Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Reading

America’s Love/Hate Relationship with Soldiers — James Fallows in The Atlantic on how we pay lip service to the service.

… This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military—we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them—has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm. But it is not. When Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a five-star general and the supreme commander, led what may have in fact been the finest fighting force in the history of the world, he did not describe it in that puffed-up way. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, he warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.” As president, Eisenhower’s most famous statement about the military was his warning in his farewell address of what could happen if its political influence grew unchecked.

At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.

The difference between the earlier America that knew its military and the modern America that gazes admiringly at its heroes shows up sharply in changes in popular and media culture. While World War II was under way, its best-known chroniclers were the Scripps Howard reporter Ernie Pyle, who described the daily braveries and travails of the troops (until he was killed near the war’s end by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Iejima), and the Stars and Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who mocked the obtuseness of generals and their distance from the foxhole realities faced by his wisecracking GI characters, Willie and Joe.

From Mister Roberts to South Pacific to Catch-22, from The Caine Mutiny to The Naked and the Dead to From Here to Eternity, American popular and high culture treated our last mass-mobilization war as an effort deserving deep respect and pride, but not above criticism and lampooning. The collective achievement of the military was heroic, but its members and leaders were still real people, with all the foibles of real life. A decade after that war ended, the most popular military-themed TV program was The Phil Silvers Show, about a con man in uniform named Sgt. Bilko. As Bilko, Phil Silvers was that stock American sitcom figure, the lovable blowhard—a role familiar from the time of Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners to Homer Simpson in The Simpsons today. Gomer Pyle, USMC; Hogan’s Heroes; McHale’s Navy; and even the anachronistic frontier show F Troop were sitcoms whose settings were U.S. military units and whose villains—and schemers, and stooges, and occasional idealists—were people in uniform. American culture was sufficiently at ease with the military to make fun of it, a stance now hard to imagine outside the military itself.

Preserving the Record — D.R. Tucker in Washington Monthly says it is time to start setting the record straight on the Obama legacy.

This November marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Reagan’s victory over President Jimmy Carter. For the past thirty-five years, Carter’s legacy has been relentlessly vilified by the right, with insufficient defense from the left. Sometimes, it seems as though progressives are ashamed of Carter—a man whose foresight on energy was remarkable, a man whose commitment to peace was unshakable.

Progressives cannot allow Barack Obama’s legacy to be relentlessly trashed the way Carter’s legacy was. Quite frankly, we need a Barack Obama Legacy Project, one that will recognize, today, tomorrow and forever, his true significance to America and the world.

With two years remaining in his term, a compelling case can be made that Barack Obama is one of the greatest presidents of all-time. Look at the track record: an economy resurrected, Osama bin Laden brought to ultimate justice, the Iraq War ended, millions of Americans finally accessing health care, dramatic advances in equal treatment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans, two brilliant Supreme Court appointees, sweeping economic reform, and an energy policy that, while imperfect, nevertheless takes the climate crisis seriously.

He accomplished all of this despite raw hatred from “birthers” and Tea Partiers who went to bed every night dreaming of seeing Obama’s black body swinging from a tree—as well as that of his father, for being uppity enough to marry a white woman. He accomplished this despite hyper-partisan media entities that smeared him as a Marxist from Mombasa. He accomplished this despite being unfairly blamed for the dementia and depravity of a right-wing Congress.

Obama hasn’t been perfect. (We’re still waiting for that Keystone XL veto, sir.) Sometimes, he has frustrated those who seek more peace and more justice. Yet on the whole, he has been a blessing for humanity.

He has brought us through the worst financial heartache since the Depression. He has brought us through incidents of shocking gun violence. He has brought us through racial discord sparked by those who so obviously killed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner because they saw these men, subconsciously, as proxies for the President.

Generations from now, children should read about the courage and conscience of Barack Obama, his passionate love for this country, his commitment to the hurting and the hungry and the hopeless. Generations from now, Obama’s name should grace public schools and federal buildings. Generations from now, his name should be honored in the same way we honor the names of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Kennedy.

