Wednesday, March 8, 2017

All 100

In a rare show of unity, all one hundred U.S. senators signed off on a letter to Trump urging the administration to take action against the growing number of anti-Semitic threats around the country.

“We write to underscore the need for swift action,” the letter reads. “We thank you for your recent efforts and ask that you inform us of the actions that your Departments plan to take to address threats against these and other religious institutions.”

Jewish community centers in at least five states and multiple offices of the Anti-Defamation League reported bomb threats on Tuesday in what was at least the fourth wave of threats made against Jewish organizations since January, echoing similar waves of threats on Jan. 9, Jan. 18 and Feb. 27.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday denounced those threats “in the strongest terms.”

“It’s incredibly saddening that I have to continue to share these disturbing reports with you, and I share the President’s thoughts that he fervently hopes that we don’t continue to have to share these reports with you,” Spicer said during his daily press briefing. “But as long as they do continue we will continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them.”

Well, getting rid of Steve Bannon might be a good start.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Reading

Obama’s Parting Words — George Packer in The New Yorker.

After eight years, few lines from Barack Obama’s Presidential speeches stay in mind. For all his literary and oratorical gifts, he didn’t coin the kinds of phrases that stick with repetition, as if his distaste for politics generally—the schmoozing, the fakery—extended to the fashioning of slogans. He rarely turned to figurative language, and he never stooped to “Read my lips,” or even “Ask not what your country can do for you.” His most memorable phrase, “Yes we can,” spoke to the audacious odds of his own run for the Presidency, not a clear political vision. He sought to persuade by explaining and reasoning, not by simplifying or dramatizing—a form of respect that the citizenry didn’t always deserve.

This aversion to rhetoric, like Obama’s aloofness from Congress, is a personal virtue that hurt him politically. It’s connected to his difficulty in sustaining public support for his program and his party. Even the President’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, was a master of the poetic sound bite.

Obama’s farewell address from Chicago last week was one of the very best speeches of his Presidency. He had one overriding message: that American democracy is threatened—by economic inequality, by racial division, and, above all, by the erosion of democratic habits and institutions. Its urgency gave the speech an unusual rhetorical punch: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life”; “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves”; “We sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” Lines like these might not prove deathless, but because of their bluntness, and because the times are desperate, they hit hard.

Politicians are always letting the public off the hook—it might be the most unforgivably dishonest thing they do. Obama was more candid than most, reminding Americans that the quality of our democracy depends on us—on our capacity to reason and to empathize, our attachment to facts, our willingness to get our hands dirty even when the political game seems sordid or futile. The key word of the speech was “citizen,” which Obama called “the most important office in a democracy,” one that he’ll embrace in his post-Presidency. His exhortations and implications of blame were nonpartisan: conservatives might have heard their denial of science called out, while liberals might have been stung by the allusion to fair-weather activism. Whites and non-whites alike were urged to imagine inhabiting a different person’s skin.

Perhaps there was a degree of self-blame, too. For all the achievements that Obama is able to claim—from bringing health insurance to twenty million Americans to building a framework for slowing climate change—he couldn’t deliver a healthy democracy. He didn’t have the political skill to advance his abiding vision of a United States of America. Maybe no leader could have, but Obama’s opponents made sure of his failure.

Most Presidential farewell addresses are quickly forgotten. Hardly anyone knows that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both gave one, as did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those which endure are memorable for their warnings. When the new republic was still taking shape, in 1796, George Washington cautioned against domestic factionalism and foreign entanglements. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower described a new “military-industrial complex” and a “scientific-technological élite” that were taking over public policy. Obama’s warning in Chicago—owing to its context, ten days before the Inauguration of President Donald Trump—felt even more dire. He quoted from Washington’s address, but not its most obviously relevant passage, on the danger of partisan demagoguery: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

If the President had quoted these words, he would have come close to naming the greatest threat to American democracy: his successor. Obama mentioned Trump only once, in passing. His aim was broader than one man, and his respect for the office kept the President from making it personal. (His chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, said, “If there’s one democratic norm that he can protect even as all others are shredded, it’s the peaceful transfer of power.”) Instead, the President-elect haunted the farewell address like a spirit too malevolent to be named.

The following day, Trump materialized in the flesh, in Trump Tower, for his first press conference in nearly six months. He was even looser and cockier than usual. He insulted media organizations by name. He reversed his avowed position on Russian interference in the American election, as casually and as brazenly as he had once reversed himself on President Obama’s citizenship. He relived the night of his victory, one more time. He revelled in his immunity from conflict-of-interest law. (“I didn’t know about that until three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have.”) He disparaged his Vice-President, who was in attendance, for not being rich enough to benefit from the same immunity. He congratulated himself for turning down a two-billion-dollar deal, which looked like a cartoonish bribe, from an Emirati businessman. He pretended to disentangle himself from the prospect of non-stop corruption during his Presidency. He told his sons to take care of the family business while he’s away, or else.

