From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
ST. LOUIS • Tom Schweich, Missouri’s Republican state auditor and a leading contender for the governor’s office in next year’s election, died Thursday after apparently shooting himself in his Clayton home.
The sudden death of the second-term auditor shocked and saddened the state’s political establishment and roiled the race for governor barely a month after it officially began.
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From The Hill:
House Republicans are preparing a series of stopgap proposals to keep the Homeland Security Department running in the event that Congress can't reach an agreement on a longer-term funding bill before Saturday's deadline.
The GOP conference gathered at 5 p.m. to discuss their options, with 31 hours to prevent a shutdown of the department.
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So this Dutch correspondent says to me, "Which of the Republicans do you like the most?"
And I said, "Well, I guess of the Republicans, I like Bob Dole the most."
(With a fake Dutch accent) "Oh, but he is so old!" he said.
And I said, "Well - - - - you know, - - - he wasn't too old to save your sorry Dutch ass.
- Al Franken, White House Correspondents Dinner, May 4, 1996
The point was three fold. It was unfair to focus on the age of Republican Robert Dole. Robert Dole in many ways demonstrated what was best about America. And Dole's personal story was intertwined with a larger history. America, personalized in Robert Dole, was exceptional enough to have saved Europe from the Nazis in World War II.
Democrat Al Franken is now Minnesota's United States Senator.
I was reminded of Franken's pointed put down of a critic from Holland as I reviewed the words spoken by the very new President Obama as he attended a NATO summit in France in April of 2009.
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.
- President Barack Obama, at a News Conference in Strasbourg, France, April 4, 2009
President Obama then went into a softer, gentler, but still tough, version of Al Franken, as he explained why his view of exceptionalism, American exceptionalism, was was more than opinion. He reminded Europe that American exceptionalism had been demonstrated within human memory in Europe's own history.
...the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.
This was not spoken to the American Press Corps in a carefully staged event in Washington. It was on European soil in the heart of a country that knew up close what his words meant. America was exceptional enough to have saved Europe from the Nazis in World War II.
American conservatives, still, were outraged at his words. They still are. He had, they maintain, said that America was no more exceptional than any other country. "...the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."
The Tampa Bay Times respond to conservative anger this way: "A Yankees fan who admits a Red Sox fan loves his team is not saying the Red Sox are as good as the Yankees."
Frankly, I don't mind the baseball argument, since pretty much everyone knows the St. Louis Cardinals are better than either.
There has been no scarcity of events at which the President has spoken of his pride in America.
When he has advocated important policy changes:
I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.
- President Barack Obama, at West Point, May 28, 2014
When speaking to the nation about war, peace, and the use of military force:
...we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.
- President Barack Obama, on Syria, September 10, 2013
When rebuking Vladimir Putin for denigrating America's exceptionalism:
...but I believe America is exceptional -- in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.
- President Barack Obama, to the United Nations, September 24, 2013
Presidents have been the focal point of American anger from the beginning of the Republic. War, the economy, regulation, taxes, all provoke passionate argument. Sometimes the argument is about policy, sometimes about constitutional issues, or political actions, sometimes about scandal. But everything has involved, at one level or another, a President's performance in office.
Until this President.
Attacks on President Obama have been different. They have been personal in the most basic way: they have been challenges to his person.
Recent remarks about the President's love of country have simply been part of this larger pattern.
"I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America," Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. "He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
- Reported by Politico.com, February 18 2015
In the past, we have heard the traditional attacks on Obama scandal, policy, and politics. But barely submerged, sometimes bubbling into full view, has been a strong current of hatred that is very personal.
The fact that, for many, that red hot vitriol preceded his even taking the oath of office in 2009 is striking. It lends certainty to the suspicion that the violent outrage does not come from allegations of scandal or from boiling disagreement over policy. It is the other way around. Unless clairvoyance or time travel is part of the calculation, those accusations and disagreements are not the cause, they are the result, of violent outrage.
The fact that so often the policy has been long standing, beginning in administrations from past generations is dismissed. After all, multiple wrongs do not make a right. The dismissal leaves in place the question: Why were those past "wrongs" unremarkable back then. What makes them suddenly rise to the level of the exceptional now?
