Thursday, April 17, 2014

Political Correctness, Paranoia and North Korea

In my last piece, I took former Republican Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to task for saying the following: "I'm beginning to think there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States." The comment rightly earned Huckabee top billing for the monthly Idiots' Delight award.

Well not everyone was pleased by my selection. A back and forth ensued between myself and a friend who suggested that without taking the "entirety" of the speech into consideration, I had no idea what the context was. Hence, I may have been misjudging him.

Well the closest I could come to his "entire" speech was a link I found at Real Clear Politics, which is just shy of two minutes. I have watched it several times and can now safely conclude that not only is Huckabee an idiot for comparing the United States to North Korea, he also suffers from paranoia.

Over the last few years, the Right has had this fixation that somehow, just because the country has shifted to the left, that their right to express themselves is being threatened. You hear it all the time from Fox News and virtually every AM radio talk-show host. The mainstream media has a liberal bias and anyone who disagrees with it is ridiculed and dismissed.

Now I certainly have no love affair for the mainstream media in this country; if anything they are more inept than liberally biased. The fact that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert accomplish more in one hour than CNN does in 24 is scandalous.  But there is no evidence that they or anyone else has "suppressed" anyone's speech.

North Korea is a country that routinely imprisons and/or kills many of its citizens for the "crime" of expressing an opinion contrary to the government's. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, actually had his uncle executed. The United States certainly has many problems but, so far as I know, no one is being carted off to an interment camp for criticizing the government. There is no way anyone could mistake both countries without being completely out of their mind. I did not take Mike Huckabee out of context; if anything, I might've given him too much credit.

But I did want to address something Huckabee spoke about that another conservative, Ross Douthat, wrote a piece about: political correctness. In it, Douthat cites the forced resignation of Mozilla's CEO Brendan Eich and Brandeis University's decision to withdraw the honorary degree it promised human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali over their views on Marriage and Islam respectively as proof that those who fail to "conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true," are singled out. Such "moral defects" contradict the supposed "commitment to 'free expression' or 'diversity'” of a pluralistic society.

Okay, I get it. Douthat is a conservative who doesn't like what he calls the "bias against social conservatives." But, surprisingly for me, I found myself nodding my head in agreement, most notably when he talks about the "self-deception" that exists within the corporate, academic and journalistic communities that "promise diversity but only as the Left defines it."

To be honest, he has a point. The Left does tend to get "dogmatic," as Douthat put it. This has resulted in a rise in political correctness that is above and beyond any reasonable metric. It is one thing to properly call out overt displays of racism and sexism; it is quite another to overreact to views that run contrary to its core beliefs. While both Mozilla and Brandeis University are well within their rights to take the actions they took, it hardly bodes well for the nation when legitimate forms of expression are punished.  

A truly pluralistic society is one which does not fear differing viewpoints, but rather welcomes and nurtures them. To do otherwise is to betray the values it purports to stand for. This is where Mike Huckabee jumped the rails, so to speak. He could've said something like this,

"It's getting to the point where some people are afraid to speak their minds. They constantly walk on eggshells, wondering who they will set off next. That isn't the America I know and love. In order for a society to be healthy, everyone must be free to express their opinions without fear of retribution.  As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, 'Though I disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.'"

Had Huckabee chosen those words in his speech, I would've gladly given him a pass. Hell, I probably would've applauded. But he didn't say that. Instead he chose to stoke the fears of his base, as so many of his fellow colleagues have done, and, in so doing, threw the baby out with the bathwater. And, for that, he justly got what he deserved.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Idiots' Delight

Unlike last month's piece, which was devoted exclusively to Don Lemon's impersonation of a tabloid journalist, this month's award will be equally divided among three, make that four, worthy recipients. I know it gets old saying this but stupid never seems to be in short supply.

So, as they say, let's have at it.

