In Politics and Public Life, Do the Odds Favor the Cynics?

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DDA cross-section of ideas and acts, global, national and local, haunt the negative and positive spaces of our lives, influencing our decisions and thoughts, our choices, our feelings about progress or defeat.

A good deal of America is engaged in cynicism, reducing complex issues to a short list that squares with a wish list of beliefs and desires.

Michelle Obama often is an object of choice by cynics, who find it easy to shave off the responsibilities she has as a mother and as a public figure married to the President from her duty to share her authentic self, which often flows into a space beyond what many expect. When disappointed, they assume an attitude of “I told you so” (smug about never mentioning what was told!) and then assume the imagined gross error that exists in their minds speaks for itself. Thus they retain in their hearts what they really wanted to believe in the first place—and forever more.

One common cause of cynical angst is First Family travel. Its critics make the small large, pride themselves as spending sentinels, pat themselves on the back with the shared disgust of those who feel being black and having a family and being President is just too much for anyone to accept. After all, if it were not for those 62 million votes, Barack Obama might well be unemployed and certainly not a world leader of note and renown.

Those people also feel John Boehner is perfectly capable of running things in the White House from his seat in the House, if they could just get Obama impeached and Joe Biden to step aside.

The suggestion of budget abuse by the First Lady for travel generally offers no details, and, as is usually the case, no logic braces the cynical foregone conclusions.

That Michele Obama has abused public money is ridiculous! American Presidents, First Ladies and their children (from Eisenhower to Obama) don’t ride Greyhounds. It is a point of national pride, and respect for the office, that America, no matter what the ideology or color of the President, provides first-class travel and top security (the same as other nations!) when the First Family travels.

Surely the cynics know this! What is their real motivation? What leads to the cheap shots that single out Mrs. Obama? Why is she so often the target of fact-free smears?

Have her accusers forgotten John Sununu, who flew to New York at taxpayers’ expense for a $300 haircut? Or the junkets of Congress? Here are two current examples, one about Tea Party fiscal fanatic Steve Pearce and the other involving former Congress member Michele Bachmann. Travel spending is replete with examples of abuse; the narrowed, unsupported focus of the cynical looking glass tells me something else is at work in their thinking.

Cynicism abounds in more difficult arenas as well. The complex problems of foreign and economic policy are being met, in the popular mind, with spreading cynicism. The array of forces circling the globe is being viewed with an inherent mistrust. Goals are reduced to simple measures, with success or defeat assigned to reflect ideology and personality. The cynics are consistent and confident as they engage in enlightenment by doubt.

Hence the craziness around vaccines: sound, sensible medical practice, a patriotic principle in the 1950s and 1960s, when whole towns turned out on vaccination days and nurses visited schools to end the scourge of polio and measles, whooping cough and other deadly diseases of childhood, is now a battle front over freedom. Vaccines have become a cause some parents are unwittingly willing to follow politicians and have their children die for, or at least experience the nasty conditions of measles they themselves avoided because their commie parents who voted for Eisenhower got them vaccinated. So along with Agenda 21, Executive Order 12333, the New World Order, and the Haitian earthquake, we can add vaccinations to the sinister exercise of power of Big Government, as California’s vaccination rates in wealthy areas fall behind South Sudan’s. Continue reading In Politics and Public Life, Do the Odds Favor the Cynics?

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Prate of the Union

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freehandA typical State of the Union Address tells us less about a presidency than the other party’s official response to it does. This has been especially true during the Obama years. More crucially, though, it’s an opportunity for the opposition party to try to tell viewers about itself, to trot out one of its best and brightest young up-and-comers to dazzle the camera with a mouthful of startlingly white teeth, to pluck the heartstrings of Ma and Pa Viewer, and to remind us all of that mythical time when the backbone of the economy was 5-cent lemonade stands and the nation’s greatness was embodied by Juicy Fruit and the Marshall Plan. And to try and make the case, with occasional faint praise, that the President is an America-hating disaster.

Bobby Jindal was the first such nine-day wonder thrown into the breach, although he was actually responding to a non-SOTU address before a joint session of Congress, delivered barely a month into Barack Obama’s first term. In and of itself, the choice of Jindal to deliver the response seemed to reflect the flimsy state of GOP political strategizing at the time: Youthful mixed-race President? No problem! We got a young Indian feller right here, and – bonus! – he talks like Forrest Gump. Multi-cultural or what?

Jindal’s uncannily awful performance was so widely panned even by Republicans that, six years on, he has yet to regain “rising star” status in a party still desperately searching for one. Which goes some way toward explaining the GOP’s choice to respond to the first official Obama SOTU the following year, Smilin’ Bob McDonnell. Governor McDonnell was just 11 days into his term and was a Republican matinee idol, reassuringly white, Southern but not too Southern, telegenic in a megachurch preacher kind of way, and articulate without being wonkish. Back in 2010, some in his party envisioned the Oval Office in his future; he was most recently in the headlines a couple of weeks ago after receiving an outrageously lenient prison sentence on 11 counts of corruption.

