Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Reading

Road Trip — Julie Pace of the AP in TPM on the Obama tour to bolster support.

Welcome to Barack Obama’s split-screen presidency.

On one side: a confident Obama making campaign-style stops around the country and ridiculing his political opponents to the delight of cheering supporters. On the other side: an increasingly unpopular president hobbled by gridlock on Capitol Hill and a steady stream of vexing foreign policy crises.

Obama has long sought refuge outside of Washington when his frustrations with the nation’s capital reach a boiling point. But his ability to rally public support in a way that results in progress for his legislative agenda has perhaps never been weaker than it is as he nears the midpoint of his second term.

To the White House, the take-away is that Washington — and the Republican Party in particular — is out of touch with the American people and failing to address their priorities. But to GOP leaders, Obama’s activities in a midterm election year reinforce their view of a president more focused on soaring speeches and partisan politics than on working toward compromise solutions to the nation’s problems.

Each side has at least some evidence to support their case.

Many Americans are indeed deeply frustrated with Washington’s inability to get anything done. Polls show majorities want to see action on some of Obama’s proposals, including increasing the minimum wage and overhauling the immigration system. Yet Obama’s own approval rating has fallen to the lowest levels of his presidency. And with his party at risk of losing control of the Senate, the president has ramped up his fundraising for the midterms and taken on a sharply partisan tone when voicing his frustration with Republicans.

During a speech Thursday in Austin, Texas — a Democratic enclave in a GOP-leaning state — Obama berated Republicans for, by his account, failing to act on “every serious idea” he’s put forth this year.

“The best you can say for them this year is that so far they have not shut down the government,” he said. “That’s the best you can say. But of course, it’s only July so who knows what they may cook up in the next few months.”

Egged on by a raucous and supportive crowd, Obama slipped deeper into campaign mode, leaning into the podium, responding to commentary from the audience and slipping into the familiar campaign language of his presidential bids. “Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice,” he declared.

Why We’re Never Rid of Torture — Rebecca Gordon on why Dick Cheney’s America still has the capacity to do it.

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off.  But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Final Notes — Everything you need to know about the World Cup final game between Argentina and Germany.  From Joe DeLessio at New York magazine.

The World Cup comes to an end this afternoon in Rio, when Germany and Argentina meet in the tournament’s final. It’s Germany’s eighth appearance in the final (they’ve won three times), and it’s the fifth time Argentina will play for the title (they’ve won twice). The game is sure to draw monster ratings, with both die-hard fans and casual observers tuning in. And so if you’re the type who only watches soccer once every four years, here’s a primer to get to ready for the big match.

How did these teams get here?
Germany went 2-0-1 in the group stage (the draw came against Ghana), then beat Algeria and France in the knockout round to advance to the semifinals. As you might have heard, they embarrassed Brazil (the favorite to win it all) in that game, defeating them 7–1, prompting a lot of sad Brazilian front pages.

[...]

Argentina, meanwhile, has won all of its games, finishing the group stage 3-0-0 before beating Switzerland and Belgium to earn a berth in the semis. They needed a penalty shootout to get past the Netherlands in the game, after neither team scored in either 90 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of extra time.

What do I need to know about Germany?
• They’re an efficient, disciplined team that beats opponents by working as a unit. Their midfield is a major strength and a big reason they walloped Brazil in the semifinals, and Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalies in the world.

• They have the second-leading goal scorer in the entire tournament in Thomas Muller, whose five goals are behind only Colombia’s James Rodriguez’s. Those who jumped on the U.S. soccer bandwagon may recall Muller as the guy who scored for Germany in their 1–0 defeat of the Americans…

• Germany’s roster also includes Miroslav Klose, the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history. His goal against Brazil in the semis was the 16th of his World Cup career.

• Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the U.S. team, is rooting pretty hard for Germany. The German-born Klinsmann both played for and coached the country in past World Cups, and with the Americans out, he’s not hiding his rooting interests.