Put A Sock On It — Julia Lurie in Mother Jones reports that same-sex marriage is legal in states where it’s still illegal to teach about being gay.

This month the Supreme Court announced it would decide in the current term whether all 50 states must allow same-sex couples to marry. No doubt the justices are aware of how public opinion on the issue has evolved. But while legal gay marriage has spread rapidly over the last several years (see this map), sex education laws in many states remain in the Dark Ages—even in states where gay marriage is allowed.

In Arizona, for example, two men or two women can tie the knot, but no student can be exposed to curriculum that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” In South Carolina, where same-sex couples have been able to marry since last year, students are forbidden from learning about homosexuality “except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”

Sex education is only mandated for middle or high schoolers in 22 states, but almost every state in the nation has policies governing what teachers should emphasize or avoid if they teach sex ed. In 20 states, this means spelling out how teachers should cover homosexuality: 9 states require that information on sexual orientation be “inclusive,” while the 11 states in the chart above have either pro-heterosexual or anti-homosexual biases.

“These laws aren’t keeping up with the world that we live in,” says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy researcher at the Guttmacher Institute. “That could potentially be very difficult for many sex ed teachers.” That’s in part because states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi have statutes requiring teachers to frame homosexuality as a crime, based on outdated anti-sodomy laws. (In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional.)

Limitations on sex education have led some teachers to get creative. In Mississippi, one of 25 states that instruct educators to “stress” abstinence, teachers are prohibited from “any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied.” Nonetheless, 76 percent of Mississippi teenagers report having sex before the end of high school, and a third of babies in the state are born to teenage mothers. One sex ed teacher created a lesson not on how to put on a condom, which would be illegal, but instead explaining “how to put on a sock.”

Doonesbury — The Most Trusted Name…

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — JFGI.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Restoration Comedy

Over the last week or so there’s been an effort on the part of a couple of Beltway kids to restore the legacy of George W. Bush.  No, really.

First there was Ron Fournier with this wistful recollection:

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card – marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”

What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”


Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”

The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.

Then there was this love note from Matt Bai:

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

But as is the way in modern Washington, it was never enough for Bush’s political opponents that he was miscast or misguided. He had to be something worse than that — or, more precisely, a lot of things worse. He had to be the most catastrophic president ever, in the history of ever. He had to be a messianic war criminal. Or a corporate plant looking to trade blood for oil. Or a doofus barely able to construct a sentence.

That was the way Will Ferrell portrayed Bush in a one-man Broadway show that, for a while after Bush’s departure, thrilled the enlightened set. For a lot of urban Americans, the ones who bought little books of Bush’s mangled syntax at the Barnes & Noble checkout line, Ferrell’s comic version of Bush became more real than the man himself. You know something’s wrong when the most nuanced portrayal of a political figure comes from Oliver Stone.

So George W. Bush may have lied us into a war that killed 5,000 American soldiers and destabilized an entire region of the world, he may have initiated warrantless wiretapping on civilians and poisoned the Justice Department with political hacks, outed a CIA operative for political revenge, let a major U.S. city drown, blown a huge whole in the budget, and let Wall Street rob the nation blind, but he wrote thank-you notes and enforced a gentleman’s dress code in the White House.  So it’s all good.

Aside from the irrelevancy of whether or not the West Wing was a showplace for the Jos. A. Bank catalogue or the president was always punctual, these paeans to the legacy of the man who was arguably the worst president since Warren G. Harding make the point that other than what a nice guy Mr. Bush was as president, there is nothing else nice that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can say about the history of his administration.  Handed a budget surplus, he demolished it and threw us into debt.  Warned about terrorists lurking even in our own country, he ignored them until it was too late, then exploited the nation’s fears and loathing to pass draconian laws that violate civil rights.  He used a devastating act of terror to go after a peripheral enemy who, aside from being a dictator, had nothing to do with the attack.  It was as if FDR, in retaliation for Pearl Harbor in 1941, invaded Italy.

