Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Behind the Trump Surge

For months, pundits have been adamant that Donald Trump's poll numbers were an aberration; that sooner or later he would come down to Earth as other, more mainstream Republicans made their case to the base. However, six months in and not only are Trump's numbers still holding, it is now looking very much like the nomination is his to lose. Only Ted Cruz appears to be a credible threat to him.

So why is Donald Trump so popular among the Republican base? How is it that someone so myopic, insular, xenophobic and misogynistic has such a commanding lead in what was supposed to be a wide field? In my opinion it comes down to four factors.

One, the electorate has had it up to here with Washington. The prevailing sentiment is that the political system is broken and the establishment leaders are useless and corrupt. This didn't just happen overnight; it took decades for us to get here and, contrary to many, the contempt isn't just coming from the Right. The Left's love affair with Bernie Sanders underscores progressives distrust with their own party. Some of the comments on social media regarding Hillary Clinton mirror almost to a T what many conservatives are saying about Jeb Bush.

Two, the Great Recession of 2008 created a groundswell of unrest within the country as millions of people were hit hard, while the culprits who caused the crisis got away with golden parachutes. In my opinion, it was a tragic mistake for Democrats and the Obama Administration to turn a deaf ear to the chorus of disenfranchised voters; voters who later found solace in, of all things, the Republican Party. While the GOP never fully understood this movement, it nonetheless coopted it and rode it all the way to a 2010 midterm wave victory. The Tea Party, as it became known, is now the most dominant political movement in the country and thoroughly dominates the Republican Party.

Three, the country is at a crossroads. As society becomes more and more diverse and pluralistic, some people feel threatened. The world as they know it is rapidly coming to an end and that has lead to a great deal of resentment among them. While the election of Barack Obama was an historic event to many, to them it was a nightmare come true. The row over immigration reform has little to do with Mexicans breaking the law; rather it stems from the perceived treat a growing Hispanic community poses to a predominantly white country. Trumps campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is code for turning back the clock and restoring the hegemony his supporters crave most.

Four, let's face it, like him or despise him, Donald Trump is a master manipulator who has tapped into a vein like a skilled surgeon; a filthy-rich skilled surgeon. As Stephen Colbert said in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, "I have a respect for Trump for knowing who the real audience is, that if you really want to win you got to get the people. There's a populism to Trump that I find very appealing. And it's only this: that the party elders would like him to go away but the people have decided that he is not going to." No one who has followed his career should be remotely surprised at the success he is having. He is putting on a clinic. Win or lose the general election, he has forever changed the rules for how future campaigns will be run.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure anyone can stop this freight train that Donald Trump is riding. It isn't just dyed in the wool conservatives who are infatuated with him. His appeal cuts across several demographics. While Hillary Clinton would have the advantage in a head to head match up against him, it wouldn't be a huge advantage. In football parlance, she'd be a three point favorite, nothing more.  Ask any football oddsmaker and they'll tell you, three points is nothing.

If progressives carry out their threat and stay home rather than vote for Hillary, Donald Trump could well be sitting in the Oval Office come 2017.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz: The GOP Ticket From Hell

Don't Look now, but Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are running neck and neck in the Iowa polls. Depending on which poll you look at it, it's either Trump or Cruz at the top. Everyone else is a distant third, including Marco Rubio, who was supposed to be the boy wonder, but has been stuck in the low to mid teens, and Ben Carson, who is finding out what Herman Cane found out four years ago, that even among Republican voters you have to seem like you know what you're talking about. Once more, Ben, Hummus is a food, Hamas is a terrorist group. Got it?

In a way, Trump and Cruz are a perfect match. I call them 1A and 1B. Trump has managed to galvanize the xenophobic racists within the Republican Party, which apparently comprise a substantial portion of the base. Cruz's ascendancy in the polls over the last couple of weeks is owed almost directly to his appeal among the conservative evangelical mob, the other substantial portion of the base. Taken together, the two now have approximately half of the vote locked up. Both are rabid antiestablishment, which is essential to any candidate looking to win the nomination. After nominating RINOs in the last two elections, the base has about had it.  This time around they're demanding the real mccoy.

Never mind that neither of these two Neanderthals stands an ice cube's chance in hell of winning a national election. All that matters is the blind rage that is driving the base of the Republican Party. While Trump is responsible for the lion's share of it, Cruz is hardly an innocent babe. Let's not forget, he rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 and is responsible for some of the most inflammatory rhetoric of the campaign, some of which he's directed at his own party, including his favorite whipping boy: Mitch McConnell. He's despised by almost as many Republicans as Democrats.

But Cruz on his best day couldn't hold a candle to the Fuhrer: the Donald. In case you didn't catch his latest rally, he's calling for a complete ban on ALL Muslims entering the country. In a move that would make Hitler proud, he further announced he would go after the families of all Muslims he suspected of being terrorists.

"At least I would go after the wives who absolutely knew it was happening, and I guess your definition of what I'd do, I'm going to leave that to your imagination."

Well at least he isn't proposing they wear arm bands. At this point nothing Trump says seems to hurt him. Indeed, just the opposite. The more offensive he sounds, the more popular he becomes. I actually believe if Trump came out for the mass extermination of all Muslims, gays and Mexicans, he could wrap up the nomination tomorrow.

We are living in perilous times these days. There is a wave of nativism that is slowly gaining traction within the country. Many people are frightened and frightened people often react against their best interests. That someone like Donald Trump could rise to the top of the polls, even within the Republican Party, is a sign that something is terribly wrong.

It wasn't that long ago that people like Trump were dismissed as being mindless demagogues. Now he's eight weeks away from winning Iowa. If he wins New Hampshire, and he currently leads there, he might very well be unstoppable. And with Cruz as his running mate next fall, every wingnut in America will be in their glory.

Some people may think this is a huge joke. I happen to think it's shameful.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nothing's Changed. We're Still Screwed

Let's get one thing straight. What happened in San Bernardino was no 9/11.  Yes, it was a terrorist attack, but it pales in comparison to what happened that fateful September morning fourteen years ago.

While the FBI continues to search for clues as the exact motivation behind this mass murder, this much is certain. Young Muslims are being radicalized everywhere in the world, INCLUDING the United States. It matters not whether the total is a few dozen or a few hundred. The fact is it is happening and we'd better start doing something about it or we can expect more of these attacks.

There is enough blame to go around here. Let's face it, the Obama Administration completely botched Syria. The whole red line in a sand fiasco, while not on the same scale as the Iraq invasion under Bush, nevertheless will go down as one of the all-time screw ups in American foreign policy. Every effort should've been made to depose Basher al-Assad and aid the Syrian rebels. Obama's desire to avoid another Libya and not embroil the U.S. in a potential quagmire blew up in his face. The U.S. is now in the process of having to deal with two very bad decisions: one by Bush to topple Saddam Hussein and the other by Obama not to topple Assad. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

Another tactical error by the Administration is this reluctance not to use the term radical Islam. While I understand to some extent the need not to give ISIS and other terrorist groups the satisfaction of claiming Islam for their own, it is absolutely ridiculous to refer to them as mere thugs as he has done repeatedly. With all due respect, Mr. President, Tony Soprano was a thug. These people are terrorists who represent a very extreme and conservative view of Islam. They are not just a few rotten apples in the midst of an otherwise healthy orchard; they comprise a significant percentage of Middle-Eastern Muslims who share that same world view. It is high time you and your administration wake up to that fact.

But now we come to the real culprits in all this: our good buddies over at the GOP. Just a couple of days after the attack in San Bernardino, Ted Cruz held a Second Amendment rally in Iowa. You heard right. Fourteen people are executed gang style and conservatives' favorite poster child holds a rally in support of guns for everyone. I'd say unbelievable, but sadly it's quite believable.

And while shit-for-brains was pissing on the good people of San Bernardino, Republicans in the Senate managed to pass a bill. No it wasn't a bill to close the loophole that allows terrorists to purchase guns. We can't have any of that. No, this bill was to defund Obamacare and it was passed through reconciliation, meaning it only needed 51 votes to get through. Well, I'm glad to see the GOP has its priorities in order.

This entire political party is the laughing stock of the country. Donald Trump is leading in the polls to capture the nomination, followed by Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Seriously, I got nothing. The party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower has now become the party of Moe, Larry and Curly.

The mass shooting in San Bernardino was the 355th such shooting this year. That's right. We've had more mass shootings in this country this year than we've had days. And this trend is likely to continue, so long as the NRA owns the GOP and, sadly, quite a few Democrats. The truth is if you live in this country, you are six time more likely to get shot than if you lived in Canada.

