You may notice several prodigal writers, excellent and provocative, who have re-appeared on the web, joining those of us who have missed them.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite credits Bill O'Reilly for admitting he screwed up. But others continue to insist there were no Republicans at the I-have-a-dream anniversary because none were invited. Tommy reviews the facts and asks why Republicans themselves cannot accept responsibility for refusing their individual invitations. Seems an obvious question.
What if, what if. Max's Dad contemplates the conservative should-have-been world in which the April, 1968 assassination did not occur and Martin Luther King lived on to become a right wing Republican. For some reason, Max's Dad is skeptical.
Speaking of which - - Conservative T. Paine is back for a bit at Saving Common Sense (Yay-y-y-y!) He explains how Barack Obama is emblematic of the failure of America to measure up to Dr. King's dream, because he has so miserably disappointed conservatives. T. Paine is, as I see it, correct in a way. The reaction of conservatives does represent some failure to measure up.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster celebrates a victory for the independent voter movement, in part as a significant advance of black rights in South Carolina . I dunno. I'm thinking that conservative sponsorship of voter suppression, deliberately making it harder for targeted people to vote may have a larger impact.
Ryan at Secular Ethics examines the reasoning presented by Rush Limbaugh for his religion based disbelief in Climate Change.
Conservative James Wigderson continues his annoying habit of thoughtful commentary. Republicans are pushing for a law to make English the official language of Wisconsin. James suggests it's not a good idea to pass a law whose only apparent purpose is to annoy minorities.
Dave Dubya is back (Yay-y-y-y-y beyond Yay-y-y-y-y) with a weird theory that, despite the valuable lessons conservatives have taught to a grateful nation, there is a difference between corporations and people. Odd fellow, but we should be glad he's with us, despite being ... you know ... human.
The Heathen Republican is back (Yay-y-y-y-y). He repeats a common argument, with a new twist, against increasing minimum wage. A low wage employer offers to bet the job of any employee on whether he can't get lots of applicants at minimum wage. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the case protesting employees are making. In fact it has been the argument of collective bargaining for over a century and a half. The market for an individual job is not a good measurement of what is fair. There are intelligent arguments against minimum wage. If Heathen digs just a little, he will find them. This snide Romney-on-the-cheap bet ("How about it? Ten thousand bucks?") isn't it. My take is here.
Gwendolyn Barry with New Global Myth is back (Yay-y-y-y-y-y-y Plus!). She suggests, based on a source in the Russian government, that the chemical attack in Syria was launched from rebel held territory. That sounds slightly more plausible than her conclusion: that the Obama administration is covering up the true source. Seems to me the administration has been hoping and praying the Assad regime didn't do it.
Gwendolyn's theories are at least on this side of sanity. News Corpse brings us the musings of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who discerns a clear connection between Syria and Obamacare. This isn't tail wags the dog. This is tail wags all six degrees and shakes Kevin Bacon.
Mad Mike's America explores whether hell hath fury like a tyrant scorned, as the former girlfriend of North Korea's dictator is executed.
- Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot is entertaining and informative as usual. He explains the history and development of air crash survival techniques.
I have a dim, long ago memory of befriending a kid everyone else avoided. He liked to play with dolls. He played with dolls right out on the sidewalk in front of his house. The other kids thought it was weird, weird enough so they didn't want anything to do with him.
I don't remember any reaction from other kids to my stopping by to talk with him as he played. He wasn't overly appreciative. He accepted conversation the same way he accepted isolation. It seemed to be a part of life.
I didn't know, of course, I still don't, what inner reactions he had. It wasn't anything I thought about at the time. It all seemed unremarkable to me, so I probably kind of assumed without thinking about it that it was unremarkable to him.
Today, I don't even recall his name.
Things have changed since then. Our unexamined bigotry toward gay people was just part of the air in those days. We didn't need Anita Bryant to tell us homosexuals were perverts. We just knew it. Girls were girls and boys were boys and both were mean as hell when it came to some hidden forms of sexuality.
I hadn't thought about my nameless friend for many, many years. Today, my memory gives me only a brief glance at that part of my youth: stopping by each day to talk with the kid nobody else would talk with.
The Democratic candidate for the United States Senate from New Jersey is Cory Booker. He is Mayor of Newark during his spare time. His full time job is superhero. The hyperbole is slight.
He has been out helping crews shovel snow, he has rescued folks during major storms. He has delivered food to those stranded without food. He even ran into a burning building to save a woman when firefighters had not yet arrived. He was treated for burns and smoke inhalation. On another occasion he was there on a wintry night to save a shivering little puppy that had escaped while his owners were out for the night.
The rumors have been pretty subdued for a long time. Now they're out in the open.
Cory Booker is not married and has never announced a girlfriend. He doesn't smoke or drink. He's a vegetarian. So naturally, rumors began that Cory Booker is gay.
His response was perfect. "What does it matter if I am?"
His Republican opponent is old school, and reflects the position of the national party. Steve Lonegan thinks Cory's refusal to answer "is kind of weird." He insists that sexual orientation does not matter to him. Then he disproves that:
As a guy, I personally like being a guy. I don't know if you saw the stories last year. They've been out for quite a bit about how he likes to go out at 3 o'clock in the morning for a manicure and a pedicure ... I don't like going out in the middle of the night, or any time of the day, for a manicure and pedicure. It was described as his peculiar fetish ... I have a more peculiar fetish. I like a good Scotch and a cigar. That's my fetish but we'll just compare the two.
- Steve Lonegan, August 27, 2013
I heard the quote yesterday on a morning talk show. "So," said one television personality, "do you want to get together later for a good Scotch and a seegar?" A guest deepened his voice dramatically and answered "I'll meet ya out back at the grill."