All the while, a retinue of aides cheered and laughed like the nervous flunkies of a Mob capo. It was impossible not to feel that, for Trump, the Presidency means a supreme chance for payback, revenge for the humiliation that seems to be his constant fear.

This is the last week of the Obama Presidency. Historians will argue over its meaning and its merits. But, for democratic integrity, there’s no argument, no contest. Obama’s final speech wasn’t just a warning—it will stand as an emblem of what we have been and perhaps can be.

The Illegitimate President — Joan Walsh on John Lewis.

On the day more unconfirmed, and maybe unconfirmable, details came out about the intelligence community’s intensifying investigation into ties between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government, tensions in Washington, DC, spiked. Dozens of House Democrats poured out of a briefing by FBI director James Comey and other intelligence agency leaders obviously furious, though they couldn’t disclose what they heard in the classified briefing. Representative Maxine Waters of California walked out to reporters and spit fire: “It’s classified and I can’t tell you anything. But the FBI director has no credibility!”

A short time later, Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press released a remarkable clip of his recent interview with Representative John Lewis, which will air on his show Sunday. In his calm, thoughtful, deliberate way, Lewis channeled Waters’s rage—and opened a new front in the campaign against Trump.

Would Lewis look for ways to cooperate with Trump, Todd asked? “It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president. I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Lewis told Todd. “I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.”

Todd seemed shocked. “That’s gonna send a big message to a lot of people in this country,” the Meet the Press moderator said.

“I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others,” Lewis replied calmly. “That’s not right. That’s not fair, that’s not the open Democratic process.”

Mic drop.

I’m not in the habit of trusting US intelligence agencies. I am in the habit of trusting Lewis. Right now progressive Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, are hearing things from the intelligence agencies they are overwhemingly inclined to doubt, and yet they are reacting by at least demanding a bipartisan investigation into Russian interference with the election—and at most, like only Lewis so far, to say that Trump is not the “legitimate president.”

Will others follow? Representative Barbara Lee, another progressive stalwart, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that she agrees with Lewis. The sole opponent of the Afghanistan intervention, a stalwart foe of the Iraq war, Lee had already said she would boycott Trump’s inauguration, but she acknowledged that Lewis went beyond where she did. And then she went there.

One Democrat who stepped out to kneecap Lewis is President Obama’s former campaign manager David Axelrod. The CNN contributor told the network Friday night that “I’m not comfortable” with Lewis’s calling Trump “illegitimate,” adding, “The greatest triumph for Russia would be to legitimate their charges about our democracy. I worry about our institutions. I worry that we’re in this mad cycle of destruction. I understand the outrage. But where is this all going?”

Axelrod acknowledged that Trump was the number-one peddler of birtherism—but insisted that this bolstered his argument. “One of my great concerns about the president-elect is that I think sometimes he has disregard for our institutions and norms and that contributes to a weakening of our democracy,” he continued. “So, I just don’t want to see this constant churning that leads to kind of a reflexive reaction every time a president gets elected who we don’t like.”

Let me break this down for Axelrod, though he knows everything that I do about American politics, and then some. Republicans are the ones who have a “reflexive reaction” to Democratic presidents they don’t like: peddling birther garbage and obstructing Barack Obama, after obstructing, then impeaching, Bill Clinton. The last GOP president, George W. Bush, although he lost the popular vote (like Trump) and owed his presidency to the Supreme Court, nonetheless got Democratic backing for his education-reform push, his Medicare-drug legislation, his tax cuts, and even his Iraq War authorization. There was no “reflexive” attempt to undermine Bush. He brought greater opposition on himself, including GOP opposition, with his disastrous war of choice in Iraq, his bungling of the occupation, his shameful neglect of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and his passivity in the face of evidence that shady banking practices were going to crash the economy.

So I’m going to go with Lewis, Lee, and Waters over David Axelrod on this one. I don’t want to bring race into anything where it doesn’t matter, but I did happen to notice all three leaders are African-American. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Or maybe it means that people who’ve seen the worst of American injustice are trying to warn the rest of us when it’s coming for us again.

Charlie Pierce:

Well, they did it as quickly as their Senate colleagues did, but at least the House of Representatives drove in the coffin nails during the daylight hours. After a morning of debate that was little more than two sides talking out loud past each other, the House voted 227-198 in favor of the kabuki budget resolution shipped across the Capitol from the Senate, a document that exists primarily as a mechanism for killing the Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process. They want what they want and have the votes to get what they want, and that’s the way it’s going to be down here for a while.

On Thursday night, Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, appeared at a televised town hall with Jake Tapper, and Ryan gave us all a preview of the various mendacities and inadequacies out of which his “bridge” from what we have now to whatever the Republicans finally devise will be built. It’s been seven years, and the answers are still fantastical (buy insurance across state lines), implausible (health-savings accounts!), total fakeouts (high-risk pools) and downright cruel (block-granting Medicaid back to the states).

