Listen As You Go -
Why Do Some Conservatives Hate Obama So Personally? - Click for Podcast
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, April 28, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
We know we have not lived up to our standards.
But honesty in the human heart is not easy.
We see the wrong that we do.
But truth in the human soul is hard.
We don't seek acceptance of what we've done.
We don't expect approval of what we've become.
But even when we've turned away from God,
we discover that God has never turned from us.
When we find forgiveness,
when we see acceptance,
when we experience love
that was never interrupted,
we realize that,
even when we felt we were alone,
Jesus has been walking with us all along.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
God Almighty, Lord most High.
You take away our shame and our guilt.
You welcome us back into our home.
Found on Line:
Last Of The Millenniums surveys legislative initiatives, public proposals, and policy positions to give to us a countdown of this week's 5 zaniest Republican moves.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, explains how Europe's inside out policy of austerity is devastating that continent. My thoughts on how an excel error contributed to that unfortunate economic approach are here.
At News Corpse won't even let Fox News get by with a little white lie. Seems an Associated Press story on immigrants and jury duty was edited to change it from truth to falsehood. Can they do that? I guess they can.
Conservative James Wigderson notes protests against the evils of rigidly evaluating teacher and school performance by tests on children. He feels one such protest should include the virtues of school choice.
PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, has some fun with a video about economics. Seems he, and we, are being told through the Bible that God is a free market theorist. I suspect early Christians might be surprised, organized as they were in communes.
Michael J. Scott of Mad Mike's America brings us more Pat Robertson. Brother Pat is campaigning against the demonic game, Dungeons & Dragons. My suggestion to the good reverend is to come out from under the bed. We need fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of the Dungeon Master.
Why do we have to do this, Sir? is with us this week (Yay!) with thoughts about how our actions as Christians are a testimony about Christ. He reflects on witness, mission, and the distraction of dogma. I believe my own thoughts may be on a parallel with his insight.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot notes this discovery by our own For Your Consideration from Scientific American and is inspired by Fred Flintstone to calculate the upper limit of human physical capability.
- Vincent of A wayfarer's notes brings to us a guest author from India, sharing a short story about the slow discovery of the secret behind a chance meeting between a young boy and an old man.
One problem with comparative analysis about Presidents is that administrations deal with so many policies aimed in so many directions, you face a rhetorical Hobson's choice. Do you go with broad generalities or do you get so involved in granular details that you and anyone attempting to follow your reasoning will get lost in the tall, tall grass? There are other analytical traps, of course, and it is easy for a partisan to fall in.
So we have to smile indulgently when someone goes a bit overboard. And the opening of the George W. Bush Library offers plenty of temptation to go more than a bit overboard. Some folks, in a fit of nostalgic enthusiasm leap recklessly into the abyss.
Sometimes events are so horrific or welcomed, they overcome Hobson. The Civil War, the burning down of of the White House, resignation after a scandal involving politically motivated thuggery, the Great Depression, all taint or brightly color the tenures of Lincoln, Madison, Nixon, Hoover, and Roosevelt.
What do we think about when we regard the Presidency of George W. Bush? Do we remember the most significant act of terrorism ever on American soil? Does the financial disaster of 2008 come to mind? Katrina? War?
Jennifer Rubin, resident conservative at the Washington Post, does her best with the Bush years. Jonathan Chait, in New York Magazine, is wonderfully accurate in slapping her review into a shapeless pulp. Both are worth reading, if only for the Battle of the Titans aspect. Both are very good.
Rubin does strain more than a little in at least two respects.
"Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11..." which tends to ignore the multiple warnings the Bush administration laughed off in their first year. The famous intelligence briefing is commonly cited. Less well known are the frantic pleas on international terrorism from the outgoing Clinton administration during briefings of incoming Bush officials. Those pleas provoked Republican giggles at the time. Or the fact that, by 9/11, the Bush Justice Department had already prepared a budget that slashed anti-terrorism efforts within the FBI to the vanishing point.
"7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity" merits some attention as well. The financial crisis that came very close to the ragged edge of a repeat of Hoover's Great Depression can be traced to policies put into place during those 7½ years.
As for Rubin's anti-Obama snark: can we go, at some other time, into a discussion of the Biden formulation that bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive?
Okay, back on track.
So, as long as we exclude little things like New Orleans and Iraq, President Bush had an okay 6, that would be six, years. As long as we ignore the first year. And last year. And if only I had some ham, I could have a ham sandwich, if only I had some bread.
My history may be a little vague but, by my calculation, President Bush served (let's see, carry the one, subtract, uh) eight years, didn't he?