In other words, we're screwed!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Maybe We're Not Better Than This

I keep hearing over and over that we're better than this. We're better than the Republican candidates who have sunk to all-time lows to incite a base that was already loaded for bear in the first place. We're better than the mindless shootings that take place week in and week out. We're better than all the accounts of police officers killing African Americans for no reason. We're better than the vile anti-Gay attacks by so-called Christians. And we're better than the wave of anti-Muslim and anti Mexican rhetoric being spewed by white supremacist groups and, yes, by Donald Trump.

I beg to differ. Frankly, I don't think we're better than this. I think what we're witnessing in this country is the culmination of decades of voter apathy, political corruption, corporate manipulation and a nativist element that, to be honest, has always existed in one form or another. Contrary to what the founders envisioned, this is hardly an enlightened electorate. It's lazy and, for the most part, lost in its own private Idaho. Oh, it gets upset from time to time, but then, when the dust settles, things go back to the way they've always been. Barack Obama is wrong when he says, "This is not normal." Sorry, Mr. President, but this IS normal. The new normal. This is the United States of I Don't Give A Shit.

Believe me, I wish it weren't so, but as a well-known police show detective said repeatedly, "Just the facts." And the facts are not only undeniable, they're damning. We have a crumbling infrastructure, an education system that is in decline, a shrinking middle class, millions of blacks incarcerated unjustly, with millions more potentially barred from voting due to voter suppression laws, and what are we worried about? That a few thousand Syrian refugees, most of whom are women and children, might destroy our way of life. Funny, for a people who supposedly believe in the Constitution, it's astonishing how little faith we truly have in it.

We have allowed the country to be turned into a shooting gallery. Yet any effort to bring up the need for sensible gun regulation is instantly met by the typical "what we need are more guns" nonsense. Seriously, putting more guns in circulation makes about as much sense as confronting an alcoholic for his drinking by making sure everyone around him is just as drunk.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook this question: Has President Obama caused more racism or has his election exposed underlying racism? While I was relieved that the majority responded by saying exposed, frankly, I think that's the wrong question. The real question should be, When will the majority of Americans wake up and take back their country? Because from what I've observed, the answer is never.

Oh I'm sure that they want to. And after events like the ones in Colorado Springs, or Chicago, or Staten Island, or Newtown, or Tucson, there are stirrings within the population that indicate a willingness to proceed. But the followthrough just isn't there. To put it in Biblical terms, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

This is a society that has become so self-absorbed and numb, I doubt anything can shake it from its lethargy.  Think about it. We seldom talk to each other anymore. Thanks to social media, we don't even have to look at one another. Recently I saw a rather amusing posting on Facebook about a coffee shop that didn't have wifi. A sign read, "Talk to each other. Pretend it's 1995." I dare Starbucks to do that today. Their stores would turn into ghost towns.

A look at some of the top TV shows reveals a troubling trend. We as a nation are addicted to reality shows. Just yesterday I was watching an episode of Law and Order on the WE Network. Would you like to know the lineup for this network? I can assure you, Law and Order was the exception to the rule. Go up and down the cable dial and it's just as bad. These reality shows get huge ratings as do shows about people moving to exotic places. A decade ago they were virtually nonexistent. What people won't do to escape.

And the films we watch aren't much better. Movies like The Avengers and Man of Steel are ostensibly about super heroes who rescue the human race from alien invaders. Amazing! We're slowly cooking the planet, but don't worry, Tony Stark and Clark Kent will arrive in the nick of time to save the day.

And while we flock to the theaters in record numbers, many of us don't even bother to vote. Only 54 percent of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls in 2012. The numbers for 2014 were even worse. Only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out, the lowest since World War II. Shameful!

And even when we do vote, nothing much changes. It's really hard to feel sorry for an electorate that gives Congress only an 11 percent approval rating, yet votes for the incumbent 96 percent of the time.  Face it, we have the government we deserve. To paraphrase Cassius, "The fault lies not in our leaders, but in our voters."

It's time to admit a painful truth. There is something seriously wrong with American society. We complain a lot about the way things are, but lack the resolve to change them. We decry the violence on our streets and the money in our politics, yet don't hold our elected officials accountable when they fail to deal with them. We are gullible and indifferent, a dangerous combination if ever there was one.

Only an incurable optimist could find the silver lining in this cloud. And I'm hardly that. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I don't see anyway out of this paper bag we've crawled into, not unless we're willing to make some fundamental changes in the way we live our lives. And I just don't see that happening. Not with our priorities this screwed up.

There's an old slogan that goes like this: "If nothing changes, nothing changes." For America, that slogan might well turn out to be our epitaph.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Trump's Rationalization is Yet Another GOP False Equivalence

You know you're full of shit when your best defense over an attack that clearly crossed a line is to dredge up another supposedly similar attack from your arch nemesis. And it's even lamer when the comparison you're citing is vague at best and totally nonexistent at worst.

There's no doubt that Donald Trump was mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski's disability during a campaign stop. Any reasonably intelligent person who looked at the video would conclude the same. But rather than apologize for the incident, which seems to be anathema for Trump, his campaign has instead decided to deflect attention away from his malfeasance towards an ad that Barack Obama ran against John McCain in '08.

The Obama ad did indeed poke fun at the GOP nominee, but it went after what many people felt was McCain's inability to keep up with current things from computers to the economy. Obama was trying to draw a distinction between someone who was in touch with the latest trends and someone who clearly wasn't. I've watched the ad several times and I cannot see any evidence that it crossed a line by making fun of McCain's disability. In deed, a google search revealed two striking things: 1. the only objections to the ad came from conservative sites; and 2. there is nothing from McCain himself indicating he found the ad offensive. Ironically, it was Joe Biden who came to McCain's defense, I suspect because the ad's overall theme was that older people weren't as capable as younger ones and Biden was closer to McCain's age than Obama's.

At any rate, the two are not even remotely equivalent. On the one hand, you have Trump on a stage doing a mock interpretation of a man with a disability right down to the hand gesture; one the other, you have a campaign ad that was clearly drawing a distinction between a young, viral man who represented today's generation and an older, more feeble, out of touch man who represented the past. Was it a nice ad? No, but then most attack ads aren't. That's why they're called attack ads. But the ad did NOT go after McCain's disability and there is no evidence that has been presented by "credible" sources that proves otherwise.

Once more another false equivalence argument has been made by the GOP in an attempt to distract people away from the real truth. Since he announced he was running for president, Donald Trump has made numerous obnoxious and disgusting comments about Mexicans, women, Muslims, and now, the disabled. To add insult to injury, Trump has demanded an apology from The New York Times, I suppose for having the temerity for condemning his remarks. In case you haven't been following closely, he tends to do that a lot with any newspaper that calls him out. There seems no limit to how low he will go to garner support from a base that is racist, myopic and nativist. That the Republican Party would not condemn his outlandish conduct and instead dredge up a seven year-old ad is pitiful and, sadly, indicative of the state it now finds itself in.

Think about it, Donald Trump might well become the Republican nominee for president. If that should happen, you will see the entire party apparatus go to bat to defend a man who represents the very worst in our country. And that fact should scare the living shit out of you.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Difference Between Proper Vigilance and Xenophobia

In the weeks and months after 9/11, the nation's resolve was tested again and again. There was a strong temptation to lash out at Muslims in the country and make them pay for what had happened to us. I remember my wife and I went into Manhattan about a month after the attacks to visit the Trade Center site. Later on that day we ate a nice dinner in Little Italy.

While we were at Penn Station waiting for the train to take us home, a drunk was yelling at an Indian man standing on the platform. He obviously had mistaken him for a Muslim. After a couple of minutes of listening to his verbal diarrhea, I interrupted the asshole. "You do know that his people had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks," I said. "In fact, his people have been at war with the people who attacked us for centuries."

I didn't know which bothered me more: the fact that some ignoramus couldn't tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim or that he, like so many of my fellow countrymen, were once more sinking into the abyss of xenophobia that has gripped this nation so many times over its long history.

We saw it clearly after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Japanese Americans were interred in camps for no other reason than the fact that they were Japanese. During the Eisenhower Administration, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were forcibly removed from this country in a wave of anti-immigration and nativism. Some of those Mexicans were killed in what was disgustingly referred to as Operation Wetback.

Sadly, every ethnic minority has had to endure discriminatory treatment at the hands of the majority. The Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Pols, the Germans and the Jews have all been persecuted at one time or another. For the better part of a century, almost one quarter of the nation's population was enslaved; while the only true indigenous people were forcibly removed from their homelands and placed on reservations. Many of them became the victims of genocide.