Times are changing. State laws are being overturned by legislatures and popular referendum. The IRS yesterday announced that same sex married couples can claim the same tax levels as other married couples.
Most of all, popular opinion is surging toward equality and acceptance. Conservative opinion lags, but everyone excepts that.
It can be tough for a political candidate to gauge public reaction after a primary. A line that elicits applause at an afternoon Republican garden gathering can be regarded as rancid by the general electorate.
And, there are the sad lessons of youth. Those of us who have reached a certain age can look within ourselves to understand the twisting in the human soul of an upbringing in the epicenter of bigotry.
Steve Lonegan answers, as do most of us in some degree, to a call from a past that can now be seen, at least by those of us who care to look, as disturbingly ugly.
The hapless Republican candidate has yet to respond to the other rumor about the mayor of Newark, the mayor who races into fiery buildings to save people.
It seems nobody has seen Cory Booker and Superman at the same time.
Listening last night to an old newsreel of Martin Luther King's Dream Speech, I was struck by the distance traveled. It has not been a journey of uninterrupted progress. In fact, progress has been slow and hard.
The time cannot be measured only in years. Apart from the chronology of half a century, it is measured in tears, tragedy, injustice, and disappointment. It is measured in heroes who rose to lead, and were then so brutally taken from us.
Many of the old hatreds survive. For some of our brothers and sisters, racial injustice is thought of as no more than an opportunity for denial (I voted for a black candidate once) or attack (The real racists are those who use the race card). Who can put forth the most telling insults?
Some of those efforts collapse inward in a crude mimicry of an old comedy routine.
In theatre, a patient explains the absurd series of circumstances that led to his committal in an institution. As he reels off the unfortunate alignment of what otherwise would have been common happenstance, we begin to see how he may have fallen into a bizarre circumstance of misunderstandings. Our hero listens, and becomes outraged by the accidental injustice. We in the audience join in his indignation. Then the patient wraps up his story by explaining how it all was a secret plot by Xylons from outer space.
We in the audience laugh at the reaction of the protagonist, and at our own surprise.
A CPAC conclave includes a presentation entitled, "Trump the Race Card: Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You're Not One?"
As the discussion by those who know they are not racists proceeds, the room reaches a consensus. Slaves should have been grateful for the free food and lodging provided by their owners. A black woman who objects to the direction of the discussion is alone. Not one voice joins her, while many hoot at her objection.
Why do we in the audience not laugh?
In part, it is because the fact of slavery still sears. In part it is because the punchline is frayed, worn out with use. The joke has been repeated in too many variations. Without surprise, the humor falls flat.
Not all racial injustice is accompanied by a set of villains. Some inequity is structural. A lack of access to the informal personal networking that often wins employment puts minorities at a serious economic disadvantage.
But more active efforts remain - denial of job interviews to applicants whose names strike the ear as too ethnic; deliberate obstacles to voting; black customers in clothing stores, no matter how distinguished or well dressed, followed by suspicious clerks; traffic stops for mysterious reasons. A vast accumulation of little indignities are occasionally punctuated by something significant.
Some attitudes are transparent, even if they are not clear to those who hold them. Many conservatives contrive a list of policy grievances against a black President that are a little too flexible. It becomes apparent that they do not hate him because they oppose his policies. They oppose his policies because they hate him. It is a fact of life that would be discernible even without the papers-please birther issues, racist picket signs, and an interruption of "liar" during a speech before Congress.
There is a low-key environment of agreement at work in such incidents. The quiet acquiescence of conservative leaders is a silent, unifying scream.
What other leader, after expressing sympathy toward a family that lost a teenager to a gunman, would be required by some to balance that sympathy with similar expressions to other victims? Trayvon Martin reminds the President of himself as a youngster? How about a white victim of black violence, a visiting young Australian scholar in Oklahoma?
Explain that authorities acted promptly in one case and did not initially act at all in the other and that that explains it all. Does anyone remember any protests after the killing of Jordan Davis, whose white killer was arrested right away? How many of us will recognize the name?
Express the additional hurt that official indifference inflicts. Point out that the President did indeed express public condolences to the family of Chris Lane. To those whose primary concern in a murder is the balance of a racial scorecard, it will not even matter that their score is blurred - not all of the attackers were black. Why should the race of the attackers matter when authorities act promptly and properly?
Those who are sufficiently goaded will occasionally confess some non-policy malevolence that goes beyond any specific action. The first African-American President is, after all, arrogant.
That word "arrogant" is an adjective of interest. It comes up often. Arrogance, for most of us, involves self-importance. It connects with presumptuous claims. We see in our minds some person with an inflated sense of his place in our world.
And many of us have a familiarity with the cultural context surrounding that judgment. We can easily anticipate who among us will stand accused of not knowing his place. And we sometimes can form our own judgment of the accusers, those who will never acknowledge that one specific President's place - in the White House - is deserved.
The fact that the fiftieth anniversary of the Dream Speech by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was marked, in part, by the first African-American President says something good about that dream. It says something wholesome about our nation.
We should acknowledge that.
We should acknowledge more:
that it does not say enough.
I stopped because I had the impression she wanted to speak to me or shake my hand. And as I moved to either shake hands or speak to her I then noticed the gun...
- President Gerald R. Ford, in Testimony, November 1, 1975
Courtroom testimony is rarely dramatic. Drama is the province of television. To some extent, the arid examination of minutia is deliberate. Justice is supposed to be dispassionate, devoid of emotion. Statues of Justice may be in states of dress that would embarrass the current Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, but the blindfold is always in place. Justice is blind.
You can now run a video tape of President Ford deposed about one of two assassination attempts and get a good start on a sound nap. The President repeats his basic story several times. It isn't a long story. It is almost 8 minutes into the tape before he gets to the moment of maximum danger. He manages to get to it again 7 minutes later.