As to the first, welcome to the Visa-MasterCard model of health insurance. As to the second, you, there, 52-year old unemployed steelworker, hope you put 200K away for chemotherapy instead of, you know, buying a house or eating dinner for your entire adult life. As to the third, high-risk pools will effectively bring back the pre-existing conditions nightmare, because no Republican legislator is going to vote to fund them at anywhere near the level at which they’ll need to be funded. (h/t Harold Pollack for pointing out the Tumulty piece.) And as to the last, all that’s going to get the country is some lovely paved roads leading to some Texas legislator’s fishing cabin.

The only real highlight came when a cancer survivor told Ryan that the ACA had saved his life and Ryan responded as though the guy were a waiter who’d mixed up his wine order.

But the cause of unspooling not merely the ACA, but a good part of the overall American healthcare system, went rolling along. The debate in the House Friday afternoon was instructive: There seems little doubt that a lot of energy being thrown into demolishing the ACA is pure, unresolved spite aimed at the president who signed it. Republican after Republican came to the podium to rail against Obamacare.

The rookie Republicans by far were the most entertaining. Jodey Arrington of Texas began by calling the ACA “Soviet-style central planning of our healthcare system,” which is hilariously wrong, but which must dazzle ’em back in Lubbock. Meanwhile, Matt Gaetz from Florida began his one-minute oration with a Shakespearean flourish, which brought to the proceedings all the gravitas of the average middle-school book report.

“Mr. Speaker, I come to bury Obamacare, not to praise it. The evil that men do lives on after them…”

Oh, just shut up, Fenwick. Honest to god.

The debate broke down along some easily distinguishable lines, although noted bag of hammers, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, spent a lot of time talking about how the ACA was part of a plot against marriage. The Republicans threw around numbers and the Democrats told stories about people from their districts who’d been helped by the ACA. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who was managing the floor for the Democrats, and whose amendment to repurpose the budget gimmick to pay for infrastructure improvements sank like a stone later in the afternoon, responded to the numbers by reading off how many people in the states represented by Republican speakers would lose their health care and their jobs, and how much money each state would lose over the next five years.

When the Republicans ventured onto the narrative turf of the Democrats, they mostly spoke about small businesses that they claimed had collapsed under the weight of the new law. But Lloyd Smucker, who represents a district in and around Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, had a different tale to tell.

Smucker talked about the case of two of his constituents, Tim and Phyllis Hollinger. Tim’s on Medicare. (Good luck, Tim! Paul Ryan’s got just the scam for you!) Meanwhile, Phyllis got her insurance through one of the exchanges. She makes, according to Smucker, $53,000 a year. Her policy costs more than $1000 a month and her deductible is $2700. Luckily, though, through the provisions of the ACA, Phyllis gets a subsidy that covers 35 percent of the cost. Good for you, Phyllis. That’s the way the law is supposed to work. That’s the Affordable part of the Affordable Care Act at work.

However, according to Congressman Smucker, the subsidy is the problem.

Phyllis receives a federal subsidy that covers 35% of that monthly cost. She takes pride in the fact that she’s never taken a government handout in her life. Now that she’s on Obamacare, the American taxpayers have to subsidize her healthcare. (Ed. Note: also yours, Congressman.) To Phyllis, that’s not right. To Phyllis, this is about her pride and she’s not asking for a lot. She’s simply asking that she have access to affordable healthcare that doesn’t require the American taxpayers to help her pay for it.

And that, not Meryl Streep, is how Donald Trump became president.

I have no idea whether or not Smucker is making this whole thing up, but I do know that, if and when the ACA is finally chloroformed, Phyllis’ pride better be convertible into gold or hard cash money because she’s going to need it. And, as an American taxpayer, I’d like to tell Phyllis not to worry. She’s good for it.

I mean, Jesus, who thinks like this—besides approximately 45 percent of American voters, that is? It’s one thing to make a political career out of calling people moochers, but it’s a vast distance from that to convincing people that they are somehow moochers themselves. You have to admit, the messaging against the ACA has had a remarkable market penetration among the people who need it the most. Let me get sick and die rather than have your help.

Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin watched how that messaging played out in the last campaign.

“They were very effective with a political message saying ‘We’re going to repeal and replace it.’ And then they won! They won the White House, the Supreme Court arguably, both chambers of the Congress, and now it appears to have been a fig leaf because now it looks like they’re going to unravel the whole health care system, not just the 20 million who benefitted directly from the Affordable Care Act, but those people with the private plans who are going to be facing lifetime caps, facing the pre-existing conditions. It’s confounding to me. They now have the message—we’re gonna repeal it and then we’ll replace it once you guys give us another kick at the can two years from now. They’re hoping the people are stupid.”

The project continues apace, however, and sometime in the next few months, Phyllis Hollinger and millions like her will be free of the guilt that comes from being healthy at the public expense. The cool breeze of freedom once again will blow across the fields and prairies, across the rivers and mountains, and through the doors of overcrowded emergency rooms. Feel the cool breeze.

Unless, of course, you have chronic asthma. Then you’re on your own, pal.