Both of these articles smell of the sardonically laughable attempt to put a good face on a really bad legacy and try to humanize Mr. Bush in the same way some historians remind us that for all their faults certain figures in history had their lighter and genuine moments.  That’s done to give them dimension and perspective in contrast to the horrors and flaws they all too clearly demonstrated in office: Richard Nixon was paranoid and a crook but he got us the EPA and liked Elvis; LBJ lost Vietnam and 50,000 lives but gave us the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and raised beagles; Ronald Reagan… well, there’s already a full-blown industry dedicated to turning him into a saint to the point that even he wouldn’t recognize himself, so putting a man on Mars and turning the Soviet Union into a model of Jeffersonian democracy will just have to stand on their own.

But held to the same measure, what did George W. Bush actually accomplish to counter all of his flaws, errors, and calculated political attacks on the people who didn’t vote for him?  Name one thing, one bill, one act that left the country better off, more cohesive, and more capable of leading the world by the example of America’s aspirations for peace and freedom that his administration gave us that rises above the pall of incompetence and revenge politics that forged a barely-disguised hatred on the part of the white Christian patriarchy that gave us the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.  Go ahead, we can wait.

About the only good thing that came out of eight years of George W. Bush in the White House was such a revulsion on the part of the American electorate for his politics of personal destruction that they voted twice to elect the first black man as president.  Mr. Bush can also lay claim to the demolition of whatever was left of the moderate and thoughtful wing of the Republican Party, finishing off the work started by Ronald Reagan.  Mission accomplished.

HT to DougJ and mistermix at Balloon Juice.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Awaiting the Court

As I said this time last week, today could be the day the Supreme Court hands down its rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8.  It could also be the day that it rules on the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action.

It would be stunning if the Court were to hand down all four rulings at once, and, to top it all off, we are mindful of the news from South Africa on the condition of Nelson Mandela, a person whose legacy is in no small way related to the questions of freedom and equality that are being considered by the Court.

Karma is the one universal constant.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Reading

Beating Back the Bush — The Sunday chat shows will probably have a few defenders of former President George W. Bush.  Here’s the counterpoints from Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon:

Bush Zoinks 03-04-04Every dog goes to heaven and every former president should get a shot at repairing his legacy, especially when it’s as tattered as George W. Bush’s. With the opening of his presidential library and museum this week, observers from former Bush officials to mainstream outlets were taking a fresh, rosy look at the Bush legacy. Some offered dopey and facially ridiculous cheerleading, while others offered more compelling suggestions to return to the Bush era with an open mind. After all, other presidents left office in a cloud only to be redeemed by history years later.

So, is this week making you feel a bit nostalgic for the Bush era? Don’t. It’s been almost half a decade since the 43rd president left office, and he’s looking as bad as ever. Of course, that won’t stop a small circle of admirers (many of whom used to be on his payroll) from trying, so here’s your guide to taking on the five biggest specious pro-Bush talking points put forward this week:

1) Bush kept us safe: The biggest myth of the Bush presidency, by far, is that the president kept the country safe. As Charles Krauthammer wrote this week in the Washington Post in a typical example: “It’s important to note that he did not just keep us safe. He created the entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe … Which is why there was not one successful terror bombing on U.S. soil from 9/11 until last week.”

Just no. First of all, why does 9/11 not count? It’s not like the U.S. government was completely unaware of the threat from al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden until 9/11. After all, bin Laden had already helped orchestrate the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed hundreds in 1998, and Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan to try to kill bin Laden three years before 9/11. And then there’s that CIA briefing that warned Bush: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” — 36 days before Sept. 11. Bush’s response to the briefer giving him the news? To say, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” Then he went fishing. Literally.

As for the claim that there were no terror attacks on U.S. soil after 9/11 under Bush — also bogus. Conor Friedersdorf writes:

“Bush’s tenure included anthrax attacks that killed five people (more than died in the Boston marathon bombing) and that injured between 22 and 68 people. Bush was president when Hesham Mohamed Hadayet killed two and wounded four at an LAX ticket counter; when the Beltway snipers killed 10 people; when Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar injured six driving his SUV into a crowd; and when Naveed Afzal Haq killed one woman and shot five others in Seattle.”