Things got a little more interesting in 2011, when not one but three Republicans were tapped to try and rebut the SOTU. There was Paul Ryan, an intellectual bantamweight with a fondness for moth-eaten Randian ideas (in other words, the sort of Republican other Republicans actually consider a serious policy guy). There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an archconservative Florida Congresswoman and cable news darling, summoned to speak to Hispanics after it finally occurred to the RNC that Hispanics don’t much care for Republicans. And then there was Michele Bachmann. Her “official” response on behalf of the Tea Party Express is the only one anybody remembers, less for its predictable teabagger platitudes than for the fact that she appeared to spend six minutes and 36 seconds speaking to someone standing unseen a couple of feet to the left of the camera.

Republicans got back to basics the following year, sending out Mitch Daniels to deliver an aggressively contrary response that took the President to task for high unemployment and “an unprecedented explosion of spending,” Daniels apparently having missed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention Medicare Part D. Straight-faced, Daniels assailed the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government” and “constant efforts to divide [Americans].” Daniels was soon on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate, but – perhaps sensing the coming electoral debacle – he publicly made clear that he had no interest in the position. He left politics the following year to serve as president of Purdue University, and good riddance to him.

2013’s SOTU response, by contrast, was insanely entertaining. As in 2009, Republicans trotted out a highly touted, non-WASP go-getter, Marco Rubio, who obligingly made a bigger fool of himself than Bobby Jindal had. Rubio prated on about the sanctity of life, about immigrants like his parents pursuing the American dream, about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, about the evils of big government, regulation, taxes and debt, about Obamacare, about the President’s supposedly divisive rhetoric, about securing the borders, about the “moral breakdown of our society.” And nobody cared; his misadventures with a water bottle were all anyone talked about the moment Rubio wrapped up his 14-minute-plus English speech and an even longer Spanish one. Actually, his willingness to laugh at himself over the whole thing would be admirable, if he weren’t still milking it for applause two years later. Continue reading Prate of the Union

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Time Mismanagement

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freehandRepublicans, unconcerned with progress or sensible public policy, have plenty of free time to devote to other pursuits. Like feigning outrage. For that, and only for that, Barack Obama has been their ideal President. The apparent unflappability, exotic background, swift rise from obscurity, technocratic approach to governance and pigmentary uniqueness among Chief Executives are all ideally pitched to prompt sputtering Republican ire. It doesn’t even matter that it’s mostly as forced and insincere as a junior high production of a fifth-rate operetta; the GOP’s stenographic corps in the mainstream media reliably take it at face value.

Autobiographical revelations of madrassa attendance and youthful drug use, cherry-picked Jeremiah Wright sermons, the mythical “Whitey” tape, the remarks about “clinging to guns and religion,” the “57 states” gaffe, the “terrorist fist jab” with wife Michelle, the Middle Eastern and European “Apology Tour” and those faux-classical columns at the convention provided all the warm-up necessary.

Once the President took office, Republicans went on to being incensed by the Beer Summit (racism!), the auto bailout (socialism!), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (big socialism!), Cash for Clunkers (socialism, sorta!), Obamacare and its attendant “death panels” (huge socialism!), vacations in Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard (elitism!), withdrawal from Iraq (cowardice!), new CAFE standards (tyranny, tree-hugging!), IRS-gate (abuse of power!), Benghazi (treason, cowardice and abuse of power!), golfing (shiftlessness!), tan suits (um… gauche!) coffee cup salutes (arrogance, shiftlessness, with a soupçon of elitism!), and a host of other non-scandals so contrived and picayune most Republicans don’t even remember them.

Each of these tantrum-ticklers, it turns out, was mere prelude to Republican reaction to the President’s recent executive actions on immigration. Note to aspiring conservative naysayers out there: churlish and peevish are passé; this season, nothing but full-on hysteria will do.

Felon-in-waiting Michele Bachmann believes the immigration measures are a ploy to produce an army of illegal but dependable Democratic voters:

“The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer — millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language… Even though the president says they won’t be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote.”

Rabies-afflicted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who also discussed with a caller to his radio show the idea that Hispanics could undertake “ethnic cleansing” in America, had his own variation on this theme, with bonus points for working in the S-word:

“There is still a decided bias in favor of bigger government not smaller government. So maybe this strategy of replacing American voters with newly legalized aliens, if you look at it through an ethnic lens… you’ve got a locked in vote for socialism.”

Tom Coburn, that poster child for gravitas, warned of civil unrest:

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation… You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy… You could see violence.”

