Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Reading

Assassination in Moscow — Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic on the murder of a Putin opponent.

Hours after Boris Nemtsov was slain on Friday night near the Kremlin, Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to seek justice: “Everything will be done so that the organizers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve,” he said in a condolence message to the 55-year-old Nemtsov’s mother. Whether Putin is being sincere is something only he and his closest advisors know. But Russia’s recent history inspires little confidence that Nemtsov’s killers, whomever they are, will be brought to justice.

Nemtsov was a high-profile politician, having served as a deputy prime minister and, more recently, as a regional legislator. He was such an outspoken critic of Putin in those roles that he openly feared for his life. Along with his colleague Leonid Martynyuk, Nemtsov published a report detailing the immense corruption surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics, which were hosted in the Russian resort town of Sochi. Nemtsov also spoke out about Russia’s seizure of Crimea last February and subsequent support for pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine. But Nemtsov is hardly the first critic of Putin to lose his life to premeditated murder. Dozens of journalists have been killed since the Russian president first assumed office in 2000. Few of those responsible have been brought to justice—a point Nemtsov himself was well aware of. “The murderers understand that killing journalists is not a problem,” he told Foreign Policy‘s Christian Caryl in a 2010 interview.

The assassination of a well-known politician, however, is somewhat more unusual. In an attempt to preempt public outrage, the Kremlin has already formed a committee to investigate the causes of Nemtsov’s death. One possibility they cited was that Nemtsov’s commentary about the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, whose offices suffered a murderous assault in January, made him a target of Islamists. The committee also mentioned Nemtsov’s controversial position on Ukraine, and, most spectacularly, suggested that he was killed by fellow opponents of Putin in an attempt to rally opposition to the Russian president.

Putin’s critics have not had it easy in Russia. A major economic slowdown triggered by falling oil prices has not diminished the president’s popularity. The country’s liberal opposition—epitomized by Nemtsov and the jailed politician Alexei Navalny—is weak and marginalized, and their positions on Ukraine, Putin, and the Sochi Olympics are not widely shared among ordinary Russians.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin appears wary of turning Nemtsov into a martyr. On Sunday, he was scheduled to appear at an anti-Putin rally in Moscow. But when the organizers asked to turn the rally into a memorial for Nemtsov, Russian authorities denied the request. Even still, protests have done little to challenge Putin’s grip on power—something that Nemtsov himself acknowledged in a recent interview published in Newsweek‘s Polish edition:

[The liberals’] idea is the one of a democratic and open Russia. A country which is not applying bandit methods to its own citizens and neighbors. But, as I mentioned, Russian fascism is a hybrid. And hybrids are extremely resistant.

As the world mourns his death, Nemtsov’s vision seems very far from being realized.

Early Bird vs. Night Owl — Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker on the morals dictated by our sleep pattern.

The idea of the virtuous early bird goes back at least to Aristotle, who wrote, in his Economics, that “Rising before daylight is … to be commended; it is a healthy habit.” Benjamin Franklin, of course, framed the same sentiment in catchier terms: “Early to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy and wise.” More recently, there has been a push for ever earlier work starts, conference calls, and breakfast meetings, and a steady stream of advice to leave Twitter and Facebook to the afternoon and spend the morning getting real things done. And there may be some truth to the idea: a 1998 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that we become more passive as the day wears on. You should do the most important thing first, the theory goes, because, well, you won’t be able to do it quite as well later on.

In last January’s issue of Psychological Science, Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith took that theory even further, proposing what they called the morning morality effect, which posits that people behave better earlier in the day. Their research caught the attention of Sunita Sah, a behavioral scientist at Georgetown University and a professed night owl. For the previous five years, Sah had been studying how different situations influence ethical behavior. “You always hear these sweeping statements: morning is saintly, evening is bad; early to bed, early to rise,” she told me recently. A former physician, she found it plausible that something with such profound health consequences as time of day might also have a moral dimension. But she wondered how strong the effect really was. Were people like her—principled late risers—the exception to the rule? To test the limits of Kouchaki and Smith’s findings, Sah and her colleagues began by looking at the underlying biology.