Doonesbury — Survival of the twittest.

Rest in peace, SLW.

SLW Resting Place 01-15-17

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not In A Vacuum

Is it just a coincidence that white supremacists showed up at a Black Lives Matter encampment in Minneapolis looking for trouble in the same news cycle that the leading Republican candidate told several large crowds and the news media that a Black Lives Matter protester “deserved to be roughed up”?

I am sure Mr. Trump will say that he had nothing to do with the shooting in Minneapolis — either the one by the neo-Nazis or the one by the police that started the demonstration.  In fact, he and his supporters probably think that they’re the ones who are the victims here because none if this would have happened if those uppity protesters knew their place.

This kind of thing does not happen in a vacuum.  Mr. Trump started it; he can end it.  But that would mean ending his campaign, so it’s not going to happen on his part.  That leaves it to the rest of us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Short Takes

Police in Paris raided an apartment in the suburbs and captured a number of massacre suspects after a gun battle.

ISIS published a photo of what they claim was the type of homemade bomb that brought down the Russian airliner.

Migrants in Europe are anxious about the reception they’re getting from the U.S. and other xenophobes.

A report released showed Chicago Police are hardly ever disciplined for misconduct and abuse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Short Takes

Nepal asks foreign rescuers to leave as hope fades for finding more earthquake survivors.

Second gunman identified in attack in Texas.

NYPD officer shot over the weekend died from his injuries.

Supreme Court refuses to hear challenge to New Jersey ban on “gay repair” therapy.

Americans like their drones.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Short Takes

Record cold and snow hits the U.S.

Bill to rein in N.S.A. surveillance dies in the Senate.

Death toll in Jerusalem synagogue attack included three American rabbis.

The G.O.P. House finally found a lawyer who will take on the lawsuit against President Obama.

Study will test Ebola survivors’ blood for possible treatment.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hate Crime

The suspect in the shootings in Kansas City that killed three people has a long association with anti-Semitic and white-supremacist groups.

Police arrested the suspected shooter outside a nearby elementary school. He smiled and reportedly made anti-Semitic statements as he was led away.

The Kansas City Star reported that the suspect was Frazier Glenn Cross, a 73-year-old southwest Missouri man with a long history of anti-Semitic and racist statements and ties to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations.

Police said the man used a shotgun in the slayings at the Jewish Community Center. He also had a handgun when he was arrested, they said.

Authorities hauled off a four-door white car with Missouri license plates.

“We are investigating it as a hate crime,” said Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is familiar with the suspect.

Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., was arrested today for the murder of three people at two separate Jewish Community Centers in Overland Park, Kan. Miller, who was arrested using the alias Frazier Glenn Cross, has been in the movement nearly his entire life. Miller is the former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he founded and ran in the 1980s before being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.

HT to LGF.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Reading

Last Inspection — James Dao of the New York Times writes on preparing soldiers for the final journey.

Dover Air Force Base 05-26-13The soldier bent to his work, careful as a diamond cutter. He carried no weapon or rucksack, just a small plastic ruler, which he used to align a name plate, just so, atop the breast pocket of an Army dress blue jacket, size 39R.

“Blanchard,” the plate read.

Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, a 32-year-old Army pilot, had been in Afghanistan for only a few days when an enemy rocket killed him and another soldier last month as they dashed toward their helicopter. Now he was heading home.

But before he left the mortuary here, he would need to be properly dressed. And so Staff Sgt. Miguel Deynes labored meticulously, almost lovingly, over every crease and fold, every ribbon and badge, of the dress uniform that would clothe Captain Blanchard in his final resting place.

“It’s more than an honor,” Sergeant Deynes said. “It’s a blessing to dress that soldier for the last time.”

About 6,700 American service members have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and almost every one of their remains have come through the Dover Port Mortuary. Yet only since 2009 have journalists been allowed to photograph coffins returning from the war zones, the most solemn of rites at this air base. The intimate details of the process have been kept from public view.

But recently the Air Force, which oversees the mortuary, allowed a reporter and a photographer to observe the assembling of dress uniforms for those who have died. A small slice of the process, to be sure, but enough to appreciate the careful ritual that attends the war dead of the United States military.

And enough to glimpse the arc of two long wars.

Housed in a partly unheated building before the wars began, the mortuary moved into a new 72,000-square-foot building in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq. Then, as the wars expanded, so did the mortuary staff: from 7 workers in 2001 to more than 60 today.

War also brought, for a time, unrelenting work. During the peak of fighting in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, 10 to 20 bodies arrived here each day, and embalmers often worked all night to get remains home on time.

“I have deployed to Afghanistan,” said Col. John M. Devillier, the commander of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations. “But I’ve seen more war here.”

Furthering the Lie — Michelangelo Signorile on the Boy Scouts of America’s policy change: it empowers gay-bashing.

