Friday, June 28, 2013

Tip of the Hat

This month's Tip is a rather poignant one for me. One of the feature's frequent contributors - David Frum - is taking a sabbatical to tend to family matters. I will miss him, but more to the point, the conservative movement will miss him. His contributions were invaluable and proved, not only to me, but to other like-minded individuals that it was possible to have an adult conversation over the differences between conservatism and liberalism that didn't turn nasty and mean spirited.

Frum was not afraid to tackle the tough issues that plagued his party and often took intense heat for bucking the headwinds of a movement that had long ago started to come off the rails as it were. His attack on Rush Limbaugh back in '09 is a must read, as are his repeated calls for the GOP to negotiate with Obama early in his presidency. Calls, I might add, that went ignored.

It's ironic that one of George Bush's primary speech writers - the man who penned the term axis of evil, should become a voice of reason in his later days. Like Bruce Bartlett, Frum got religion just in time.

Here's hoping his departure is a temporary one.

All Good Things...

So it's been a rough month for my family and me. It's been a rough month for the blog too. I'm well aware that people come here to read about public affairs, not personal losses.

Unfortunately, family and personal matters must claim my attention for some time to come. I won't be able to write as much or as well as required to produce a blog worth reading. I've long been a proponent of term limits for pundits and columnists. At least for the time being, my term has expired.

I don't intend to shut up entirely. I'll continue to write once a week for, and I'll be glad to talk on TV if asked and if I feel I have something worthwhile to say. I'll continue to post occasional thoughts on Twitter at @davidfrum. But the daily - hourly! - production of commentary here at the Daily Beast will cease at least for the summer, and possibly for some time longer.

This summer seems an especially propitious time for a hiatus. As Ross Douthat has perceptively observed, the cause of conservative reform has gained increasing coherence and force since the 2012 election. More and more good work is being done by more and more people.

True, there remains that small awkward matter of translating writers' and thinkers' ideas into party policy. Still, compared to the mental ice age that descended upon the GOP after the defeat in 2008, every day in 2013 we seem to see a new green shoot emerging from once-frozen soil. I look forward to an even richer intellectual flowering in the months ahead. I feel pride that I and the contributors to the various Frum blogs have helped to seed this budding spring. I hope to join the next wave of discussion, as modern conservatism recommits itself to the challenges of governing a great and diverse nation.

Yet as I dim the lights here at the FrumBlog, I note that the intellectual project of conservative reform remains still at very early days. Here are five essential tasks to commence before conservative reform truly rolls forward.

1) There remain too many taboos and shibboleths even among the conservative reformers. If the only policy tool you allow yourself to use is tax credits, your reform agenda will sputter into ineffectuality. Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward.

2) Conservative reformers are understandably allergic to arguments about income inequality. The conservative project at its best has worked to raise the floor beneath the American middle class, not to lower the ceiling upon the middle class. But one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences. I'm not so worried that the oligarchs will pay for apologetics on their behalf. That's politics as usual. I'm more concerned that so many people will identify themselves with the interests of oligarchy without being paid, without even being conscious that this is what they are doing. The whole immigration debate, for example, is premised on the assumption that the only interests that matter are the interests of the employers of labor.

3) Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate. Humanity's impact on the climate - and how to address that impact - is our world's largest long-term challenge. If conservatives refuse to acknowledge that challenge, they only guarantee that the challenge will be addressed in ways that ignore conservative insights and values.

4) Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage. It's the law, and it won't be repealed. Other countries have managed to control costs while covering everyone, and the US can too. A message of "protect Medicare, scrap Obamacare" reinforces the image of conservatism as nothing more than the class interest of the elderly.

5) I appreciate that conservative reformers must pay lip-service to shibboleths about Barack Obama being the worst president of all time, who won't rest until he has snuffed out the remains of constitutional liberty, etc. etc. Dissent too much from party orthodoxy, and you find yourself outside the party altogether. Still … conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years. Now Republicans are working themselves into a frenzy that will paralyze Congress for the next 18 months at least, and could well lead to an impeachment crisis. As it becomes clear that the IRS story is an agency scandal, not a White House scandal, conservative reformers need to be ready to do their part to apply the brakes and turn the steering wheel. There will be a Republican president again someday, and that president will need American political institutions to work. Republicans also lose as those institutions degenerate.

That's enough sermon. I'm sure I'll resume the soapbox soon enough. In the meanwhile, my thanks to the many readers who have sent kind messages and generous comments about the deaths of my father and father-in-law. My wife Danielle and I are deeply moved and deeply grateful.

My thanks to Tina Brown and the Daily Beast team - and especially our brilliant new political director, John Avlon - for the marvelous home they have provided me this past year and a half.

And let me end with a big salute to this blog's energetic editor, Justin Green, who now proceeds to a much deserved promotion at the Washington Examiner. You can follow his hilarious Twitter feed at @JGreenDC.

