, for good measure, make movies.

If they want to really know what it’s like to be persecuted and at risk for their religious beliefs, try being a Muslim in America.  Or even, in some places, Jewish.  Then get back to us.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Year From Today

A year from today will be the first day of a new president’s administration.  Hopefully it will not be the first day of the administration of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, and Barack Obama will have left office to someone who is not going to turn the clock and the country back to whatever it would be for someone who demands that they “want our country back.”

Keeping with my New Year’s Eve prediction, I believe it will be Hillary Clinton, but a year is an eternity in politics, and a year ago no one really believed that Donald Trump would be the GOP front runner or that Bernie Sanders would be running neck-and-neck in some polls with Ms. Clinton.

One thing that I know will not change is that the right wing noise machine will still be in full force and that even if the Democrats re-take the Senate and chip away at the GOP majority in the House, the Republicans will still be in full denial and recalcitrance mode.  The vow to thwart a Democratic president’s every move will be renewed if not redoubled; a wounded and tattered GOP is still dangerous, and after losing three presidential elections in a row, they will not be in any mood to compromise, and they will, of course, blame it all on everyone else.

I have no idea what it will take to get them to break away from their desperate nail-hold on some semblance of power, and shake off the lunacy that somehow “the American people” are with them or agree with their fringe views on women, minorities, immigration, guns, and taxes.  But as long as they’re held in the thrall of a few people with a lot of money to support their 18th century views on equality and rights, they will keep pushing for them.  Money is a powerful drug and so far there is no cure or rehab for it in politics.

If though, by some stunning reversal of evolution and progress, a Republican is walking in to the Oval Office a year from today, it will be as if the country is rewarding them for their infantile and reckless behavior over the last thirty years, made all the worse by the number of Democrats, independents, and even the few remaining moderate Republicans who decided they were above it all and found some excuse for not voting the previous November.

So we have a year, folks.  A year to get ready to take on the money, the hatred, the gob-smacking lies and grasps of desperation that will infest this nation until November 2016 and beyond.  It’s not going to get easier and trust me when I tell you that there will be many times we are going to get to the point of saying the hell with it and start Googling permanent residence status in St. Kitts.  But it’s our country, too, and I’m not going to give it over to the fear and loathing crowd.  Not without a fight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yes, It Can Happen Here

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel titled It Can’t Happen Here about  Senator Buzz Windrip who rose to popularity and became President of the United States by running on a ticket of social and economic reforms and a return to patriotism and traditional values.  After he’s elected he imposes a plutocratic/fascist regime with the help of a paramilitary force called the Minute Men, much like Hitler’s SS.  The title of the book comes from the idea that such an event can’t really happen in America.

Yes, it can.  We’ve gotten close on several occasions, most recently in the mid-1930’s when, out of the depths of the Depression and in the fear of Bolshevism in Europe, Huey Long — on whom Lewis based Windrip — came very close to running for president in 1936 only to be stopped by an assassin in 1935.  And now Donald Trump is doing it again, and if yesterday’s declaration of banning the admission of “every” Muslim, including American citizens coming back from a trip to Toronto, is any indication, he’s just getting warmed up.  He’s already demonized blacks, veterans, the disabled, women, and anyone who raises an objection to his rhetoric, so of course picking on the religion that is being portrayed as the enemy — another pickup from you-know-who — is the next step.

Of course everyone with the sense nature gave a goose will condemn him, including his rivals for the GOP nomination, but he’s going to get a bump in the polls and he’s going to roll on as the establishment Republican Party reels in horror and asks, with no sense of irony or self-awareness, “How could this happen?”

Charlie Pierce thinks that Mr. Trump has reached the stage of desperation and this plan to ban all Muslims from coming into the country is his last flail before he gets taken over by the comparatively moderate Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

It is utterly immoral, completely unworkable, incredibly expensive, and the person proposing it admits he has no idea of the nature of the problem this proposal was designed to combat—except that it was designed by He, Trump, which apparently makes all the difference.

We keep saying that this won’t last, that certainly Donald Trump is going to go too far and the country will finally turn against him and he’ll drop off the screens.  We thought that after he dissed John McCain’s time as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, after he tangled with Fox News, and after any number of declarations that heretofore would have killed off any other presidential campaign, but unless we’re waking up this morning to nation that has finally had enough, he’s going to keep on stomping.