Mike Huckabee for saying that there's more freedom in North Korea sometimes than in the United States. Whatever credibility Huckabee once had went the way of the dinosaur  a long time ago.  But when I hear something as asinine as this coming from a supposedly thoughtful man, I can only conclude that the man has suffered a brain aneurysm. Or maybe he just wasn't that "thoughtful" in the first place.

How stupid do you have to be to say out loud, with a straight face, that a country that routinely kills its citizens has more freedoms than America? I'd say pretty fucking stupid. Either Huckabee actually believes this drivel or he doesn't and he's counting on the gullibility of the minions who comprise his audience to swallow it whole. Based on what I've been able to deduce by watching his show on Fox News, that isn't all that hard to do. Most of these low-grade morons have no idea where North Korea is, much less the atrocities it commits on a daily basis.

Jim DeMint for insisting that "big government" had nothing to do with ending slavery. Well, as you might expect, the revisionist historians are at it again. First it was the ridiculous notion that FDR had nothing to do with ending the Great Depression. The market place would've taken care of it had he not interfered, which makes about as much sense as suggesting that parachutes get in the way of gravity.

Then came the nonsensical concept that the Civil Rights Act was an overreach by the federal government. Once more we heard that the private sector would've eventually gotten around to ending discrimination. Never mind that there is no evidence to support that claim or that there was zero interest anywhere in the deep South for doing away with segregation. If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth to some.

And now Jim DeMint has taken this perverse logic all the way back to the 19th century by insisting that the big, bad federal government played no role whatsoever in ending slavery.
Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government.
It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

Apparently it hasn't dawned on DeMint that Lincoln was the chief executive of that very same federal government; or that it was the Union Army that invaded the Confederate states and forced their surrender; or that the majority of the "people" that ideologues like him keep citing actually supported slavery (especially in DeMint's home state of South Carolina, which was the first Southern state to secede); or that the Constitution that DeMint credits for freeing the slaves, actually counted them as three fifths of a white person.  Oh, and as a side bar, William Wilberforce was English and died thirty years before Lincoln freed the slaves.

And then we have this obsession by Republicans to claim Lincoln as one of their own; "the very first Republican," as DeMint referred to him. But the sad truth is that Republicans like Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt or even Dwight Eisenhower would be outcasts in today's GOP. They would have no place at the table and would, in all likelihood, be called RINOs, Republicans in name only. People like DeMint would not have it any other way. And, worse, he knows it all too well.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin for signing a bill into law that prohibits counties and cities from raising their minimum wage. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Governor Fallin, who has been an outspoken critic of Washington telling the states what they can or can't do, basically just did the same to every local elected official in her state. Irony abounds.

The bill she signed into law would prevent Oklahoma City from increasing its minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, even if its citizens support it. For someone who says she believes in the will of the people, Fallin apparently has no problem telling them where to go.

States' rights, my ass. 

Dianne Feinstein for her comments on the C.I.A.'s use of torture. While I appreciate the fact that Feinstein spoke out on the subject, some of the words she chose struck me as rather self serving and hypocritical.

"The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking. The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen. This is not what Americans do."

This is not what Americans do? Begging your pardon, Senator, but this is precisely what Americans do and have done for almost two centuries. From the brutality of slavery, to the apartheid and genocide of the indigenous population, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the United States has had a long and checkered past when it comes to its treatment of people it finds less than desirable. Why should it surprise anyone that we would torture an enemy combatant?

Yes, it is a stain on our history, but the bigger stain is believing, as Feinstein does, that we somehow hold a moral high ground when it comes to this subject.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Alternate Realities, continued...

Continuing with our alternate reality theme, I completely forgot about the number one issue plaguing the minds of our far-right dullards: VOTER FRAUD!

Yes, as you know all too well, the Right has been insisting for years - or at least as long as a black man has been president - that elections were being stolen/decided by voter fraud. How else can you explain so many people voting for a Marxist, Kenyan-born, white-hating American apologist? It has to be fraud.