Our sleep patterns are governed by circadian rhythms, our bodies’ response to changes in light and dark in a typical day. The rhythms are slightly different for every person, which is why our energy levels ebb and flow in ways that are unique to us. This internal clock determines what is called our chronotype—whether we are morning people, night people, or somewhere in between. Chronotypes are relatively stable, though they have been known to shift with age. Children and older adults generally prefer mornings; adolescents and young adults prefer evenings. Figuring out where you fall is simple: spend a few weeks going to bed when you feel tired and waking up without an alarm clock. A quicker alternative is the Horne-Ostberg questionnaire, which presents various scenarios—a difficult exam, twice-weekly exercise with a friend—and determines your chronotype on the basis of what time of day you’d feel most up to confronting them.

Chronotype, of course, doesn’t control wakefulness all on its own. There is also what is known as homeostatic sleep drive. The longer we are awake, irrespective of where we are in our established circadian rhythms, the more fatigue exerts its pressure on us. In morning people, sleep drive and chronotype tend to be aligned. Their internal clocks are pretty well synchronized with their over-all energy levels. For night owls, however, things get complicated. When the sun comes up, the light resets their circadian clocks, telling them to wake up. But, because of their chronotypes, they don’t have much energy and they want to go back to sleep. At night, the reverse happens: one system is telling them to sleep and another is telling them to remain awake. About forty per cent of people fall into this latter category.

The Right to Get Weird — Marin Cogan reports in New York magazine on the sideshows at CPAC.

“It’s hard to punch through here,” Travis Brown, a writer for the anti-tax website How Money Walks, is saying. Standing in front of us, a towering silver robot with glowing red LED lights in his eyes and chest plate takes a clunky step forward. “We need to be creative. There’s so much going on.” The robot takes another step forward. A college-aged girl walks by asking who he is.

“Govtron is a robot built and fueled by government inefficiency,” one of the robot’s handlers says. “So he’s armored with pages of the Obamacare bill, he’s got a red tape cannon, he’s stomping on some Gadsden snakes as we speak, stomping on your freedom. We’re pitting this super villain against the How Money Walks Reformers, which includes Captain America and Iron Man, as well as Iron Patriot.” Behind him, a man in a Captain America costume gives a halfhearted wave. “That is so funny!” the girl says. “And what is his name? Goovtron?”

Govtron is the subject of a short comic book Brown authored specially for CPAC, the annual confab hosted by the American Conservative Union. He’s there to direct attention to their website, and right now even he’s struggling to stand out. A few booths away, a limited government youth group called Turning Point USA is blasting Sia while students mill about, tagging their “Big Government Sucks” signing wall. “We’re working around this theme, big government sucks,” says Marko Sukovic, the group’s Midwest field director. “It’s probably the most relevant phrase any young person can relate to on college campuses.”

Behind the wall, on which someone has scrawled, “I love our freedom and dislike big politics,” a man in a “Muhammad is a homo” T-shirt is giving an interview in front of an audience of empty chairs. Three aisles down, at the end of the Gaylord Hotel’s massive expo center, the American Atheists are posted up at a booth with the banner “Conservative Atheists Matter!”

“There are millions and millions of atheists who would be voting Republican if the Republicans would just let them!” David Silverman, the group’s president, says, eyes as big as saucers. “Just ask for our vote! Tell us that we count! Tell us that we matter, once! It’s never happened. Not in my lifetime.” The fresh-faced youth manning the World Congress of Families booth beside them does not know how to deal with the atheists next door. “It’s urrrgh … ” he mumbles until an adult steps in to cut him off.

In a big ballroom upstairs, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio will practice their nascent stump speeches to adoring crowds, and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie — the more moderate and less favored potential candidates in the CPAC straw poll — will get grilled by conservative luminaries like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. With the exception of some awkward jokes, and Scott Walker’s awkward reply to a question about how he would take on ISIS (“We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” he tells a questioner), most of the conference’s events are too scripted to be memorable.

Doonesbury — Planned disruption.  (You may have to scroll down the page to actually see the comic.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Short Takes

The House is trying to come up with a plan to fund DHS without messing with immigration and pissing off the right wing.

The guy known as Jihad John, the English-speaking executioner of ISIS, has been identified as a Briton.

You’re welcome — Liberia’s president thanked the U.S. for helping them with the Ebola crisis.

The F.C.C. votes in favor of net neutrality.

The Klown Kar is in town.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Taliban in Topeka

When your state is drowning in red ink and funding of public education is drying up, the geniuses in Kansas have come up with a very high priority to fret about: horny teenagers in art classes.

The Republican-dominated Kansas Senate voiced its approval Tuesday of a bill that would make it easier to prosecute teachers and school administrators who present lesson materials deemed to be “harmful.”