Footnote: See also All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, which truly follows the life and death of Huey Long.  The film version with Broderick Crawford is stunning and scary as hell.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Notes From Post-Racial America

Via The New Republic:

For years, white supremacists in the Dothan, Alabama, police department planted drugs and guns on black people.

According to Internal Affairs records obtained by the Henry County Report, their superiors, several of whom have since been promoted, knew about the practice and helped cover it up. Indeed, the lieutenant implicated by the documents is now the chief of the department. The sergeant who obstructed the Internal Affairs investigation went on to become sheriff and then director of homeland security for the state, a position he continues to hold today. The district attorney at the time (still in office) sat on exculpatory evidence and proceeded with felony prosecutions against the individuals the officers had framed.

There’s a lot going on in this story, which the Alabama Justice Project helped break thanks to anonymous whistleblowers within the Dothan Police Department. But one detail that’s worth highlighting is the affiliation of the dozen or so officers involved with a secretive neo-Confederate organization that holds the Civil Rights Movement to be a Jewish conspiracy and believes the path forward on American race relations is to ship black people back to Africa.

But we elected a black president, so we’re good, right?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Find A Better Example

The forced internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II was one of the most shameful episodes in our country’s history.  Thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods for no other reason than they happened to look like or share a country of origin with the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.  For the last seventy years we have been trying to make amends, going so far as to issue an official apology on behalf of the United States from Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Now there are those who are citing that horrible chapter as an inspiration on how to deal with Syrian refugees.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.

Seriously?  He’s using that as a talking point for setting up concentration camps?  (Well, at least he didn’t suggest that we offer everyone a shower before being put into the camps.)

George Takei has a response:

Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:

1) The internment (not a “sequester”) was not of Japanese “foreign nationals,” but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.

2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.

3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.

I admire Mr. Takei for a lot of reasons, not the least for being a wonderful punster as well as a role model for gay people, but he also has a life experience that he has turned into a lesson for us all.

Mr. Bowers, on the other hand, does a fine job of showing us how to be an asshole and put it out there in an official statement.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cowardice

I had almost forgotten that Carly Fiorina was still running for president, but this little incident reminds me why she’s not worth considering.

Carly Fiorina is defending her decision not to correct a man who characterized President Obama as a “black Muslim” at a diner in New Hampshire.

Fiorina said it wasn’t her job to defend the president, noting that he “isn’t on the ballot.”

“I’ve said on many occasions: President Obama tells me he’s a Christian; I take him at his word,” she said on Fox News on Friday. “But the truth is, President Obama isn’t on the ballot.”

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO said it’s her job to defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But you haven’t got the courage to defend the president against racism and bigotry because you don’t want to risk losing the votes of the racists and bigots.  Horrible.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Short Takes

Serial number confirms that the piece of the airliner found on Reunion is from Malaysia Airlines MG 370.

The University of Cincinnati policeman indicted for murder in the killing of an unarmed man had his bail set at $1 million.

A California wildfire near Napa Valley has forced 650 people from their homes.

Six people were stabbed by a lunatic in the Jerusalem gay pride parade.

Athletes will swim in filth at the Rio Olympics according to the AP.

The Tigers beat the Orioles 9-8.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ask Yourself

Would you vote for someone who said, “Hey, you know that program where people get the health insurance they need at a price they can afford — maybe even get some assistance in paying for it — and there are no pre-conditions to getting coverage; well, we’re going to take that all away”?  Of course not.  After all, you’re a rational person.

But as Steve Benen chronicles, there are people who are running for office who are doing exactly that, and they’re winning elections.

Why?  Well, because someone else thought it up, got it passed, and it is making them look bad.  So what they’ve done is get a bunch of folks on their payroll — or at the very least who owe them for something — and they’re putting out some very convincing lies, exaggerations, and boogedy-boogedy stories and bullshit.  And it’s working.

That’s because despite our better nature, we’re more prone to believe bad news rather than good.  It’s easier to believe that Obamacare is a “train wreck,” that it’s costing millions of jobs, and that healthcare costs and insurance premiums are through the roof, even though there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to back up those claims.  But if it generates PAC money for a candidate, it’s out there.

Maybe it’s our survival instinct; don’t blindly trust things as they’re presented; be skeptical and wary, especially if it comes from the government because, as we all know, the government, be it state, local, or federal, has never done anything good for anybody, right?