Despite the fact that there has been no definitive proof that voter fraud exists, Republicans keep passing draconian voter suppression laws in various swing states like Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. North Carolina's is among the most restrictive in the country.

Well now the wing nuts appear to have some genuine red meat with which to chew on. A story out of Raleigh, North Carolina by local TV station WRAL is reporting problems with that state's voter registration rolls that have some screaming "FRAUD."

The piece reports that state election officials are investigating thousands of cases where voters appear to have been eligible to vote in more than one state and dozens who supposedly voted after they died. The report shows that "155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and final four Social Security number digits match voters registered in other states but who most recently registered or voted elsewhere." However, the state could offer no proof that these voters voted twice; only that their names appear on more than one state's voter rolls. The most likely explanation is that these were voters who moved yet failed to notify their former state of their new residence.

As if that wasn't bad enough, North Carolina conducted a "10-year death audit" and discovered over 13,000 deceased voters whose names hadn't been purged form the state's voter rolls. However, only 81 of them died before an election in which they voted. And, of those 81, 30 legally cast absentee ballots before they died. Again the state could not definitely say whether those remaining 50 votes were the result of someone else casting a vote in their place or a precinct worker who simply made an error and wrote down the wrong name.

At any rate, the real problem in North Carolina, as well as other states, concerns voter registration and NOT actual voting. This story makes clear that there are major issues with respect to each state's voter rolls that should be addressed and could be very simply. By adopting a federal election system in which each state shares its information with the rest and laws are standardized and uniformly enforced across the board, duplicate voters - be they recently moved or deceased - could be purged far more effectively from voter rolls. It also would eliminate the possibility of another occurrence of the nightmare that took place in Florida in 2000. So far as I know, that was the only instance of voter fraud that determined the outcome of an election. And the country has been dealing with the ramifications of it for over a decade.

Not one of the Voter suppression laws currently on the books addresses any of these problems. In fact, they completely ignore them. These laws have but one purpose: to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic, namely minorities, poor people, the elderly and college students.

Fixing the problems that plague the nation's voter registration rolls should be a top priority for Republicans and Democrats alike. Chasing red herrings won't cure a blessed thing.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Case for Alternate Realities

I remember a particular episode on Star Trek (the original series) called "The Alternate Factor," where Kirk and Spock tangle with an alien by the name of Lazarus who keeps exchanging places with another Lazarus in an alternate universe. One Lazarus is calm, rational, lucid and with a firm grip on reality; the other hysterical, irrational, mad and delusional.

As I go over the top news stories of the week - indeed the major issues of the last year - and I watch with horror the reaction by far-right conservatives, it's occurred to me that there might be something to this alternate universe thing after all. Whoever coined the phrase truth is stranger than fiction never met this group.

Yesterday at Fort Hood, another senseless shooting claimed more innocent lives. This is the second time in less than five years this base has been visited by such violence. Within hours of the massacre GOP representative Mike McCaul was on Fox News suggesting that personnel on military bases should be able to carry concealed weapons, because, as any "sensible" person knows, the problem with gun violence is there aren't enough of them. Remember what Wayne LaPierre said: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Unless of course you're Sarah Palin; then it's a good guy with a nuke. I swear these people won't be satisfied until we have the capability of creating another sun. Oh, wait, we do. Never mind.

But while one madman was going on his shooting rampage in Texas, earlier in the day in Washington, five more gutted what was left of the American political system. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down limits to campaign contributions.  The decision was heralded by the usual "corporations are people" brigade as a victory for freedom. Hurray!

Just a couple days before that, the IPCC (the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released its latest report on global warming. The conclusions of these scientists were anything but optimistic. Unless drastic measures are taken soon, global temperatures will rise 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century along with corresponding sea levels. The report also predicts an increase in food shortages, natural disasters and risk of wars. Even more alarming was the revelation that these effects might be irreversible.