I look forward to a defense of policies and actions that revolve around those missing two years. We can argue about what could or could not be reasonably anticipated, or what policies would have been reasonable, or what was inherited, and so on. But to simply exclude 2001 and 2008 from our vision? As if they never happened? Like they shouldn't count? At all?
I had a wonderful day beginning with my quick release from the emergency room after being poisoned at breakfast. Before I went into a coma following that unfortunate shellfish incident at dinner, things really looked up.
It was a great lunch. Please pass the salt. And the anthrax.
In response to T. Paine's
Watching Barack - More Fondly Remembering George W
Which makes me cranky because as far as I can see, he was always more interested in golf, baseball, and pretty much everything except the world of public affairs.
- Jonathan Bernstein, April 23, 2012
If you were to substitute basketball for baseball, that would very aptly describe our current president.
- T. Paine, April 24, 2012
I recently watched the remake of Pelham One Two Three. Again.
I liked the original a lot. Walter Matthau's Walter Garber captured some of what was then how I saw the quintessential New Yorker. He turns to someone he finds momentarily annoying and shouts "Hey, Willya?" His brief awkwardness with the still developing politically correct attitude toward racial tensions was one of several humanizing moments. He communicates repeatedly with a police inspector by radio. He finally meets Julius Harris in person and, discovering that he is black, can't hide his surprise. He says something like. "I didn't know you were ... so tall."
Garber as played by Denzel Washington is more vulnerable, I think. That makes him interesting. That also makes the Travolta character more menacing. His casual exploitation of Washington's impending corruption investigation added to his character. He was not only life-threatening, he was rude.
The final heartfelt thank you by the Mayor, James Gandolfini, toward the end was also a break from the cynicism the character carried in both versions. Both react to pressure. But Gandolfini's Mayor stumbles past the pro forma sort of thanks to something more human. We both know this is phony, he seems to communicate, so now let me tell you something from the heart. Making a politician human and likeable in a supporting role isn't that common, I think.
It's the human side of George Bush that I think Political Science professor and writer Jonathan Bernstein was reacting to, as was I. The prevailing image of George Bush is that of a personally incurious individual, incapable of introspection, not someone with much self-awareness. The lack of engagement is commonly ascribed to a lack of intelligence. Bernstein disagrees, and I find myself joining him.
This is not, I think, about public policy itself. It is about personal characteristics that go into Presidential performance.
Bernstein acknowledges that future historical research may disprove his central thesis, which he believes is based on little evidence. Bernstein suggests President Bush was uninterested in policy. He was engaged when it came to politics itself because it was kind of fun, but policy bored him. President Bush was intelligent and interested and engaged when it came to sports. He had memorized baseball scores going back to the 1950s. That was his passion. He was an expert. Not so much with governing.
I offered an anecdote to support him. In 2006, the decision to exclude baseball from Olympic sports prompted efforts to establish an alternative, to be called the World Baseball Classic. There were enormous difficulties, including very hard international foreign policy hurdles. The obstacles were so daunting, most folks gave up on the idea. President Bush took an interest and ended up taking over diplomatic negotiations. He got very creative about it and skillfully guided the effort through a complex maze.
George W. Bush could have been an effectively responsible President if he had taken the same interest in all areas.
Jonathan Bernstein is modest, I think, in imagining a lack of evidence to support his notion that President Bush put policy entirely into the hands of subordinates. Every President does that to some extent. But there is fairly solid evidence that George W. Bush went well past delegation to abdication of responsibility.
Three more anecdotal points come to mind that go beyond his loopy sort of public persona.
- On the cusp of invading Iraq, President Bush hosted a delegation of pro-invasion Iraqi exiles. One later offered a shocked report that President Bush lacked even the most rudimentary knowledge of the region, the policy, or religious differences involved.
al Qaeda was a Sunni group that had targeted and killed thousands of US civilians. They had also killed many more thousands of Shi'ite Muslims for worshiping in the wrong way. bin Laden hated Shi'ites. The divisions between Sunni and Shia parallel that of Protestants and Catholics for generations in Northern Ireland. It has often been bloody beyond easy comprehension.
al Qaeda also targeted many thousands of fellow Sunni Muslims for their insufficient hatred of Shi'ites. Lack of adequate militaristic commitment to the fight against apostates made for more apostates, and more targets.
President Bush, in his friendly meeting with that group of Iraqi supporters of invasion, was unaware even that there was more than one sect with the world community of Muslims. It was breathtaking ignorance.
- President Bush had no idea his administration was acting on voting rights.