The ugliest lie about gay men is that we are likely to be predators and pedophiles, preying upon children. This twisted belief, backed by no facts but exploiting deep-seated myths and powerful fears about homosexuality, is still firmly embedded in our culture, as are lies about blacks, Jews and other groups demonized within our culture. It’s the lie that has kept many gay men from even interacting with teens and young children, fearful of being in the position of being wrongly accused of making sexual advances. It’s a lie that often inhibits organizing, depriving us of the intergenerational mentoring and self-esteem-building that is so important for any minority group that is discriminated against.

And it’s a lie that empowers bashers and draws blood on our streets.

The predator lie tells young boys, gay and straight, to be suspect and fearful of adult gay men. And the BSA, adopting a new policy allowing gay scouts but not gay scoutmasters, is now furthering the lie in more powerful way. The message from the BSA to a scout who might be thinking he is gay is that he better hope he isn’t because he will grow up to be a predator. The Boy Scouts is telling gay boys that they won’t be able to be trusted around children when they become adults and that they’ll be booted from the organization. Perhaps worse than that, the BSA is telling straight scouts that the gay scout who comes out to them, or whom they might learn about, will grow up to be a predator. And that is exactly the kind of vicious demagoguery that feeds discrimination and violence.

Many well-meaning people worked hard to get this change, and sometimes, in the thick of battle, anything that makes your opponents angry — and this change is surely not making the anti-gay, evangelical right happy — seems like a big win. Most of them see the change as falling far short but as a pragmatic, incremental step that they hope will lead to end of the of the entire ban soon. And true, scouts who learn they are gay and state that publicly, or who are outed by others, now may not experience being ejected by the BSA (though the details of all this still seem quite murky).

But continuing to ban lesbian den mothers and gay scoutmasters is sending a horrible message to American youth, including the scouts, gay and straight.

Don’t Give In — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on surrendering to terrorism.

I have not seen the video.

Not saying I won’t, but for now, I’ve chosen not to. To rush online and seek out cell phone footage of two fanatics with machetes who butchered a British soldier in London Wednesday, to watch them standing there, hands painted red with his blood, speaking for the cameras, would feel like an act of complicity, like giving them what they want, like being a puppet yanked by its strings.

Sometimes, especially in the heat of visceral revulsion, we forget an essential truth about terrorism. Namely, that the people who do these things are the opposite of powerful. Non-state sponsored terror is a tactic chosen almost exclusively by the impotent.

These people have no inherent power. They command no armies, they boss no economies, their collective arsenals are puny by nation-state standards. No, what they have is a willingness to be random, ruthless and indiscriminate in their killing.

But they represent no existential danger. The United States once tore itself in half and survived the wound. Could it really be destroyed by men using airliners as guided missiles? Britain was once bombed senseless for eight months straight and lived to tell the tale. Could it really be broken by two maniacs with machetes?

Of course not.

No, terrorism’s threat lies not in its power, but in its effect, its ability to make us appalled, frightened, irrational, and, most of all, convinced that we are next, and nowhere is safe. Here, I’m thinking of the lady who told me, after 9/11, that she would never enter a skyscraper again. As if, because of this atrocity, every tall building in America — and how many thousands of those do we have? — was suddenly suspect. And I’m thinking of my late Aunt Ruth who, at the height of the anthrax scare, required my uncle to open the mail on the front lawn, after which she received it wearing latex gloves.

I am also thinking of the country itself, which, in response to the 9/11 attacks, launched two wars — one more than necessary — at a ruinous cost in lives, treasure and credibility that will haunt us for years.

Doonesbury — Expensive graduation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Reading

Ryan’s Party — Jonathan Chait says that by choosing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney turns the GOP over to the hard-core.

Romney has made the risky but defensible calculation that, if he is to concur with most of his party’s ideological baggage, he might as well bring aboard its best salesman. And Ryan is that. During his rise to power he has displayed an awesome political talent. He is ambitious but constantly described by others as foreswearing ambition. He comes from a wealthy background but has defined himself as “blue collar,” because he comes from a place that is predominantly blue collar. He spent the entire Bush administration either supporting the administration’s deficit-increasing policies, or proposing alternative policies that would have created much higher deficits than even Bush could stomach, but came away from it with a reputation as the ultimate champion of fiscal responsibility.

What makes Ryan so extraordinary is that he is not just a handsome slickster skilled at conveying sincerity with a winsome heartland affect. Pols like that come along every year. He is also (as Rich Yeselson put it) the chief party theoretician. Far more than even Ronald Reagan, he is deeply grounded is the ideological precepts of the conservative movement — a longtime Ayn Rand devotee who imbibed deeply from the lunatic supply-side tracts of Jude Wanniski and George Gilder. He has not merely formed an alliance with the movement, he is a product of it.

In this sense, Ryan’s nomination represents an important historical marker and the completion of a 50-year struggle. Starting in the early sixties, conservative activists set out to seize control of the Republican Party. At the time the party was firmly in the hands of Establishmentarians who had made their peace with the New Deal, but the activists regarded the entire development of the modern regulatory and welfare states as a horrific assault on freedom bound to lead to imminent societal collapse. In fits and starts, the conservatives slowly advanced – nominating Goldwater, retreating under Nixon, nominating Reagan, retreating as Reagan sought to govern, and on and on through Gingrich, Bush, and his successors.