As you might expect, it didn't take long for the global warming deniers to find their own group of "scientists" to dispute the IPCC's findings. Their conclusion? Everything is just honky dory. Nothing to see here. Just go about your business. Global warming is nothing but a hoax, and even if it isn't, mankind's not responsible for it. Case closed.

And, speaking of deniers, the Creationists have been all over Neil deGrasse Tyson, the narrator of Carl Sagan's legendary documentary series Cosmos, demanding equal time to present their side of what they think is an actual debate. What set them off?  Well it seems old Neil had the audacity to state that the age of the universe is 13.8 billion years. Adding insult to injury, he went out of his way to rip those who keep insisting it's only 6,500 years old.

To prove his point, deGrasse Tyson used something Creationists seem to have a hard time grappling with: facts. He pointed out that a light year is the distance light travels in one solar year. So if a star is 6,500 light years away, it would take 6,500 years for its light to reach us; if a star is a million light years away, it would take a million years for its light to reach us. So if your whole theory of the origins of the universe rests upon said universe being only 6,500 years old, then how do you explain the fact that we can see stars that are millions of light years away? Don't hold your breath waiting for an answer that makes sense; Creationists don't have one. They never did.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include the story of the week: Obamacare. The Administration released its figures and it turns out the number of people who enrolled in the ACA, either through the federal or state exchanges, is just over seven million. Despite the nightmarish start involving the website issues and the slow progress of enrollment in the first couple of months, the Administration did in fact reach its goal.

Unless you're one of the bubble people who hail from the alternate universe. In that event, there were only 858 thousand who enrolled in Obamacare. Where did the 858 thousand number come from? That's the number of people who supposedly have paid their premiums and who didn't already have insurance plans, according to the Daily Mail, who cited a Rand Corporation study.

The Rand study? Good luck finding it - I tried and couldn't. Supposedly only the L.A. Times has seen it. But that hasn't stopped the bubble people from believing it and spreading it around like fertilizer. Like the Benghazi and I.R.S. "scandals," proof is not only unnecessary; it's unwelcome. After all, why destroy a good fantasy over something as trivial as facts?

So, let's see if I can sum up the alternate universe stances on the major issues. We need more guns to deter gun violence; there's absolutely nothing wrong with our political system that more money can't help; global warming is a myth; science is overrated; Obamacare is a train wreck; Benghazi is a coverup and the I.R.S. is out to get conservative groups.

Well, I'm glad that's settled. There's just one last question remaining.

What of Lazarus?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Just What the Hell Is a Moderate Anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about that question, along with the origins of the universe and whether the Mets will ever win another World Series in my lifetime. I've decided that the answer to the second question is way beyond my pay grade and, regarding the third, as long as the Wilpons continue to own the team, the answer is a resounding no.

But that first question continues to bug me. You hear the term moderate a lot among political pundits. Usually, it refers to Republicans who aren't part of the far Right, a particularly rare and endangered species these days. Among Democrats, the term most often used is centrist. Bill Clinton was a centrist Democrat.

Problem is I can't think of a single "moderate" Republican. For me, the term is an oxymoron. It's tempting to refer to Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush as moderate Republicans. But they're really not. All right, maybe Eisenhower, but Nixon, Ford and Bush, no way. They're what my old man used to say were traditional, mainstream Republicans. They believed in low taxes, traditional family values and a strong military. In my book, that's a conservative. Now these same Republicans are called moderates. The far Right uses another term: RINO, Republican In Name Only. That's a laugh riot.

What happened? How did the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt go so far off the rails?

I'm not quite sure what happened or when, but, somehow, the traditional, old-guard, establishment conservative Republicans were replaced by a new wave of Tea Party, conservative Republicans. The latter wanted no part of the former; in fact they considered them sellouts. Words like tolerance and compromise were four-letter words. The new wave wasn't interested in peaceful coexistence; it wanted nothing less than total capitulation. It was their way or the highway.