A recent set of Supreme Court hearings has put into jeopardy a major voting rights law Congress renewed in 2006. Justice Antonin Scalia believes voting rights to be a form of racial preference, an odd view to those of us who think it is a basic right in a democracy.
In 2006, the Bush administration hesitated in supporting renewal of voting rights. It was a huge controversy. A very public debate was on.
Was it not unfair, conservatives asked, to assume that routine changes in voting regulations were suspect? America had moved beyond lynching, bombing, and assassination. Weren't the days of necessary voting rights enforcement also gone forever?
Liberals pointed to fledgeling efforts to restrict voting rights by imposing new identification requirements on top of old ones, disproportionately affecting non-drivers more of whom were minorities. Those voter suppression efforts have expanded in more recent times.
The controversy at the time roiled through public discourse. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. And civil rights leaders were angry that the Bush administration contemplated opposing renewal of voting rights.
President Bush greeted a delegation of Civil Rights advocates. They were surprised at his views. He didn't have any. He was completely unaware that there was any controversy. He didn't know his administration was considering a position on voting rights. He was only dimly aware that any renewal was to be voted on.
Voting Rights Act? What Voting Rights Act?
- In 2008, President Bush toured the country to drum up support for a proposal to privatize Social Security. His dim understanding of his own program became the topic of comedians.
It is possible that this all represented a sort of public awkwardness that did not match up with behind-the-scenes performance. I have made the case that this is true of Dan Quayle. There is little evidence of that at the moment in the case of President Bush.
I often confess an additional bias about President Bush that goes beyond public policy and personal performance. The chest thrust, the strut, the noble scanning into the distance as others spoke, and, of course, the smirk. That reaction on my part is irrational, but those things contribute to a discernible irritation.
It's not fair. I have tried to compensate for that.
We're not talking policy here. Katrina, the financial mess, war, war, war against the wrong people, hostility toward civil rights, and on and on. That is for another time.
We're talking about personal characteristics that contribute to, that are behind, competent performance.
I'm not seeing what contributes to a similar conservative bias about President Obama beyond policy itself. Policy disagreement can provoke anger, and does. But I can only guess what prompts the personal, primal, atavistic reaction: "aloof, corrupt, and opaque," "Let them eat cake," "arrogant and narcissistic," "fool." Even "divided the nation" seems weird. Conservatives are angry because conservatives are angry?
In 2009, Republicans invited President Obama to Maryland. The thought, reported off the record, was that he would be unprepared for a one-on-many discussion of policy. When Presidential aides asked if television cameras might be allowed, Republicans glommed onto it like piranhas. This would be fun.
Later, some Republicans complained that they had been ambushed. He took antagonistic questions, explained the questions, answered the questions, then explained how the answers disproved the antagonism. He made Republicans look kind of silly. His command of even remote policy analysis went way beyond that of his debaters. He was friendly and at ease, gently turning Republican bluster back on itself.
I struggle to see what personal mannerisms might parallel those of President Bush, provoking some irrational reaction that might match my own unfair reaction to that of President Bush. Is it the way Barack Obama walks? Does his posture suggest something juvenile? Does he gaze out nobly, scanning a distant horizon while some guest is talking at the podium? Does he scrunch up his face in mock sincerity? Does he slow way down to accentuate simple words as if his audience might need time to understand? Is there any Bushism in him at all?
What, then? Is it something else?
Well. I do think back to Walter Matthau, and his wonderful portrayal of Walter Garber.
I hate to say it. I even hate to think it. But there it is.
President Obama is, you know ... tall.
From Kyle Hill of Scientific American:
I hope that the father of the “modern Stone Age family” has thick skin, or else he is going to lose his legs.
Let’s put aside the fact that Fred Flintstone basically runs to work and therefore doesn’t really need his wheels (or that he would need the quads of a god to get them moving). What is much more interesting is the way he stops his caveman car.
- More -
In response to Burr Deming's
Bush Years - the Baseball Presidency
Which makes me cranky because as far as I can see, he was always more interested in golf, baseball, and pretty much everything except the world of public affairs.
- Jonathan Bernstein, April 23, 2012
as quoted by FairAndUnbalanced.com
If you were to substitute basketball for baseball, that would very aptly describe our current president. Oh, and I would also add domestic affairs and foreign policy to the end of that sentence.
The world is crumbling around us and our aloof, corrupt, and opaque president has basically said to the American people, “Let them eat cake”. Bush had some serious flaws, but in the contest of who is the worst president we have ever had, Obama has raced to the very bottom. Carter must be relieved that he no longer holds that honor.