The fact that one scandal after another has not survived examination, even examination ferociously conducted in a spirit of rage, produces odd theories. Absence of evidence of any high level wrongdoing must itself be proof of high level cover up.
The attacks on this President have been aimed at his very identity as an American. He isn't like you and me. To quote again, "He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country."
Political niceties make it impolite to state what is obvious to the naked eye. The outrage that preceded policy, the anger that came before disagreement, were provoked by something. The most violent critics saw something from the beginning, something that was too obvious for them to ignore, something profoundly infuriating, but, in a modern age, something that cannot be said aloud even by conservatives.
It is an anger that dares not speak its own name.
From The Hill:
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is back in a familiar spot: between a rock and a hard place.
The Senate appears poised to send the House a “clean” bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), free of any measures attacking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But it’s not clear the plan could win the support of even a majority of Boehner’s conference.
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From Ralston Reports:
"If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus," she began, citing a widely debunked theory that the American Cancer Society warns about, "and we can put a pic line into your body and we're flushing with, say, salt water, sodium cardonate (I think she means bicarbonate), through that line and flushing out the fungus. These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective."
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Washington legislators had been working on the tax cuts for a long time. The bill would mostly extend tax cuts that were about to expire. Democrat Ron Wyden had labored over the details with Republican Orrin Hatch. The economy was showing some sputtering indications of recovery. Extending the cuts would provide a boost. But there were other benefits.
Funding for Research and Development was a big deal for Democrats.
In my state, with infotech, biotech, cybersecurity, that R&D is really, really important.
- Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Quoted in Rollcall, May 9, 2014
So were tax breaks for renewable energy sources.
A lot of the extended cuts were aimed at middle class working people. Tax cuts for parents putting kids through college, for example. So was allowing homeowners to continue deducting mortgage forgiveness. Deductions for state sales taxes were included.
A lot was included at the insistence of Republicans. Tax loopholes for such investments as racehorses were added. So were NASCAR race tracks and production of Puerto Rican rum. Mainly, tax benefits for businesses attracted Republican support.
Now it was May and deadlines were approaching.
An additional opportunity began to ripple through the Republican cloakroom. Democrats and Republicans agreed the tax cuts were needed. But most folks connected government with Democrats. If the cuts were defeated, voters would see it as a failure of Democrats.
At the last minute, Republicans announced they would not support the carefully constructed bill unless it included additional amendments. More loopholes for businesses were proposed. Republicans also insisted tax cuts for wealthy Americans would have to be made permanent.
Democrats responded by closing amendments, but offering to vote on those additional issues separately.
Most news outlets simply reported that Congress had failed to pass the bill. The word "filibuster" was rarely mentioned. Those who did report the 60 vote threshold presented it as a normal part of governance, part of normal Senate procedure. Very few mainstream news reports suggested that the vote that failed was not a vote on the tax bill. It was a vote to allow a vote.
In fact, before Barack Obama became President, the filibuster was used in the Senate only when some important principle was involved. After January 20, 2009, it became routine, even for bills Republicans had favored.
A few days after the filibuster of the tax bill, a carefully worked out bill for energy efficiency was brought to the floor. Republicans filibustered that as well, in spite of Republican participation in drafting it.
The pattern had become firmly set by the time the two bills got a majority but failed to get 60 Senators on the vote to allow a vote.
In 2009, Republicans wanted to delay a vote on health reform. So they filibustered an entirely different bill.
Funding for US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was about to run out. Republicans were for the bill, but they filibustered anyway. Some members of the Senate were open about the tactic. They knew Democrats were patriots who would work hard to get the 60 votes necessary to provide ammunition, food, and support for American troops under fire.
But it would take time for Democrats to overcome Republican opposition to keeping the troops safe. Republicans voted against supporting American troops in order to delay other bills, including health reform.
Now that Republicans hold the majority of seats in the Senate, they can pass what they want.