What do I need to know about Argentina?
• Their best player is Lionel Messi, who may also be the best player in the world. He aggressively attacks defenders, and thanks to his sick ball control skills, creates opportunities to shoot and pass. He tallied 291 goals in 201 games for his club and national teams in between the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. (The only player who comes close to that figure is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.) And he has four goals so far in the World Cup, tied for third most.

• Argentina, a team not necessarily known for its defense, has been incredibly tough to score on in the knockout round so far: They haven’t allowed a goal in their last three games (not counting the penalty shootout, of course). Thanks to two games that have gone into extra time, that’s 330 minutes of play in elimination games, against some of the best teams on the planet.

• Javier Mascherano — who stumbled to the field after knocking heads with an opponent against the Netherlands, and later revealed that he also “tore [his] anus” while trying to prevent a Arjen Robben goal in the same game — plans on playing in the final.

[...]

All right, just tell me who’s supposed to win.
Through the semifinal round, FiveThirtyEight put Germany’s chances of winning the World Cup at 63 percent, and Argentina’s at 37 percent. Germany are the favorites according to bookmakers, too, even though no European country has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas.

Doonesbury — Rumor has it…

Friday, June 6, 2014

Surprise, Surprise

David Brooks says President Obama was right.

It doesn’t matter if Bergdahl had deserted his post or not. It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share.

Soldiers don’t risk their lives only for those Americans who deserve it; they do it for the nation as a whole.

It doesn’t matter either that the United States government ended up dealing with terrorists. In the first place, the Taliban is not a terrorist organization the way Al Qaeda is. America has always tried to reach a negotiated arrangement with the Taliban, and this agreement may be a piece of that. In the second place, this is the dirty world we live in. Sometimes national leaders are called upon to take the sins of the situation upon themselves for the good of the country, to deal with the hateful and compromise with the loathsome. That’s their form of sacrifice and service.

So President Obama made the right call.

Naturally he has to find fault somewhere, so he does it by complaining about the Rose Garden announcement with Bowe Bergdahl’s parents, but that’s his instinctive (and probably RWN-mandated) response.  He can’t help it.  But I give him credit for the rest of it.

If that’s not enough to make you spit-take your Starbucks, here’s Charles Krauthammer, who has never had a nice thing to say about President Obama ever, also on his side.

Speaking on “Special Report,” Krauthammer told Fox News host Bret Baier that Bergdahl should face an investigation over allegations that the soldier left his post in Afghanistan on the night he went missing. However, he insisted that the White House did the right thing by bringing him home first.

“Look, had the choice been mine, I would have made that same choice,” Krauthammer said. “It’s a difficult decision and I would not attack those who would have done otherwise.”

[...]

Krauthammer said that the United States, along with other Western countries, “always comes out on the short end” in hostage swaps. He included Israel in this, pointing to when the country gave up 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for one sergeant.

“The reason we put a value on the individual human life the way that the ones at the other end of the table don’t,” Krauthammer said. “That’s why we always end up with unequal swaps.”

If neither of them backtrack in the next twelve hours after getting tons of hate mail from real ‘Murkins, then I’d say we have something noteworthy going on here: sensible and reasonable response from the right to something Barack Obama did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Show Me the Funny

President Obama appeared on Funny or Die’s “Between Two Ferns” to promote Obamacare and the Villagers were having conniptions.

The New York Times‘ report on Obama’s stunt quotes a former press secretary fretting. (“We have to worry about the dignity of the presidency,” said Mike McCurry.) Former Bush administration spokesperson Dan Senor has likewise registered his displeasure. At the White House briefing today, ABC News correspondent Jim Avila asked if the presidency had lost dignity due to the appearance.

One can certainly understand why the White House would be concerned about upholding the dignity of the office. Presidential dignity is one of the most powerful tools the president has. He commands a vast state apparatus designed to create a sense of grandeur around him, and this aura bestows upon him a power unavailable to his rivals.