Over time the movement and the party have grown synonymous, and Ryan’s nominations represents a moment when the conservative movement ceased to control the politicians from behind the scenes and openly assumed the mantle of power.

Telling Time on Mars — Rebecca J. Rosen on how to make a watch to run on Martian time.

Time on Mars isn’t just a conversion the way that we add or subtract hours to change time zones here on Earth. Mars actually spins a bit slower than our own planet, and as a result, its whole day is a bit longer — 24 Earth hours and 39 Earth minutes. (This means that the 3037 Sols — Martian days — that Opportunity has been on the planet is something close to 3119 Earth days.) But the convention is to still use a 24-hour day with a 60-minute hour, meaning that each minute on Mars last longer than each minute on Earth.

For scientists who work on the Mars missions, this can mean that the schedule of their work shifts by 39 minutes every day. A wonderful little story about this came out of the 2004 Opportunity landing. As Julie Townsend, a Mars rover team member explained at the time, “Everything on this mission is based on local solar time on Mars. From home, during the mission practice tests, it was very difficult to constantly translate Earth time to Mars time.” So the team turned to master watchmaker Garo Anserlian to craft special Martian-time watches.

“Since I was a young child I’ve put my heart into making very precise time pieces, now I was being asked to create a watch that was slow on purpose,” Anserlian mused. He spent two months designing and building his Martian clock, attaching tiny lead weights to slow the wheels and hands. His first effort was only off by 10 seconds, and from there, he fine-tuned it to get it exactly right. Once he had his working model, he could replicate it pretty easily for anyone on the rover team who wanted one. Anserlian told NASA that when he watched Opportunity land, “I felt proud; I got goosebumps. I saw that some of them had two watches on and I thought, one of them was mine! I was proud as an American that it landed and secondly that my watches will be used.”

Leaving Hate Behind — A former skinhead tells how he escaped the hate.

I first found true love through violence. I was 10, hanging out with my cousin, who was pushing and antagonizing me. Finally, I snapped and started using my karate moves against him. By the time we were done fighting, I had dislocated three of his fingers and his shoulder. My aunt was furious, yelling at my father over what I had done. But my father couldn’t have been prouder. He gave me a hug and a kiss, the most meaningful embrace and words of love I’d ever received from him.

I chased that euphoric high for years, beating up neighborhood bullies and later getting into punk-rock music. At one show, I befriended some older, tough kids who were skinheads. I was drawn into their world pretty quickly as they took me under their wing and encouraged my violent tendencies. For the first time, I had older brothers who looked out for me; their camaraderie felt like an extension of my father’s love.

I’ve since climbed out of that world of hate and have spent 15 years atoning for my past. But the tragedy of this past week, when Wade Michael Page killed six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, pulls me back into the memories of those years. I’ve met a lot of people who could easily do what Page, who had ties to white supremacist groups, did. Such atrocities make me wonder: Could my former self have committed a similar act? Could I have been Wade Michael Page? It makes me sick to say that I don’t know.

Since leaving the skinheads, I’ve been working with troubled kids, counseling them on how to escape the seductive grip of violence and hate. I’ve gotten 86 kids out of the white-supremacist movement across the country, almost as many as I helped draw into that culture when I was younger. I have a lot more work to do.

Doonesbury — Back bar.

Sunday Reading

Ryan’s Party — Jonathan Chait says that by choosing Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney turns the GOP over to the hard-core.

Romney has made the risky but defensible calculation that, if he is to concur with most of his party’s ideological baggage, he might as well bring aboard its best salesman. And Ryan is that. During his rise to power he has displayed an awesome political talent. He is ambitious but constantly described by others as foreswearing ambition. He comes from a wealthy background but has defined himself as “blue collar,” because he comes from a place that is predominantly blue collar. He spent the entire Bush administration either supporting the administration’s deficit-increasing policies, or proposing alternative policies that would have created much higher deficits than even Bush could stomach, but came away from it with a reputation as the ultimate champion of fiscal responsibility.

What makes Ryan so extraordinary is that he is not just a handsome slickster skilled at conveying sincerity with a winsome heartland affect. Pols like that come along every year. He is also (as Rich Yeselson put it) the chief party theoretician. Far more than even Ronald Reagan, he is deeply grounded is the ideological precepts of the conservative movement — a longtime Ayn Rand devotee who imbibed deeply from the lunatic supply-side tracts of Jude Wanniski and George Gilder. He has not merely formed an alliance with the movement, he is a product of it.