It probably doesn’t matter to Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal that there are people who are willing to put their lives and their fortunes in danger because of some lies he told them in order to bolster his chances to run for president, but is that the kind of person you want running the country?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

This Is Theocracy

Charlie Pierce on the murders in Paris.

…despite the fact that the witnesses make the murderers sound like Bond villains straight from central casting, this was unquestionably an assault on the right of free expression, probably committed in the name of religious fanaticism. It was an act of medieval, anti-Enlightenment barbarism, and the fact that a lot of people who aren’t usually so tender toward France and its leftists — or towards the Enlightenment itself, for that matter — have attached themselves to the horror in order to proclaim their righteousness atop a pile of corpses ought not to obscure the truth of it. There are genuine values — honored only in the breach by some, but no less genuine for that — under armed assault here. Charlie Hebdo‘s staff was murdered to stifle the publication’s voice, no less than Elijah Lovejoy was murdered to stifle his. This is the mass, unbridled, brainless Id of the barbarian at war with modernity in all its expressions. This is where anti-science leads, where a contempt for education leads, where the suppression of women leads, where marrying political fanaticism to religious fervor almost always leads. This is where theocracy brings us, over and over again.

Islam is no more to blame for this massacre than Christianity is to blame for the bombing of an abortion clinic in Florida or the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita.  The cause is religion reductio ad absurdum, and our gingerly response to those who preach it, no matter what their faith, will lead us down this hell-hole again and again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stupid Question

A Green Bay, Wisconsin, alderman is in trouble for asking a Muslim woman if she had denounced terrorism after she wrote him to ask about bus service.

Heba Mohammad, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate, emailed Alderman Chris Wery to ask why bus service is not free on Election Day.

Wery replied to say he would look into it, and then proceeded to ask Mohammed about terrorism, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

“I am just curious, you are the founder of the Muslim Student Association at UWGB?” he asked in the email. “Across the country there seem to be some problems here and there with some MSA’s. I just want to be assured that your group in no way promotes or defends militant Islamic ideology.”

“Do you and the MSA condemn both of those as well as terrorist groups such as HAMAS?” he then asked.

Mohammed was taken aback by Wery’s questions and did not answer him.

“That’s kind of hurtful, to be honest,” Mohammed told the Press-Gazette.

Ms. Mohammed should have asked Mr. Wery that because he’s a white Christian, has he condemned the Ku Klux Klan?  What’s his stand on lynching?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Reading

Micromanager In Chief — David Rohde and Warren Strobel in The Atlantic review President Obama’s management of national security.

This account of Obama’s national-security decision-making is based on interviews with more than 30 current and former U.S. government officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations going back to President Richard Nixon.

In some ways, Obama’s closer control and the frequent marginalization of the State and Defense departments continues a trend begun under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But under Obama, the centralization has gone further. It was the White House, not the Pentagon, that decided to send two additional Special Operations troops to Yemen. The White House, not the State Department, now oversees many details of U.S. embassy security—a reaction to Republican attacks over the lethal 2012 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A decision to extend $10 million in non-lethal aid to Ukraine also required White House vetting and approval.

On weightier issues, major decisions sometimes catch senior Cabinet officers unawares. One former senior U.S. official said Obama’s 2011 decision to abandon difficult troop negotiations with Baghdad and remove the last U.S. soldiers from Iraq surprised the Pentagon and was known only by the president and a small circle of aides.

The president, initially perceived as one of the greatest communicators of his generation, is now viewed as having done a poor job of defining and defending his foreign policy, polls indicate. A majority of Americans—54 percent—disapprove of Obama’s foreign-policy performance, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. That’s one of the lowest ratings of his presidency.

Rhodes, one of Obama’s longest-serving national-security aides, says a series of complex world crises, not policy mistakes, has driven down the president’s approval numbers. More broadly, he says, Obama has been right to be deliberative in the wake of costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “What he’s always said is that if there’s a threat against us, we will act,” Rhodes said. “But when it comes to shaping events in cultures that are foreign to the United States we have to have some degree of realism.”

Obama has had notable national-security successes. His record of protecting U.S. territory from attack remains largely unblemished. Current and former officials praise his policy on nuclear talks with Iran as clear and consistent. He is building a coalition against Islamic State that includes Arab nations participating in airstrikes with the United States, Britain, France, and others.