The fact that this arrogant and narcissistic fool has seemingly intentionally further divided the nation, ignored and indeed buried terrorist acts of war such as Benghazi, while calling the Fort Hood terrorist a case of “work place violence”, and intentionally curbed and infringed on numerous constitutional rights for us should have been enough to have an overwhelming call for his impeachment. Of course the progressive ideologues will continue with their unabated agenda, while the low information voters remain ignorant to the liberties they are losing.
It is truly sad when as poor of a president as Bush was, Obama still makes me long for those days of George W.’s administration regardless.
T. Paine, a frequent and generous contributor, also writes for his own conservative site, where the occasional arrogant and narcissistic liberal fool is suffered with unfailing good cheer.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
The opening of the Presidential Library of George W. Bush draws commentary from Bloomberg's Daniel Drezner. Drezner has always held President Bush in what the late Everett Dirksen, in other contexts, called "minimal high regard." And there is mixed reaction to his mixed review.
Andrew Sullivan pulls, without comment, the concluding sentence:
At best, George W. Bush was a well-meaning man who gave the occasional nice speech and was thoroughly overmatched by events. At worst, he was the most disastrous foreign policy president of the post-1945 era. Am I missing anything?
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones Magazine objects, in a sort of backhanded way through agreement, to Drezner's faint praise.
First, he's been a great ex-president. For such a polarizing political figure, it's remarkable how successfully Bush has receded into private life.
Drum's reaction: "There's not much question that doing nothing puts Bush in his best light."
From George W. Bush, comes this comment about critics in general.
There's no need to defend myself.
Lot's of room for snide agreement there.
Jonathan Bernstein takes issue with the idea, presented by Drezner as a sort of aside, that the image of Bush may improve with time. Bernstein is irritated by the very idea of the Bush presidency itself. He thinks it was irresponsible of Republican officials to shepherd him through to the nomination:
Which makes me cranky because as far as I can see, he was always more interested in golf, baseball, and pretty much everything except the world of public affairs.
My own thought, sent on to Bernstein,is that President Bush could have been a very capable President. It was not a lack of intelligence, or some sort of negative savant incapability. I presented the best case I could just before his Presidency ended in the form of a post from years ago. It focused on one incident involving a connection between foreign policy, which seemed to bore our then President, and baseball, which was his passion.
Jonathan Bernstein responds with an endorsement:
That is a terrific post.
I'm sure I've said this here at some point, but Bush isn't just memorizing batting averages. I've heard him talk about baseball, and he sounds genuinely intelligent -- and I have a pretty high standard when it comes to sounding intelligent about baseball.
It is a generous reaction that has the virtue of being true.
The link will lead to the entire post. This was my original case, presented in May, 2008:
About 2½ years ago, baseball enthusiasts everywhere finally had their triumph. 16 teams from around the world would participate in an international playoff hosted by the United States. It would be a true World Series.
But there was one last major snag. Cuba had some of the best players in the universe, so they pretty much had to be included for the tourney to have any credibility. But our national law made it illegal for any event that would put US currency in the hands of Cuba. The International Baseball Federation said they would cancel the event if Cuba was kept out.
President George W. Bush is a great fan of Baseball. His mind is not attuned, shall we say, to public policy, but he has memorized batting averages back to the 1950s.
So our President intervened. He personally hammered out a solution with the State Department, the Justice Department, the US Treasury, the Cuban government, and organization officials. It got complicated, but President Bush kept negotiations going, and got it all settled. Cuba would play, and would agree in writing to donate all financial proceeds to Katrina victims. The event was a success and Japan came in first. A good time was had by all.
You ready for the point? President Bush proved he could be an effective President. He was not only NOT inept, he was positively … I dunno … ept? He just had to be mentally engaged.
- May 10, 2008
The country would have been better served had every policy been seen through the prism of some sort of baseball analogy. But you can't have everything. We have to be grateful for the blessings we did have.
After all, we survived.
The Second Amendment solution has made its way back into Republican rhetoric.
To be fair, the April newsletter of the Benton County Republican Party in Arkansas mostly talked about throwing out of office anyone who voted the wrong way, which is to say the conservative way, on Obamacare. It began with the busy session of the Arkansas legislature and how hard those representatives were working. But Obamacare had risen up.
The legislature approved the “private option” health plan with 75 percent majorities in both the Senate and House. It’s called the “private option” because it takes Medicaid dollars and uses them to purchase private health insurance for people whose yearly income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
This raised concerns:
I have deep seated concerns about this huge expansion of government and the differences of projections of costs to Arkansans with no assurance of better access nor improvement of health care.