The measure was proposed after a middle school teacher in the Kansas City area displayed a sex education poster that listed specific sexual acts.

[…]

Senate Bill 56 would allow misdemeanor charges to be filed against teachers who present materials depicting “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” that the “average adult person” believes “lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value.”

[…]

“My first thought: Oh no! This again?” said Liesl Wright, an art teacher in Wichita, in an email. “I’d be in trouble. I was showing my high school art students charcoal drawings of nude people just today. I do it all the time. You know when the religious laws regarding art are more restrictive than the European Renaissance, you’ve gone too damn far!”

Ooh, she said “damn”!  Burn her at the stake.

All Aboard

We’re gonna need more than just a clown car; maybe a Klown Bus.

This time, Donald J. Trump says, he really means it.

The billionaire real-estate mogul, who has long amounted to a one-man sideshow in GOP presidential politics, said in an interview Wednesday that he is “more serious” than ever about pursuing a run for the White House in 2016.

In recent days, Trump said, he has hired staffers in key primary states, retained an election attorney and delayed signing on for another season as host of NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” because of his political projects.

“Everybody feels I’m doing this just to have fun or because it’s good for the brand,” Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Well, it’s not fun. I’m not doing this for enjoyment. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.”

But wait, don’t order yet; there’s more.

Todd Akin is considering a primary challenge to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in 2016.

“I have not ruled anything out,” the former congressman and 2012 GOP Senate nominee told The Hill in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“I think there is a high level of dissatisfaction among conservatives, that they have to some degree been pushed out of the Republican Party,” he continued. “The sentiment is there. The Tea Party is skeptical and wants some fresh blood, not just the same establishment guys.”

Akin’s reemergence is sure to be an unwelcome development for national Republicans.

During his 2012 race against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the Republican triggered a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and fellow Republicans for saying that women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape” during a discussion about why abortion should be illegal in all cases, even rape and incest.

When Akin refused to back down, the GOP essentially abandoned him in the once-winnable race, and his gaffes hurt the party across the board.

Yay, popcorn for everyone!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cue The Meteor

If we have gotten to the stage in this country where people are actually being paid to write articles telling us that it’s President Obama’s fault that people question his religion, then we might as well bring on the meteor to wipe us out like the dinosaurs because there’s no hope left.

This is the dumbest shit ever. The idea that the President Obama is partly to blame for the confusion over his religious faith is ridiculous. While Andrew Jackson was our first Trinitarian president, and he only converted after leaving the White House, we have never had any president who professed to believe in any religion other than Christianity or its unitarian offshoots. If we elected a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Mormon, everyone would know about it.

By the way, we’ve had two Quaker presidents — Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon — so chew on that while you wait for the firestorm.

Bitter Little Pill

Somebody was not paying attention in high school biology.

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

The question Monday from Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.

Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

The committee approved the bill 13-4 on a party-line vote. Barbieri, who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho, voted in favor of the legislation. [Emphasis added.]

Damn, there go my hopes for a painless prostate exam.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Reading

A Comedy About Tragedy — Norman L. Eisen on how The Grand Budapest Hotel pays tribute to the Holocaust.

Like so many others, I spent last month’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in remembrance of the Holocaust. I quietly contemplated the past, thought about family members who had survived, and those who had perished, attended a commemorative ceremony, said Kaddish, and shed some tears. And then I watched a comedy—Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is nominated for nine Academy Awards at this Sunday’s ceremony.

How can comedy ever be appropriate when it comes to remembering such solemn events? I first asked that question about the film three years ago, before it was even made. At the time I was the U.S. Ambassador in Prague, and the filmmakers reached out to say that they were researching a movie set in the fictional land of Zubrowka (a stand in for the Czech lands) during the 1930s, concluding in 1938 and told in flashback from 1968 (two very bleak years in Czech history, marking the Nazi and the Soviet invasions). Would I help?

As the child of a Czech survivor of Auschwitz who later fled the Communists, I was dubious. But when I sat with the director, Wes Anderson, and heard his vision, I immediately went from skeptic to champion for the same reason I turned to the film again last month: It’s one of the smartest and most sophisticated movies ever made about both the causes of the Holocaust and its consequences.