And while past presidents faced grave dangers, most notably the possibility of Cold War Armageddon, for Obama the world is very different. The decisions he must make on using U.S. military force have multiplied. This reality, supporters say, is overlooked by detractors.

Obama has launched a humanitarian military intervention in Libya; overseen counterterrorism operations in Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; moved to end his predecessor’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; wrestled with lethal threats to U.S. hostages and diplomatic posts; and sent the American military to West Africa to help tackle the Ebola virus and search for kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.

Current and former officials say the globalized world of Twitter and 24/7 news creates an expectation at home and abroad that the United States will quickly take a position on any foreign-policy issue. The demand for instant American positions—and American leadership—can be overwhelming.

“One of the biggest problems in Washington,” said retired General James Jones, who was Obama’s national security advisor from 2009 to 2010, “is to find the time to think strategically, not tactically. You’d wake up and there would be a new crisis and you’d be scrambling to deal with them.”

The Perils of Rick Scott — Charlie Pierce on the governor’s race down here.

As if the biggest Medicare fraud case in history didn’t tip us off already, Florida Governor Rick Scott is little more than Florida Man writ large and dressed better. Those who are aware of all Internet traditions know that Florida Man is profoundly self-explanatory. You say Florida Man, and your companion knows that all manner of hullabaloo and shenanigans are likely to follow, from a bank robbery to a busload of nuns fed to the burgeoning python community in the Everglades. Florida Man. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes’s assessment of Dr. Watson, Florida man is the stormy petrel of criminal crazy. And, while Governor Batboy is Florida Man in a fine suit, in his heart, and increasingly in the public mind, he is running out his backdoor, barefoot, his mullet flapping in the breeze, with half the local sheriff’s department and a film crew from Cops in pursuit, while the local DA wonders about the human heads in the icebox.

Or something.

Florida’s Sunshine Laws — and yes, Florida, we see what you did there — require that state officials must disclose completely any assets worth more than $1000. A lawsuit filed by George Sheldon, a Democratic candidate for attorney-general, charges that Scott has played fast and loose with this constitutional requirement. (Back in the 1970’s, then-governor Reubin Askew fought hard and won a battle to include these disclosure rules as an amendment to the Florida constitution. Askew’s cause was helped immeasurably by the fact that he pitched his amendment immediately after three elected cabinet members and three justices of the Florida Supreme Court all resigned behind allegations of corruption. So, yeah, they’re quite serious about it.) In addition, a recent joint investigation by the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times has raised questions about whether or not Scott is hiding his money through creative accounting and bookkeeping legerdemain.

The governor, for instance, does not disclose the entire value of assets that reside in different trust and partnership accounts and for which he’s listed in federal records as the “beneficial owner,” according to an extensive Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times review of hundreds of federal and state documents filed in Florida, Washington, Connecticut, Texas, Nevada and Illinois. The documents also show: Information about Scott’s income and investments provided on state disclosure forms differ from financial information he furnished to the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission; the various Scott family investment trusts and partnerships often act in tandem with his blind trust and involve Scott’s long-time financial advisors – raising questions about how independent the trust is from the governor; between 2009 and 2013, the income reported on the governor’s state financial disclosure and the income reported to the IRS differed each year, fluctuating as much as $41 million in a single year.

That’s a helluva fluctuation right there. I wish I could fluctuate on that level. So do many other people. Then there’s this Solantic thing, a health care delivery concern from which Scott derived much of his considerable fortune. When he ran for governor, in order to avoid regulatory conflicts of interest, Scott put the Solantic assets into a revocable — important adjective alert! — trust named after his wife. Except, of course, Scott was out there again, fluctuating so uncontrollably that he apparently couldn’t avoid those pesky conflicts of interest.

Federal documents submitted to the SEC in other transactions show the governor was the trust’s “beneficial owner” and therefore had a major say over its assets. Still, after Scott transferred the money to a trust to which he retained control, he said that he had nothing to do with Solantic any longer. “I’m not involved in that company,” Scott said on March 29, 2011, while at the same time he huddled with his attorneys and helped negotiate the sale to a private-equity firm with which he had done business in the past. Two weeks later, he announced the pending sale. He said at the time that he had sold it for less than $62 million.