Since the attacks in Paris, a new wave of xenophobia is sweeping America and it is directed, ironically enough, not at the terrorists, but at those who are fleeing the terrorists. The Syrian and Iraqi refugees that have overwhelmed much of Europe over the last few months, have now come under intense scrutiny, as it was revealed that one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks - the ring leader - might have been a refugee.

If that is true - and ABC News is confirming he was a Belgian citizen - it is certainly something to be concerned about. But it is worth noting that according to a piece in The Economist, of the almost 750,000 refugees that have settled in the United States since 9/11,  "only two Iraqis in Kentucky have been arrested on terrorist charges, for aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq." Two out of three quarters of a million people. Hardly an epidemic. Also noteworthy is the fact that not one of the September 11th hijackers was a refugee. All of them came into the country legally with visas.

None of that of course makes any difference.  The people have been whipped into a frenzy by both reckless and irresponsible politicians and a weak-kneed media that long ago gave up any semblance of journalistic integrity. It's hard to know who's wagging whom these days. It is one thing to properly identify those who mean to do us harm, as I and others like Sam Harris, Thomas Friedman and Bill Maher have done; it is quite another to come completely unwound and succumb to nativist hysteria.

The refugees that are fleeing Syria and Iraq en mass are not our enemies. To treat them as such, as the recent House bill does, not only distracts us from what should be our true mission - that of combatting and defeating Islamic extremism, it has the unintended consequence of acting as a recruitment tool to lure yet more gullible souls into the grips of ISIS and al-Qaeda. In short, the more we clamp down on the influx of refugees, the more susceptible we become to being attacked again.

Our best weapon against ISIS is the very thing they despise most of all: our laws and our values. It is imperative that we hold onto to them at all costs. We cannot take the bait that they have dangled in front of us. We must resist the urge to overreact to these tragedies when they happen. The only thing worse than being attacked by your enemies is to become like them. The day that happens is the day they truly win.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Take Aways From the Second Democratic Debate

Two debates down, four to go. I don't count the MSNBC and Moveon.org debates. Sorry, this is the major leagues, not the sandlots. So what were the take aways from the second debate? Glad you asked.

1. Hillary Clinton was the winner, again. Except for a very awkward moment when she invoked 9/11 to help explain the contributions she gets from Wall Street - please, Hillary, even Bill wouldn't have gone there - the night belonged to her. She looked, yes, I'll say it again, presidential. She was even better than she had been in her first debate. She went on the offensive more, while being careful not to seem dismissive of her opponents.

Let's admit it, she's had far more experience doing this and it showed. She was cool-hand Luke up there. Hell, she survived eleven grueling hours in front of a Congressional committee; two hours on a debate stage was practically a cakewalk. Her strongest moment came when she defended her plan for how she'll handle the banks and Wall Street by citing a piece by Paul Krugman in The New York Times in which Krugman ostensibly agrees with her. And while she's far more hawkish than either of her two rivals, in a general election that should only benefit her.

2. Martin O'Malley didn't look half bad. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from him, but he comported himself fairly well. While I don't think he'll get much traction from his performance, I think he definitely made the case for a possible VP nod, as evidenced by the fact that when he did go on the attack, he spread the graft around evenly between Clinton and Sanders. Smart move, Martin. No sense burning any bridges, especially when you're polling around 4 points.

3. Bernie Sanders had a bad night. For someone who needed a breakout performance to close the gap between himself and Hillary, Sanders was anything but sharp. Worse, he looked awkward, off was how I put it. I don't know if it was the format, but he just didn't seem comfortable up there. He was clearly out of his element on foreign policy, at times looking clueless. The base may not care much about foreign policy but the rest of the country does. Also, Sanders screwed up big time when he failed to show where Hillary had been influenced by Wall Street. You can't base your entire campaign on the distinction between your small donors and her soft money, then fumble the ball on the one-yard line like that. A terrible moment for him; one that will come back to haunt him. And not to nitpick, but he never properly defined his "Medicare for all" plan, one of the pillars of his campaign, which allowed Hillary to define it for him. As I said, not a good night.

4. All of the Democratic candidates were head over heels better than their Republican counterparts. Let's face it, the GOP debates have looked more like dress rehearsals for the movie Animal House than actual debates. Even the Fox Business debate, which everyone agrees was the best of a terrible lot, was little more than a series of infomercials for a group of people who still haven't explained how they plan on paying for $2 to $3 trillion in tax cuts, most of which will go to the top 1 percent of the country.

While all three of the Democratic candidates took turns criticizing one another, they never sank to the level of the Republicans in their debates. All three were respectful of one another and all three had cogent and defendable arguments for their positions that come next fall will resonate with the voters. In short, we had a chance to see how adults behave in public.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. These debates are the best forum for Democrats to prove to the country that they deserve to hold the White House and retake the Senate. So far, they've done a pretty damn good job showing it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Islam Is the 800 Pound Gorilla in the Room for Progressives

The terrorist attacks that took place in Paris Friday are yet another reminder that Islamic extremists are capable of visiting enormous death and destruction upon the West. Whether it's a large-scale, localized 9/11 operation or the stream-lined and more generalized one that occurred Friday, one thing is certain: we are not even close to getting a handle on how to deal with this enemy. Neither the Bush nor the Obama Administrations have had effective solutions for combatting it and I suspect it will take out of the box thinking to begin to grapple with this issue.

But for progressives, there is another, far more disturbing issue that plagues them. An almost single-minded refusal to come to grips with a staggering reality. That Islam, as a religion, runs counter to everything they claim to uphold. It isn't just that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East are insular and hold deeply conservative views. Many Christians are also deeply conservative and just as insular. The row over the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is an indication of just how determined the Christian Right is to resist what it views as a growing secularized world.

But there is a profound difference between the conservative wing of Christianity in the West and Islam in the Middle East. The former is not representative of the majority of Christians and, as such, does not hold much influence within the faith; the latter has a stranglehold on it. To be a moderate or liberal Muslim in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran is to have a death wish. In Pakistan, a judge was forced to flee the country after he sentenced a man who had been found guilty of murdering someone who had been critical of the Koran.

These countries are deeply oppressive in the treatment of their people, especially their women. They are raped, many times by their husbands, and subjected to genital mutilation in their youth. Journalists who speak out against the regimes of these countries or challenge the orthodoxy of the religion in any way are imprisoned or killed outright. If there are any moderate Muslims in the Middle East they are keeping a very low profile for fear of their lives.

And while all these atrocities are happening, progressives turn a deaf ear and blind eye. Astonishingly, a movement that supports gay marriage, goes to the mat to protect a woman's right to choose and fights against draconian voter restriction laws that disenfranchise millions of African Americans and Hispanics, pulls a Sgt. Schultz when it comes to the Middle East. It staggers the mind.

A while back I wrote a piece that dealt with this hypocrisy within the progressive community. In the piece, I wrote the following:
Let's cut to the chase. Progressives can't have it both ways. We can't vehemently defend the right of women to earn equal pay for equal work and to have control of their own bodies while at the same time turning a blind eye to the atrocities that are committed against them on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis in the Islamic world. It isn't just hypocritical; it's obscene. We can't defend the right of free speech yet ignore the very sad and salient point that those who criticize the prophet Muhammad are considered heretics who must be put to death. It has been more than twenty-five years since Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses and to this day the fatwa on his life remains in place.
As I mentioned in that piece, it is not Islamophobic to point out the brutality that exists within Islam. The religion, despite progressive gains in some Western nations, is hopelessly stuck in a perverse 7th century landscape that threatens the whole planet. The fight going on between extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and countries like Saudi Arabia is not so much about ideology per se as it is about the degree of that ideology. Yes, it is reassuring that most of the Muslim world condemned the Paris attacks; it would be far more reassuring if the majority of those Muslims rose up and deposed the clerics who have openly supported the jihad against the West. Now that would be news.

But while we are waiting for that miracle to happen in the Middle East, the very least progressives can do here in this country is to stop being hypocrites. Enough with the granting of Mulligans to this religion. It's time to call a spade a spade. The Ben Afflecks can scream all they want about how mean the rest of us are. We aren't mean; we just have the courage to see the facts as they are, not as we'd like them to be. We see violence being perpetrated on innocent people and we refuse to remain silent. We see injustice and it makes our blood boil. We see it as our solemn duty to shed light on such violence and injustice so that it can be stamped out.