First, its characters are a warm tribute to the three main populations targeted by the Nazis. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hero of the film and the head concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, is openly bisexual (thousands of men arrested after being condemned as homosexuals were estimated to have died in concentration camps). His sidekick, the young lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), is a refugee whose family was slaughtered in their village, standing in for the Roma and other “non-Aryan” ethnic minorities the Holocaust also targeted. The two men are aided throughout by a Jewish lawyer, Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).

Second, the film focuses on the Nazis’ motivations, a poisonous cocktail of bias, greed, and disdain for law. Dmitri (Adrien Brody), the leader of an SS-like organization (the “ZZ”) engages in a madcap pursuit of the heroes all over Zubrowka, attempting to seize a valuable painting from them illegally, assaulting the rule of law and, eventually, Kovacs.

Third and most important, the film’s use of comedy turns out to offer a fresh way to talk about the run-up to World War II and the Communist era that followed. So much has already been said about those eras, and properly so. But with the passing of the generation of the eyewitnesses, and the advent of new generations with their own sensibilities, how do we continue the conversation? The film succeeded at doing that through a comic lens—the very thing that initially troubled me.

Talking about the most serious subjects with the help of comedy is a long European tradition running from Aristophanes to Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, whose works were a principal influence of the film. That tradition was particularly strong in the real-life Zubrowka, Czechoslovakia, where Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik sent up militarism, Franz Kafka’s novels and stories mocked bureaucracy, and Havel’s comic plays helped bring down Communism.

These artists recognized that profound issues deserve to be looked at through every single human lens, and no issue is perhaps more profound than the Holocaust, its causes and consequences. The Grand Budapest Hotel also joins a film tradition that tackles this era through humor, including Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1941, nominated for five Oscars), Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942, one Oscar nomination), and Life Is Beautiful (1997-98, four Oscars, eight nominations). There have also been some spectacular failures in this regard, including Robin Williams’ Jakob the Liar, set in a ghetto, and most notoriously, Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried, a film that was apparently so bad it was never released.

Wisely, Anderson avoided the war itself and its mass murder, setting his film in the period before and after instead. Which is decent: There are places that comedy, as important as it is, should hesitate to tread, and the inside of a concentration camp is surely first among them. (Life Is Beautiful being the exception that proves the rule.) That approach is not only fitting, but also opens a door for viewers who might otherwise hesitate to encounter that whole painful era. To be sure, the period also needs to continue to be addressed head on. But hundreds of thousands of people who might otherwise shy away saw this movie, and took away its important lessons about tolerance, governance, and the rule of law. That matters.

Marriage Equality Navajo Style — Julie Turkewitz reports that the Navajo nation is considering repealing the ban on same-sex marriage.

TOHATCHI, N.M. — Tradition reigns here on the Navajo reservation, where the words of elders are treated as gospel and many people still live or pray in circular dwellings called hogans.

The national debate over gay marriage, however, is prompting some Navajos to re-examine a 2005 tribal law called the Dine Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex unions on the reservation. Among the tribal politicians who have said they are amenable to repealing the law is Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, who has said he will go along with a repeal if the Navajo Nation Council votes in favor of it.

And at least one Navajo presidential aspirant — Joe Shirley Jr., a former president who is running again — favors legalizing same-sex marriage. “Our culture dictates acceptance,” Mr. Shirley, 67, said of gay Navajos in a slow, grandfatherly tone during an interview. “They are part of our family, they are our children, and we don’t need to be partial.”

A second presidential contender, Chris Deschene, 43, who was disqualified from running but might be able to get back into the race, said he was “most likely” to support gay marriage.

To Navajo traditionalists, however, the rapid redefinition of marriage in states around the country has made the 2005 tribal law more important than ever.

“It’s not for us,” Otto Tso, a Navajo legislator and medicine man from the western edge of the reservation, said of gay marriage. “We have to look at our culture, our society, where we come from, talk to our elders.”

“I do respect gay people,” he continued, but as far as permitting same-sex unions, “I would definitely wait on that.”

The United States Supreme Court is expected to decide this year whether states can prohibit same-sex marriages, a move with the potential to lead to the legalization of gay unions in all 50 states. But the ruling would not apply to the Navajo Nation, because the country’s 556 tribes are sovereign entities.

Leading the charge for gay marriage here is Alray Nelson, 29, a top aide to Mr. Shirley, the presidential contender. Mr. Nelson, who would like to marry his partner, Brennen Yonnie, has pushed for years to repeal the Dine Marriage Act and has a small coalition of core supporters — about 15 of them, he said. But some gay Navajos, he said, have not joined the coalition for fear they will be ostracized.