From there, the emotional tone became more heated but, for the most part, went into political threats. That is democracy in action, no matter whether the temperature goes beyond what most activists might find comfortable. Threatening election prospects of politicians is what citizens are supposed to do.
There was one disturbing sentence. "I don’t feel the same way about the Democrats as bullet backstops as I do about the Republicans who joined them."
That was a little intemperate. In these days of casual killings of Colorado, Texas, and Virginia officials, as well as a classroom of little kids, an implication like that ought not to go unchecked. Still, the context was one of emotion. As in "I feel so angry I could just..." spit would have been better I suppose. Anything but language that could be taken as a threat.
Chris Nagy is not a Republican official. He is not elected to any GOP position. He is the husband of the county Republican Party secretary.
But his self described "scathing letter" was in the official newsletter of the county Republican Party. Hard to get around that.
The problem with rhetoric by a highly motivated political activist is the temptation toward extreme heat rather than light. Nagy was headed for danger with this. "Part of me feels that this betrayal deserves a quick implementation of my 2nd amendment rights to remove a threat domestic."
Then he dove right on in.
The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives. It seems that we are unable to muster that belief in any of our representatives on a state or federal level, but we have to have something, something costly, something that they will fear that we will use if they step out of line.
This was in the official newsletter of the Arkansas Benton County Republican Party.
Some bit of wisdom must have spoken softly inside Mr. Nagy's fevered brain. He acknowledged, with regret, that shooting RINOs, Republicans who had betrayed conservatism by voting to accept federal funds, is not a solution that is in reach. "Personally, I think a gun is quicker and more merciful, but hey, we can’t."
Well, at least we have that.
You can't make too much out of stray comments by some overwrought minor official. And it appears that the author does not have even that status. You have to take a breath when it appears in a publication issued by a political party. But there are a lot of counties out there, and you have to figure someone, somewhere, will put material out that will cross many lines.
As long as Republicans disown those sorts of comments, we might best let it go.
So what are the odds of a conservative uproar along the lines we would have seen a decade ago, when Republicans were far less extreme? What are the chances any national Republican will regard such official rhetoric to be exceptional enough to merit any comment at all?
Oh! There was a more positive note:
The newsletter also proudly announced that "Governor Nikki R. Haley from South Carolina will be our guest speaker at our Lincoln Day Dinner Event"
How generous of the governor to lend her support to such a organization.
Listen As You Go -
Bombing Suspect Killed, Bombing Suspect Hunted Down - Click for Podcast
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, April 21, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
Sunday Message: St. Mark's Mini School
What is our reward when we give of ourselves?
How do we profit from a time of teaching?
What compensation are we given for care?
What payment for kindness?
Each recognition of human worth,
saying a word, helping a friend, teaching a child,
each act of compassion,
sends out a ripple of hope.
Each wave of hope carries a vision.
When we see a child's success
in reading a story,
when we experience a smile of triumph in math,
when children play, when they learn,
we see a brighter future beyond ourselves.
We catch a glimpse of the mountaintop.
We have a newer faith in the promised land.
And we know God's kingdom is now.
Joe Hagstrom at Mad Mike's America is more than a little impatient with discussion, rights, negotiation, or any other internal hesitation about making home countries of terrorists glow in the dark. Sometimes venting can be a palliative.
James Wigderson finds a way to explain to a young children how evil can plague the world. He eloquently bears witness to similar efforts in homes everywhere. It is an important message of helpless wisdom. The only thing harder than being a parent is being a kid.
Infidel 753 reviews speculative, defensive, accusatory reactions to initial lack of information. Some folks can't let a blank page wait. If necessary a dedicated extremist can find substitutes for actual facts.
Chuck Thinks Right is back (YAY_Y_Y_Y) briefly with something truly important, along with a lesson on how to blame a President for not curing a Republican near depression more quickly. Sadly, some criticism of the lack of an instant cure for economic cancer is not well considered. Fortunately, Americans chose not to respond by voting for the cancer.
Ryan at Secular Ethics promises to reprise a traditional, interesting, debate about the existence of Hell. One avenue, that of the threat eternal fire as a motivation for good, was also a topic here, here, and here a while back.
Chris Clarke, writing for Pharyngula, takes us to a small college with an unexpected way of addressing sexual assault and rape. They firmly and apologetically go after the victims for reporting the rapes.
The paralysis of analysis sometimes catches the highly creative. Vincent of A wayfarer's notes dares that trap to close. You can either talk about creativity or you can be creative. Vincent, surprisingly, manages to do both as he talks about the purpose and direction of his writing. Philosophy, scripture, and Richard Dawkins, all have a part. Vincent is amazing.