Last time I checked, that was called being a progressive.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Role of a Moderator In a Debate

So the RNC announced it has "suspended" its partnership with NBC. Funny, I wasn't aware that they had a partnership with anybody other than AM radio and a few Fox News' hosts. The reason for the suspension, according to a letter drafted by Reince Priebus, was to "ensure that our candidates are given a full and fair opportunity to lay out their vision for America's future." In other words, the GOP wants to make sure their candidates have a safe forum to peddle their snake oil to the country without being challenged by those pesky facts that moderators tend to bring out.

Look, I'll admit it. The CNBC debate was a debacle. Fortunately, I didn't watch it. I was too busy watching another debacle that night: the Mets getting pummeled by the Royals. But from the reports I've seen, it wasn't John Harwood's finest moment. The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway wrote that Harwood "has no business moderating a GOP presidential debate." The operative word here being GOP. Apparently, Harwood can moderate all the Democratic debates he wants, but dibs off the Republicans.

This sort of us against them meme has deep roots within the Republican Party going all the way back to Barry Goldwater. They've never had any use for anyone outside their own private Idaho confronting them on their bullshit. Whether it's Candy Crowley fact checking Mitt Romney over the Benghazi attack in the 2012 presidential debate or Harwood challenging Donald Trump and Marco Rubio on their respective tax plans, the simple truth is that Republicans - particularly conservative Republicans - can't stand it when their "facts" are rebutted. They even had harsh words for how they were treated in the Fox News debate.

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but I thought moderators were, first and foremost, journalists and, as such, they had a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure that questions asked of a candidate were answered truthfully by that candidate and not ignored and deflected. It's a debate, not an infomercial. You're running for president, not top Ginsu knife salesman.

Perish the thought that a moderator might interrupt a candidate in mid fib and push back. Well, Heavens to Betsy, we can't have any of that. That would take too long and, besides, it would completely undo all the preparation that went into the false narrative of that candidate. Politicians, you see, have a vested interest in making people believe that two plus two equals five. If I'm not mistaken, that's the thrust of the Rubio tax plan. Slash taxes, magically grow the economy, all without adding a penny to the deficit. Frankly, I'll take the Ginsu knife. At least I can do something with it that's useful. About all I can do with Rubio's tax plan is line the bottom of my bird cage. And I don't even own a bird.

Seriously, journalists are supposed to be the gate keepers when it comes to the truth. They aren't there just to go along for the ride. Whether they take the role of moderator or not, when a false statement is made, it is their job to expose it. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty.  It's time the lame-stream media they did its job instead of buckling under to pressure.

As far as I'm concerned, Reince Priebus and the RNC can take their ball and go home if they want. If they can't handle a few tough questions during their primary debates, just wait till they get to the general election debates. Hillary will clean their clock and laugh all the way to the finish line.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cleaning the Barn: John Boehner's Parting Gift to Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan can say this "process stinks" all he wants, but the simple truth is John Boehner, his soon to be predecessor, just did him the biggest favor of his political life. Faced with a looming debt-ceiling default, Boehner didn't just take a bullet for him, he took the whole damn firing squad.

The budget deal now being worked out by Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House doesn't just take the threat of debt default off the table, it takes it off through March 2017. It also provides $80 billion of sequester relief that will be split evenly between defense and domestic spending, thus ensuring that there will be no government shutdown during what will undoubtedly be a tightly contested presidential election.

The wingnuts on the Right are already screaming bloody murder - what else is new - but the deal on the whole is a good one that both parties can live with. Indeed, it's the kind of deal that used to get done all the time before Washington became ground zero for gridlock. If anyone should be squawking, it's the Democrats. They were hoping they could use the threat of both a government shutdown and debt default against Republicans in 2016. Now those issues have been taken off the table.

It's still not a given that the deal will even pass the House, even with Democratic support. Forget the Freedom Caucus, many establishment Republicans are pissed that they were bypassed by leadership. Still, if I were a betting man, I'd say between both parties there should be enough votes for it to pass. The real test will come in the Senate where McConnell will have to contend with the likes of Ted Cruz, et al.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that government CAN work when it wants to. This is good news for many who had given up hope that this town could accomplish anything significant. And make no mistake about it, passing a two-year budget deal that removes the threat of a debt default is not only significant, it's practically earth shattering. When I first heard about it, I thought someone was pulling my leg.

I'm sure a large part of why this deal got consummated was that Boehner was on his way out. There's something liberating about knowing you don't have anything more to fear from your opponents. Kind of like when an employee puts in his two-week notice. What's the worst that can happen? They can't fire you, you're already leaving. Boy, what I wouldn't give to be able to read Boehner's mind. Since taking over the House in 2011, the Tea Party has made his life a living hell.

Payback's a bitch, ain't it?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Send In the Clowns

Watching the Republicans' interrogation of Hillary Clinton this week, I was reminded of that scene in the movie Animal House where a fraternity freshman gets his butt paddled with a stick and says, "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" The only difference is that in this instance the GOP has been both the giver and recipient of the paddling.

For eleven hours, Trey Gowdy's henchmen took turns bending over and smacking themselves in the ass in front of an entire country. And they looked like fools the whole time. Even people not normally sympathetic to Clinton couldn't help but remark she had a pretty good day. Good day? Her campaign announced that donations on Thursday - the day of the inquisition - were flooding in and most of them were under $250. Even more encouraging was that a majority of them were from new donors. If that's a good day, I'd love to see what a great day would look like.

I've heard of death wishes, but this is ridiculous. Think about it. The Republicans have chaired nine investigative committees on Benghazi to the tune of $20 million in taxpayer money and all they've accomplished is making Hillary Clinton look like a victim. In the process they've turned a national tragedy into a three-ring circus. If I were Hillary, I'd volunteer to testify for the next round of hearings in advance, say sometime in the summer, right about the time Ben Carson or Donald Trump is wrapping up the GOP nomination. Who knows, if her campaign gets an early enough heads up, they can schedule their own pay per view event.

And now, having thoroughly made a mockery of this whole process, these rocket scientists are planning on holding a select committee on, you guessed it, Planned Parenthood, led by Michele Bachmann wannabe and Captain Video space cadet Marsha Blackburn. I swear somebody must be spiking the punchbowl over at the RNC. Normal people aren't this consistently stupid, or self destructive.

The more I think about, the more I realize John Boehner may be the sanest Republican in Washington. He had the good sense to get out while the getting was good. What I can't figure out is why Paul Ryan would knowingly sign up to take his place, especially since the loonies who forced Boehner out don't think he's a true conservative. Ryan is many things, but a moderate isn't one of them. Apparently the litmus test for purity with the Freedom Caucus is a willingness to take the whole nation with you off the cliff.

Well in a few days Ryan may get that opportunity. The debt ceiling needs to be increased by November 3 in order to avoid a default. Assuming Boehner punts, which he might, it will fall to the new Speaker to decide whether he wants to play Russian Roulette with the full faith and credit of the United States.

Twice before in the last four years, these clowns have played with fire and damn near burned down the whole joint. Will the third time prove to be the charm or will Paul Ryan have the courage to disappoint them just like his predecessor did on so many occasions?

We'll have to wait and see; with bated breath.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders' Education Problem

Did you catch the Bernie Sanders' interview on Bill Maher's Real Time show this past Friday night? I did, and two things struck me. One, it was one of Maher's better interviews; and two, Sanders spent most of it explaining what socialism is and isn't. Keep in mind, he was speaking to a mostly sympathetic audience who was completely on board with what he was proposing.

Now let's suppose for a moment that instead of a sympathetic audience, ol' Bernie ends up speaking in front of an audience who has no freaking idea what socialism is, or worse, gets their information on what socialism is from your friendly "fair and balanced" or lame-stream media cable news channel. How long do you think it would take him to "explain" the facts about socialism to that crowd? Starting to get my drift?

It is an axiom of all sales professionals that you avoid overtaxing potential customers with minutia that could distract from the ultimate goal: getting a sale. It is no less true for politicians. Eschew the complicated, embrace the simplistic. Every successful politician from FDR to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton has employed this axiom. Reagan, incidentally, didn't get the title as great communicator for nothing.

Conversely, unsuccessful politicians like Jimmy Carter ignored it. Remember how brave many of us thought Carter was when he confronted America on its fossil fuel addiction? The voters sure remembered. They elected Reagan in a landslide in 1980. Turns out voters don't like getting lectured to. They tend to get insulted.

Bernie Sanders is that lecturer who has lit a fire under his base and opened up one helluva pandora's box for the Democratic Party. No, he's not a Communist. I majored in sociology and I studied all the major theorists from Marx to Weber to Durkheim. If Sanders is a Communist, I'm a Vulcan.