Also, there was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, just before the 2000 election, which should have brought an extra warning about the al-Qaida threat, and later on, bombings in London, Madrid, and Jordan. Meanwhile, thanks to the wars there, much of the attention from international terror went to Iraq and Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and sympathetic groups found it easier to kill American soldiers than to attack Americans on U.S. soil.

There are more, including the howler that Bush was fiscally responsible, and the most egregious one of all: “Iraq wasn’t that bad.”

The Deportation Machine — William Finnegan in The New Yorker on how undocumented workers are treated when they are caught.

You get arrested. The authorities run a background check. They need to know if you have outstanding warrants or unpaid tickets, if you jumped bail somewhere, if you’re driving a stolen vehicle. To obtain your criminal history, they routinely send your fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which keeps a database of more than a hundred million prints. The F.B.I., under a federal program known as Secure Communities, will share your fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security’s core job—the reason it was created—is to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States. Your prints might reveal that you’re a suspected terrorist. D.H.S. is also charged with border security. Its Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm, ICE, will run your prints through the D.H.S. database—specifically, its U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (U.S.-VISIT) and Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), which also contain more than a hundred million prints—searching for a match with people wanted for immigration violations. If a match occurs, ICE can issue a “detainer.” Now the local authorities, before they release you, may notify ICE, which may elect to transfer you to federal custody in order to begin deportation proceedings.

Florida Ethics — No, really.  Carl Hiaasen has the scoop.

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

Doonesbury — The perpetual question.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Misty Watercolor Memories

If you thought it was nice that all five living former and the current president got together yesterday to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and you thought it was magnanimous of men like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to say nice things about him, well, I’m not going to pee on your campfire.  Let him have his moment in the sun and all that; he’s out of office and can’t do us anymore harm except to continue to assault the English language.

Conservatives accused Democrats and liberals of hating him blindly, of never giving him the chance to prove that he’s not evil incarnate.  (Ironically, a lot of conservatives have done the exact same thing to Barack Obama, so I guess they know what they’re talking about.)

Personally I never hated George W. Bush.  That would mean I actually cared about him.  But I could never muster the energy to actually give a shit about him as a person.  His policies and his methods of governing and the things done in his name are another matter.  And so while I never made it personal, and I don’t really care about his museum or the attempt by his minions to polish up the turd that was his administration, I do remember the reasons that I counted down the days until he was out of office and back in Texas where the worst thing he could do to the sensibilities of the world was to launch an attack on the art world with his new-found toy: a paint brush.

If you need a reminder of what it was like, Steven Rosenfeld at Jezebel has compiled a concise list of the 50 reasons a lot of people despised the presidency of George W. Bush.  Some are little, but most of them are harsh reminders that while it’s fine to let him have his little museum, it is a monument to abject failure.

Actually, the real monument to his legacy are the rows of white marble stones in Arlington National Cemetery and the other graveyards around the country where young men and women now lie because of his lies.  Paint that, Mr. Bush.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bush Library

Via USA Today:

Former president George W. Bush says his new presidential library is “a place to lay out facts,” not a forum to explain policies such as the war with Iraq or his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

“There’s no need to defend myself,” Bush said in a phone interview with USA TODAY. “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”

If there’s no need to defend himself, then why would he bring it up unless he felt that there was a need to defend himself?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Next Generation

Another Bush enters politics.

George P. Bush is officially running for Texas land commissioner — ending months of speculation about which statewide office the grandson of one former president and nephew of another planned to seek.

His spokesman, Trey Newton told The Associated Press that Bush spoke with current Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson before filing the official paperwork Tuesday.

An attorney from Fort Worth and Spanish-speaker whose mother is originally from Mexico, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics.

Land commissioner can be a stepping stone to higher office in Texas. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst served in the post before winning his current job.

Yet another argument for free contraception.