Amazing how uninteresting things can get in slow motion when the facts are already clear.
Squeaky Fromme, having lost her part in the Manson Family, got a gun, got into a crowd, got close, and tried to kill the President. The Secret Service kept her from doing it. One agent in particular put her on the ground in a hurry. The agent is a hero.
The testimony came about a week after a second attempt on President Ford's life.
In that case a second woman was about 40 feet away, about the length of a good sized room. She had bought a gun just that morning. As she took aim, the Secret Service and the police around the President did not see her in time. But a civilian did. Oliver Sipple dove for the would-be assassin. He managed to grab her arm just as she fired. The bullet missed.
The man was a combat veteran, wounded as a Marine in Vietnam. The wounds were serious and he had been in and out of hospital treatment in the months leading up to saving the life of the President.
News organizations soon surged after him. He was hounded for interviews. Every reporter wanted to know all about the new hero who had jumped into danger. Oliver Sipple had just one request. He was gay, known in some circles. Reporters had quickly found out. He requested reporters to please not mention it.
Naturally, media organizations put his sexual orientation in banner headlines. And that's how the family of the man who saved the President found out. Even his mother refused to speak to him for years after that. She and his dad eventually came around.
He sued a number of media groups for invasion of privacy. News organizations argued that, as a public person, he had no right to privacy. The fact that he had risked his life to save that of the President had made him a public person, fair game. Courts eventually agreed.
Freedom of the Press, you know.
He deteriorated in the years after his unwanted time in the public eye. He died young. His body was found in a bed in a low rent apartment in San Francisco.
I was thinking about the tragic Mr. Sipple as I read about the man who saved the life of Representative Gabby Giffords in that terrible shooting in Arizona. He applied emergency medical treatment until help arrived, then stayed with her to the hospital.
Daniel Hernandez later became a member of the local school board. He eventually voted against a candidate for the job of Superintendent because of tax and credit problems and a whole lot of unpaid traffic fines. Other board members were divided on whether to take a chance on the fellow. It was all pretty controversial.
Pretty much every member on both sides got a lot of opposition. Everyone has ended up in a recall election. Hernandez is different. Handbills and flyers are being distributed that attack him for being gay and for voting to keep guns out of schools:
Put a REAL Man on the Sunnyside Board
Daniel Hernandez is LGBT
- We need someone who will support Sports and cares about our kids. We don’t need someone who hates our values.
Times have changed. A gay hero amid an assassination attempt is no longer likely to beg the press not to let his parents know. The bigot inspired campaign against Daniel Hernandez is likely to fail.
But the Sipple incident is cautionary for a different reason. Back in those days, reporters got self-righteous about the People's Right to Know. In fact, PRK became a bit of a cliche.
Demolish a young man's privacy? PRK. No good deed-doer goes undestroyed.
Today, the cliche is seldom heard. News people don't bother with anything so ethereal.
When reporters found out about a secret agent the British had smuggled into al Qaeda, there was not a whimper from media outlets as those reporters exposed his existence.
When another reporter published the fact that the US had a secret source high up in the ranks of North Korea's military, there was no hesitation in blowing that cover.
There is plenty of outcry about efforts by law enforcement to catch government workers who handed out classified information to reporters about anti-terrorist spies. For some reason, that outcry no longer includes the old, valid, cliche.
The New York Times is concerned about the "chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers..."
Chuck Todd explains his outrage to a national audience. His job will be much harder because those who might otherwise illegally reveal the existence of secret agents will become uncomfortable: "I’ve had different conversations with people over the last week who are sitting there not quite comfortable having certain conversations on the phone."
The CEO of Associated Press is not just displeased, he is positively displeased because of his rights and those of his organization. "I can tell you we are positively displeased and we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated."
Forget the People's Right to Know. The rights of reporters are at stake. Their job is made harder if their sources face penalties for leaking information about agents and sources.
Look. Freedom of the Press is sacrosanct. It should be. When presses are closed down and reporters are arrested, we should start to get concerned. When legal actions are taken we should be aware of the issues that are at stake.
In one of my favorite television programs, a White House Official applies pressure and obtains press credentials for a Russian reporter. He hands the reporter the valuable credentials and explains why it has taken so long, why the Russians had to be pressured so hard.
"It's because I don't flatter them," says the reporter.
"No," says the official who has done his homework, "it's because you stink."
Freedom of the Press includes freedom to do some crummy immoral things. That freedom should still be defended. Freedom only to do the right thing is no freedom at all.
But when it comes to exposing secret agents in terrorist organizations, or endangering high level sources in a dictatorship, let's at least have the grace to avoid the furthest extremes of thundering righteousness.
When it comes to Marine combat veteran Oliver Sipple, found dead in his apartment at age 47, can we at least pause long enough to experience some degree of profound shame?
Who do you think is more responsible for the Communist takeover of mainland China, President Harry S. Truman or Senator Joe McCarthy?
- Harry S. Truman
- Joe McCarthy
- Don't know
If that sounds like a loaded question, you're thinking too mildly. It's a Guns-of-Navarone question. The type of thing Fox News would have asked in the mid-1950s of Democrats, just to show how stupid Democrats might be.
If you say Harry S Truman, you're agreeing with the common conservative slur against Democrats - that they "lost" China.
Fox Headline -
"Even Democrats blame Democrats"
If you say "Don't Know" you are confessing ignorance.
Fox Headline -
"Most Democrats Confess Ignorance of Recent History"
If you say "Joe McCarthy" because you don't much care for the foremost antagonist of political freedom, you are venturing into the absurd.
Fox Headline -
"Most Democrats Actually Believe Joe McCarthy Lost China - HaHaHa"
The only responsible answer to your friendly neighborhood pollster would be "Get the hell out of my house!"