Why stop there? Let me salute all the amazing alumni of the Frum blog: Meg Mali (now of the Hill), Tim Mak (now of Politico), Noah Kristula-Green (now of the Winston Group), Joseph Golinkin (now a federal appellate clerk), Rachel Ryan (now at Powell Tate), and of course my wife Danielle, who actually got all the hard work done, and so many others. It's been a good fight in a grand cause - and it's not over yet.

Toasted Marshmallows

Couldn't help but chuckle while reading a piece by Jamelle Bouie in The Daily Beast about how the GOP could use the recent voting rights decision as an opportunity to reach out to minority voters.

If you’ve read a magazine at any point in the last decade, then you’ve probably heard of the Stanford marshmallow test. A young child is placed at a table with a marshmallow and told that she can eat it now or wait a while and get an even better treat. The experiment is supposed to measure a child’s capacity for delayed gratification. The longer she can wait, the more likely it is she has good impulse control, and that is associated with better life outcomes, as measured by health and educational attainment.

In overturning Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act—which sets down a formula for identifying which state and local governments have to preclear changes to voting law with the federal government—the Supreme Court has all but placed a huge marshmallow in front of the Republican Party. But instead of a sugary treat, it’s an opportunity to pursue harsh new restrictions on voting—the kinds of policies that would have been blocked under the Voting Rights Act before the court’s ruling.

But the Republican Party doesn’t have to reach for that marshmallow. It has another choice: It can wait. Indeed, it can work to patch the new hole in the Voting Rights Act and restore it to its former glory. No, this doesn’t offer an immediate electorate advantage. What it does do, however, is show minority voters that Republicans care about both their interests and their fundamental rights. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this message.

Wow! Where to begin?

For starters, let's dispense with the ridiculous notion that the GOP cares about the interests and fundamental rights of minorities. Since the decision came down, no less than four states announced they would be instituting harsh voter ID laws with the express purpose of disenfranchising minority voters. Expect that number to balloon over the next few months. Without section 4 of the VRA, there is nothing to stop them. Parties that care about attracting voters do not behave in such a shameful manner.

But the real mistake that Bouie makes, and the one that all good-meaning, well-intentioned souls make, is ignoring the simple fact that the GOP has known for quite some time that its message isn't getting through to minority voters. They have hired pollsters, held their own retreat at, of all places, a converted plantation, and they are acutely aware that on virtually every major issue there is from equal rights to the environment to even the economy, they are misfiring. And not just with minority voters. Across the board, they are out of step with main-stream America.

They also can read maps and, despite their love affair with supply-side economics, can add. They know the country's demographics are changing and not for their betterment. Within the next four decades, whites will be a minority in the United States. It is inevitable. There is nothing they can do to stop that.

So they have opted, instead, for Plan B. If they can't woo minorities, they will do whatever it takes to prevent as many of them as possible from voting. Disenfranchisement is now the stated goal of the national Republican Party. They have trumped up this voter fraud canard to try and convince as many gullible people as they can that their actions are justified; that their only interest is voter integrity. But it isn't working. People aren't buying it. Anyone even remotely familiar with the facts knows that voter fraud hardly ever occurs in this country. It's a non-issue. Period.

But that hasn't stopped the Republican Party from making it harder and harder for minorities, the poor and the elderly to vote. Their motives are as transparent as glass. They aren't even shy about their diabolical intentions. Just last year, Pennsylvania's Republican House Majority Leader unabashedly predicted that his state's voter ID law would allow Mitt Romney to win it. The only thing that stopped that from happening was a court order which prevented the law from being implemented.

And now that John Roberts and four other blind mice have removed the last line of defense to the GOP playbook, I am deeply concerned for the future of minority voting in this nation. States such as North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan - all crucial in presidential election years - have flirted with or instituted voter ID laws. Virtually all of them have been tossed or, as in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, curtailed.  I fully expect each of them, now that there is nothing standing in their way, to move ahead with their draconian measures.

Yes, I am aware that, with the exception of North Carolina and Virginia, the rest of the aforementioned states would not have been covered under section 4 to begin with. So what? The point is if you are black, Latino, poor or elderly, you are about to discover just how determined the Republican Party is to render you politically irrelevant.

This has nothing to do with delaying instant gratification for a better, more optimistic future. There isn't any and the Republicans know it full well. All they have left in their playbook is the here and now. Even the immigration bill, which a few of the less insane among them hope will save the day, is nothing more than a rouse. They're not doing it because they want to; they're doing it because they're desperate.  Whether it passes or not - and my money's on not - it will only delay the inevitable.  The sad truth is the only people Republicans are fooling these days are the very same people who are dwindling in numbers.

So, in an attempt to hold onto what little power they have left and perhaps steal what little else they can get their hands on, they will stop at nothing to suppress any threat to it. That's the trouble with relying on old, white men as your primary voter base. They have a nasty habit of dying off way too soon.

Marshmallows anyone?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Silver Lining

No, today's rulings by the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 do NOT make up for yesterday's horrendous decision to walk back five decades of voting rights. Nothing can make up for that blight on judicial justice. The fact that it took the state of Texas a whole two hours to announce its new voter ID law proves just how devastating that ruling will be.