Is this apparatus really too weak? Why is it the role of the press to worry that the president is coming across too much like an equal citizen and not enough like a monarch? Washington’s dignity fetish is one of those manifestations of the cult of the presidency that expresses some really weird ideas about how democracy is supposed to work.

Aren’t these the same people who were concerned that President Obama was too aloof, that he kept his distance from people, wouldn’t mingle and chat with the important movers and shakers, and risked alienating possible connections that could help him accomplish his goals?  Oh, wait… they were complaining because he wouldn’t hang out with them, the Kool Kidz, but would go on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart six times.

Jealousy rears its shiny head.

The last time the Washington Post had an interview with Obama was in December 2009. The last time the New York Times had one was July 2013.

Oddly enough, I don’t remember the same outrage from the Village when George W. Bush went hunting for WMD’s on his hands and knees in the Oval Office in a video for the White House correspondents’ dinner.  They thought it was a real knee-slapper.  (The families of the dead and wounded soldiers were not so amused.)

Yesterday healthcare.gov was getting a ton of hits from the link at Funny or Die.  That’s what’s got them really honked off.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

State of the Union

I’m pretty sure a lot of people will be live-blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, or whatever newfangled social media method they’ve come up with in the last twenty minutes to give it enough instant analysis and chin-stroking without me adding my voice to the din, so I’ll wait until tomorrow morning to add my $0.02.

You, dear reader, are welcome to leave any thoughts, comments, bromides or brickbats.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back/Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blew it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the predictions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vacation Daze

It will be August in a couple of days and that means that some people will be taking a little time off for vacation (hint, hint).  That includes President Obama, who will head for Martha’s Vineyard.  And, as Steve Benen reminds us, that’s time to cue up the right wingers who will complain about how lazy this president is with all his time off.  “Does this guy ever work?”

Yeah, he’s a real slacker when it comes to vacation time.  He’s way far behind the last Republican president.

Obama has taken far less time away from the White House than his predecessor, George W. Bush, who spent weeks at a time at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Obama has taken 87 days off, compared with 399 days for Bush at a similar period in his presidency, according to CBS News’s Mark Knoller, who keeps detailed records of presidential travel.

Enjoy the time off, Mr. President.

marthas_vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard

Monday, July 22, 2013

I Don’t Know How He Does It

Andrew Sullivan marvels at President Obama’s ability to handle a very tense situation with coolness and reflection.

No other president could have said what Obama said on Friday afternoon with similar authority. What was striking to me was the tone of acute sadness – a tone others could have used after what was, under any interpretation, a tragedy. And then there was the fact that this first black president, even after such a polarizing incident, spoke to all Americans, white and black. I cannot fathom how some on the knee-jerk right could have seen this as a divisive set of comments – just as I cannot quite fathom how this president is capable of controlling and channeling his own emotions.

What he tried to do was explain to white America how it must feel like to be perpetually deemed guilty before being proven innocent just because of your age, gender and the color of your skin. He didn’t deny the facts of the Martin case; he didn’t dispute the jury’s decision; he didn’t dismiss legitimate issues like the toll of gun violence within the young black male population – but he did insist that we all understand the context, the history, and the reason, behind the anguish and anger of many African-American men and parents and boys. What he was asking for was some mutual empathy.

To answer his point about the knee-jerk right seeing this as divisive, it was a given; Sean Hannity and the rest of the people at Fox News and other such places would have had the same reaction if the president had come out and given his mother’s recipe for beef stew.  Their response to anything he says is programmed far in advance.  He speaks like Martin Luther King, they hear Malcolm X.

And this reaction proves the president’s point: it’s going to be very hard to have this discussion when you have a mindset in the nation that refuses to acknowledge that not only is there a race problem in this country, this kind of reaction is adding to it, and accusing the accuser of racism by pointing it out keeps the discussion at arms’ length.