Sent by a close relative:
They killed one of the bombers and are now hunting down the second one like a dog. They felt like great men when they were blowing little kids legs off. Bet they don't feel so great now.
The fact that there are two suspects makes the Boston bombing a crime resulting from conspiracy. It also makes it less likely the result of some private grudge on the order of the recently hunted and slain police murderer in California, more likely the product of ideologically motivated terrorism.
Today is the anniversary of the first Boston Marathon, a testament to community tradition, the desire of people to belong to, and to include others in, a shared event.
Today is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a testament to the human capacity to dismiss the value of fellow mortals, brothers and sisters, as subordinate to an ideological ideal.
The accidental images of the apparent bombers in videos taken at the Marathon bombings are striking in their casual stroll out of sight. The seeming absence of inner hesitation connects one act of terrorism to others. There is a common membership in a denomination of one shared value.
The complete commitment to an ideal, a perverse purity of spirit, results in a disregard of mere individuals. It goes from a hidden headquarters in Abbottabad to those hiding in bushes during the bombing of a church in Birmingham to the pubs of plotters of countless acts of violence in Belfast. It goes through human history.
It is a twisted communion of blood and flesh, that of random innocents offered in sacrifice to ideology.
It comes from that most dangerous of creatures: those humans who know that God is on their side.
One marathon murder suspect is dead. A second is on the run.
There is hope this one horrible incident of humanity gone wrong, mitigated by so many heroic incidents of humanity gone right, is coming to its close.
History tells us such souls, captured by ever higher visions, will always be with us.
Conservatives across the nation are high fiving over a five minute congressional presentation.
Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) aggressively questioned witnesses in committee about voting laws this week, according to reports. But the news carried on various conservative sites was less about aggressive questions than an aggressive defense of additional Photo ID requirements that South Carolina and other states are putting into place, requirements that will restrict minority voting.
The argument has been going on for a while. Republicans can point to long lines, new laws essentially requiring those voters who do not have drivers licenses; bus and metro riders, students, retirees; essentially to register twice. In Virginia, they will be required to register three times, since newly required Photo IDs they have already gotten have recently been replaced with yet newer, newly required, Photo IDs.
By federal law, the new IDs have to be available and people can't be charged a fee for them. Charging for voting was a common means of keeping "undesirables" from participating in elections in the old south during civil rights struggles. The practice was outlawed. But that doesn't stop states from tossing up a few non-financial roadblocks.
Some states, like Texas and Ohio, combined the new requirements with actions to make it harder to apply for new Photo IDs. Making bus riders travel to less accessible points has been one tactic. Offices in certain areas were suddenly closed. Hours in other offices were restricted. State employees were ordered to refrain from giving directions to remaining offices issuing the new IDs.
The ostensible purpose of all this is to prevent voter fraud. In fact, so little election fraud involves voters it is difficult to find genuine cases of it actually happening. That is because penalties are high, too many people have to be involved in any effort to steal elections with illegitimate voters showing up to vote, and it is easy to get caught. Election stealing happens with creative new ways to fix vote tallies, fiddle with counts, or stuff ballot boxes. None of what works in stealing elections involves voters. It can't.
The wink, nod, and nudge purpose occasionally gets mentioned. It is to make it harder for people to vote if they are more likely to vote for the wrong candidates.
So the Justice Department frequently gets involved. Civil Rights era laws to guarantee voting rights targeted certain areas that actively kept minorities from voting. Conservatives nodded in agreement when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called voting rights a "perpetuation of racial entitlement".
Which brings us to Representative Trey Gowdy. There were glowing reports in conservative media of his attack on federal supervision. Conservative Noah Rothman of Mediaite offered one of the best, most articulate, of the adoring reports. The headline was "South Carolina GOP Rep. Eviscerates Claims That Voter ID Laws Are Racist During Hearing" which is a pretty good indication of the enthusiastic tone of the report. And sure enough, the key sentence in the introductory paragraph read thusly:
In the space of five minutes, Gowdy knocked down the claims, one by one, that a voter ID law passed in South Carolina in 2011 discriminated against African-Americans or was dissimilar to laws the Justice Department had cleared in a variety of other states.
Wow. All that in just five minutes.
That five minutes was indeed a condensed version of the points conservatives have been offering for restricting voting.
The laws can't be racist because minority lawmakers still get elected. In fact some conservatives lawmakers from mostly white areas are black. Gowdy pointed to two representatives from South Carolina to prove his point: one liberal, the other conservative. The governor is also of minority descent.