But let's put aside the Voting Rights decision for now and concentrate on today's good news. If yesterday's ruling came as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention, today's rulings were baffling to say the least. And while they were both important, it's DOMA I want to focus on here.

By a 5-4 count, the Court decided to overturn the controversial law.  But before gay-rights groups start celebrating too loudly, a closer look at the decision is in order.

To sum up, the Court did NOT hold that homosexual couples had a constitutional right to marry.  As Adam Winkler noted in The Daily Beast, had it done so, "bans on same-sex marriage in 38 states might have been overturned." Instead the Court, or more to the point Justice Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion, relied on procedural defects in the law as justification for tossing it.  Chief among them were violations to the Fifth Amendment, due process and equal protection. Kennedy also wrote that the law denied same-sex couples the "government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive."

And when he wasn't explaining the law's defects, Kennedy went out of his way to remind everyone what his real thoughts are regarding marriage. For instance, he rejected the Administration's claim that "all laws discriminating against LGBT individuals should be subject to heightened judicial review." He elaborated further, 

The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the protection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities. The states, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, possessed full power over the subject of marriage and divorce and the Constitution delegated no authority to the Government of the United States on the subject of marriage and divorce.

If that sounds like states rights to you, you ain't just whistlin' Dixie. This wasn't an endorsement of gay marriage; it was a repudiation of the federal government sticking its nose where it doesn't belong.

I get it that the LGBT community might not care how Kennedy and the majority arrived at their decision - as baseball fans are fond of saying, they all look like line drives in the box score. The inherent problem, though, with this ruling is that it doesn't resolve the issue at hand. Lower courts may still uphold gay-marriage bans. Indeed a same-sex couple, married in a state that recognizes their marriage, may find that marriage invalid in another state. In fact, the ruling has no affect on state laws whatsoever.  How's that for ironic?

I thought last year's healthcare ruling took the cake for most creative way to cross a finish line. This one just beat it out, if only by a hair.

After yesterday's debacle, no one should look this gift horse in the mouth. So long as everyone knows that the horse is on a loan.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Them That's Got

If you were at all surprised by today's Supreme Court decision to basically gut the Voting Rights Act, I have just one question for you. Where the hell have you been the last few years?

Seriously, nothing about this horrendous and outlandish decision should surprise anyone. If you thought for even a microsecond that one of the "moderate" justices on the Court would save the day, then you obviously still believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The only "surprise" here was that it took them an extra week to announce the decision. Other than that, just chalk this up as one giant leap for bigotry and selective judicial activism.

I say selective because when it comes to overturning laws they don't like, conservatives never have any problem with judicial activism. And let's get one thing straight: this court has been the most activist in recent memory, even more so than the Warren Court which gave us Brown v. Board of Education.

To sum up today's grim news, the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. That section dealt with the formulas that certain geographical areas of the country needed to get approval before making changes to their voting system. Without the formulas, section 5 - the heart and soul of the whole Act - is nothing more than a paper tiger. The analogy would be like removing speed limit signs without necessarily eliminating the speed limits. Try enforcing a law that nobody can verify. The move was deliberate and cowardly.

I wish I could say that the worst is over. Sadly, I can't. I think we're in for one helluva run here. Civil rights, environmental regulations, labor laws. One by one, the achievements of the last five decades will fall like dominoes at the hands of this court. This is just the beginning.  In the deepest, darkest corners of this land, a determined group of Neanderthals has been fighting to reclaim the country that was "stolen" from them. They desperately want to return to those good old days when certain people knew their place and kept their mouths shut.

Today's decision was a huge victory for them. Don't take my word for it. While reading Politico just a few hours ago, I was appalled by the sheer ignorance of the comments regarding Eric Holder's statement that the Justice Department would continue to fight against voter discrimination, in spite of the ruling. Nothing infuriates white supremacists more than the image of a black man who won't back down and say "yes'm." Obama and Holder have been driving them crazy for more than four years.

There are some who will say the nation has evolved past the point of needing special laws to protect voters' rights. One look at the voter ID laws that Republicans tried to get away with last year should put that to bed once and for all. We are no more evolved than a fox locked in a hen house.

On a micro level people are far more careful than they were thirty or forty years ago, but catch some of them in places where they let their guard down and, trust me, you will get an education but good. Think Paula Deen is an aberration? Think again. Down in the South, she's in good company. Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia are like gods to these people.

That's why this ruling is such a national tragedy. The reason we haven't seen egregious abuses in voting over the last fifty years is because there were legal consequences for any state or municipality that attempted it. Those consequences just went out the window. If you thought those voter ID laws were bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.

If the left ever needed a wake up and smell the caffeine moment, this is it. Thanks to the ballot box, Republicans have been stymied at both the executive and legislative branches. The Supreme Court remains, as Michael Tomasky adroitly observed, "the hard right’s last remaining instrument in this country."

The party that wins the next couple of elections will get to decide the composition of that court. And with several justices well into their 70s, the next president will likely get to nominate two or more of them. If that president is a Democrat we have a fighting chance; if not, it's game, set and match.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Pipe Dreaming

Daily Kos cites a poll that says Democratic prospects for the 2014 midterms are looking better than previously expected. The poll, conducted by Democracy Corps, "suggests that Republicans are so incompetent that they genuinely risk losing control of the House."