Other gay tribal citizens say they support same-sex marriage but do not consider marriage rights a priority, pointing out that many gay Navajos suffer from drug abuse and debilitating depression.

Fixing these ills, said Jeremy Yazzie, 33, who counsels gay and transgender Navajos, is far more important. “Everyone is worried about repealing the gay marriage act,” Mr. Yazzie said. “That’s far from my work. How can we love somebody else if we can’t even love ourselves?”

Mr. Nelson and Mr. Yonnie, 29, a caseworker for the tribal welfare agency, could marry in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the states that border the reservation, if they wanted. “These states surrounding the Navajo Nation are taking big steps forward — steps for equality,” Mr. Nelson said. “The Navajo Nation is not.”

The GOP’s Ugly Side — Elias Isquith in Salon says that Rudy Giuliani says what a lot of the Republicans are thinking.

The thoroughly odious Giuliani’s whole political career has been built on an edifice of thinly-veiled racism and ferocious demagoguery, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him channel such toxic undercurrents. (And it is similarly unsurprising to see him defend himself by cribbing the “Obama is anti-colonial” argument from Dinesh D’Souza, a far-right provocateur and convicted felon who recently called the president a “boy” from the “ghetto.”) But Giuliani’s incendiary drivel was firmly in step with much of the conservative movement right now, which has begun to nurture a Captain Ahab-like obsession with what it sees as a telltale sign of Obama’s foreign nature — namely, his refusal to describe ISIS as Islamic, and his insistence that extremism, rather than Islamic extremism, is a danger to the globe.

The right’s been banging this drum for years now, of course. But the rumble has predictably begun to sound more like rolling thunder as the medieval sadism of ISIS has become regular front-page news. For example, when the administration held a three-day global conference earlier this week about thwarting violent extremism, leading voices in the right-wing media — like the New York Post, Fox News and Matt Drudge — saw reason to spend untold amounts of time and energy slamming the president for refusing to use those two magic words. The “theory” proffered by talking heads on Fox and pundits at National Review held that Obama’s stubbornness was a result of political correctness. On a more underground level, though, it was easier to see the subtext: He’s a secret Muslim! (The actual reason has gone totally unmentioned.)

If you’re the kind of conservative who likes to think of yourself as more William F. Buckley than Michael Savage, this must all be at least slightly embarrassing. But the problem for the Republican establishment and its sympathizers is that the GOP base’s resurgent Christian ethno-nationalism isn’t merely gauche; it’s politically dangerous. The Giuliani example offers a case in point. Because while most of the folks who were there to hear “America’s Mayor” were generic GOP fat cats, one of the men present was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the current lead challenger to the front-running Jeb Bush. And if I were one of the establishment kingmakers Walker’s trying to seduce, I would have found his handling of the Giuliani contretemps very disconcerting.

Instead of going with the usual soft-touch scolding we expect of a presidential candidate responding to nastiness from one of their own, Walker tried to avoid expressing any opinion at all. He told the folks at CNBC that Giuliani “can speak for himself” and that he was “not going to comment” on whether he agreed that the president of the United States of America hates the United States of America. When he was pressed to state whether he found Giuliani’s remarks offensive, Walker merely answered with some “aw, shucks” cornpone bullshit: “I’m in New York. I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive.”

Needless to say, playing footsie with this kind of bomb-throwing is not going to cost Walker much in the Iowa plains or in the rolling hills of South Carolina. And Walker, who’s no dummy or slouch, seems well aware that he can only win the nomination if he’s as viable in the rarefied air of the Republican establishment as he is among the Tea Party masses. Which means there’s no upside to taking a bat to Giuliani for saying what many, many conservatives — including those at ostensibly respectable outlets — believed already. But that’s exactly the problem that confronts the adults in the GOP: If the economy is good enough to reduce the appeal of a “pragmatic” candidate like Bush, the party rank-and-file will want more Giuliani-style lizard-brained tribalism instead.

Doonesbury — Go figure.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Still Stupid

Remember how Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) warned the Republicans that they can no longer be “the stupid party”?  It sounds like he’s changed his mind on that.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stood by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s criticism of President Obama Wednesday.

“The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said – that the President has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these ISIS terrorists — is true,” Jindal, a likely GOP presidential candidate, said in a statement to TIME. “If you are looking for someone to condemn the Mayor, look elsewhere.”