The Republican Party has drifted so far to the right that Bob Dole, its 1996 presidential nominee, publicly doubted whether Ronald Reagan would be welcomed in it. On a Fox News' interview, he said the current GOP should be "closed for repairs" over its unwillingness to negotiate with Democrats.

Bruce Bartlett knows a thing or two about the Republican Party. The former supply-sider turned Keynesian served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses. He's been one of the fiercest critics of today's GOP.  In an interview on CNN, he called Texas governor Rick Perry an "idiot" for saying that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's decision to stimulate the economy through quantitative easing was "almost treasonous." Over the last four years, Bartlett has written numerous op-eds in which he has exposed the shenanigans of the Tea Party Republicans, whom he calls "wankers."

But while Bartlett's jabs might seem amusing, the threat this movement poses is very real.  A piece that appeared in RedState in July, 2010 should've served as a harbinger of things to come. It was aptly titled, "Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction."

It starts off with a brief description of the difference between a democracy and a republic. "Democracy is mob rule. Republics have a constitution that restricts the whims of the majority and protects the rights of the minority." Okay, so far so good. If you paid any attention to your high school American history, you probably nodded your head in agreement.

But from there on the piece deteriorates into a self-serving, self-indulgent justification of a narrow and warped ideology whose aim isn't "protecting" the rights of the minority, but rather trumpeting them over the majority. The central theme can best be summed up thusly:

"How do we deal with our progressive countrymen? The answer is obvious: we fight them."

Those are not the words of freedom-loving patriots; they are the words of people who detest and fear freedom. Real freedom means accepting outcomes that don't always go your way. Sometimes, the other side wins. Like it or not, you have to live and work with other people, even those you don't agree with. Why? Because everyone has a right to their own convictions. You can't simply force yours onto them. That's not freedom; it's tyranny. Real tyranny, not the fake tyranny people like Mark Levin spew on about.

Tolerance is not a virtue of a man without conviction; it's an acknowledgement that no man's convictions are better than the other. The world is a lot bigger and more inclusive than some would have us believe. And no matter how hard they might try, time marches onward. Those who can't or won't keep up will be left behind.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Idiot's Delight

Usually, I have several worthy candidates for this "prestigious" award. Not this time. No, this month, only one honoree has made the grade. And, when you hear who it is, I think you'll agree that he deserved sole dibs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure if I put the effort in, I could find a couple more nincompoops to share the spotlight. But, while that might make the piece a little more beefy, my gut tells me it would be wrong to deprive this particular idiot of his rightful place.

So, without further ado, the envelope please.

Don Lemon of CNN for bringing up conspiracy theories on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.  I've made no secret of my disdain for the lame-stream media in this country.  Over the last decade or so, it has deteriorated almost to the point of irrelevance. But, while it has been inept and derelict, it's never been crazy. Until now.
During an interview with several experts, one of them Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Don Lemon went where no supposedly sane journalist has dared go.  He read aloud some of the tweets CNN had received on "theories" of what happened to the flight. One of them involved the possibility of a black hole.

"I know it's preposterous, but is it preposterous, Mary?" Lemon asked.

Okay, let me take this one, Mary. Yes, Don, it is preposterous. In fact, it's insane. Not only is it insane for any supposed sentient being to think it, it's doubly insane for a journalist to give it credence by repeating it on the air in front of millions (well, it's CNN, so we'll say thousands) of viewers.

The job of a journalist is to report the news, not give a forum to people who are psychotic and obviously have way too much time on their hands. The way with which CNN has covered this tragedy has been shameful enough, but turning it into some supernatural spectacle is beyond scandalous.

There is a perfectly rational explanation for what happened to Flight 370 and, in time, it will be revealed. Until then, let's dispense with the adventures into Fantasy Land, shall we.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hey Dems, Nate Silver's Not Your Problem

"What's Next?"