The main reason for the optimism is a growing dissatisfaction among voters with Republican obstructionism. The Tea Party has so thoroughly damaged the GOP brand that even districts that tend to lean Republican are starting to trend into dangerous waters. The obsession with repealing Obamacare is starting to backfire as more and more voters have moved on to other, more important issues, like the economy.  The result is that, even in GOP-held districts, Democrats enjoy a 5-point favorability lead over their Republican counterparts.  Particularly troubling for Republicans is the fact that seniors are leaning Democrat this time around. There is also the possibility that key Democratic voting groups will turn out in numbers that will equal if not surpass those of 2012.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but my gut tells me that this poll has made a number of assumptions that are not likely to pan out.

The first is the dissatisfaction with Republican obstructionism or what I call Tea Party burn out. While nationally and even state wide, this is certainly true, we're talking about congressional districts here, or, more to the point, conservative congressional districts. The same forces that will likely thwart Steve King's chances at a Senate seat - namely that there are just way too many sane people in Iowa - will virtually guarantee him a landslide reelection to his House seat. Like birds tend to flock together, especially if they're cuckoo birds.

Then there's this issue of Obamacare. Again the temptation is to assume that just because a majority of voters believe it's time to turn the page, that this automatically translates into a Democratic advantage. I respectfully disagree. Districts that trend Republican will often stay that way regardless of any singular issue, even one as supposedly radioactive as Obamacare.  No matter how many times the House votes to repeal it, in the end, I predict this will have little impact here.

Now let's look at that favorability rating. While I'm impressed that Democrats hold a 5-point lead over Republicans overall, it's hard to imagine that many of these districts will flip in 2014. What this more than likely represents is an average, which means that Dems will pick off a few of the more vulnerable seats with the GOP holding the rest. And while it is reassuring to note that seniors are coming to their senses, even a 4-point lead is insufficient for a sea change.

But the biggest bone of contention I have is with the assumption - more like wishful thinking, I'd say - that key Democratic groups will equal or surpass 2012's turnout. In what parallel dimension is this a likely scenario? Virtually every pollster agrees that progressives tend to sit out midterms while conservatives - especially Tea Party conservatives - show up in record numbers. It is inconceivable that Democratic voters will even come close to the turnout of 2012, much less equal or surpass it. This is not being pessimistic; it's simply acknowledging the facts.

Look, if the House flips in next year's midterms, I'll do cart wheels. I'll also start buying lottery tickets. Consider that last year, Democrats netted eight House seats in what was otherwise a banner year. Barack Obama won in a landslide and they padded their majority in the Senate by two seats.

The last time Democrats netted gains in a midterm with a Democrat in the Oval office was 1998. And even in that election, which was more a referendum on Newt Gingrich, they managed to pick up a paltry five seats in the House. At best, they might duplicate that feat. 

The real problem for Democrats isn't the popular vote, but gerrymandering. Put simply, thanks to huge loses in the 2010 gubernatorial races, the GOP was able to redraw many districts that gave them a substantial leg up on Democrats. Even if 2014 ends up becoming a repeat of 2006 vote-wise - again highly unlikely - Republicans will still hold serve.

The only real hope I see will come via the state level where incumbent Republican governors face stiff challenges in their reelection bids. If Democrats can capture a few of those state houses, they can begin the process of undoing much of the built-in advantage the GOP holds in the House. That would allow for the possibility of an even playing field come 2016.

Until then, I wouldn't plan any victory parties just yet.


Friday, June 21, 2013

It's Not About Securing the Borders

Seems all you keep hearing about lately is how concerned Republicans are about the border security provisions in the immigration reform bill taking shape in the Senate. John Boehner - the incredible shrinking Speaker of the House - put in his penny's worth:

"I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security, I think the internal enforcement mechanisms are weak and the triggers are almost laughable." 

Ironic that Boehner, of all people, would use words like weak and laughable, seeing as how his entire tenure as Speaker has been just that: weak and laughable. But Boehner isn't alone in voicing his "concerns" about immigration reform; the vast majority of House Republicans are in a tizzy over it, though not for the reasons they claim.

The simple truth is, despite all the groaning and moaning over the borders, the real problem for the GOP is the so-called pathway to citizenship. Succinctly put, the Republican base is paranoid about the prospect of 11 million new American citizens, the vast majority of whom, it feels, will be Democratic voters. The border security thing is nothing but a ruse.

And that's why I am dubious about the prospects of immigration reform passing this Congress anytime soon. The Senate will likely pass its bill with at least 70 votes. But it will die when it gets to the House. Border surge or no border surge, the Tea Party and Heritage Foundation faction will kill it. No amount of extra security provisions will sway a group that is predisposed against a bill that, many pundits feel, offers the best, perhaps last, chance to dramatically improve the GOP's image within the Latino community.