A reasonable person, which is to say me, will have a pretty fixed opinion about the Katrina tragedy. It was a gawdawful mess.
It happened during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
The head of FEMA, the person directly in charge of federal rescue efforts, is revealed by contemporaneous memos to have been more concerned with his television image than with the lives being lost in Louisiana.
A friend, a Democrat who hadn't voted for a Democratic nominee for President in decades, remarked about the role race might have played. He speculated that rescue efforts might have accelerated had those stranded in the Superdome had been white cheerleaders.
It seems obvious to me, to most people, that President Bush carried responsibility for the horrible response to the disaster. We tend to forget that this is not an immutable fact. It is quite possible, with some mental strain, to see other culprits. The Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana come to mind.
So the recent poll, August 2013, by Public Policy Polling may have been a tad unfair.
Here is the question they asked, and the responses.
Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?
- George W. Bush 28% - Barack Obama 29% - Not sure 44%
If you were a conservative Republican, tired of hearing George W. Bush slammed by the lamestream media, hating Obama for being so arrogant as to think of himself as Presidential, how could you answer?
If you were a conservative Republican, who blamed other officials, steamed at their dithering as the winds grew, refusing to evacuate or even issue warnings until it was too late. If you thought the last legitimate President was unjustly blamed fsor it all, how could you answer?
44 percent said they weren't sure. That seems fair to me, if that was the only answer approaching none-of-the-above.
28 percent swallowed hard and said it was President Bush.
29 percent got good and mad and said "President" Obama.
Perhaps some portion of that 29%, maybe most, maybe all, really think President Obama traveled backward in time and failed to organize FEMA years before he became President. But you can't demonstrate it when you ask such a question with only those choices.
It was more than a bad poll.
It was a mean spirited poll, designed specifically to make Republicans look stupid.
The New York Daily News managed significant ink before even getting to the story itself. Their headline:
Newspapers around the country, for example the Salt Lake Tribune:
Even the often absurdly middle of the bird Mediaite:
And of course, me, last week:
More Republicans in Louisiana improbably blame President Obama for mishandling the Katrina rescue during the Bush Presidency than blame President Bush himself.
- Burr Deming, Fair and UNbalanced, August 22, 2013
I plead ignorance, up to a point. I should have checked. I apologize for implying that the poll demonstrates a lack of intelligence on the part of Republicans.
Mea Minima Culpa, actually.
After all, President Bush really was responsible.
Everyone should know that, right?
Our thanks to reader BS, who writes:
Everyone has heard Anderson's Christmas Festival. If you watch and listen to the following piece it will help you remember who Leroy Anderson is and appreciate his contribution to American Music.
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was an American composer of short, light concert pieces; many of which were introduced by the Boston Pops Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Fiedler. As with all his other compositions, Leroy Anderson wrote The Typewriter for orchestra, completing the work on October 9, 1950.
This particular orchestration was performed in a June 12, 2011 concert by members of the National Orchestra and Chorus of Spain in Madrid. The (typewriter) soloist is Alfredo Anaya. Watch his expressions and actions throughout the video...wonderful!
Many of the younger crowd-- who may see this video--won't remember the old typewriter. But us geezers remember it well!
Tell me if you don't find this rendition absolutely delightful.
Its how my mind works as the aging process takes hold.
Seeing photos of a grinning George Zimmerman touring an arms manufacturing plant connects to the tough, hard hitting Hannity interview.
Hannity: Do you remember when you thought, "I may die"?
It reminded me of another interview from a year ago. The director of The French Connection, William Friedkin, was interviewed in the same fawning sort of way. Among the hard hitting questions was this:
With your films I notice you do your best to present your characters with an extreme level of honesty. What is your approach to character presentation in terms of getting the audience to see them for who they are?
Friedkin was on the attack about the ratings one of his more gory films had been assigned. He was publicly refusing to change any of the contents in order to get a less restrictive rating. It's an important topic, especially given the unfortunate history of censorship, even in this country. He was asked whether he had thought about cutting some scenes.
Cutting it would have been the equivalent of what members of the United States government and military leaders said about the Vietnam War. They said, "We have to destroy Vietnam in order to save it," and that's what I would have done to Killer Joe. To get an R rating I would have had to destroy it in order to save it and I wasn't interested in doing that.
- William Friedkin, July 25, 2012
I'm skeptical about censorship, but comparing film editing to the killing of civilians in Bến Tre, Vietnam kind of strains my sympathy for the horrors of cinema direction. A few months later, an edited version of Killer Joe was sent out with an R rating, to join an uncut version on store shelves.
In the end, it was all about the money.
Thirty years ago, Friedkin was directing lighter fare, although with a dark side. It's hard to remember the complex plot that Chevy Chase and Sigourney Weaver followed in Deal of the Century. It had to do with a suicide of an arms dealer who couldn't close a deal with a dictator and an angry widow who went after another arms dealer.
Not exactly Disney.
I was thinking the other day about the Chevy Chase character and the industry making a mega-mega-buck by selling to both sides in any foreign slaughter house that presents itself. Farming families were collateral damage. What brought it to mind was the National Rifle Association, the NRA.
It seems the National Gun Registration the NRA has been warning the paranoid fringe about is already here. It is compiled and updated each day by the NRA.
The organization has been buying, bribing, coercing, and cajoling low level state officials and private organizations to surrender lists of those purchasing guns, applying to purchase guns, taking gun safety training, subscribing to publications about guns, or just expressing an interest. If you ask for information, you will find yourself on a list, and the NRA is very interested in you.
This is more an irony than a scandal. It is similar to actions routinely taken by marketing groups. If you are on Facebook, someone is very likely selling a list with your name on it.