None of that will make any difference. The moment Sanders starts yapping about European socialism and countries like Denmark, it's over. Every single policy initiative he supports will go out the window. The electorate won't be focusing on income inequality, free college tuition and universal healthcare, which are the themes of his campaign; they'll be focusing on two hundred plus years of fairytale American exceptionalism. George and Martha, Cowboys and Indians, John Wayne, the charge up San Juan Hill, apple pie and Chevrolet. The whole nine yards. The GOP will have Bernie Sanders looking like one of Stalin's henchmen from the motherland. And every minute Sanders spends trying to rebuke - er, "educate"- the public will be one less minute he'll have to lay out his proposals to them.

Fait accompli, as they say in France. In tennis, they have another expression: game, set and match. Think I'm being overly pessimistic? Think again. Why do you think Republicans are now saying they'd rather run against Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders? The Party that has been pulling shit out of its ass for years is praying Bernie wins the nod. The last thing they want is to run against Hillary. She'd clean their clocks in the general and they know it.

Don't pay attention to the national polls that show Sanders ahead of potential GOP opponents. When you break it down state by state, Clinton is stronger in the all-essential swing states against any Republican than Sanders, especially if the GOP ticket should end up being, say Kasich / Rubio.

Take it from someone who's made a living in sales for twenty years. You don't educate your customers at the cash register. You close them. Period. Political candidates who spend the better part of their campaigns educating the electorate typically don't fare well come election day. Conversely, candidates who keep it simple, prosper at the ballot box. In an election that might well be decided by less than 3 percent in some states, every vote counts. If even one out of twenty potential Sanders' voters has second thoughts when they go into the voting booth, that could turn the whole election.

I've seen all the FDR comparisons and, yes, they called him a socialist too. The difference is, FDR never called himself a socialist. Bernie wears the title like its a badge of courage. Look, when it comes to the issues and integrity, there's no one better than him. In a perfect world, he'd be the ideal choice to lead the nation forward. But this is hardly a perfect world and his opponents are unlikely to give him the platform he needs to make his case to an electorate that, more often than not, lives down to its worst expectations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Winning By Not Losing

The one take away from the first Democratic debate should be crystal clear to anyone who saw it. Bernie held serve as the outsider candidate, but Hillary did what she had to do. She reestablished herself as the party's likely nominee. How? By not playing it like she did eight years ago.

If you remember, Hillary was the heir apparent of the Democratic Party. Her husband, Bill, was a successful two-term president and left office with a $300 billion surplus. George Bush took that surplus and turned it into a $1.4 trillion deficit. It was the logical assumption by many that another Clinton would restore the country to where it was when Bill ran the show.

The problem for Hillary was that a young, charismatic, first-term senator named Barack Obama stole her lunch money on the way to the cafeteria and Hillary didn't take it too well. She was very combative and looked anything but presidential. The fact is, Obama owed his rise to power as much to Clinton's inept conduct on the campaign trail as his seemingly flawless strategy.

This time around, facing stiff opposition from another charismatic - though considerably older - opponent, Hillary did a 180. She played it low key and spoke about who she was and what she wanted to accomplish as president. But more importantly, she didn't get personal. Indeed, the only time she went after Sanders was on gun control, where he was, quite frankly, very vulnerable. Aside from that, she took the high road.

This strategy - I call it winning by not losing - is one that many shrewd investors use, and I believe it is the only way Hillary can beat Bernie for the nomination. The two candidates are very similar on the issues. Bernie's more gung ho on breaking up the banks and Hillary is for stiffer gun regulation, but aside from that, the two might as well be kissing cousins. Yes, it's true she's been pushed to the left by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So what? Bill had to be pushed to the left.

The deciding factor for most voters will come down to personality. And this time around, Hillary didn't shoot herself in the foot. She was, dare I say it, presidential. It's clear she's learned a thing or two from how Obama has conducted himself both as a candidate and as commander in chief. It's also clear she's taken a page out of her husband's playbook. Play nice with the other kids. Voters like that in a candidate. Makes you wonder what might've happened had she done that eight years ago. Alas, we'll never know.

What we do know is this: Hillary needed a strong performance to quell the anxiety of her supporters and she came through. She didn't go for the knockout punch the way she tried to do with Obama eight years ago. She looked cool and collected and far more prepared than I've ever seen her. Bernie still has the edge in passion, but passion alone doesn't win elections. If it did, Howard Dean would've been elected president in 2004.

Look, I'm not saying Hillary Clinton is home free. There are more debates to come and plenty of time for her to blow this thing. Then there's that stupid congressional committee that she'll be testifying in front of. Anything can happen, as anybody who's ever followed politics will tell you. But one thing's for certain: If you are a Hillary supporter, you can now exhale. She did good. In fact, she did damn good. Better than that, she didn't lose.

And that counts loads.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What Jonathan Chait Doesn't Get About Al Gore and Hillary Clinton

In a recent piece in New York magazine, Jonathan Chait compares the problems of the Hillary Clinton campaign to those that plagued Al Gore's in 2000. Chait cites two major similarities: Clinton fatigue (as in Bill) and the trustworthiness of both. Regarding the latter, Chait writes the following:

The mechanism that transferred Clinton’s well-known moral failings onto his vice-president was an exceedingly technical fund-raising scandal. Gore made fund-raising calls for the Democratic Party from the White House, which did not violate either the letter or the spirit of the law (the Pendleton Act, which was intended to prevent shaking down potential officeholders for donations). But reporters found Gore’s performance untrustworthy anyway. The vice-president, reported the New York Times in 1997, “used legalistic language, which he repeated verbatim several times, to say he had not violated another law that prohibits anybody from raising campaign money in the White House.” As a result, scandal-tinged themes came to dominate news coverage of Gore. His attempts to create new narratives merely resulted in chortling reporters mocking him for trying too hard to reshape his image, reinforcing their theme that he lacked “authenticity.” 
The email scandal currently dogging the Hillary Clinton campaign has played a similar role. The charges are more serious than the accusations against Gore — Clinton’s use of a private email server undeniably amounted to a violation of protocol and poor judgment. It has served as grist for the news media to fixate on a process story upon which it can build larger narratives about her character. Those narratives feed into long-standing ethical concerns dating from the Clinton administration and the Clinton post-presidency, during which the former president profited immensely from relationships with figures who had a clear interest in currying favor, then or in the future, with his wife. The Obama administration has managed to avoid any significant scandals with credibility in the mainstream media (only partisan Republicans still cling to the belief that Benghazi or alleged IRS targeting of opponents were real). Ironically, both Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton today inherited much of their reputation for shadiness from the same person: Bill Clinton.

While Chait does have a point in that both Gore and Clinton have had issues with what he referred to as "authenticity," he is incorrect in his basic premise about what did Gore in back in 2000 and what threatens Clinton in 2016. 

Contrary to the popular narrative that he and other political pundits have subscribed to, Gore did not lose the 2000 presidential election because of either Clinton fatigue or his lack of trustworthiness. He lost for two major reasons: One, he ran a lousy campaign from the start; and two, he lost progressives in droves to Ralph Nader, who ran a mainly spoiler campaign that ended up costing Gore Florida.

Regarding the former, the Gore campaign ran as far away from the President as was possible. This was a strategic blunder. Even with all the problems besetting Bill, he continued to have strong approval ratings. The impeachment proceedings that the Republicans initiated against him in 1998, far from damaging him, seemed to have backfired on the GOP.  In fact, it was the Republicans who lost political capital, as the '98 midterms revealed all too clearly. Rather than running away from Clinton, Gore would've done better running towards him. It also would've helped immeasurable if he didn't look so programmed. Standing next to George Bush on the debate stage, Gore looked like a mannequin.

But regarding the latter, it was progressive indifference and, in some cases, animosity towards Gore that proved particularly fatal. Put succinctly, they simply didn't believe he was one of them. While they tolerated Bill, who at least kept the Republicans out of the White House, they never really warmed to Al. The correct analogy that Chait might have referenced was that of George H.W. Bush running in 1988. No true conservative really believed that Bush was a disciple of supply-side economics. Hell, he called it voodoo economics back in 1980. But they looked the other way in '88, especially when Bush did everything but dry hump Ronald Reagan throughout the campaign. Without someone they could rally behind, progressives turned their hopes toward Nader in 2000, and Gore didn't so much as put up a fight to win any of them back.

This is the primary reason why Hillary Clinton has moved so far to the left on issues like trade and the Keystone pipeline. Yes, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had a lot to do with that, but credit her for at least paying attention to the winds swirling around the Democratic Party. She might be arrogant, but, unlike Gore, she isn't stupid.