The math is irrefutable. Consider that in last year's election, Mitt Romney got only 47 percent of the popular vote - how fitting, don't you think? - and lost the popular vote by about 5 million. Among Latinos, he managed a paltry 27 percent. In 2004, Mr. Rhodes scholar himself, George Bush, got 44 percent. If Romney had just equaled Bush's numbers within that group, he would've picked up an extra 2 million votes and Barack Obama would've gotten 2 million less. Not enough to change the outcome, but certainly close enough to make things interesting.

By thumbing its nose at immigration reform, the GOP is, in effect, making two huge and fatal mistakes:

1. It's assuming that a majority of these future voters will necessarily be Democrat.While it is true that lower-middle class and working poor families tend to vote Democrat, virtually every poll has concluded that as people move up the income ladder, they become more moderate in their voting habits. Hispanics, perhaps more than any other demographic group, do not fit into one neat paradigm. Socially, they tend to be right of center, which you'd think would be a valuable commodity for the Republican Party.

2. The GOP has hitched itself to a wagon that is steadily decreasing in size and significance and is going nowhere fast.  The number of white males in the United States - by far the largest group of likely Republican voters - is shrinking as a percentage of the electorate. By the middle of this century, whites will cease to be the majority in the country. Nothing can stop that from happening. There simply aren't enough white men to offset the expected rise in African Americans and Hispanics.

Michael Tomasky's recent piece in The Daily Beast may have best summed up the dilemma that Republicans now face. 

"And thus we have it: something that would obviously be good for their party in the long run, supporting reform so that they can start the process of appealing to Latino voters, is dangerous in the short run."

It comes down to one of two choices for the Republican Party: either they accept and embrace the increasing cultural diversity of the nation and flourish, or they continue to resist that inescapable reality and face political oblivion.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why on Earth Would Any Minority or Woman Want To Be a Republican?

No, the above question was not meant to be facetious. I'm quite serious. I've thought about this for quite some time and I'm convinced that if you're an African American, Latino or woman and you are a registered Republican you either must hate yourself or you simply haven't been paying very close attention. The analogy is like being stuck in an abusive marriage. No matter how hard you try to make things work out, in the end you always wind up with a black eye.

I have never seen a political party so completely go out of its way to so thoroughly alienate so many key constituencies the way the Republican Party has. Pick a group, any group, and the list of egregious conduct is appalling.  When it comes to myopia, racism, homophobia, chauvinism and misogyny, the GOP is a virtual treasure trove of spoils.

Whether it's African Americans being denied the right to vote; Hispanics who have to listen to derogatory words like "wetback;" women having to deal with "legitimate rape" comments and threats of vaginal probes; or gays and lesbians being compared with farm animals, it's astonishing that the GOP isn't comprised completely of white, heterosexual males by now. Though at the rate it's offending these groups, that fate is inevitable.

At the risk of channeling my inner Nixon, I want to make this perfectly clear. This is not an indictment of conservatism in general. I fully understand and accept the fact that there are indeed conservatives out there who are African American, Hispanic, female and even homosexual. They are just as much entitled to their beliefs as I am. It's not their beliefs that I'm questioning, it's their sanity.

Woody Allen once famously said that he would never want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. I would submit that for minorities and women, the reverse seems to be playing out. Despite demonstrative proof that they are not welcomed, they yearn all-the-more for membership.

You hear about this all the time from therapists who have clients that cling to failed relationships or put up with unacceptable behavior under the naïve belief that the offending party will come around and treat them with respect. But it rarely, if ever, happens. The abuse continues unabated. Why? Because there are no real consequences, that's why.

Think about it. Despite getting soundly beaten on a national level in last year's elections, Republicans continue to hold their majority in the House thanks to gerrymandered congressional districts. Even the most optimistic projections concede that it might well be several election cycles before the House flips back to Democratic control. That means that the GOP can be as crazy as a loon and not suffer the consequences of its actions.  Translation: the circus shenanigans will continue. 

The Republican Party has, for all intents and purposes, been kidnapped by the most outrageous, demented and hate-filled bunch of individuals ever assembled under one tent. The only question that begs to be answered - the one I opened up with - is this. Why would any rational minority or woman with a modicum of self respect want to be anywhere near that tent, much less under it? Who would belong to such a club?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Idiots' Delight

Back by popular demand - well, six people may not seem like a lot to you, but around my neck of the woods it's practically a mob - Idiots' Delight makes its "triumphant" return to these vaunted pages, with one small, but not insignificant, change. Instead of the usual monthly segment, I've decided to make it a semi-annual feature.

The reason for the switch was quite simple, really. Maintaining a monthly installment of dimwitted behavior perpetrated mostly by the same nincompoops was becoming exhausting. The six-month format affords me the opportunity to gather up all the loose nuts as it were in one neat little pile, while allowing for the sprinkling in of the occasional neophyte.

Anyway, let’s get on with it, shall we. I’ve only got so many ant-acid tablets left.

rogoffreinhart_460x276Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff whining about Paul Krugman. The austerity twins really have their panties in a bunch. Seems our dear friend had the audacity to not only call them out over their claim that deficits actually stunt economic growth, but then proceeded to back it up with something equally unusual for them: facts. Who the hell does he think he is, an economist?  Maybe Krugman shouldn’t be such a “sore winner.” Some people don’t like being proven wrong.