I have very little sympathy for the electorate on this one. Florida voters allowed this guy to buy his way into office knowing that he’d presided over a company that had paid $1.7 billion in fines to settle a massive Medicare fraud case, one that arose from the kind of double-bookkeeping that the Herald and the Times imply is going on now with Scott’s treatment of his assets. Scott has maintained for years that he was unaware that his old company was on the fiddle. His former accountant, who became the primary whistleblower in the fraud case, says otherwise, and continues to say so to this day. Scott’s in a life-and-death situation for re-election against Charlie Crist, the former Republican who is now a Democrat. I suspect all this will come up when they debate.

Fear Factor — Michael Specter in The New Yorker on the hysteria over Ebola in America.

Fear is not a weakness; it’s how people respond to danger. Unless it is calibrated properly, however, fear quickly turns into panic, and panic moves faster than any virus. Diseases that get the most attention and cause the greatest anxiety are rarely those which claim the most lives. Malaria, tuberculosis, and H.I.V. have killed hundreds of thousands of people this year. Fewer than a thousand people died in the 2003 SARS epidemic, but a report by the National Academy of Sciences notes that its cost to the global economy—not only in medical expenditures but in lost trade, productivity, and investment—was almost forty billion dollars.

At least four thousand people have already died of Ebola, the economic impact of the epidemic has been calamitous, and every day the numbers get worse. But we need to stop acting as if the tragedy unfolding in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone could happen here on anything like the same scale. There will be more cases of Ebola in the United States, but unless something remarkably unlikely develops, such as a mutation that makes it easier for the virus to spread, the epidemic can be stopped. Ebola is difficult to contract, and although viruses mutate constantly, once they are established in humans they do not generally alter their mode of transmission.

That message is not getting through. According to a Harris poll taken just before Duncan’s diagnosis, forty per cent of Americans believed that Ebola represented a major or a moderate threat to public health in the United States. Thirty-seven per cent thought that the H1N1 influenza epidemic of 2009 posed a similar threat. The two outbreaks are not comparable. H1N1 infected about twenty per cent of the world’s population, including sixty million Americans. A catastrophe was averted owing solely to a biological fluke: the death rate of those infected was unusually low—there were more than twelve thousand fatalities in the U.S., but that is far fewer than die from the flu in most years.

Our response to pandemics—whether SARS, avian influenza, MERS, or Ebola—has become predictable. First, there is the panic. Then, as the pandemic ebbs, we forget. We can’t afford to do either. This epidemic won’t be over soon, but that is even more reason to focus on what works. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone all need more money, more health-care workers, and more troops to help coördinate relief efforts. In the short term, the only way to halt the epidemic is with better infection-control measures. In Senegal and Nigeria, two countries where poverty and health problems are pervasive, the most basic such measures—contact tracing, quarantine, and proper protections for health workers—seem to have had a positive effect. (Part of the success in Nigeria is also due to the fact that officials made an enormous effort to keep the virus out of Lagos, a city of twenty million people.)

We also need to take better advantage of our scientific tools. Advances in molecular and synthetic biology have begun to provide a sophisticated understanding of the genetic composition of viruses. We are increasingly able to make vaccines by assembling synthetic proteins as if they were molecular Legos. Rob Carlson, the author of “Biology Is Technology,” who has written widely about genetic engineering and vaccine development, says, “We could have pushed the development of a synthetic Ebola vaccine a decade ago. We had the skills, but we chose not to pursue it. Why? Because we weren’t the people getting sick.” One day, a virus that matches our sense of doom may come along. Until then, we will need to rely on data and evidence—not theatrics or fear.

Doonesbury — The best-laid plans.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

They’ll Scare The Cash Out Of You

Where there’s a crisis, there are pigeons to be plucked.

The first patient diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil may have died Wednesday, but health experts say Americans don’t need to stock up on survival gear.

“I really can’t see that that’s an appropriate or reasonable response,” Arthur Reingold, Head of Epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. “It’s reasonable for people to be concerned, though I would argue they should be more concerned about the dreadful situation in West Africa.”

“The fact is we don’t have transmission on the Ebola virus here in the community,” Reingold said. “I just can’t see why anybody would want to spend money on those kinds of things in response to concern about Ebola.”