Democrats, so far, do not obstruct everything. They seem to be going back to a very old pattern, filibustering only on core issues they oppose. That is decidedly different than the Republican practice of obstruction for the sake of obstruction.
News outlets, of course, report only that some Republicans now want to end the filibuster and that Democrats are willing to use it. It fits nicely into the new journalistic ethic of balance over documented fact. It also fits the pox-on-all-houses sub-narrative that appeals to a cynical public. Everyone is a hypocrite, and balance is maintained.
It may serve that public better than they know if Republicans and Democrats manage to gather enough votes to end the pernicious practice of the filibuster once and for all.
When fifty one votes are cast for a measure, any measure, let the damn thing pass.
In response to Burr Deming's Guns, Corporate Speech, GOP PC, ISIS, Islam, Absense of Good
Conservative Julian Sanchez of Cato Institute explains that ISIS could be actually Islamic as a matter of perception and may not be Islamic as a matter of theology. As I read him, Mr. Sanchez seems to be arguing that if Muslims generally come to regard ISIS as representing Islam, ISIS will then represent Islam. As we know, that is the goal of ISIS and of many American bigots.
- Burr Deming, February 22, 2015
What I take away from Mr. Sanchez's post as well as from all of this debate over whether or not Islamic extremists are really Islamic is that it doesn't matter.
If the extremists are the real Muslims, they must be stopped. If the extremists are not the real Muslims, they still must be stopped. If the peaceful practitioners are the real Muslims, they must be allowed to continue to practice their religion as they understand it. If the peaceful practitioners are not the real Muslims, they must still be allowed to continue to practice their religion as they understand it.
I do not agree with President Obama and other liberals that Islamic extremists merely distort Islam, but I don't regard that perspective as particularly harmful. It doesn't anger people who aren't already our enemies and it doesn't necessarily interfere with stopping extremists. In contrast, conservative insistence that Islam is intrinsically violent and/or that Muslims are not to be trusted needlessly antagonizes people who are not our enemies, yet confers no advantages.
I have no stake in the debate over what form of a religion is authentic. To me that is all nonsense with no impact on my life. I do, however, have a stake in real world struggles against extremists and those who would lazily condemn innocent people for the actions of others.
In addition to his contributions here, Ryan often writes for Secular Ethics, a site devoted to the application of reason to ethical behavior.
Times Have Changed - Republicans Have, well, Oscillated (6:42) - Click for Podcast
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A church in an industrial section of Buffalo tells us much about today's Republican Party and America's racial history.
When, confronted by bigotry, we separate ourselves from that evil, we might be wrong. That evil might be shared.
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Comment in a Norwegian publication
"...if anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam you will have to go through us Muslims first."
From The Times of Israel (Norway):
In the wake of a deadly shooting attack at a synagogue in Denmark last week, a group of Norwegian Muslims intends to hold an anti-violence demonstration at an Oslo synagogue this coming weekend by forming a “peace ring” around the building
One of the event organizers, 17-year-old Hajrad Arshad, explained that the intention was to make a clear statement that Muslims don’t support anti-Semitism.
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A South Carolina State Senator who referred to his only female colleague as a “lesser cut of meat” – and later apologized for the sexist comment – has switched back on the offensive.
S.C. Senator Thomas Corbin – whose controversial remarks were reported on exclusively by FITS last week – is now accusing his colleague Katrina Shealy (the only female member of the 46-person State Senate) of having a role in the bad press.
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The interview with State Representative Gene Alday was about increasing funding for education in Mississippi. Gene Alday is against it. "I don't see any schools hurting," he told the Clarion‑Ledger, Mississippi's paper of record.
Then the interview took a weird right turn.
I come from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call 'welfare crazy checks.' They don't work.
Representative Gene Alday (R-MS), interviewed by the Clarion‑Ledger February 15, 2015
In itself, the racial stereotyping was unexceptional. It's a new month, time for another Republican to be embarrassed - or not - by comments made in an unguarded moment. It has been the pattern for the last few years. The presence of a black President is the catalyst for much of the new trend. It would be wonderful if that was not true, but it is undeniable.