Actually, the real crime here is that an entire continent is paying for their mistake and the United States damn near drove down the same road because of Dumb and Dumber and their half-witted disciples. Far from bellyaching, these two wanna be economists should just shut up and close down their shell game before any more innocent people get hurt.

KingSteve King’s immigration amendment. I swear the GOP could fuck up a sunset. While Senate Democrats and Republicans are crafting an immigration bill designed to help Republicans win more Latino voters and not become the next Whig Party, Dr. Strangelove introduced an amendment that would not only end the program which allows undocumented youth to stay and work in the United States, but prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from having the discretion to delay the deportations of undocumented immigrants who are considered “low-priority.”   Not surprisingly, it passed, mainly along party lines, 224 to 201.

Also not surprising was the condemnation that King and House Republicans received from Hispanic groups over the measure which has zero chance of making it through the Senate. Defiant to the end, King said this is  “the first test of the 113th Congress in the House of Representatives on immigration.” Yep, and you just flunked it, genius!

keefJames O’Keefe forks over $100,000 to Acorn employee. How’s this for poetic justice? Remember that video about an alleged pimp and prostitute who visited an Acorn office? Yeah, the one Andrew Breitbart put up on his website. Well you’ll never guess what happened. Turns out the employee, Juan Carlos Vera, called the cops after O’Keefe and his accomplice left. Far from being complicit in the alleged sex-trafficking plot, Vera was “playing along.”

Of course after the video aired on Fox News, Vera was fired, Acorn ended up being defunded by Congress and the whole thing supposedly went away. Except not quite. Vera sued O’Keefe for damages, “arguing that he was taped without consent in violation of state law, and portrayed untruthfully.” O’Keefe eventually agreed via a settlement to pay Vera $100,000 and to issue an apology.  A small price to pay for basically ruining someone’s life. What a scum bag.

RepealHouse Republicans vote for the 37th time to repeal Obamacare. Well, I’ll give them this much, they’re nothing if persistent. Over the last two plus years, the GOP-led House has spent over $52 million trying to repeal a law they know can’t be repealed. But damned if they don’t keep trying. And you’ll never guess what lame excuse Speaker John Boehner came up with to hold this latest futile attempt.  “We’ve got 70 new members who have not had the opportunity to vote on the President’s health care law. Frankly, they’ve been asking for an opportunity to vote on it, and we’re going to give it to them.”

Einstein was right. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Eric HolderThe Department of Justice targeting the AP and James Rosen. As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, Eric Holder went way over the line here. Neither the Associated Press nor James Rosen did anything to warrant the treatment they received at the hands of the DOJ. To even consider a reporter a co-conspirator for merely doing his job is beneath contempt and Holder should know that. Claims by some that the AP isn’t in the same league as, say, The Washington Post or The New York Times and that Rosen works at Fox News and that therefore it’s really no big deal are irrelevant and besides the point. You don’t get to choose a hierarchy when it comes to freedom of the press. Period.

The truth is that Obama’s justice department has gone after more whistleblowers than any other administration before it. As Jon Stewart mockingly noted, “They believe in freedom of the press, just not freedom of speech for people who might talk to the press.”

Conducting an internal review of policy is all fine and dandy, but it may be a case of too little too late. The damage has been done. The best course of action would be for Holder to step down as Attorney General. If he won’t, then Obama needs to ask for his resignation.

Fox News broadcaster Sean HannitySean Hannity’s flip-flop on the NSA surveillance program.  Mr. Constitution has been absolutely beside himself ever since the NSA story broke. Seems Sean thinks that this is a serious breach of the 4th amendment, warning his audience that “anarchy and tyranny will follow.”
Unfortunately for old motor mouth, that’s not what he said back in 2006 when George Bush was in the White House. Back then he said this of the NSA program: ” It’s staggering to me we are even debating the use of these techniques in this country even at this time.”

What’s staggering to me is how Hannity hasn’t exploded yet from all the bullshit that’s inside of him. I guess Barack Obama must’ve “colored” his perception of what constitutes a violation of our basic rights. I would call this buffoon a hypocrite, but that would be doing a disservice to the millions of hypocrites around the world.

paul_ryanPaul Ryan explains why he and Mitt Romney lost in 2012. Speaking of people who just don’t get it, Bud Fox still can’t wrap his head around why he and Gordon Gekko didn’t defeat Emperor Obama last year. Judging by the speech he gave at this year’s Faith and Freedom conference in Washington D.C., I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an epiphany any time soon. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

We are seeing the assault on our liberties. We are seeing what happens when you give so much power to a handful of bureaucrats, and what they do to abuse our religious freedom. . . The left likes to think that we are the fringe. Guess what? You and I, we are the mainstream  When you take a look at what’s happening, the goal we have in front of us is to reclaim the center of our politics.