Nonetheless, fears about the spread of Ebola have led to a spike in sales of disease protection supplies. LifeSecure, a Chicago-based emergency preparedness company, has sold more than 100 “Extended Infection Protection” emergency supply kits since officials confirmed the first case of Ebola in the U.S. last week, according to owner David Scott. Typically, LifeSecure sells just a handful of such kits per week.

I’m sure I’m going to start seeing Ebola prevention kits sold on late-night TV wedged in between the boner pills and the Bumper Thumper.  No one ever lost a dime by exploiting fear and paranoia.

More people in the U.S. have died of gunshots in the last 24 hours than have died from Ebola in the last ten years.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Law That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It never ceases to amaze me how the American electorate can consistently vote against their own self-interest and for people who are basically out to scare and scam them with the full knowledge of what is being done to them.  Thomas Frank wrote about this in What’s the Matter with Kansas? in 2004, but he might as well have been writing about Kentucky in 2014.

From Amy Goodnough at The New York Times:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Affordable Care Act allowed Robin Evans, an eBay warehouse packer earning $9 an hour, to sign up for Medicaid this year. She is being treated for high blood pressure and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, after years of going uninsured and rarely seeing doctors.

“I’m tickled to death with it,” Ms. Evans, 49, said of her new coverage as she walked around the Kentucky State Fair recently with her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid under the law. “It’s helped me out a bunch.”

But Ms. Evans scowled at the mention of President Obama — “Nobody don’t care for nobody no more, and I think he’s got a lot to do with that,” she explained — and said she would vote this fall for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who is fond of saying the health care law should be “pulled out root and branch.”

Ms. Evans said she did not want the law repealed but had too many overall reservations about Democrats to switch her vote. “Born and raised Republican,” she said of herself. “I ain’t planning on changing now.”

Not to be too harsh on Ms. Evans, but without Obamacare, she would probably be dead and buried as a Republican a lot sooner than later.

There are plenty of anecdotal stories about people who hate something based on perception but then find out all along they actually like it when they try it.  It’s known in some places as the “you’re soaking in it” paradox drawn from the classic Palmolive dish soap commercials with Madge the manicurist.

This leaves the Democrats with their own paradox: how to campaign on a law that they voted for and is growing in popularity without saying that they voted for it or calling it Obamacare because of the unpopularity of the name.  Republicans were saying that no Democrat is running a campaign ad saying they supported Obamacare, and that is technically true, but at least one Democrat in a tight race — Mark Pryor in Arkansas — is touting his support of the law without calling it Obamacare.

In a new ad, Pryor sits with his father, former Sen. David Pryor, and proudly says he “helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions.”

Notably, Pryor doesn’t use the words “Obamacare” or “Affordable Care Act.” But he talks up one of the centerpieces of the law — rules prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against sick people — and invokes his past struggles with cancer.

It would be easy to dismiss the people who love their new healthcare but hate the man who proposed it as ignorant racists who are under the thrall of the GOP and Fox News spell of hating anything associated with That Man.  There is an element of truth to that in some quarters, but it isn’t the only reason.  New ideas, especially those that have a bearing on something as personal as healthcare, go beyond the logical thinking process and trigger the lizard brain run-and-hide response.  Changing healthcare is not the same thing as changing your cell phone calling plan (although there are those who do make as big a deal as possible out of that).  Simply put, we humans don’t like change and will go to great lengths, even if it causes pain or money, to maintain the status quo inside the comfort zone.

I don’t blame the Democrats for being skittish about campaigning on Obamacare.  They don’t want to change the status quo either.  Their problem is that they have yet to figure out a way to get the people to vote in favor of their own self-interest without resorting to the proven method that has worked for the Republicans: greed, fear, and loathing of abstract ideas like marriage equality, black people voting, and health insurance that actually saves money and lives.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dark Victory

Marco Rubio doesn’t think climate change is man-made; it’s nature’s way, he says, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) responds:

It’s insane, but that’s what passes for political discourse these days. It’s a complete rejection of facts, evidence and logic – the “Endarkenment.”

Not as insane as this guy:

Christian Post blogger Michael Bresciani writes this week that changes in the climate are indeed taking place, but not due to human activities such as fossil fuel emissions. Instead, he says extreme weather is the result of “homosexuality, abortion [and] general sexual preoccupation,” which according to Bresciani is bringing about the End Times and the coming of the Antichrist.

Well, now we know what passed for political discourse in the Middle Ages.