The right wing used the same tactic after Newtown and the topic of gun control came up: it’s too soon to talk about it, and by talking about gun control, you’re just making the situation worse.  It’s an infantile evasion, but it works: the discussion is deflected from what needs to be done about the situation at hand to talking about whether or not we should even be talking about it.

What I find singularly impressive is that the president was able to step forward and speak to the situation in both strikingly personal terms but also as an adult addressing a problem that requires adult responses.  I’m sure he knew what kind of response he’d get from the right wing; in fact, I’ll bet that he was counting on it.  That way he can lead by example — as Andrew notes, by lowering the temperature — and letting the real race-baiters prove his point for him.  That takes a remarkable amount of maturity and understanding — something we rarely see in our leaders any more.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Reading

Could Ted Cruz Beat Hillary Clinton?  — Jonathan Bernstein at Salon thinks he could… assuming he gets past that whole born-in-Canada thing.

Ted Cruz 04-30-13What I hear from many liberals about Cruz’s chances are two things. One is just disbelief: Republicans wouldn’t really do something like nominate Cruz, would they? The key is that Ted Cruz isn’t Herman Cain or even Michele Bachmann; he’s a United States senator, and that counts for something (that is, conventional credentials count for something) in presidential elections. So, yes, they really could do something like that.

The other thing I hear, however, is perhaps even more wrong. Some liberals react by actively rooting for Cruz. The theory? The nuttier the nominee, the worse the chances of Republicans retaking the White House. Indeed, in conversation I’ve heard all sorts of justifications: Cruz couldn’t possibly win Florida! Therefore, he couldn’t win the White House!

Don’t listen to it.

The smart money play for liberals remains to root, in the Republican primary, for whichever candidate would make the best – or perhaps the least-worst – president.

The bottom line is that candidates just don’t matter all that much in presidential elections. Yes, a reputation for ideological extremism hurts, but it appears to hurt maybe 2 or 3 percentage points. Yes, George McGovern and Barry Goldwater had reputations for ideological extremism and were buried, but in both cases it was by a popular president during good times. Ronald Reagan wasn’t slowed much (although, still, some) by his conservative image. Don’t get me wrong: There’s no evidence for the opposite theory, that avoiding the squishy center (in either direction) will magically produce an avalanche of new voters who otherwise would have stayed home. Going moderate is better. It just isn’t all that much better.

Now, on top of that, it’s an open question whether Cruz would really wind up with a reputation as more of a fringe figure than any other plausible nominee. For one thing, the Republican nomination process may bring out inflamed rhetoric, but it’s also likely to create converging policy views among the candidates. Indeed, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Cruz wins the nomination as the hero of conservatives, which then leaves him far more free to pivot to the center in the general election race than a less trusted candidate might have. Granted, the other possibility is very real as well – Cruz spends the nomination fight solidifying his conservative reputation, and then finds it sticks with him no matter what he does later. And it’s worth noting that Mitt Romney’s reputation as relatively moderate managed to survive everything he did in in the entire 2012 election cycle.

The bottom line, however, is that Ted Cruz is unlikely to drop more than a couple points to the Democratic nominee. And that’s not likely to swing the election. Could it? Sure; even a small bump would have sunk the Republicans in 2000, for example. But most elections aren’t narrow enough for a couple of points to make a difference.

The only exception to this would be for someone who doesn’t even have conventional credentials. Nominate Cain or Bachmann, and it’s not difficult to believe that the penalty would be very large. There’s no way of knowing, however, because no one like that ever gets nominated. So, sure, root for them, but it ain’t gonna happen.

So what it all comes down to is if you really believe that Cruz is more dangerous as president than Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie or the rest of the likely field, then you most definitely don’t want him in place just in case 2016 turns out to be a good year for Republicans.

[Steve M. offers a rebuttal.]

Before Barack Obama was Barack Obama — Garance Franke-Ruta remembers the time when the future president was mistaken for a waiter at a party.