She's also doing her best to have her cake and eat it too. While she continues to throw red meat at her base, she's careful not to throw her former boss under the bus. The big mistake Democrats made in the 2014 midterms was distancing themselves from Obama. Give this much to Clinton: she took good notes. I'm also guessing that her husband might've had a hand in this. It's no secret Bill's not exactly a fan of Obama, but he is a fan of winning. At some point, he probably said to her something to the effect "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." If Gore had only heeded that wisdom, he might well have won the 2000 election.

And this is where Chait's argument runs off the rails, so to speak. The fact is, as I said in an earlier piece, Hillary Clinton's biggest threat will not come from anything the GOP throws at her, but from her base. Indeed, the latest revelations from Kevin McCarthy's slip of the lip on Sean Hannity's show and a whistle blower who was fired from the Benghazi committee for not focusing enough attention on her, bears this out. Even with the proverbial kitchen sink being thrown at her, she is still leading Sanders in the national polls. And she is holding her own against most of her potential GOP opponents. Even Chait admitted that by 1999, "Gore's campaign had taken on water. Polls showed George W. Bush crushing him" in a landslide.

There is no evidence of anything like that happening to Hillary Clinton. In fact, the opposite appears to be happening. Unlike in 2000, when Bush and John McCain were the only viable contenders for the GOP nomination, the Republican field this time around is very crowded and highly polarizing. It's hard to remember, but both Bush and McCain ran far more inclusive campaigns than their contemporaries are currently doing today. Indeed, during Bush's second term, he supported a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The current GOP frontrunners have been anything but inclusive, taking some of the most extreme positions imaginable; positions that may be popular with their base and will likely carry them over the threshold for the nomination, but will provide the Clinton campaign with loads of ammunition in the general election. Trust me, the same thing that brought Mitt Romney down in 2012, will rear its ugly head again in 2016. If there's one thing we've learned about the Republican base over the last six plus years, it's that they can't help themselves.

When you compare the political landscape in 2016 to the political landscape in 2000, it's crystal clear that even with all the issues Hillary Clinton has, she is in much better shape than Al Gore was. The electorate is more progressive now than it was 16 years ago, not to mention more diverse. Conversely, the Republican Party is far more insular now than it was 16 years ago. That doesn't bode well for their prospects next year or in the future.

Far from reliving Al Gore's nightmare, Hillary Clinton appears poised to benefit from some pretty good timing and an opposition party that is stuck in the past and can't get out of its own way. That seems more like a wet dream, if you ask me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Idiot Wind

Sometimes I think I must be dreaming. Just when you thought the Republican Party couldn't get any screwier, they go from the ridiculous to the unbelievable. It's like that scene in Space Balls when the ship jumps to Ludicrous speed. That's pretty much where the GOP is today, thanks to the announcement that Majority Leader and wonderkind Kevin McCarthy has decided NOT to seek the Speakership of the House.

Not that he had much choice. Thanks to the Freedom Caucus - a band of some 40 far-right zealots on a mission - McCarthy was about 18 votes shy of the 218 he needed to get elected. Yes, the group that forced John Boehner out as Speaker has now claimed his successor. At this rate, it's entirely possible that "the people's house" might not have a leader for quite some time. Wow, Nancy Pelosi's looking real good right about now.

All kidding aside, this is a travesty. The Republican Party isn't just rudderless; it's rudderless and running at full speed towards the abyss. The country has never seen anything like this. An entire party at war with itself and completely unable to govern. It is now all but certain that we are headed towards a government shutdown. The only question is when. John Boehner may have granted a stay of execution, but it was temporary at best. The next Speaker, if there is one, will almost certainly kowtow to the extremists in the party and those extremists are loaded for bear.

As I mentioned in an earlier piece, this moment was four years in the making. The Tea Party came to Washington with one thing on its mind: to burn down the joint. It never had any intention of governing. Like a spoiled child, it wanted what it wanted when it wanted it. It was all or nothing. Compromise was a four-letter word. This movement is now so deeply embedded in the Republican Party that no candidate can stand up to them. The Frankenstein monster that was created as a result of the 2010 midterm wave election is now running the show. And anybody that challenges it, is targeted for defeat.

Peter King and Charlie Dent can object all they want over the paralysis that has gripped their party; the truth is they and others like them are partly, if not mainly, responsible for that paralysis. Where were they when this faction shut down the government in 2013? Or for that matter damn near brought about a debt default in 2011? Talk is cheap, but the fact is had King and the establishment Republicans taken a much firmer stand, none of this would've happened. Had Boehner allowed an up and down vote on last-year's Senate immigration bill, the country would now have a much better immigration system than the one it currently has.

Face it, not one Republican House member has had the balls to put his money where his mouth is. They have allowed their party to be hi-jacked by this extremist faction and, in the process, allowed this once-proud institution to become the laughing stock of the world.

And it isn't just the House that has become a joke. Much as I despise him, Mitch McConnell has had his hands full as Majority Leader trying to keep the Senate from deteriorating into chaos. He and the establishment members of his caucus successfully thwarted an attempt by Ted Cruz to stop a clean funding bill from being voted on last month.

And on the campaign trail it seems that just about every candidate the GOP trots out has bought in to this insanity. Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are leading in the polls and all are saying the most outlandish things imaginable.  From Trump's Mexicans are rapists remarks, to Fiorina's misleading Planned Parenthood ad, to Carson's outrageous comments concerning the victims in the Oregon mass shooting, it seems the more unhinged these candidates are, the more popular they become with the base. Next to these people, John Kasich is practically Abe Lincoln. It's as though someone left the idiot bag open and out poured these morons.

In the short run, the Democrats will benefit from this freak show in 2016, provided they don't blow it. But in the long run, all of us will suffer. The political system of this country cannot survive when one of its two major parties is this certifiable. The truth is I see no way the GOP can extricate itself from this nightmare. They created this monster; it will be up to them to destroy it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Did Kevin McCarthy Just Save Hillary Clinton?

Mark down September 29 on your calendar and remember it. Because that's the date that could well end up proving to be the turning point in the 2016 presidential election. Kevin McCarthy went on Sean Hannity's show and said this:

"What you'e going to see is a conservative speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's unstrustable."

Okay, two things. One, there's no such word as unstrustable in the English language; or any other language that I'm aware of. I typed the word out three times and each time my spell check underlined it in red. Finally my computer typed out, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

Secondly, McCarthy had absolutely nothing to do with that committee. His soon to be former boss, John Boehner, was the one who set it up. You know, the guy nobody in the House conference thinks is conservative enough. Yes, that guy. So far as I can tell, McCarthy has done diddly-squat.

But getting back to his brain fart, and I use the word brain loosely. If Hillary Clinton ends up winning the election next year, she should buy Kevin McCarthy a car. A very expensive car! Because in his zeal to prove his bonafides - hint, he has none - to shit for brains, he just gave away his party's entire game plan.

Not that it was a big secret, mind you. Including this one, there have been eight investigative committees on Benghazi. And none of them turned up anything incriminating on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Indeed a two-year investigation by the House Intelligence Committee exonerated the Obama Administration and the State Department of any wrongdoing. Of course, the fact that the report was released the week before Thanksgiving 2014 I'm sure was just a coincidence.

Seriously, for the better part of the last six and a half years the Republican Party has engaged in all kinds of fantastic conspiracy "scandals" from Fast and Furious to the I.R.S. Not once have they uncovered a smoking gun. They've wasted millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars all for nothing.

I don't know whether Kevin McCarthy will become the next Speaker of the House, but based on his performance so far, I'd have to say Mark Levin was right. He is Eric Cantor with ten less I.Q. points. Hell he'd make Jon Boehner look like Tip O'Neill.

Look, four Americans lost their lives in the Benghazi attacks that September evening in 2012. Their deaths should not be trivialized in this manner. Hillary Clinton, should she win her party's nomination, will be a formidable opponent for whomever the GOP nominee is. She and the nation deserve no less than a forthright and honest evaluation of her qualifications for the office of the presidency. Not this buffoonish charade.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Jeb Happens!

I take it back. Jeb really isn't the smart one in the Bush family. Turns out he's actually dumber than his brother George. And that's saying something given what Dubya put the country through for eight years in the Oval Office.

In a recent interview, Jeb said of the deadly shooting in Oregon, "Stuff happens." That's right, kids. The man who would be the trifecta in Bush presidencies actually reduced this tragedy to a bumper sticker. This guy isn't low energy; he's low I.Q.  Oh he did his best to clarify his remarks later by insisting he wasn't referring to the Oregon massacre.  Unfortunately for dear old Jeb, nobody was buying it.