In this sense, Ryan’s nomination represents an important historical marker and the completion of a 50-year struggle. Starting in the early sixties, conservative activists set out to seize control of the Republican Party. At the time the party was firmly in the hands of Establishmentarians who had made their peace with the New Deal, but the activists regarded the entire development of the modern regulatory and welfare states as a horrific assault on freedom bound to lead to imminent societal collapse. In fits and starts, the conservatives slowly advanced – nominating Goldwater, retreating under Nixon, nominating Reagan, retreating as Reagan sought to govern, and on and on through Gingrich, Bush, and his successors.

Over time the movement and the party have grown synonymous, and Ryan’s nominations represents a moment when the conservative movement ceased to control the politicians from behind the scenes and openly assumed the mantle of power.

Telling Time on Mars — Rebecca J. Rosen on how to make a watch to run on Martian time.

Time on Mars isn’t just a conversion the way that we add or subtract hours to change time zones here on Earth. Mars actually spins a bit slower than our own planet, and as a result, its whole day is a bit longer — 24 Earth hours and 39 Earth minutes. (This means that the 3037 Sols — Martian days — that Opportunity has been on the planet is something close to 3119 Earth days.) But the convention is to still use a 24-hour day with a 60-minute hour, meaning that each minute on Mars last longer than each minute on Earth.

For scientists who work on the Mars missions, this can mean that the schedule of their work shifts by 39 minutes every day. A wonderful little story about this came out of the 2004 Opportunity landing. As Julie Townsend, a Mars rover team member explained at the time, “Everything on this mission is based on local solar time on Mars. From home, during the mission practice tests, it was very difficult to constantly translate Earth time to Mars time.” So the team turned to master watchmaker Garo Anserlian to craft special Martian-time watches.

“Since I was a young child I’ve put my heart into making very precise time pieces, now I was being asked to create a watch that was slow on purpose,” Anserlian mused. He spent two months designing and building his Martian clock, attaching tiny lead weights to slow the wheels and hands. His first effort was only off by 10 seconds, and from there, he fine-tuned it to get it exactly right. Once he had his working model, he could replicate it pretty easily for anyone on the rover team who wanted one. Anserlian told NASA that when he watched Opportunity land, “I felt proud; I got goosebumps. I saw that some of them had two watches on and I thought, one of them was mine! I was proud as an American that it landed and secondly that my watches will be used.”

Leaving Hate Behind — A former skinhead tells how he escaped the hate.

I first found true love through violence. I was 10, hanging out with my cousin, who was pushing and antagonizing me. Finally, I snapped and started using my karate moves against him. By the time we were done fighting, I had dislocated three of his fingers and his shoulder. My aunt was furious, yelling at my father over what I had done. But my father couldn’t have been prouder. He gave me a hug and a kiss, the most meaningful embrace and words of love I’d ever received from him.

I chased that euphoric high for years, beating up neighborhood bullies and later getting into punk-rock music. At one show, I befriended some older, tough kids who were skinheads. I was drawn into their world pretty quickly as they took me under their wing and encouraged my violent tendencies. For the first time, I had older brothers who looked out for me; their camaraderie felt like an extension of my father’s love.

I’ve since climbed out of that world of hate and have spent 15 years atoning for my past. But the tragedy of this past week, when Wade Michael Page killed six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, pulls me back into the memories of those years. I’ve met a lot of people who could easily do what Page, who had ties to white supremacist groups, did. Such atrocities make me wonder: Could my former self have committed a similar act? Could I have been Wade Michael Page? It makes me sick to say that I don’t know.

Since leaving the skinheads, I’ve been working with troubled kids, counseling them on how to escape the seductive grip of violence and hate. I’ve gotten 86 kids out of the white-supremacist movement across the country, almost as many as I helped draw into that culture when I was younger. I have a lot more work to do.

Doonesbury — Back bar.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moral Conviction — Update

Following up on this story, the Michigan legislature has reconsidered the bill that would have exempted “moral conviction,” i.e. religious bigotry, from the anti-bullying law.

After hearing from outraged constituents who didn’t want their state sanctioning the bullying of gay students, from concerned leaders of Michigan’s large Muslim community–who worried that the bill would permit Christian students to target Muslim classmates–and religious leaders of all stripes who said, in effect, don’t do this on our account, the Michigan House of Representatives passed its own version of the anti-bullying bill without a religious exemption. The legislature will now set aside the Senate-passed bill and send the House version over to their Senate colleagues for approval.

The religious puritans in the legislature never considered that “moral conviction” goes way beyond using it as an excuse to gay-bash. It also covers different faiths. If they didn’t think about that, let them visit Belfast or Jerusalem.

It’s also ironic that they didn’t take into account that turnabout would have been fair play — gay kids could have banded together to bully straights. Hey, I’ve seen it happen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blaming The Victim

This is not the first time I’ve seen this and it won’t be the last, but this is Florida, and this is a stellar example of the people this state has elected to represent us.

Elected officials should know better than to blame the victim of a sex crime.

While it’s a common tactic of abusers, it’s something no one expected of Republican Florida state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo.

During debate over a bill that would legislate a dress code for Florida students, Passidomo blamed the alleged gang raping of an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas on the way the young girl was dressed.