This is Jeb’s son, and while I’m sure he’ll do fine in Texas, I wonder why he isn’t running for office here in Florida.  After all, this is where his dad did his carpetbagging.  Can it be that the market is already saturated with young hot Hispanic Tea Party favorites?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Presidential Quotes

Abraham Lincoln:

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

John F. Kennedy:

…let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

George W. Bush:

Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Presidential Quotes

Abraham Lincoln:

…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

John F. Kennedy:

…let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

George W. Bush:

Eight years was awesome and I was famous and I was powerful.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ownership Society

George W. Bush popped up in New York to say something yesterday.

Former President George W. Bush reflected on his presidency in a rare public appearance Tuesday, poking fun at his low approval ratings and saying he didn’t miss being the leader of the free world.


Bush also offered some revealing comments about one of his most enduring pieces of legislation, the so-called Bush tax cuts.

Bush said that the tax cuts would have a better chance of surviving if his name hadn’t been attached to them. In recent years, Democrats have resisted renewing the cuts, which they say favor the wealthy too much.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said.

They wouldn’t call them that if you hadn’t proposed them and signed them in the first place, Copernicus. They’re all yours.

Ownership Society

George W. Bush popped up in New York to say something yesterday.

Former President George W. Bush reflected on his presidency in a rare public appearance Tuesday, poking fun at his low approval ratings and saying he didn’t miss being the leader of the free world.


Bush also offered some revealing comments about one of his most enduring pieces of legislation, the so-called Bush tax cuts.

Bush said that the tax cuts would have a better chance of surviving if his name hadn’t been attached to them. In recent years, Democrats have resisted renewing the cuts, which they say favor the wealthy too much.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said.

They wouldn’t call them that if you hadn’t proposed them and signed them in the first place, Copernicus. They’re all yours.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miami Memories — The End of the Rat

From the Miami Herald, the University of Miami is closing the old Rathskeller.

It’s the big question at the University of Miami these days: Where, wonders grad student Tommy Kiger, will he get a beer and watch the ballgame?

For the past five years, Kiger has been a regular at UM’s on-campus Rathskeller — better known as the Rat. Since 1972, the lakeside hangout has served countless pitchers of beer and plates of chicken fingers, and played host to innumerable games of pool and darts. But at midnight Friday, the original Rat closed for good.

This summer, it will be demolished to make room for a new student activity center. The one consolation: UM administrators assure students that it will have a new Rat.

“Closing it makes me sad,” said Kiger, 23, an engineering student, who took photos of himself and his friends by the restaurant’s sign Thursday. “The food’s good, the beer’s good, there’s a lake. I don’t understand what else you could want. I would not change a thing.”

The Rat arrived on campus at an auspicious moment, in December 1972.

“In 1973, the drinking age was reduced to 18,” recalled Norm Parsons, UM’s director of wellness and recreation. “You can imagine the euphoria. These were the Vietnam days, the love-ins, the demonstrations. The Rat became the hub of culture. It provided a social environment on campus.”

And I was there when it opened; it was my sophomore year. The Rat was built in the corner of a parking lot next to the student union and near the Ring Theatre, so we theatre students had watched it being built as we made our way over to our then-hang out spot in the Hurricane dining room. When it had its grand opening, we participated in some of the ceremonies. It was a nice place to go for lunch, but after rehearsals — especially the late ones as we got close to opening a show — we went to Bill & Ted’s, an old-fashioned bar in a little cinder-block building situated in the corner of a shopping center parking lot near the intersection of Red Road and US 1. It was smaller, quieter, and the beer was cheaper.

When I moved back to Miami ten years ago, I’d have dinner at the Rat before going to a show or when I was helping the Old Professor build scenery. It still had the good onion rings and hefty cheeseburgers, and though I no longer drink beer, it was a nice place to sit and notice that the college students of 2011 didn’t look all that much different than those of 1972… except they’re all really young.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blazing Canolis

If Mel Brooks had made The Godfather, it would have had Fredo as the heir to Don Corleone. Hilarity would have ensued as the clueless mobster ran the Mafia into the ground while younger brother Michael, the one with the smarts, had to wait his turn until it was too late and he was sent off to run a string of brothels in rural Wyoming. Well, that’s basically what happened to the Bush family. After Poppy Bush had his turn in the White House, it was supposed to be Jeb Bush, the younger but smarter one, who would get the nod after his successful run as governor of Florida. But instead, it went to George W., who makes Fredo Corleone seem like Warren Buffett, and now the Bush name — even among Republicans — is toxic.