The remarks came just days after Bush, who apparently didn't pay much attention to the 2012 election, pulled a Mitt Romney by saying he didn't want to give "free stuff" to minorities. Though to be fair to Jeb, this is a popular meme within the GOP. It seems they have convinced themselves that the only reason blacks and Hispanics don't vote Republican is because Democrats keep giving them freebees. Right, and enacting voter suppression laws and calling Mexicans rapists have nothing to do with it.

Even when Jeb actually makes a salient point, he still ends up sticking his foot in his mouth. At that very same "stuff happens" interview, he said, "A child drowns in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around pools. Well it may not change it."  While governor of Florida, Bush signed a law that required pool owners to do just that. Oh, well.

And then there was that Fox News' interview with Megyn Kelly where she asked him if he would still have invaded Iraq based on what we now know. That was Jeb's moment to distinguish himself from his brother and tell the country he was different. But like a moth drawn to a flame, he couldn't resist and actually said yes, he would've invaded. Jesus, how many mulligans can one guy get?

From day one, we were fed this line over and over again. Jeb Bush wasn't his brother. He was thoughtful, intelligent and transformative. He was the only establishment candidate who could beat Hillary. And, best of all, he was willing to lose the primary in order to win the general.

So far, only the last claim has proven to be true. Jeb's poll numbers are so low, his financial backers are threatening to bail on him. At this point in the campaign, Mike Huckabee has a better shot at capturing the Republican nomination than Bush.

Funny isn't it. Two years ago, Barbara Bush was asked about whether her youngest son should run for president. She replied no. "We've had enough Bushes." Based on Jeb's performance over the last few months, I would say momma Bush has nothing to worry about. Her son should be home for Thanksgiving dinner next year.

Without the secret service detail, that is.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How the Left Can Win the War on Gun Control

Once more a tragic shooting spree has taken the lives of innocent people and once more a nation reacts in shock and horror. President Obama addressed the nation tonight, just like he has done so many times during his two terms in office. Both sides of the political spectrum offer the usual answers. The Left says responsible gun control that would keep guns out of the hands of crazy people would solve most if not all of the problem. The Right maintains that more guns, not less, would deter these acts of violence.

Both are wrong. The Right's solution would only turn the country into a modern-day O. K. Corral. And as for the Left's solution, sadly, even passing a few gun laws wouldn't have stopped most of these heinous acts. The real problem isn't a lack of gun laws or an insufficient number of "good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns." I submit that the real problem has been right under our nose and the Left's decision not to address it is the real culprit here.

Put succinctly, the problem is the Second Amendment itself. For most of our nation's history, the Amendment was understood to grant unfettered gun rights to those individuals who belonged to militias during the formative years of the Republic. Owing to the fact that America did not have a standing army until after the Civil War, militias were the only defense the nation had against a foreign invasion. Indeed President Lincoln had to rely on state militias to form the Union Army.

This is what the Amendment actually says:

"A Well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

Any honest and objective reading of that sentence would lead one to conclude that it was never the Founders intention that every citizen in the country should have unfettered access to guns.  And for the better part of two centuries, that was the prevailing sentiment of the Supreme Court, as well. Two landmark decisions are worth noting here.

The first is United Staes v. Cruikshank in 1876, which said that "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence." It ruled the Second Amendment was limited to the federal government.

The second major decision was United States v. Miller in 1939. There the Court ruled that the federal government could limit or restrict those weapons that did not have a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."

It was accepted as axiomatic that the whole purpose for the Amendment in the first place was to ensure that the country had the means with which to defend itself. Reasonably sane people all concurred. Guns were not so much a right as they were a necessary evil that allowed the nation to preserver against foreign attacks.

All that changed with the now infamous District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008. It was here for the first time that the Court ruled that the Amendment did in fact protect an individual's right to bear arms. Two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court doubled down on that decision by ruling that the right to "keep and bear arms" as stated in the Second Amendment was protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that it applied to every state in the country.

Both these decisions were staggering in their consequence. In effect, the Supreme Court reinterpreted and, as some have suggested, rewrote the Second Amendment, ignoring the part about well regulated militias, and deciding that every citizen was entitled to own a gun if he or she chose to do so. Not only that, it ostensibly outlawed any attempt at banning guns and severely restricted the means by which local governments could even regulate them.

And this is where we now stand. Two highly flawed Supreme Court decisions which have not only opened the flood gates to gun ownership in the country, but granted carte blanche to every gun toting idiot to beat his chest and fight against any reasonable restriction on his so-called rights. It is estimated that there are now as many guns in the United States as there are people. No other developed country on the planet comes close.

The Left must resist the urge to play on the enemy's turf. The answer to gun violence in America isn't to enact one or two anemic laws filled with loopholes wide enough to drive a truck through. If the Left ever hopes to win the war on gun control, it must do all it can to change the discussion from crazy people with guns back to where it belongs. It must challenge the very premise that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. It must do all it can to reverse the damage done by the Supreme Court in both the Heller and McDonald decisions.

There is a reason the United States leads all developed countries in gun homicides. We have a gun culture that is enabled by selective renderings of history and upheld by flimsy judicial activism.  Until both are properly disposed of, we can expect this deadly trend to continue unabated.

This will not be an easy fight to win. Indeed, it may prove to be an impossible task. But reasonable gun restrictions have been successfully thwarted at every turn by the gun lobby. Even attempts at passing a common sense background check law failed miserably. There is no indication that future attempts will be any more effective. Face it, America is addicted to violence. It's in our blood. Our only hope is a blood transfusion.

And that transfusion must come politically through winning elections at the federal level. The next president will be in a position to nominate one, possibly two, Supreme Court justices. If it is a Democrat, it is possible that both the Heller and McDonald decisions could be revisited and reversed.

And if that were to happen, America could begin its long but necessary journey back towards a more genuine and accurate understanding of its history; back to a time when learned men wrote noble words that they fully expected their posterity to grasp.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ten Years Ago

It's hard to believe that ten years ago this month, on a suggestion from a friend, I decided to launch my first blog: Christians Against Hypocrisy. Initially, the blog was little more than a sounding board on the growing political influence of conservative Christians in the country.  I still remember that first posting. I asked a simple question.

"Are you, like me, fed up with the conservative right defining your type of Christianity for you?"

A few brave souls took the time to read the piece, which was hardly the stuff of Pulitzer prizes, and chimed in with their comments, all of them encouraging. I can't begin to thank that friend for his suggestion - though I'm sure more than a few could question his sanity. It proved an invaluable release valve for my pent up frustration.

By 2008, with the heat of a presidential election gripping the nation, I began to hone my writing skills. 2009 saw a total of sixty postings, many political. It was clear that the blog was becoming less about religion and more about progressive values. So by early 2010, I decided to launch another blog - this one - which would specifically speak to those values. And over the last five plus years, I have, I hope, done a credible job advancing them.

I have never apologized for my beliefs, though sometimes, I have had to atone for how they were expressed. What can I say, I lead with my chin. And while I have spared no expense going after conservatives in this blog, on more than one occasion, I have focused my wrath on progressives. I find that many of them share one thing in common with the Tea Party. They're too caught up in their own private Idaho. A bubble is a bubble, no matter which side of the political aisle you're on.

And naturally, when I've done that, I've taken my fair share of lumps. Though this blog doesn't get a lot of followers, those who do follow it have never been shy of letting me know what a sellout I am. If there's one thing that makes me nervous about the 2016 election, it's not the Republicans, it's progressives. Had they made even a modicum of effort to show up the last two midterms, Democrats would still control both Houses of Congress. No they're not nuts like the Tea Party, but they're lazy as hell many times. And they can be such cry babies, especially when they don't get their favorite candidate.


No doubt, I'll get some flack for the above. Know what, screw 'em. Wanna prove me wrong? Show up next year regardless of who the Democratic nominee is. Even if it's Hillary.

Anyway, it's been a nice ride so far. I just hope that the next ten years are as fruitful, if not more so. See 'ya around.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Pontiff For All Seasons

I've thought long and hard about what it is about this Pope that seems to drive conservatives up the proverbial wall, and I know what it is.

Pope Francis gets it. All of it. This Pope understands what it truly means to be a Christian. It is not an easy walk. It requires humility, compassion and a profound understanding of what it means to be a Shepard for the lost the way Jesus was during his brief ministry on Earth. On our best days all of us barely register a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Imagine what our worst days would look like.