And you thought he might hold out some hope for being reasonable.  Oh well.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How Rudy

I suppose you’ve probably heard that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani had some harsh words for President Obama the other day.

Politico reported that Giuliani made the comment at a private dinner in Manhattan attended by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and a slew of business executives.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said, as quoted by Politico. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

I think the words you’re looking for are “flaming asshole” because when you get to the point in your remarks where you have to preface it with “I know this is a horrible thing to say” and yet you keep on saying it, you are a flaming asshole.  Was Pat Buchanan unavailable?

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s acknowledge that it’s just another in a long list of attacks that have been made against Barack Obama since he emerged on the national stage ten years ago.  Usually they come from people who otherwise are occupied preparing for the End Times or fixated on taking us back to those rollicking good times of the Spanish Inquisition or the Third Reich.  To have them come from a man who once led America’s largest city is offensive, but in his case not at all surprising.

Mr. Giuliani has made his mark all too well by saying stupid shit like this.  Some people find it charming, but most people, including the party he belongs to, find it offensive enough that he couldn’t generate enough support to run for president for more than about twenty minutes.  It’s not even worth getting all worked up to counter him with of course the president loves his country because it’s a waste of time to go after arguments usually spewed by idiots on AM talk radio and chat rooms that try to sell you gold and natural Viagra.

My only hope is that bringing Mr. Giuliani’s breathtaking racism, otherism, and sniveling bigotry out into the open is so that more people will mock him and put him in the same room with the has-beens of the past.  Maybe they’ll give him his own reality show.

Plucking The Pigeons

Where there’s gold, there’s fools, and there’s always someone who’s going to con them out of it.

But, until recently, even the more reputable conservative outlets have remained mum about their fellows’ habit of bilking their followers. Fox News even keeps bringing one of the worst offenders, Mike Huckabee, on air over and over, making it all the easier for him to earn the trust of viewers and then to sell them out to snake-oil salesmen.

But there are signs that some of the most rigidly conservative rightwing writers out there are getting sick of it and are ready to speak out. On Tuesday, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review highlighted a report from John Hawkins of Right Wing News that exposed how many of the Tea Party-style PACs are basically taking money gullible donors think is going to elect conservative politicians and using it for basically anything but that. Ten of the 17 PACs examined by Hawkins took in more than $50 million and only spent about $3.6 million of it on campaigns. SarahPAC, run by Sarah Palin, was a typical offender, spending only $205,000 of their $3 million, or about 7 percent of the funds.

Con men — and women — are in every business, from healthcare to computer fixes, but the gullible on the right are an especially ripe target.  After all, if they’ll believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, is Muslim, gay, and is the love child of Martin Luther King and Agatha Christie, then they’ll certainly send $10 to anyone who asks.

More From Post-Racial America

How close can a winger get close to calling President Obama a ni-CLANG without actually doing it?

D’Souza criticized the “vulgar man” Obama for using a “selfie-stick” in a recent video produced by BuzzFeed that promotd the Affordable Care Act. He then decided to forgo a dog whistle and bashed out a racial slur in all caps.

Convicted felon D’Souza later explained that he knew Mr. Obama didn’t grow up in a ghetto; he was speaking metaphorically.  Oh, well, then we’re all good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sooner Be Stupid

Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains… and whistles through the heads of elected officials.

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4.

So they’re going for Advanced Placement in Right-Wing Jeebus Propaganda.

GOP Minority Outreach Update

Via TPM:

“I didn’t do it with intent, but I am deeply sorry for my recent statements and I was wrong to say what I did and there is no excuse for my behavior,” Alday said to the Mississippi House of Representatives, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “I value the relationships I’ve made with everyone in this House.”

Alday’s apology referred to an interview he had given the Clarion-Ledger in which he said that he comes “from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.” Alday also said that when he recently went to the emergency room, he “laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.”

After the interview, Alday complained to the newspaper that the interview portrayed him in an unflattering manner.

Gee, I wonder where they got that idea.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jim Crow 2.0

Bob Cesca has a good post on the backlash to the rapid rise of marriage equality.

[…] in the face rapidly emerging and long overdue civil rights for LGBT citizens, RedState.com founder and Fox News screecher Erick Erickson posted an article on Friday calling for more state legislatures to pass what are known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) before the Supreme Court weighs in on same-sex marriage in June. In 19 states, RFRAs are already law, and additional RFRAs in other states would make it legal to refuse service to gays and same-sex couples based on religious objections to their homosexuality. Last year, Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers (a Democrat) saliently referred to RFRAs as “homosexual Jim Crow Laws.”