The more valuable lesson may come in a series of brief interviews conducted by FOX-TV6, WBRC of Birmingham. Republicans in that report cautiously chide the racist musings of their colleague. Democrats are calmly disappointed, pointing out that the comments are divisive. The Governor weighs in.
In this day and time to be able to make those racially charged remarks is just unfounded. And it is something that we in the party, Republican Party, totally reject.
- Governor Phil Bryant (R-MS), February 16, 2015
In a way, the story is oddly comforting. We have another chance to put a human face on something monstrous, identifying it, isolating it, keeping it apart from ourselves.
The incident, as with so many like it, plays into the light switch image we have of bigotry and fairness. It's either on or off. Turn the switch to darkness and ignorant, child-beating bullies take over. Turn the switch the other way and open-minded good will takes charge. All that is needed is for an evil person to walk across the line into the sunlight.
Since bigotry is mean and petty and monstrous, and we can each look into our hearts and see that we are none of those things, and so we know we are not bigots. There is something plaintive in Gene Alday's protests over the phone to the television reporter. Since he gets along with everybody, since he helps people, he cannot have been cast into that darkness. He is definitely not a racist.
I am definitely not a racist, at all. Because, I mean, I get along with everybody. And I've spent a lot of time helping people.
- Representative Gene Alday (R-MS), interviewed by WBRC‑TV February 16, 2015
Sometimes the monster within is awakened by some horrific incident. Pearl Harbor spawned an unreasoning hatred toward anyone of Japanese ancestry. It was not simply a sneak attack by the Empire of Japan. It was an attack by you-people on us. The "us" was emphatically non-Asian.
A close friend watched the distant glow of fire in Detroit during the riots of 1968 and developed an unreasoning fury. It was not the violent few who were at fault. You-people had done this to us. The "us" was white.
9/11 provoked a generalized hatred of Muslims. The prevailing backlash has become a tsunami. You-people have done this to us. The "us" is Christian and non-Arab.
The anger at beheading, death by fire, and ruthless fanaticism is channeled into demands for some official declaration that Islam is the source of all we hate. It can't be religious extremism. It has to be specific. It is Islamic. They are doing it to us. And "us" cannot include Muslims.
Not all prejudice is provoked by some identifiable incident. More often, bigotry is unconscious. As if some form of original sin, it is ingrained from a thousand directions beginning at conception. The universal justification is simple. I am not a bigot. I simply recognize reality.
I cannot remember a single epiphany. At some point in my own guilty past, I somehow became aware of my previously unexamined attitudes toward gay people. That there could even be a question never occurred to me while growing up.
Now, at this point in my life, what other prejudices live beneath the surface may remain unknown to me forever. Part of being human is the inability to know the human heart - even our own.
The moral universe is vast. I sometimes have more hope than faith that the arc described by Martin Luther King will bend, however gently, toward justice.
A more basic, fearful faith comes from that writer of freedom, and owner of slaves, Thomas Jefferson, who trembled for his country. My own fear extends to myself and all that I know.
After all the indignant condemnation of bigotry, I find myself praying that my God might be more merciful than just.
Sometimes tragedy brings out the best in people. At a vigil Feb. 11 for three students slain the night before, community leaders, friends and family members expressed the hope this would be the case now.
They called for unity and love in the wake of the tragic shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, 23; Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and Razan Abu-Salha, 19 – three young Muslims, a fact that attracted national and global media attention.
“Love is more divine than hatred,” said Imam Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University, to the estimated 2,000 people gathered at the Pit at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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riting almost 60 years ago, David Donald—who would later emerge as America’s preeminent biographer of Abraham Lincoln—observed that Americans, and especially Republican politicians, exhibit a compulsive desire to “get right” with the nation’s 16th president. Tracing this tendency back to the late 19th century, he noted, “Every four years Republican hopefuls sought—and presumably secured Lincoln’s endorsement.
So it continued last evening, when former Texas Gov. Rick Perry—a likely candidate for his party’s presidential nomination—addressed the Stafford County GOP Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in Dover, New Hampshire.
There was just one problem: He got Lincoln backwards.
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