Like Christ, he is not ashamed to wash the feet of inmates. He shuns all outward signs of excess, moving out of the spacial papal apartments and into the Vatican guest house. Guest house? The Pope in a guest house? At night he sneaks out to be with the homeless. On his visit to New York, he got out of his Pope mobile to bless a disabled child on the road. Can't you just see in your mind's eye Jesus doing the same thing.

For this ex-Catholic, these last few months have been extraordinary. I never believed I would see in my lifetime a Pontiff so humbled by his position so as to exhibit such traits. And yet here he is among us, not Jesus incarnate as some have foolishly said, but Jesus personified. A true servant of the people.

His critics - all of them conservative - have accused him of mingling in things he knows nothing about. He should stick, they say, to matters of morality and leave economics and the environment to those best suited to handle such matters. Like that's really worked out well.

But Pope Francis is having none of that. To him, economics and the environment are moral issues. How we treat those less fortunate, goes to the heart of who we are as Christians.  How we treat the world that we have been given, speaks volumes about our ability to be good stewards. I submit that with regard to both we have have been dismal failures. Millions suffer needlessly while a few enjoy untold riches; and slowly but surely we are destroying this planet. The Pope is warning us that there will be a price to pay for such sins.

Perhaps if this Pope had come out railing against homosexuality and abortion, his critics would've been mollified. No doubt they would've stood up and applauded him for being a righteous man of God. But when he speaks about poverty and global warming, he is somehow neglecting his papal duties and abandoning the teachings of Jesus.

There is of course one tiny problem with their logic. It just isn't true. The Jesus they refer to doesn't exist, except maybe in their warped brains. They keep looking for the passage where Jesus commands his disciples to go pull themselves up by their own boot straps. There is no such passage. Just like there's no such passage that reads God helps those who help themselves. Indeed just the opposite; scripture is replete with commands that we are to live out our faith through our actions toward one another. As it is written in James,

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food, If one of you says to them, "go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

The Christian faith is not a self-help group. Our role is not to be bystanders while the world around us  is in need. Rather, our faith demands that we put our money where our mouth is. As Jesus himself said in Matthew, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me."

Pope Francis takes these words to heart and he challenges all of us to put them into practice. Like Jesus before him, he rattles the cage and reveals the hearts of the cold and indifferent. He speaks out against crony capitalism and greed, calling it the "dung of the devil."

"The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger. Nothing ever comes out for the poor."

That might be the most accurate critique of trickle down economics that I've ever heard. But he didn't stop there. In an address to Congress this week, he took aim at what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as the military industrial complex.

"Many powerful people don't want peace because they live off war. Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms. It's the industry of death."

On the topic of immigration, the Pope had some stinging rebukes for the xenophobic elements that are gaining momentum within the United States.

"The people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our neighbors and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this."

Small wonder conservatives in this country are having a cow over this Pope. He's had the audacity to unmask their false god of money and expose their racism. And just like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, they aren't taking it well.

Some of the comments from the far Right have been downright repulsive and disgusting, but hardly surprising. I have known for quite some time how vacuous this movement really is, and now, thanks to this former Jesuit priest, hopefully everyone else will know it too.

With all the riches that this world has to offer, it is nothing short of an embarrassment that any one should starve for lack of money to buy food. As Christians, all of us should be ashamed that such atrocities still exist and all of us should take heed of the Pope's charge to us to do something about it. As Jesus said in John 13,

"A new command I give you: love one another."

Friday, September 25, 2015

John Boehner Calls It A Night

Well, that was unexpected. John Boehner, the beleaguered and sometimes reluctant Speaker of the House, announced that he is resigning from Congress, effective October 30. Tell me you saw this coming and I'm calling Bellevue to have that rubber room prepped.

Seriously, though, this moment was four years in the making. Ever since that ill-fated and much maligned 2011 budget deal that brought us the Sequester was enacted, Boehner has been on borrowed time. His base despised him and the establishment, while being sympathetic, had little respect for him. His own number two, Eric Cantor, undermined him at every turn. To say Boehner was between a rock and a hard place would be an understatement.

Still, even with all the dysfunction he has had to contend with, I thought Boehner would survive. After all, thanks to the gerrymandering after the 2010 midterms, he had a super majority at his disposal; a majority that in all likelihood won't be in jeopardy for several election cycles. But even with the largest majority any Republican Speaker has had to work with since the days of Harry Truman, he was never able to control his conference. Too often, the Republican-controlled House looked more like a frat house than a legislative body. The low point for Boehner was when he allowed a small group of escaped lunatics, lead by Ted Cruz, to shut down the government over the rollout of Obamacare. It was a stinging indictment of his leadership ability.

It was clear Boehner wasn't in the mood for a repeat performance over defunding Planned Parenthood. Odds were he was prepared to allow the Senate's clean funding bill a straight up and down vote in the House. And almost immediately after that, he would've faced a no confidence vote from the unhinged contingent. Anyway you slice it, he was screwed. In the end, he fell on his sword. For the first time since assuming the mantle of Speaker, John Boehner had the balls to tell his opponents to go fuck themselves. The government, for the time being, will NOT be shutting down.

And now the sixty-four thousand dollar question on everyone's mind is who follows Boehner. Obviously, the early favorite is current majority leader Kevin McCarthy. But the truth is nobody knows for sure. With all the infighting that has been going on within this motley crew, you never know. These dim bulbs might get so caught up trying to one up themselves, Nancy Pelosi could end up back as the Speaker. Yes, as strange as it might seem, if the Republican conference can't agree on a new Speaker or doesn't have a clear-cut winner that can garner enough votes, Pelosi could actually emerge as the winner. It hasn't happened since 1856, when Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts won with a simple plurality to become the Speaker.

But while a Pelosi victory would be nice, I doubt it would actually happen. In the end, Republicans should be able to cobble together enough votes to elect one of their own. The real problem will come after the vote. If Boehner couldn't lead this group, how in the hell is McCarthy going to, or whoever ends up getting the gavel?

One thing is for certain. John Boehner's tenure as Speaker of the House may be coming to an end, but the nightmare that is the Republican-controlled House will go on for quite some time.

Oh joy, oh bliss!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Scott Walker Imploded

Did you catch Scott Walker's press conference where he announced he was "suspending" his campaign? To tell you the truth, I didn't, at least not live. But I did did manage to catch the part where he said, "I encourage other candidates to do the same (quit) so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the Party, and more importantly, to the future of the country."

How magnanimous of Scottso to put his party and country first. Such a trooper. And how about the parting shot he took at his party's "current frontrunner." Nice touch, Gov, not mentioning his name. But then it takes a special kind of courage to compare union protesters to ISIS, right?

Regardless of whatever spin the Walker campaign may attempt to put on this "suspension," the truth is that Scott Walker simply sucked as a candidate. His decision to drop out of the race had nothing to do with helping his party defeat Donald Trump; it had everything to do with his lousy poll numbers, which were so low they had to be put under an electron microscope just to be detected.

It's also time to put an end to this ridiculous myth that Scott Walker was some kind of political dynamo in Wisconsin just because he got elected three times - one of them by virtue of a recall. To be clear, Walker received a boatload of soft money and had the good fortune of running against some of the weakest candidates the Democrats have ever fielded in the Badger state. Over the last few months, his popularity there has plummeted.

To those not familiar with Wisconsin, the state is considered by many political pundits to be a toss up, but that's not entirely true. If you take away Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the state has voted Democrat in every single presidential election going back five decades. In fact, prior to the 2010 wave election that saw the GOP take the House and many gubernatorial races, Wisconsin's legislature was under Democratic control. Far from being a dynamo, Walker seems to have been the beneficiary of some incredible good timing and inept politics.

In the end, his luck and money simply ran out, His donors were bailing on him left and right and he didn't exactly help himself trying to one-up Trump by suggesting we put a wall on the Canadian border. Apparently it never dawned on him that at least one third of the border between the U.S. and Canada is surrounded by water. They're not called the Great Lakes for nothing, Scotty.

But it wasn't just his draconian positions that did him in. He simply had no personality to speak of. In the two debates he was about as flat as you could be. If Jeb Bush was low energy, Walker was practically comatose. And when he did manage to open his mouth, he looked like a really bad stand-up comic who was desperately trying to remember the punchlines to his jokes. Even his most ardent supporters knew they had a dead horse on their hands.

Scott Walker is no leader. In fact, he's a pretty shitty governor with a lousy record in a state that, thanks to his policies, is now facing a budget shortfall of $2.2 billion. Just imagine what he might've done to the country if he had gotten half the chance. A friend of mine on Facebook summed up the news of Scott Walker's departure from the presidential election best. "Scott, who?"

Bye, bye, Governor. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.