The new laws provide photo IDs without cost, which makes them easier to get.
Other parts of the country restrict voting, so its unfair to force South Carolina to allow its citizens to vote.
- The percentage of black citizens who will not be allowed to vote is only 1.6 percent more than white citizens who will not be allowed to vote.
Perhaps conservatives can forgive this weary, aging, liberal Democrat for finding these to be tired old arguments that have been so often discredited, seeing them again is like watching last season's episode of The Walking Dead.
The whole point of gerrymandering is to to push most opposing voters into as few as possible highly concentrated districts so they will elect fewer opposing lawmakers. It's been going on for a very long time. When carried to excess it becomes illegal. It is an interesting phenomenon, one worthy of debate. But it is a separate issue.
The willingness of white conservatives to elect black conservatives speaks well of some aspects of the evolution of conservatism. Similar non-racist credentials are sometimes offered on this site by conservative friends: "I have voted for both Alan Keyes and Herman Cain in the past." I have no doubt Mr. Gowdy and other conservatives also have black friends.
It is difficult to see how any of that can be offered as a reason for making it harder for legitimate voters to vote. We won't let you vote, but don't worry, we'll elect people of a race different from our own but who agree with our views. Now go away, take the bus home, and let us vote in your place.
Does the success of some other regions in voting obstruction make it right? Most mothers of small children would reject that logic. The kid down the street beats up his little brother. Why can't I beat up my little brother?
The statistical argument is striking to me. It may be a telling argument to the mind of Representative Gowdy and to many conservatives that most black people know how to drive, that most black people own automobiles, and that most even have drivers licenses. The issue is that non-drivers are targeted for this special treatment. Anyone who guesses why they are targeted gets to stay after class and help clean the erasers.
It is an accident of income distribution that, of those who do use public transportation to commute to work, a disproportionate number are racial and ethnic minorities. The motivation of Republicans, as expressed in a occasional public statements and exposed in more private memos, is mostly motivated by political considerations. Representative Gowdy is making use of a state calculation that 8.4 percent of potential white voters don't have drivers licenses, and 10 percent of non-white voters don't. So, yes, the difference is 1.6 percent. What that would mean is that minority voters would be 16 percent more likely not to have the new Photo IDs.
One problem with Gowdy's calculation is that it is based on incomplete data (pdf). He is playing with numbers. He is quoting a state calculation that left out inactive voters, voters who had not voted in the last election. It may be my overactive liberal imagination, but I have to ask why the state of South Carolina, arguing the legal case in favor of new restrictive laws, would take the step of leaving that information out?
The arguments some conservatives are celebrating are arguments that those with rational, honest minds have to blush over when the cameras are off.
In point of fact, real live people are being obstructed from rights many others have died to ensure. Those rights were bought in blood, paid for with a history of bodies decorating tree limbs, final resting places hidden in swamps and earthen dams, church bombings, and occasional driveway shootings.
The plain truth is that conservatives are losing the public debate on policy. So some are tempted to make up their voting deficit by sabotaging democracy.
Those who do not oppose voting obstruction on principle have to be lacking the requisite principle.
Chaos theory, where order of sorts comes out of chaotic randomness when examined from afar, sometimes uses the butterfly analogy. A butterfly flaps its wings in South America and a tornado eventually clobbers Texas and carries away Governor Rick Perry over the rainbow into Oz. Okay, I made up the governor part. Oz, of course, is real.
In actual life, the tornado misses Texas, blows up the butterfly into a great Vishnu butterfly, the destroyer of worlds, which then attacks Europe.
Here's how it works.
A lot of misery has come from austerity policies in Europe. The reasoning is highly mathematical and more than a little complex. As translated into something approaching standard English it sounds something like this:
No pain, no gain. Suffering now will result in good things later. Life teaches the more mature among us that delayed gratification, immediate sacrifice, brings later rewards.
The countries whose citizens are suffering brought it on themselves. There is an element of simple morality involved. Living large results in large payment.
- Math. You can't keep spending and not paying. What goes out must be replaced. Somthing goes out, something must come in. Economic Karma
It's all very intuitive. And it goes back beyond the memory of anyone who still dwells within this mortal coil. Living within our means, government tightening its belt like families do when times are hard, pay as you go, were ideas advanced as much during the roaring twenties as they are today.
This common sense logic was crushed over 80 years ago, at least for a while, by the bitter hardship of the Great Depression. Economist John Maynard Keynes introduced a new, complicated, counter-sensical economic model. Liquidity, monetary policy, different levels of money supply, macro-economics, came to be respected, if not understood by ordinary minds: Anything to get out of Hoovervilles and back into happy days.