[…]

History has proved that religious freedom ought to end when it’s exploited as means of discrimination and oppression. The religious freedom clause of the First Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for slavery, segregation or vigilante justice; the free speech clause isn’t a valid excuse for slander, libel, child pornography, etc; and the 2nd Amendment isn’t a valid excuse for stockpiling cruise missiles and RPGs. Religious liberty isn’t absolute, because if it were, it’d open the door to all varieties of terrible things. Zealots who argue otherwise have probably never actually read the Bible. If they did, they’d also find a long list of passages that could be used to justify abortion. Someone could extrapolate the various episodes of infanticide depicted in the Bible as a religious justification protecting abortion rights. Faith is personal, so if a business owner can cherrypick a Bible passage that says homosexuality is an abomination and extrapolate that out to mean he’s allowed to not sell a cake to a gay couple solely because they’re gay, how can Erickson object to a woman using a similar form of twisty logic on abortion?

I’d like to think that this ploy of using the religious liberty clause as a valid reason to keep the LGBT community from achieving equality as the last desperate act of a dying mindset, but prejudice and bigotry is like Whack-A-Mole; you smash it in one way and it pops up again in another venue and fashion.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Just A Cotton-Picking Minute

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) got all the airtime during the last election cycle as being the latest example of wingnuttery foisted onto America with her pig-castration background and affinity for conspiracy theories.  But the one who really snuck in under the radar was the newly unwrapped senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton (a name that came right out of the census rolls of Hobbiton.)

Digby shares a moment with him.

Newly elected Tom Cotton of Arkansas is one of the youngest members of the Senate, only 37 years old, a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law and a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Widely considered to be a leading light on the right in foreign policy and national security, Cotton was naturally given a plum assignment on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Last week he made his debut on the national stage by posing a series of probing questions about Guantánamo to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Brian McKeon that left many people in the country wondering whether Pee Wee Herman was guest lecturing the semester he studied logic at Harvard.

With a barely suppressed smirk on his handsome young face, Sen. Cotton asked,”How many recidivists are there at Guantánamo Bay right now?” Obviously the answer was none, since the recidivists he speaks of would be people who’ve been released from Guantánamo. Next he asked, “How many detainees at Guantánamo Bay are engaging in terrorism or anti-American incitement?” Pregnant pause. Then he answered his own question — “None, because they’re detained.” Oh Suhnap!

Finally, he asked, “How many detainees were at Guantánamo Bay on September 11, 2001?” And since Guantánamo prison camp didn’t exist at the time, the answer is, once again, none.

All of this strange “questioning” was done in service of advancing the idea that since terrorism existed before Guantánamo, Guantánamo is irrelevant to terrorism today. In fact, if one were to carry that string of logic all the way out, it’s clear that since terrorism existed before the American Revolution, America is irrelevant to terrorism today as well. Case closed.

[…]

Tom Cotton is Ted Cruz with a war record, Sarah Palin with a Harvard degree, Chris Christie with a Southern accent — a force to be reckoned with. He may sound like he’s speaking gibberish to you or to me when he asks why there were no prisoners in Guantánamo before the prison existed, but to the Republican base he’s speaking their language as clear as day and it will fit nicely on a bumper sticker: “Let ‘em rot.”

I presume he’ll be forming an exploratory committee to run for president any day now.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nothing Better To Do?

After more than four years in office and overseeing the deliberate implosion of the state’s economy, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has decided to rescind an executive order that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So what does it tell you about a governor who scrambles out of the smoking ruins of the state’s public school funding and abyss of debt caused by massive tax cuts to purposefully reach out to a community and deprive them of their rights to be left alone?  That’s a priority?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Someone Has Issues

I know Missouri is called the “show-me state,” but in this case, I think the guy just needs to put it away.

Republican state Rep. Mike Moon, the lawmaker who introduced the resolution, said he didn’t mean to insult women, according to the Columbia Tribune. He said he took the phrase “manly firmness” from the Declaration of Independence’s grievances with King George III.

“It is just like going to war,” Moon said. “You want a soldier to fight like a man. If a woman is in the trenches, you want them to fight like a man, too.”

Here’s someone who seems to have a very small point to make.  If it lasts more that four hours, he should call his doctor to avoid permanent damage.