The ironic, non-scandalous, NRA registry list does tend to highlight a sometimes forgotten fact. The National Riffle Association has become a marketing group, acting on behalf of firearms manufacturers. Dues from individuals is a break-even sideline. In fact, gun owners are a shrinking group of NRA prospects. The number of gun owners is nosediving. Gun ownership is skyrocketing, as fewer people buy more and more.
In an expanding market with fewer players, the industry has to maximize on what is there. They don't need gun shops. They need arms dealers. The NRA is Chevy Chase without the humor, selling to both sides, all sides, ginning up conflict to sell more.
Gun safety laws, keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of criminals, kids, and maniacs has an undesired multiplier effect. You can't sell to both sides if one side isn't buying. You can't even sell to one side if the other side poses no threat.
So any restriction on the sale of firearms is to be resisted.
Individual gun owners, those who are activists, are concerned with a range of issues from the second amendment, through protection from crime, to armed resistance against law enforcement officials sent by an Obama-dominated government.
Behind the scenes, there is only money, and those issues that flow from money.
Ordinary people worry about how to reduce the possibility of whomever will next carry a loaded weapon into a school or shoot some jogger or unarmed teenager.
Marketers have some hope that the perpetrator of that future tragedy will buy from them rather than the competition. But what keeps them awake in the stillness of night is a grander vision: that they can use that threat to generate sales to every side.
That's what makes George Zimmerman a marketing photo-op.
Listen As You Go -
Coming Republican Revival a Matter of Faith (5:39) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Without historical reference, conservative James Wigderson unwittingly reprises FDR's Fala accusations. It seems the Obama dog is wasting tax dollars in military travel. These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on President Obama, or his wife, or on his daughters. No, not content with that ... they now include his little dog, Bo.
Okay, the answer to James was already given on September 23, 1944:
Mad Mike's America hears about a sort of mad conspiracy hybrid. It involves a large combo of Obamacare, gun lists, and ... well ... electroshock. Well, someone has to do it.
- PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, gets some negative blowback from Christians after he publishes a piece in the Washington Post on how atheism can find true happiness. I have a hard time forgiving anyone who manages to get published in the Washington Post. But it is hard for me to relate to any Christian outrage against atheistic happiness. Atheism doesn't work for me, but that's about as far as I can take it.
The time is now arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
- Hubert Humphrey, Mayor of Minneapolis, MN, July 14, 1948.
The Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in 1948 had become contentious.
The liberal faction wanted the party to declare an important principle. Civil Rights, including the right to vote, should be a national standard.
The conservative faction regarded human rights as a state matter. Don't tell us how to treat our people. Strom Thurmond, the governor of South Carolina had already put the issue of states' rights in more colorful terms.
These big city machine bosses and their puppets in office ... should once and for all realize that the question of social intermingling of the races our people draw the line.
All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into their homes, their schools, their churches and their places of recreation and amusement.
- Strom Thurmond, Governor South Carolina, May 11, 1948
The liberal contingent managed a narrow victory. The Democratic Party was on record. Human rights, the right to be served in restaurants, to attend schools, the right to vote, was a national standard. It ought to be enforced by national laws.
Strom Thurmond and delegates from several states walked away from the Democratic Party. They held an alternate convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Human rights were a state concern. Moves to nationalize the rights of minorities comprised a form of totalitarianism.
Sixteen years later, the 1964 call by the Democratic Party for strong Civil Rights and Voting Rights began the great migration of conservatives to a more accommodating Republican Party.
That same Voting Rights law was declared to be partially unconstitutional this year by the Supreme Court. They struck down the requirement that some sections of the country with an unfortunate history of human rights violations had to pre-clear changes in voting practices to be sure minority rights were protected.
But the court left intact another procedure, a harder one to follow. If enough proof could be presented, a state or parts of a state, could be put back into the pre-clearance requirement. It just had to be proven that voting practices were deliberately intended to discriminate. The courts would decide.
So the Attorney General of the United States announced that the Department of Justice will file in court to do just that. The first target would be the state of Texas.
More than most states, Texas has been forthright in trying to keep a significant minority population from voting, and from having their votes count for as much if they do vote. A series of measures have been passed by the state to make it harder for Hispanic voters to actually vote.
More than most states, Texas has established a documented record of deliberate motivation. Legislators are very much on record as specifically wanting to keep Hispanic voters from voting. They are indeed being targeted by the state. They are also being targeted to keep those candidates Hispanic voters might want from actually taking office.
Extreme redistricting is the very first practice to be challenged. Lines are drawn that go against well established legal standards for compactness and common interest. In this case, the Department of Justice is pushing for more than just overturning bad districting lines. The DOJ also wants to get courts to put Texas back on the pre-clearance list.
Texas has put in draconian photo ID laws. Those with drivers licenses need not worry. They are grandfathered in. Those who walk or ride the bus to work will be required to get new alternate IDs. Offices issuing such IDs have been moved way away from Hispanic areas. Their hours have been reduced. Documentation that will be demanded in order to qualify for the new IDs has gotten to absurd levels, way beyond mere proof of identity.
What provides the heart of the DOJ brief is evidence of motivation. Texas legislators have recorded phone calls, written letters, sent emails, and otherwise generated a paper trail that pretty much proves they just wanted to keep Hispanic voters from voting, or from electing those they want to elect.
Texas has responded with one of the strangest arguments a court will be likely to hear for a while. They have filed their own brief, arguing that discrimination against Hispanic voters should be allowed if it is for purely political reasons.
If Hispanic voters are denied the right to vote for the folks they want because legislators hate Hispanics, that is wrong. But if Hispanic voters are denied the right to vote for the folks they want because legislators want to keep them from electing Democrats, that is okay.
Senator John Cornyn, (R-TX) has issued a bitter denunciation of the Department of Justice and President Obama. His statement essentially echoes part of the old Strom Thurmond plank about the right of each state to determine which minorities will be allowed to vote.