Obama’s frank remarks on race and how he also has been seen as someone less than who he is led journalist Katie Rosman of the Wall Street Journal to resurface a 2008 piece about a 2003 garden party at the Manhattan home of media luminaries Tina Brown, now editor of the Daily Beast, and Harold Evans. The gathering just a little more than 10 years ago was to celebrate Sidney Blumenthal’s book The Clinton Wars. Wrote Rosman:

Standing by myself I noticed, on the periphery of the party, a man looking as awkward and out-of-place as I felt. I approached him and introduced myself. He was an Illinois state senator who was running for the U.S. Senate. He was African American, one of a few black people in attendance.

We spoke at length about his campaign. He was charismatic in a quiet, solemn way. I told him I wanted to pitch a profile of him to a national magazine. (The magazine later rejected my proposal.)

The following year I watched as he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and then won his Senate seat that fall. On Tuesday, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States.

But it’s her kicker that really stands out in light of Obama’s comment today that “there are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

“What I will always remember,” Rosman wrote in 2008, “is as I was leaving that party … I was approached by another guest, an established author. He asked about the man I had been talking to. Sheepishly he told me he didn’t know that Obama was a guest at the party, and had asked him to fetch him a drink. In less than six years, Obama has gone from being mistaken for a waiter among the New York media elite, to the president-elect. What a country.”

Indeed.

And yet even as that country elected and then reelected its first black president, the easy assumptions about who black men are have yet to vanish.

Frank Rich — Spying is only spying when the subject doesn’t want to be watched.

The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don’t care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don’t, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook. Indeed, there’s a considerable constituency in this country—always present and now arguably larger than ever—that’s begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible. We don’t like the government to be watching as well—many Americans don’t like government, period—but most of us are willing to give such surveillance a pass rather than forsake the pleasures and rewards of self-exposure, convenience, and consumerism.

R.I.P. the contemplative America of ­Thoreau and of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, who “would prefer not to”; this is the America that prefers to be out there, prizing networking, exhibitionism, and fame more than privacy, introspection, and solitude. And while it would be uplifting to believe that Americans are willing to sacrifice privacy for the sole good of foiling Al Qaeda, that’s hardly the case. Other motives include such quotidian imperatives as ­shopping, hooking up, seeking instant entertainment and information, and finding the fastest car route—not to mention being liked (or at least “liked”) and followed by as many friends (or “friends”) and strangers as possible, whether online or on basic cable. In a society where economic advancement is stagnant for all but those at the top, a public profile is the one democratic currency most everyone can still afford and aspire to—an indicator of status, not something to be embarrassed about. According to the Pew-Post poll, a majority of Americans under 50 paid little attention to the NSA story at all, perhaps because they found the very notion of fearing a privacy breach anachronistic. After the news of the agency’s PRISM program broke, National Donut Day received more American Google searches than PRISM. There has been no wholesale (or piecemeal) exodus of Americans from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, or any of the other information-vacuuming enterprises reported to have, in some murky fashion, siphoned data—meta, big, or otherwise—to the NSA. Wall Street is betting this will hold. A blogger on the investment website Motley Fool noticed that on the day PRISM was unmasked, share prices for all the implicated corporate participants went up.

If one wanted to identify the turning point when privacy stopped being a prized commodity in America, a good place to start would be with television and just before the turn of the century. The cultural revolution in programming that was cemented by the year 2000 presaged the devaluation of privacy that would explode with the arrival of Facebook and its peers a few years later.

Doonesbury — History repeats itself.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

In Your Face

Peter Beinart:

By appointing Susan Rice as his new national-security adviser and Samantha Power to represent the U.S. at the United Nations, Barack Obama is practically shouting a message to the Washington GOP: “I’m no longer afraid of you.”

It’s about damn time.