Well, not all Republicans. Rich Lowry at National Review sees hope on the horizon that Jeb could restore the family honor.

Four years after leaving the Florida governor’s mansion, he remains one of the most impressive Republican politicians in the country, a formidable policy mind with the political chops to drive conservative reforms even out of office. So why isn’t he running for president? Bush told Miller what he’s said to others, too — he won’t run in 2012, but he’ll consider 2016. This is a mistake. Bush should run now…

Mr. Lowry maintains that by 2012, the Bush reputation will have been “rehabilitated,” which tells you right off that if Mr. Lowry was true to his core, the Bush reputation wouldn’t need to be rehabbed; wasn’t George W. Bush the Greatest President of the 21st Century?

To be fair to Jeb, he is, as Mr. Lowry notes, “different” from his brother; again, an admission that George W. was a disaster. If Jeb were to run, he would have to spend a great deal of time explaining how he isn’t his brother — or why he doesn’t have a hokey fake Texas accent. He’ll also have to contend with a flock of candidates swooping in from the right wing who will not let him off the hook for being a candidate who, as governor, was considered a moderate. There’s no place in the party for a candidate who can’t demonize his opponents with word salads on Facebook.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeb at least made a try for the nomination. But I also suspect that most of the country would recoil in horror at seeing yet another Bush running for office. As Steve Benen says, “Hasn’t that family done enough damage already?”

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Yesterday was the centenary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and despite the attempts of some members of the GOP to turn it into the second nativity, it got blown off the front pages of the papers by the revolution in Egypt and the run-up to the Super Bowl. Still, there were gatherings and memorials among the faithful, even though the fact remains that if Mr. Reagan was around today and tried to run for office as a Republican, he’d get run out of town as a tax-and-spend RINO by the Tea Party crowd that invokes his blessed name at every turn.

Perhaps the most cringe-inducing tribute to Mr. Reagan came from newly-minted Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle in an op-ed in the Politico.

When I was a child, President Ronald Reagan was the nice man who gave us jelly beans when we visited the White House.

I didn’t know then, but I know it now: The jelly beans were much more than a sweet treat that he gave out as gifts. They represented the uniqueness and greatness of America — each one different and special in its own way, but collectively they blended in harmony…

Yes, the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the meaning of life comes down to a collection of artificially colored and flavored gobs of sugary goo that, if you leave them exposed to the open air for a length of time, harden into a gelatinous mass that stick to your teeth. Clearly Mr. Quayle studied the depths of metaphor at his father’s knee in the same way he learned that good parenting is taught by calling out a fictional character’s family values.

Whatever. Aside from the fact that it completely distorts history and reality, there’s not a whole lot of harm that can come from mythologizing Mr. Reagan’s terms in office; after all, it was the 1980’s, and that decade could use a little turd-polishing. And, as Steve Benen noted, other than Reagan the Republicans have no real heroes to worship as president. The reason they call themselves the Party of Lincoln is because he was it. Since then, who? Harding? Coolidge? Hoover? Eisenhower was a liberal commie pinko compared to today’s stock of characters, and Nixon codified the politics-as-blood-sport brand that gave us Lee Atwater and Karl Rove: turn your opponents into enemies and make mere mortals into legends.

As a former actor in old Westerns, I’m sure Mr. Reagan would appreciate the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Short Takes

There’s been a shake-up in the government in Ireland.

The talks with Iran about their nuclear program ended with no progress.

More car bombs have gone off in Baghdad.

Mitt Romney won the GOP straw poll in New Hampshire.

Sargent Shriver was remembered by friends and family.