As Texans we reject the notion that the federal government knows what's best for us. We deserve the freedom to make our own laws and we deserve not to be insulted by a Justice Department committed to scoring cheap political points.
- Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), August 22, 2013
This new assertion of the right of a state to deal with minority rights however they want, with no fear of interference, does not carry the same fire as Strom Thurmond's old speeches. But the surrender of human rights in favor of states' rights is identical.
We don't need to wonder what the Hubert Humphrey or Strom Thurmond of 65 years ago would say about this year's controversy. They would recognize what we should recognize.
If we side with Humphrey, we should know that Texas politicians are determined to avoid the bright sunshine, finding comfort in those dirt filled, shadowy corners he urged us to reject.
CIA operatives close in on bin Laden. Finally, years of effort bring a few brave Americans into position in Afghanistan. The world's most notorious terrorist is in our sites.
Telephone contact is established to a Clinton official back in the United States. "We're ready to load the package. Repeat, do we have clearance to load the package?"
The official breaks into a sweat. He hesitates, holding the phone in shaking hands. Finally he speaks. "I don't have that authority." The brief opportunity is gone. The World Trade Center is later lost. Part of the Pentagon is destroyed. Four aircraft with passengers and crew are lost.
All because of one out-of-his-depth liberal.
Viewers saw it all in a dramatization on ABC in 2006. And the incident actually happened. It is part of documented history.
Having bin Laden in our grasp, a sweaty palmed official nervously whimpering his refusal to authorize: It all really occurred.
Except the refusal to go after bin Laden happened a couple of years later during the Bush Presidency. The whimpering official was a Bush administration staffer. During the Clinton administration, every request for authorization to kill or capture bin Laden was approved. No exceptions. Ever.
The ABC drama was filled with such reversals of fact. The effort to achieve balance can be overpowering. Sometimes truth is sacrificed. In this case, it was simply more blatant than usual.
Democrats were outraged at the defamation. Republicans were delighted.
This year, NBC is planning a biographic presentation about Hillary Clinton. The content is unclear. CNN is planning a documentary.
The Republican Party has announced it will prohibit candidates for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination to participate in any debate hosted or moderated by NBC or CNN.
I can well remember the number of prospective debates to be hosted by ABC which were prohibited by the Democratic party in 2008. It's an easy number to remember. Zero. None. Not any at all.
George Stephanopoulos moderated the ABC debate on August 19, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa. Charles Gibson moderated on January 5, 2008 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. Democrats were encouraged to participate.
There is some speculation that the GOP is reacting less to any free publicity for Hillary than to the unspeakable horror show Republican debates became in 2011 and 2012. As Bachmann and Perry and Cain and Gingrich fell into the drowning pit, Mitt Romney looked good by virtue of not swallowing his hair and turning his head inside out.
But I suspect the damage to the Republican party came from the audience. Republicans booed a gay man fighting in Afghanistan for their freedom to boo. Conservatives cheered the number of people executed in Texas, when the possibility was mentioned of killing those who might be innocent of any crime. The Republican audience cheered at the prospect of an uninsured hypothetical victim of illness dying for lack of care.
I confess my suspicion is influenced by my own theory about the future of the Republican Party. I don't think there is any future after the next several years, except for dying embers in some Southern areas.
The destiny of the party is not in the hands of politicians or consultants or opinion leaders. Strategic decisions by office holders are not to blame for the decline of the Republican Party. Extreme advocacy by media personalities will not be not the culprit.
The party is under the firm control of its rank-and-file membership. That membership is shrinking. Polls this year show the number of voters identifying themselves as Republicans at new lows. The range is consistently in the very low 20s. As the party shrinks, it is less extreme members who leave. As more extreme members stay, the party grows more extreme, and the cycle holds.
The general public may remember the Bush administration for mindless invasion of Iraq and the bobbling of Katrina rescue in Louisiana.
A majority of Republicans still believe weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
More Republicans in Louisiana improbably blame President Obama for mishandling the Katrina rescue during the Bush Presidency than blame President Bush himself.
In Nashville, a Tennessee Republican told a little girl who was born in the United States that he wants to deport her father, who was not. Conservatives will find his sad position reasonable, if brusquely explained. It is more difficult to reconcile the reaction of the audience, breaking into enthused applause at the prospect of separating the little girl from her father.
The downward spiral is led by the base. It can't be described as any variation of the tail wagging the dog. For one thing, the base of a party is supposed to be the dog. For another, it's the entire dog, from nose to hind paws, that is howling at the moon.
For those who believe the Republican Party will rebound in 2015 or 2017 or sometime later, their's is less a prediction based on evidence than it is an article of faith.
It is faith in the Biblical sense: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The re-election of Barack Obama was not a wake up call for the Republican Party after all. But the months since have been a bit of a alarm clock ring for pundits. Snooze buttons are a popular feature, but fear of imbalance can only carry denial so far.
My own epiphany came before the election of 2010. That was the Tea Party election. As Republicans celebrated in anticipation of that sweeping win, I predicted the demise of their political home.
The basic pattern has been with us since political parties came into being. As the clarion call to ideological purity echoes its trumpet sound, the party grows a bit more extreme. A few of those guilty of insufficient fervor are driven out. Those who remain are, by attrition, a little more extreme. The party shrinks, which causes the party to get a little more extreme, which causes the party to shrink.
The process brings the reverse chicken and egg question of politics into play. Which comes first, the attraction of non-extremists back into the party or the turn to moderation?
In the past, the question was answered by a sort of intervention. When the party, any party in that downward spiral, ran into the icy wall of election defeat, ideologues woke up. The call to moderates went forth. The painful dialogue began.