We saw a little flash of this backatcha from the president when Susan Rice was being roasted last winter when she was being mentioned as the next Secretary of State, but that collapsed and we got John Kerry.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Mr. Kerry, and I doubt that having a knock-down/drag-out over Ms. Rice in the Senate confirmation would have left the State Department hanging out there while John McCain and his wormtongue Lindsey Graham romped all over her on TV.  But by making her the National Security Adviser — which does not require Senate confirmation and carries as much heft in actually running the country’s foreign policy as being Secretary of State — Mr. Obama is flipping off the Republicans and he doesn’t give a shit if they carry on about the “culture of intimidation” and how uppity arrogant he is.

Now let’s see if he sticks to sticking it to them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Short Takes

Drone strike kills 7 in Pakistan.

Two U.S. officials wounded in gunfire at Venezuelan strip club.

Teenaged bomb plotter charged with attempted murder.

Rulings in Trayvon Martin case; trial will start in June.

President Obama and Gov. Christie went to the Jersey shore together.

Currency exchange busted for money laundering.

The Tigers lost to the Pirates 1-0.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Short Takes

Bomber targets U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Commander denies U.S. blame in deaths in Afghanistan.

President Obama lashes out at I.R.S.; dismisses Benghazi investigation.

Police I.D. suspect in New Orleans Mothers Day shooting.

Sleazy abortion doctor convicted on three counts of murder.

R.I.P. Dr. Joyce Brothers, 85, celebrity psychologist.

The Tigers beat the Astros 7-2.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Another Obama Failure

We’ve already determined that Barack Obama is not very good at being a socialist, what with the stock market soaring to giddy heights, the unemployment rate falling, and corporate profits going through the roof.  Now, according to Steve M, he’s not any good at being a tyrant.

The Obama “scandals” are: a pre-election “cover-up” of the truth about the Benghazi attack in which the administration acknowledged every fact said to have been covered up within less than two weeks after the attack (and more than a month and a half before the election); heightened scrutiny of the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups by the IRS that led to no revocations of tax-exempt status and happened while a Republican ran the agency; all of this following a “gun grab” that has led to exactly zero federal gun control because no bill could even pass the Democrat-controlled upper chamber of Congress; and a further “gun grab” said to be in the works in conjunction with the UN that involves a treaty that can’t possibly be ratified in the Senate, and wouldn’t do what the opponents say it does anyway, even if it did pass.

Can’t this guy do anything right?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union

I managed to stay awake for the State of the Union speech; no small thing when you normally are asleep by 9 p.m. or so.  My first thought was that it was a hard sell on a lot of new plans ranging from climate change to minimum wage to voting rights but not overly political.  For instance, a lot of what President Obama pitched included “we can do this” in the phrasing, and he seemed to go out of his way to include the fact that a lot of what he was proposing had, at some point, been endorsed by the Republicans.

All in all, I’ll give him an A- for style, a B+ for substance, and since there were no strange outbursts from the gallery, an A- for decorum.

Here’s the full transcript via the Washington Post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

State of the Union Tonight

I do not plan on live-blogging the speech tonight, but my cohorts over at The Reaction doing it here.

Through the magic of the intertubes and the White House press office releasing some of the prepared text, here’s some of what President Obama will say:

“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”

“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.  Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation:  How do we attract more jobs to our shores?  How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?  And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago.  Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.  It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

And here’s a preview of Sen. Marco Rubio’s rebuttal, which will be delivered in both English and Spanish:

“Good evening.  Me llamo Marco Rubio.  No te preocupes; yo no soy mexicano, y tengo un trabajo.  I’m one of the good guys; soy Cubano.

All that stuff that President Obama just said is cacaNo se deje dar gato por liebre.  Thank you, and buenos noches.”

He’ll be followed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who will deliver the Tea Party response:

“Hamana hamana hamana.  Kenyan Socialist Secret Gay Muslim.  Birth certificate.  Arms to Turkey.  Freedom.  And hamana.”