The center? Today’s GOP would have to stretch just to find the right margin on the page.  To paraphrase Churchill, seldom has a political party done so much to alienate so many.  Lincoln and Eisenhower must be spinning in their graves.

SandraSandra Day O’Connor regrets Bush v. Gore.  Now she tells us.  Seriously, more than 12 years after she cast the 5th vote that basically stopped the Florida recount, thus handing George Bush the 2000 presidential election, O’Connor thinks she and the Court made a mistake. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.’”


Hindsight may be 20/20, but the ramifications of that decision were incalculable. The recount, had it been allowed to proceed, more than likely would’ve awarded the state and with it the election to Al Gore. The next eight years, which brought us  9/11, the Iraq War, and the worst economic upheaval since the Great Depression, might have been completely averted but for a premature and ill-conceived rush to judgment.

debate-candy-crowleyCandy Crowley’s “Gut” interview of Darrell Issa. In what was otherwise a pretty decent interview of Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, Crowley asked what might well be the lamest question ever on cable news. “What does your gut tell you?”

First of all, it’s not Darrell Issa’s gut that I’m worried about; it’s his motives. Considering that he has spent the better part of the last two years trying to pin everything conceivable on this president, a thorough investigative journalist would’ve been all over his specious charges and demanded proof to those charges. That she allowed the “paid liar” remark to go unchallenged is reprehensible.

Here’s what my gut tells me, Candy. Next time you find yourself interviewing a politician with an obvious ax to grind, leave your gut home and concentrate on your job. 

Michele Bachmann Meets With Donald Trump In New YorkHonorable Mention: Michele Bachmann. I would be remiss if I didn’t publicly acknowledge one of this feature’s frequent flyers. Michele Bachmann has earned so many bonus miles, she could take a trip to the moon and back and still have change left over.  Her recent decision not to seek reelection in 2014 amid rumors of ethics violations during her failed 2012 presidential bid, will no doubt sadden a great many late-night comics, not to mention all of us on the Left who have cherished every misstep and boneheaded statement during her four terms in Congress.

From her infamous McCarthy-like interview with Chris Matthews to her legendary Lexington and Concord moment all the way to her sprinting from a Dana Bash microphone, Bachmann could fill an encyclopedia with all her gaffs. I must admit, I am going to miss the birdbrain.

But fear not progressives, I’m certain the GOP will find someone to fill her shoes. Already I hear that Louie Gohmert has personally promised to make one more extra outrageous statement a month to pick up some of the slack. There’s never a shortage of crazy in the cuckoo’s nest.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Glenn Greenwald's Own Private Idaho

The problem I have with the Glenn Greenwald piece in the Guardian isn't so much the shoddy journalism contained within it, which is slowly starting to be exposed, or even the self-righteous indignation that Greenwald has exhibited over the last few days - indeed over most of his career - as more and more people challenge him on his "facts." It's that it has become a distraction for what the real issue should be.

Basically it comes down to this: how much freedom are we willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe? It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The key words here are essential and temporary. Was Franklin intimating that there is a distinction between essential liberty and absolute liberty? And if so, is there an acceptable tradeoff that a free society can tolerate in order to protect itself? And regarding the word temporary, was Franklin also conceding that safety, as we've come to define it, is transitory at best? It would seem the answer to both is yes.

If that is the case, if there is no such thing as absolute freedom or security, how do we, as a democracy, balance the two? For it is how a society achieves that precarious balance that ultimately ends up defining it.

Those who would scream bloody murder - as Greenwald has done - at the revelation that the government is spying on them, should have to explain to all of us what their alternative would be. How would they protect the country from a formidable enemy that neither knows what freedom is, nor would care even if it did?

Yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that we have a responsibility to differentiate ourselves from those who would do us harm. If we simply adopt the values and tactics of our enemies, then we have become them. In that event, we have lost the war anyway.

That's why I confessed in an earlier piece that I was of "two minds" concerning the use of drones. On the one hand, they have proven to be a valuable tool in the war on terror; on the other hand, their continued use is slowly undermining an already badly tarnished reputation within the Middle East.     

For that reason it is high time the nation had an adult conversation about drones, surveillance programs, indeed a great many things. It would be, by far, the healthiest thing we could do as a people.

But Glenn Greewald isn't interested in having an adult conversation. For him, it's all about his agenda. Anyone who challenges that agenda or has the audacity to point out inaccuracies in his logic or fact finding is called a lapdog or accused of "using White House talking points," as Greenwald did to Mika Brzezinski on Morning Joe.

He later tweeted the following: "Irony: there's nobody hated more by those who play "journalists" on TV than those who bring transparency to the US Government."

Funny that Greenwald should have used the word irony. I wonder if it's dawned on him that employing intimidation tactics against colleagues who question his motives smacks of McCarthyism at its most extreme. I wonder, too, if he's even remotely aware of just how "transparent" those motives have been in this matter.