Essentially, Keynes said, government is not a family.
A family will cut back during hard times because it is necessary for survival. This tends to contribute to a general spiral into poverty. Not spending means someone is not earning. But we do what we must. Families have a greater duty to survival than they do to the microscopic betterment of the financial condition of the nation.
A government is much larger, and the effect of government is much larger. As Peter Parker teaches us (we draw on anything to make a point), with great power comes great responsibility. Families have no responsibility to raise the financial well being of the nation. Government does.
What it comes down to is this:
Deficits are good during hard times. When families are tightening their belts, partly at the expense of other families, government should spend much more than it is taking in.
- Deficits during hard times should be paid back during good times. That's when financial winter is over, and economic summer comes to us, and the living is easy, and fish are jumping, and the cotton is high, and families are spending more because they have more to spend. That's when government should look for surplus. Payback time isn't so hard when your daddy's rich and your momma's good looking.
It's a lot more technical than all that. The sidewalk version will do for now. It did not seem to fit everyday experience. It did fit the evidence, and worked just about everywhere.
But people forget. The depression has faded into forgotten history books. Common sense is coming back to fore and all that evidence and data is taking a back seat.
And Europe has the euro. Two decades ago (okay 21 years ago), a dozen and a half countries (okay 17 countries) pooled their currencies into one huge bloc. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it meant that the countries had to give up a lot of decision-making.
Those who manage the euro decided that it was time to pull the plug on the good times, especially since hard times seemed to be upon us. Countries had been spending too much and taxing themselves too little. Financial crisis seemed to be the order of the day.
Time for a bit of belt tightening. The belt tightening started a slide into hardship. So it was time for a whole lot of belt tightening.
This wasn't done entirely as a result of yahoo-ism. A bunch of economists didn't just get together and throw out 80 years of study for what seemed like a good idea to their buddies at the local bar. There was seminal research that yielded an important piece of knowledge. The research was called "Growth in a time of debt" and it was packed with numbers within numbers.
A ton of wisdom there. It involved research on country after country, 20 countries in all. There was a commonality. When the debt of a country went to about 90 percent of annual Gross Domestic Product, horrible things began to happen. Economic growth fell by as much as half.
The authors were Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. These folks are big wheels, very big wheels, in economics. Rogoff is a Harvard professor, a former International Monetary Fund official, and the Chief Economist of the World Bank. Reinhart is a contributing member of so many prestigious economic research groups it must be a nightmare to organize the plaques on her walls.
So economists all over Europe were in awe. And they put in their austerity program, horrible hardship and all. Anything to keep government debt way below that 90%.
Paul Ryan used the study to advance his version of austerity for the United States, proposing to end Social Security as we know it and turn Medicare into a voucher program. Not taxing the rich, of course. Can't carry austerity too far.
There were some mainstream Keynesian economists, like Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who saw some holes. One thing they noticed was that countries with their own currency didn't seem to hit a wall at 90 percent. There may be a practical ceiling, but it is, as yet, undiscovered.
But for the dozen and a half countries in the eurozone (okay, 17 countries) austerity became the policy, whether those countries or their citizens wanted it or not. And make no mistake, many of those countries were pushed by the new policy into the middle of a not quite Great Depression. It isn't the biblical epic of the 1930s, but it is really, really hard. Really hard. Sell apples on street corners and rummage through dumpsters type hard.
And here is the semi-stunning news.
Some researchers were doing a little fact checking in a book published this year by Kenneth Rogoff, one of the authors of the debt-is-very-bad study. Things weren't quite adding up. So they went back and got the shock of their economic theorizing lives. It was the academic equivalent of finding air-tight proof that stars are little points of sparkle painted on a gigantic roof in the sky. It was world-inside-out stunning on stunning steroids.
They found mistakes in the original Reinhart-Rogoff study, the study the whole euro austerity you'd-better-eat-dirt-and-like-it program is largely based on. These were not little rounding errors, either.
The original research left out major time-spans when debt was high and growth was phenomenal. And the calculations counted times of low growth much, much, more heavily than other times.
And here is the stunner that combines the previous stunners into a mere semi-stunner.
Reinhart and Rogoff apparently didn't hit the recalculate button in the Excel spreadsheet they used to produce their complicated thesis. Their figures were fantastically wrong due to a recalculation error.
Kevin Drum calls it the "Excel Error Heard Round the World." Some egghead forgets to punch a computer key, and a continent of people goes into years of mini-Depression.
A butterfly flaps its wings and half of Europe gets eaten alive.