Jed Bartlett, the fictional President in the series The West Wing, would always pose this question to his staff. It really wasn't so much a question as it was a statement of fact; the fact being we're done with this issue and we're moving on to the next.

Now that Nate Silver has made his dire prediction about this year's midterms - a prediction that, with all due respect to Nate, could've been ascertained by simply looking objectively at the numbers - what's next for Democrats? Moaning about it or calling Silver a traitor - a ridiculous charge considering he was never in the Dems' pocket to begin with - isn't going to change the facts. And digging up some old predictions he made back in 2011 that didn't pan out when the election was still a year away, is futile and equally as pointless.

The problem Democrats have isn't Nate Silver; it's their poll numbers, which, since December, have been heading south. Let's get it out of the way and identify the 800 pound gorilla in the room.


There, I said it. Guess what? The Republicans are going to be saying it. A LOT! Democrats had better get used to hearing the word, along with, "If you like your insurance, you can keep it." In fact, I got first dibs on the GOP candidate who coins the phrase, "If you like your senator, you can keep him/her."

Let's get one thing straight: the variable in this year's midterms is most certainly not going to be the GOP playbook, which, in case you haven't seen it, has been fairly consistent for the past five years. Let me sum it up for you: "Obamacare, bad; we'll repeal it." In 2010, it was a winner; in 2012, it was barely a factor. The GOP is hoping for two out of three. And if Democrats play into their hands, they can kiss the Senate goodbye.

That's why the only variable in this year's midterms - and, I might add, the best chance at staving off certain defeat - is the collective response that Democrats craft to Republican attack ads on the Affordable Care Act.  Run from the law and it's over; defend it and they can successfully turn the tables on the Republicans.

Michael Tomasky has written about this at great length. He is of the opinion that Democrats should not fear talking about the good things that are in the ACA, of which there are a lot. I agree.

"If Republicans can keep discussion around the Affordable Care Act vague, they’ll win in the midterms. The party of health care should collect stories of success and confront the party of no."

Support for the law's provisions has remained consistently high, even during the Republican wave of 2010. Despite the unpopularity of the individual mandate, only 31 percent favor outright repeal. A majority of those polled want the law fixed. In fact, according to a recent Kaiser poll, 53 percent say they're "tired of the debate" altogether.  This, along with a growing litany of success stories, is the Democrats' best weapon to use against the GOP with swing voters.

The fact that millions of Americans - many of whom vote - now have access to affordable healthcare or that parents can keep their kids on their insurance plans until they turn 26 or that pre-existing conditions are a thing of the past or that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage just because you have the audacity to get sick is no small potatoes. Properly explained, Democrats can effectively corner their Republicans opponents, whose answer to all of the above is and has been ... wait for it ... nothing.

That's right, the party of no has voted 54 times to repeal a law that benefits millions of people while failing to come to the table with anything to replace it. Repeal and replace has been the running canard of the GOP. Truth is, they have no replacement for Obamacare; they never did and they never will. Their base won't allow it.

The Democrats must go all out on the offensive and make sure every single potential voter knows this. They can ill afford to play it safe. The Republicans are masters at messaging. Words like socialized medicine and death panels, like it or not, have become part of the political nomenclature, despite zero evidence to support either.

By comparison, Democrats can't even spell messaging. They're so inept, they can turn a sentence into a novel if given half the chance. Anyone who saw the 2004 debates between George Bush and John Kerry got a bird's eye view of the differences between the two parties. Kerry, for all intents and purposes, won on substance, but Bush scored a TKO on style. Guess which one mattered most to voters. Bush was the guy everyone wanted to have a beer with, while Kerry was the cure for insomnia.

Democrats, throughout their illustrious past, have had a difficult time with the concept of keeping it simple. Their desire to be the party of ideas has often led them to miss the forest for the trees. They have seven months to correct this flaw. If they do, they will hold serve in the Senate; if they don't, they will all but ensure that their president is a lame duck for the remaining two years of his second term.