Yes, the main-stream media has rolled over way too many times for my tastes, and yes they should and must stand up to power and ask the appropriate, probative questions that get at the truth.  But Glenn Greenwald is the last "journalist" who should be shouting from the rafters. He is a shill for the far left who takes a rather narrow view of the Constitution and then imposes that view upon the rest of us in the most condescending manner imaginable. If you've ever seen any debate in which Greenwald has participated in, you know exactly what I mean. The man is always right and everyone else hates freedom and democracy.

He's not a journalist in any sense of the word.  He's an ideologue, as far removed from the center as the far right is. He is no better than a Glenn Beck, except that Greenwald at least has a better command of the English language and has the illusion of legitimacy that Beck can only dream of.

Appearing on ABC's This Week, Greenwald said that we should expect more "revelations" from him. No surprises there. With Glenn Greenwald, it's always about him. He IS the story. After all, he's the "guardian" of our precious rights, a champion against the tyranny of Big Brother.

Mika Brzezinski, to her credit, never responded to Greenwald's backhanded slap on Twitter, so if I may be so bold, let me give it a whirl.

"The only thing more dangerous than a main-stream media that rolls over is a self-absorbed, self-appointed demigod with an ax to grind."

Nailed it with room to spare!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Poetic "Justice"

In poker parlance, it's known as a call: to match a bet or match a raise. In politics, it's referred to as the same thing, only in this instance, the stakes are a lot higher.

In a bold and uncharacteristic move, President Obama nominated three judges to fill the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. At present there are only eight sitting judges on the court. Eleven are required by statute. The move or call ostensibly boxes Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans into a corner.

On the one hand, if Republicans filibuster any or all of the nominees, the likelihood is that Harry Reid will opt to go nuclear and change the Senate rules on them, thereby eliminating the requirement for 60 votes on all nominations, something McConnell dreads deeply. On the other hand, if Republicans blink and allow all three an up or down vote, then the balance of power on what is generally acknowledged to be the second highest court in the country shifts decidedly toward Obama.

Talk about a no-win scenario for McConnell who is facing a difficult reelection of his own to save his Senate seat. If he is seen as too soft, he could be primaried by his own base; however, if he pushes too hard then he loses what little leverage he still has as minority leader. Either way he's screwed.

To be honest, it couldn't happen to a "nicer" guy. Listening to McConnell and Senate Republicans whine about how Obama is packing the court has been tiresome. In the first place, Obama isn't packing the court. The term packing refers to what FDR did in the 1930s when he decided to add six justices to the Supreme Court. Roosevelt was clearly wrong and was slapped down. All Obama is doing here, as he succinctly observed in his Rose Garden speech, is his "job."

The next few days should be entertaining to say the least. Assuming Republicans hold true to form and filibuster Obama's nominees, Reid still faces a tough task. With the passing of Frank Lautenberg, Democrats now hold only 54 seats. Expecting all but four to vote to change Senate rules will be a tall order indeed.

I'm not much of a Harry Reid fan, as you've probably surmised by reading my posts, but this may well be the greatest test of his leadership to date. If he fails, the results could be disastrous for Obama's second-term agenda. If he manages to pull it off, then a major obstructionist roadblock will have been removed and the pathway cleared for at least some, if not all, of the President's nominees.

Given that no other president in modern history has faced this much unified opposition to his nominees, that would be poetic "justice" to say the least.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Guys Like Them

Jean Stapleton died this past Friday at the age of 90. She was best known for her role as Archie Bunker's "dingbat" wife, Edith, in the seminal sitcom, All in the Family.  If you recall, the show's opening theme song, "Those Were the Days," was sung by Carroll O'Connor and Stapleton:

Boy the way Glenn Miller played
Songs that made the Hit Parade
Guys like us we had it made,
Those were the days.

That song has been rolling around in my head lately. I couldn't figure out why. And then it hit me: "guys like us." That's it. That's been it from day one.

I now know why Barack Obama has been driving so many people up the proverbial wall since he took office. It's not his policies - socialist, my ass; and it certainly can't be his intelligence - especially after having survived Mr. Hooked on Phonics for eight insufferable years.

It's because of what Obama represents: the end of an era. Guys like the ones mentioned in that song really did have it made. They had everything. Jackie Robinson changed some of it, but just the complexion. The owners, the managers, the power structure, all remained firmly in the grips of the white establishment, particularly the while male establishment.

The Archie Bunkers of the country could always count on two things: they would always be number one and that number two would always know his place. I can only imagine the shock these xenophobes must've experienced the moment they saw Obama emerge on that stage in Chicago on election night 2008, knowing their world had just come crashing down. Not only weren't they number one anymore, but number two just told them where they could stick their Dewey decimal system.

There has never been anything even remotely like what we've seen in America these last four and a half years. The rhetoric has been beyond belief. Up is down and down is up. This isn't just your basic racism at work; it goes a lot deeper than that. What we're witnessing here is nothing less than the beginnings of a total transformation in American politics. A transformation that, to my way of thinking, is long overdue.

But while some of us applaud it, there are those who are deeply contemptuous and fearful of what it will mean to them. Like the dinosaurs that lived 65 million years ago, these fossils will soon become extinct. But not before making total fools of themselves and, in so doing, drag the country they all claim to love so dearly to hell and back.