“There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute,” Passidomo declared.

“And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students,” she added.

I am seething and ashamed that someone in this state would come up with crap like this, but I’m not surprised, given the mindset of the current crop of smug, arrogant, hypocritical and pompous nitwits that we’ve granted power to. And passing some kind of dress code will not help. In fact, this victim-blaming shit just makes it worse.

Apart from the heinous victim-blaming, which utterly relieves the perpetrators of any responsibility (while simultaneously suggesting that men can’t help themselves from raping a woman if she’s “dressed provocatively”), carelessly perpetuating the erroneous belief that following some dress code will protect children from rape is also an exceedingly dangerous game to play.

Abiding and indulging false notions about what inoculates children (and adults) against sexual violence has the inevitable effect of giving communities an excuse for not being vigilant about the things that actually support endemic sexual violence.

Passidomo’s ridiculous victim-blaming isn’t just cruel and wrong; it enables predators, who count on the reliable investment in comforting myths to create opportunities they can exploit.

The people who can put a stop to this kind of criminal act aren’t the ones on the receiving end of it. And even worse, the ones who have the real power to actually put an end to it — Ms. Passidomo, for one — are the ones who are letting it happen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hate Is A Family Value

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such things, has designated the Family Research Council as a “hate group.”

The SPLC gave the Family Research Council the designation due to anti-gay speech from its leaders, which the SPLC says includes calls for gay men and lesbians to be imprisoned.

Labeling the Family Research Council a hate group puts one of Washington’s most powerful social issues advocates into the company of groups like the Nation of Islam and the now mostly defunct Aryan Nations in the eyes of the SPLC, which tracks 932 active hate groups in the U.S.

Groups are labeled hate groups by the SPLC — which made a name for itself by using civil lawsuits to severely weaken the KKK and other white supremacist groups — when they “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” according to the group’s website.

For the Family Research Council, which hosts the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington — an event which this year drew presidential hopefuls like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee — the designation comes thanks to the group’s standing at the forefront of opposition to gay marriage and open gay and lesbian service in the military.

The main offender in the eyes of the SPLC is Peter Sprigg, the FRC’s senior researcher and vocal opponent of the gay rights movement. In May, Sprigg told me that an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would lead to more American servicemen receiving unwelcome same-sex fellatio in their sleep, part of a long line of reasoning from Sprigg suggesting that gay men are more likely to be sex offenders than anyone else.

The SPLC pointed to several other Sprigg comments when deciding to list the FRC as a hate group.

For instance, this:

[I]n March 2008, Sprigg, responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, said: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on, last February, to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied.

[…]

The SPLC designation of the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group potentially poses more of a challenge for Republicans. Though many conservatives view the SPLC as a progressive group and therefore no more worthy of respect than, say, ACORN, the SPLC hate group label will almost undoubtedly make it into press reports about future events like the Values Voter Summit. That means Republican presidential hopefuls who may want to reach out to gay and lesbian Republican groups like the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud — which can be good sources of fundraising as well as “I’m not anti-gay” cred on the campaign trail — may have to explain why they publicly praised and rushed to address a group that SPLC is calling one of the worst perpetrators of ugly myths about gays.

Cue up the accusations of “anti-Christian bigotry” and “promoting the Radical Homosexual Agenda” from the FRC in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Ignition… We have liftoff.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burn Out

Terry Jones, the religious whacko in Gainesville, has called off his Quran-burning.

The pastor planning a burning of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks said Thursday he would not go forward with the event, adding he would meet with the imam planning to build an Islamic center near ground zero.

But a deal that the pastor, Terry Jones, said that he had reached to move the Islamic center far from ground zero seems to be more vision than reality. The imam planning the center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, said in a statement that he had not spoken to Mr. Jones or Muhammad Musri, the Orlando Imam who has been acting as a mediator between New York and Gainesville.

The pastor’s announcement came after a growing chorus of demands, from President Obama to religious leaders, American generals and others, that he cancel the event planned for Saturday because of the potential impact on Christian-Muslim relations and the effect a Koran burning would have on American troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier in the day, President Obama said that the pastor’s plan to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was a “stunt” that violates American principles of religious tolerance.

Now that we’ve gotten the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, General Petraeus, and Sarah Palin and John Boehner (leading Mr. Jones to Park51 by the nose), I am reminded of the frenzy over Terri Schiavo: we forgot all about her and focused on the people yelling at each other. Sheesh.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Big Sky Hatred

Nice people:

The president of Montana’s Big Sky Tea Party Association has been fired from his leadership position following remarks made online that implied his support for the public hanging of homosexuals.

In his Facebook entries, Tim Ravndal favorably looked to the murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998 for “instructions” on how to deal with gays. (He later claimed he had no intention of invoking the Shepard case when he referred to Wyoming. Just a coincidence.)

Not all members of the Tea Party are racists and homophobes, but you can be pretty sure that a lot of racists and homophobes are members of the Tea Party.