I’ll come back if something really interesting happens, like if Ted Nugent falls out of the visitors gallery.

Meanwhile, the live coverage of the standoff in Big Bear, California between the fugitive ex-cop and the police is stepping all over the SOTU foreplay.  The metaphors write themselves.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Oh, Shoot

Via TPM:

Obama Skeet Shooting 02-03-13

After President Barack Obama’s recent claim that he goes skeet shooting “all the time” was met with a chorus of skepticism, the White House on Saturday released a photo of him doing just that.

The photo, taken by White House photographer Pete Souza on Aug. 4, 2012, shows Obama shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md.

Update: Following the Saturday morning release of the photo, a pair of White House confidants took to Twitter to poke fun at the skeet skeptics.

The picture does prove one thing the Republicans and Tea Partiers have always said about President Obama: He’s a lefty.

Frankly, I think it’s silly that presidents and candidates have to prove they’re up to the job by doing things like hunting — or varmint-shooting, as Mitt Romney once put it — or other such irrelevant things.  It’s pandering, plain and simple, and just because a president can shoot a shotgun or hang out with NASCAR fans doesn’t make him or her a better candidate.  And the people they do it with know they don’t mean it.  So why bother?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Moving Forward

One of the few interesting conservative reactions I saw to President Obama’s inaugural address yesterday came from Charles Krauthammer, the dour prognosticator of doom at the Washington Post:

“I thought it was an amazing speech, and historically very important,” Krauthammer said on Fox News in the aftermath of the speech. “This was really Obama unbound. And I think what’s most interesting is that Obama basically is declaring the end of Reaganism.”

He went on to say that it was a “hymn to big government,” which means he wasn’t listening to the same speech as the rest of us, but then, he’s paid to find the nits to pick at.  Judging by other conservatives’ reactions to the speech, they were not impressed, either.  And of course there was the unsurprising tut-tutting from a few Villagers and Grumpy Gusses who wanted to hear another call for unity and the end to partisanship in Washington.  Yes, that worked so well the last time.

If, as Dr. Krauthammer bemoans, this is the end of Reaganism, then it’s about time.  Even Ronald Reagan, the one that raised taxes, the one that supported the assault weapons ban, the one who signed an abortion bill when he was governor of California, would probably be happy to see the end of the era of big business kleptocracy that gave us such wonderful things as Enron and Wall Street rip-offs, the end of serial pollution and the denial of scientific reality, the end of racial polarization, the end of ignorance, intolerance, demonization of the LGBTQ community, and the end of the pursuit of an America that only existed in the half-hour black-and-white sitcoms of the 1950′s, all hosted by tobacco companies.  Much of those policies and philosophies still exist and are still trumpeted by conservatives, but at least they’re no longer the mantra of an administration.  At least for now.

The headlines of major papers are telling us that “Obama Lays Out Liberal Vision,” but that’s news only if you were not paying attention to the presidential campaign in 2012.  There wasn’t a heck of a lot new in the speech.  Even the breathtaking inclusion of “gay brothers and sisters” and the mention of Stonewall along with Seneca Falls and Selma was an echo from the stump.  That he would be the first president to mention gay rights in an inauguration speech is important, but it is not a “liberal vision” any more than the simple idea of treating all of us as equals, which, as the president noted, was written into the Declaration of Independence.

If this is truly the beginning of a term with “liberal vision,” then there are a lot of people — myself included — who are saying that it’s about time.  And if this is the beginning of a term where President Obama will not back down from his ideas before he’s even laid them out in dealing with the intransigent Republicans, its about time for that, too.  Let’s just hope that he means it and sticks to it this time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Including Stonewall — the birthplace of the gay-rights movement — along with Seneca Falls and Selma in a presidential inaugural address for the first time.

Do not tell me that the universe has not shifted.

Here is the full speech as prepared for delivery.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back/Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

Right on both counts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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