South Florida gets another cold snap.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On This Date

January 20, 1961 — Fifty years ago today, I was in Grade 3. It was cold, but it was northwest Ohio, so that’s what was expected. On that Friday morning, our teacher, Mrs. Edelen, and the other teachers in the Lower School of Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo gathered us in the gym where we sat on the polished wooden floor and watched on a big black-and-white TV with a rabbit-ears antenna as John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States.

I’m not sure all of the kids in the class were paying a lot of attention — after all, we were eight years old and not really tuned into politics (although my Cub Scout troop had been drafted into canvassing for Richard Nixon in the 1960 campaign) — but we did have the sense that something special was happening; it wasn’t every day that we got to watch TV at school. So we watched as the Chief Justice administered the oath of office, and when he was done, Mrs. Edelen said, “And now we have a new president!” (I remember one boy sitting next to me who whispered, “What happens to the old one?”)

Then we listened to his speech. The gym got as quiet as it could filled with almost a hundred elementary school kids, and the volume on the TV had to be turned up to overcome the clatter from the lunch room next door getting ready to serve. Some of us fidgeted, picking at the loose varnish that covered the dark-stained floor, but all of the teachers, ranging in age from the young ones just out of college to Mrs. Edelen, who was old enough to remember the 19th century, listened in rapt attention, only occasionally turning to shush someone for talking.

(Transcript below the fold.)

At the time I didn’t remember much of it, and when it was over and the band started playing, we went into the lunch room and then back to class. It was not at that moment that I suddenly became aware of politics and what was going on in the world. I was far too young to grasp some of the things that President Kennedy said in his address, but as time went on and my education became more about what was happening in the world and how things said and done by presidents and governors and such did touch my life, I began to get involved in them. A lot of new words entered my vocabulary: Cuba, Vietnam, nuclear testing, the Cold War, Krushchev, civil rights, Selma, freedom riders, integration. I knew I would never be one of the people who would shape the policies, but I did know that they did bear watching and learning because what they were doing would, someday, change things for me.

And when the flash came from Dallas on another Friday afternoon in November 1963, and we gathered once again in that cold gym in the Lower School where I and the rest of my Grade 6 class listened as the headmaster told us the news and sent us home, I knew that the world had changed again. I didn’t know how much. When you’re young, you don’t think about what the world will be like in fifty years.

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom–symbolizing an end as well as a beginning–signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge–and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom–and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge–to convert our good words into good deeds–in a new alliance for progress–to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support–to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective–to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak–and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course–both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.

So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms–and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah–to “undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free.”

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reagan’s Memory

Ron Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, is out with a book about his father in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the former president’s birth. In it, he says that he believes the late president showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease while in office.

…[H]e saw hints of confusion and “an out-of-touch president” during the 1984 campaign and again in 1986, when his father couldn’t recall the names of California canyons he was flying over. Arguing his case in the book, Ron adds that doctors today know that the disease can be in evidence before being recognized. “The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s while in office more or less answers itself,” he writes.

The response from the people who worship at the feet of the memory of Mr. Reagan has been apoplectic, even though it was announced in 1994 by Mr. Reagan himself that he had the disease. But to suggest that Mr. Reagan was anything but the great leader who always had his wits about him as he reduced the size of government (he actually expanded it), who lowered taxes (he did, only to raise them higher than before) and who never cut and run from military confrontation (Lebanon?), is, to them, blasphemy. Reality is a casualty to more than just the person with the disease.

The Reagan worshipers can remember him any way they like, and on the actual day of his centenary, February 6, there will be praise and glory pouring forth from them on a scale that would dwarf a North Korean holiday. But in doing so, they are demonizing the disease that afflicted Mr. Reagan and doing a terrible disservice to those millions who are its victims, and that includes the families. To deny the fact that President Reagan showed signs of the disease earlier than the day he released his statement in 1994 makes it harder to accept that it is a slow but inexorable process and the sooner it is detected and dealt with, the better.

I was no fan of President Reagan, but it’s not doing him or his legacy any disservice to be upfront and open in discussing the disease that stripped him of his being. Stigmatizing Alzheimer’s destroys the memory as much as the disease.