Why hasn't that happened to the Republican Party? The party has lost the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections. The exception was 2004, when the incumbent President managed to channel popular rage against terrorism into election victory. How many icy walls must Republicans slam into before looking to another path? Why hasn't the last quarter century been enough? Why is this string of defeats different from past history?
I have suggested the difference is technological. Past election interventions have been accompanied by unwelcomed voices, voices reinforcing the bad news of election reality. Even partisans who did not wish to listen were pretty much forced to hear. Now they aren't.
The early 1990s saw the growth of a new form of communication. The internet began to provide choices that went beyond the mainstream. The addition of cable television completed the circle. Republicans are not breaking out of the downward helix because they don't really have to. If Fox or Rush or Drudge waiver in providing a soothing message, others are waiting to take their place.
Little signals of pressure from the Republican base, reflected in echoes of agreement from Republican politicians, are beginning to achieve notice as they form a discernible pattern.
This week, the Republican governor of Maine is reported by fellow Republicans to have casually told an audience of donors that President Obama hates white people. The fact that he feels compelled to deny it reflects how believable such stories have become.
This week, New Jersey's Republican candidate for the United States Senate sent out an image about his opponent. The titled read: "just leaked — Cory Booker’s foreign policy debate prep notes." The image was a crude map of Newark with the words "West Africa, Guyana, Portugal, Brazil" and "Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, plus Bangladesh and Trinidad." The Republican stood by the message, insisting he could not see anything about it that was racist.
This week a lone supporter of the probable Republican candidate for governor of Texas posted a message about Democrat Wendy Davis, calling her a "retard Barbie." It would have been unnoticed, by virtue of being unnoticeable, had the Republican not publicly thanked the citizen for his support.
This week, in Virginia, a Republican consultant who has never switched parties, broke that lifetime record. He vowed to work for the election of the Democratic candidate for governor. He called the Democrat "the clear choice for mainstream conservatives."
This week in Iowa, the co-Chair of the Polk County Republican Party made public his resignation. He said the party was moving in the wrong direction.
It’s my opinion that rather than fix the problems that led to such a massive 2012 defeat, the GOP does not seem to seriously want to fix the issues. I think helping a dysfunctional Party that does not want to address its problems is enabling. I do not believe in enabling. I debated this for weeks and am certain this is the only course.
- Chad Brown, former chair Polk County Republican Party, August 5, 2013
About the only thing that might reverse the trend would be if extremists started leaving, while accusing the party of insufficient purity. Then moderates might take another look, perhaps reversing the trend.
I wouldn't bet my shoes on that happening.
A band of right-leaning hard-liners left the Maine GOP, resigning from various state Republican offices, while issuing a letter critical of the national party as well as key politicians in Washington and Augusta.
Leaving were a Maine Republican National Committee member, a former U.S. Senate candidate and six members holding county committee seats.
- Reported by the Maine Sun Journal, August 19, 2013
Anybody want to bet against an old pair of shoes?
In Response to Burr Deming's Sissy Jesus, Egypt, Grading Education, Slippery GOP Slope
A few weeks ago, my friend T. Paine, who writes at Saving Common Sense offered his own proof of God. Ryan at Secular Ethics answers. There are, he explains, dangers to arguments based on intuitive knowledge. I have learned to anticipate with some glee those invariably wise and thoughtful posts from Ryan. But I confess a certain bias in all this. I use a variation of what Ryan describes as T. Paine's logic in support of a different point.
- Burr Deming, August 17, 2013
On one hand, we want to be able to think of goodness as a collection of dispositions that we ought to have and behaviors that we ought to perform.
On the other hand, some of us want to think of goodness as a collection of dispositions and behaviors that we "just know" to be good.
The first approach requires that we establish precisely what we mean by "ought" and then analyze our choices. The second approach requires that we merely "listen to our conscience" and "just do what is right." The only way to reconcile these two ways of thinking of goodness is to declare that what we should do is always identical to what we think or "just know" we should do.
But there are countless examples of people doing what they "just know" to be good and later realizing that they ought not to have done it--or of disagreements over the content of this intrinsic moral knowledge. It seems that, after all, knowledge and the feeling of knowledge are not the same.
So the apologist argues that these errors and disagreements reflect not some failure of just-so moral knowledge, but instead of our ability or willingness to distinguish between just-so moral knowledge and false just-so moral inclinations. Our "fallen nature," you see, interferes with our reception or perception of the truth.
This response is needlessly complex and unconvincing, particularly because there is no empirical or even rational support for the idea that we have such knowledge or that we have a fallen nature that prevents us from grasping it. Most importantly, however, it leaves us with the original problem: how do we determine what is good? If we are fallen or otherwise potentially unable to grasp true moral knowledge as evidenced by our mistakes and disagreements, then we cannot depend on the certainty of our feelings about goodness. Without an actual method beyond "just knowing," we are left to disagree with each other over arbitrary feelings.
In short: whether or not we have access to some kind of non-rational, non-experiential moral knowledge, we are unable to know what is good with any justified certainty without the use of reason or experience. And if that is so, then it is a waste of time to argue on behalf of the concept of just-so moral knowledge, which to an empiricist or rationalist comes across as a misguided elevation of strong feelings to cosmic truths.
In addition to his well reasoned contributions here, Ryan also writes for his own site where strong feelings, like calm waters, seek their own level. Please visit Secular Ethics.
Mike is one tough character. A former Philadelphia police officer, he makes evil a profession. And he has high professional standards. He kills people via gunfire, poison, and bravado. He works for a ruthless drug kingpin and, when that employer is killed, partners with those who killed him. Throughout it all he maintains a slow, weary, persona.
One co-conspirator is simply too much for him to stomach. She is in a panic. She begs him to eliminate loose ends that might lead authorities to her, and to Mike. She wants him to arrange the assassinations of those he has hired. He responds.
Now I don’t know what kind of movies you been watching, but here in the real world, we don’t kill eleven people as some kind of prophylactic measure.
I can't be described as anything close to an aficionado of Breaking Bad. It isn't preference. I make a point of watching when I can. The descent of a cancer ridden high school teacher into the depths of personal evil is compelling. But scheduling and a chronically poor memory for time slots put me into perpetual confusion about plot and characters.
When I do remember to watch, it isn't hard to see parallels to the everyday world of office machines, automobiles, raising kids, and writing about politics and policy: things that have a lot less to do with murder, drugs, and intrigue.
The sanitizing of the drug aspect troubles me a little. Some mob movies do focus on life-and-death chess games, ignoring the tragedy of those whose off-screen destruction finances the enterprise. The Godfather did that. Who would get outsmarted? Who would do the outsmarting? The unpowerful victims of extortion and rackets are not considered, unimportant as they are to the entertaining plot line.
I haven't seen much on screen about the physical agony of mothers, fathers, children in the grip of the deadly product being produced. That's not a flaw. It's a feature. Audiences are attracted to deadly contests between powerful and ruthless people. Watching a protagonist with blood on his hands is more entertaining if that blood belongs to other very bad people.
Some of the drama goes to choices. What is the strategy? What are the risks? At what point will a betrayal have more benefit than cost? In the scene with the panicky associate, the question is easily answered when it comes to executing hirelings who are pledged to secrecy. The price is high. The benefit is non-existent, because there is no need.
As the storyline moves on, the question becomes active again. This time it centers on whether to dispose of the anxious associate herself. Should she be killed?
Within each strategic tradeoff is an implied standard. We don't cross or betray or kill people without some pronounced need, never as "as some kind of prophylactic measure."
That's easy enough to apply to the real world.
Bosses don't fire people because they might, in the future, commit some theft of company property. Children are not punished by parents just in case they broke a rule.
And legitimate voters are not denied the right to vote just in case.
The just in case is voter fraud. That would be people who vote while they are not eligible, or people who vote more than once. One authoritative study found that five million voters will be denied the right to vote because of photo ID laws.
Photo ID laws do have a lot of support, mostly from those who haven't thought about it enough to realize that some folks don't have drivers licenses. Some people commute to work by bus or metro train. Some are retired. When the issue gets a little publicity, like it has in North Carolina recently, public support drops like a stone.
The fact that some folks don't have photo IDs because they don't drive is only one side of the equation. The other side is that the problem that is being address, voter fraud, pretty much doesn't exist.
The Bush administration, in 2007, revealed the results of an intense nationwide investigation into voter fraud. The investigation lasted five years and covered every election, local, state, and federal. If you voted after 2000 and up to 2007, you were part of the investigation. The total number of cases found couldn't quite make it to double digits.
There were nine cases of people voting when and where they weren't supposed to. That's over 5 years in every election in every state, that would be all 50, and every territory in the US. Nine cases.
Eight of those cases were clerical errors. People thought they were registered when they weren't.
In the one case remaining, a woman knowingly registered under a false name. She was trying to escape detection by a violent ex-husband.
There have been other cases since 2007. In Pennsylvania, a city commissioner from Philadelphia made headlines a while back. He had found 700 cases of voter fraud. As investigators poured over records, eliminating from the count people who were completely legitimate voters, the number shrank and shrank again. Finally, the grand total of voter fraud cases was announced.
More recently, the Colorado Secretary of State found 155 cases of voter fraud. That's out of 2.5 million voters. Let's see. One percent of 2.5 million would be 25 thousand. One percent of one percent would be 255. So even one percent of one percent of all voters would be more than the actual number of voter fraud cases found by the Colorado Secretary of State.
The names were turned over to local authorities for prosecution. Most District Attorneys glanced over the lists with less than complete confidence. Some jurisdictions are small enough for many names to be recognized by local people. They were legitimate voters.
The District Attorney of Boulder County took things more seriously. He was given 17 names for prosecution. His office investigated all 17. He found that all 17, all of them, every one, was a legitimate voter.
It turned out that the Secretary's office had rounded up the names of immigrants who had registered and voted. What the Republican official forgot is that lots of immigrants become citizens. That's how they came up with the 155 names of people they wanted to prosecute.
A series of photo ID laws have been passed by Republican state legislatures around the country. Constitutional requirements dictate that some alternate ID has to be available. But additional measures have been routinely included that make that alternative harder. State Offices issuing non-driver IDs have been closed or moved far away from minority areas. Hours have been restricted. Requirements have been instituted that go way, way beyond what is needed for identification.
The object does not seem to be to defeat the non-existent voter fraud.
Some individual incidents hit the news.
A great-grandmother is denied the right to vote because the name on her wedding license is misspelled. The news value comes because she has voted in every election in the past, even in days of Jim Crow. But her case reflects many more who don't make headlines.
A state worker is reported to have laughed at repeated efforts of one elderly to keep coming back with more documentation. Most folks give up. That tells us something about those who give up before they are laughed at.
State workers are instructed to refuse to give directions to ID offices. One, in Ohio, is fired for questioning the order.
It has to have become apparent to even the most rabid conservative that denying 5 million legitimate voters their right to vote is not the unfortunate price that is to be paid to prevent 9 cases of voter fraud. Keeping those 5 million voters from casting ballots is the only purpose of voter suppression.
I will continue to watch episodes of Breaking Bad when schedule and memory align to achieve the needed juxtaposition. I have to confess I continue to be slightly disappointed, though.
The dialogue should have gone like this:
Mike: Here in the real world, we don’t kill eleven people as some kind of prophylactic measure.
Lydia: It isn't a prophylactic measure. I don't want them dead to prevent anything. I'm a Republican. I just want them dead.
But it is fictional television show.
You can't expect it to be completely realistic.