Rick Santorum’s evident distress stemmed from his deep concern for minorities and the working poor. Or so he wants everyone, including himself, to believe:

“You know who gets hurt the most by this? Hispanics in America. Lower-income workers in America. You’re adding 5 million mostly unskilled workers into a labor pool where wages are declining, when median income in America is declining… We’re going to flood the labor market and we’re going to hurt Hispanics, we’re going to blacks and lower-income whites, and he does this out of compassion? He’s doing this as a slap-in-the-face to every working American.”

Hugh Hewitt’s plaint was similar:

“The people in the country illegally will know shortly that this stunt… does not help them and may in fact hurt them – badly… The president’s lawless act will have the apparently contradictory impact of both making life harder for ‘those in the shadows’ by increasing the reluctance of employers to hire the obviously illegal, while at the same time attracting millions more north across the fenceless border.”

Though Hewitt too rushed to the defense of the document his beloved GW Bush once described as “a goddamn piece of paper”:

“… a disfigurement of the Constitution which will lead to future disfigurements. Wait until the environmentalists learn that a GOP president can suspend enforcement of their beloved if crazy Endangered Species Act.  Wait until all sorts of special interests realize that their special interest legislation can be suspended at a stroke of a pen.”

Mike Kelly, an obscure Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, believes the President’s actions are unprecedented:

“The country is witnessing something right now that I don’t think in our entire history we’ve ever looked at, a constitutional crisis…”

Or perhaps precedented. It’s a little hard to tell:

“Right now in the history of our country we have never had such an internal crisis as we’ve had, not since the mid-1800s, of what we’re going through right now. Why would this president choose this issue and cause a constitutional crisis?”

Peter Wehner, who worked in the White House under Reagan, Bush and Bush the Lesser and has thus seen, up close, more constitutional violations than almost anyone alive, took a similar tack: Continue reading Time Mismanagement

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A Good Year for the Poses

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freehandThe 2014 Values Voter Summit wrapped up Sunday in Washington, and Omni Shoreham Hotel staff must be working hard to expunge the building of the heavy stench of gunpowder and cliché. Like previous editions, this year’s version was a consummate freak show with a gaggle of grotesques worthy of Todd Browning, but even speakers making their second, third or fourth appearance seemed to bring a little extra Republican bile, guile and vile to the festivities this time around.

The theme this year was “Defending the Dream, Defining the Future,” a phrase so vague it could be used for a corporate training seminar, a high school valedictory address, or a Shriners convention. But VVS organizers know what they’re defending and defining; they proudly state their intention is to “inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

Yes, that’s right. The same snake oil they’ve been peddling since the first iteration of the conclave back in 2006. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s terse description of the VVS really summarizes it much better: “An annual political conference bringing together some of the most extreme groups on the religious right.” That includes host organization and lead sponsor, the Family Research Council (which the SPLC calls a hate group), along with other America-hating organizations like Liberty Counsel (shouldn’t that be “council”?) and the American Family Association (which wants to destroy your family, if you’re gay).

But of course the real, ahem, elephant in the room is, as always, the Republican Party, which coyly maintains no “official” connection to the VVS even as elected Republicans madly stampede to its podium year after year to pander, preen and pose. Why, there’s even a presidential straw poll conducted, which purulent demagogue Ted Cruz topped for a second consecutive year, with up-and-coming conservative clod Ben Carson a close second and perennial pious pseudo-Christian Mike Huckabee a distant third.

As always, though, the real “attraction” was the speechifying. The Values Voter Summit showcases more know-nothing arch-conservative blowhards than any venue outside the even bigger freak show known as the United States House of Representatives, and VVS speakers don’t even have to make a pretense of obeisance to parliamentary decorum. Nor do attendees, who seem to spend much of their time whooping like gibbons on nitrous oxide. Thanks to the event’s video archives, which get sadly more generous every year, we can all experience the horror of being at an event we wouldn’t actually be caught dead attending.

The “values voters” were thrilled by lame duck Congresswoman and future convicted felon Michele Bachmann, who described herself, unasked, as “a normal, real person.” She decried the bailout that saved the automobile industry as “gangster government,” said that the “trillion dollar” stimulus that prevented the economy from collapsing “didn’t work so well,” and bragged about introducing “the very first repeal bill” against Obamacare.

She waxed nostalgic about her “deep dive into the leading foreign policy and national security issues of our day.” She also griped about Benghazi, the Bergdahl prisoner swap, and Iran “racing toward completing nuclear weapons,” called Barack Obama “the first anti-Israel President in American history,” averred that Hillary Clinton will be defeated in 2016, and thundered that “it is never too late to save the country.” The fierce urgency of whenever, you might say.

Ted Cruz smirked more than anyone I’ve ever seen not named Bush. He called Obamacare a “disaster,” which I suppose it is if you hate seeing the number of Americans without health coverage drop by 26% and counting. He made a Cat in the Hat joke harking back to his ludicrous “faux-libuster” last year, to show how charmingly self-deprecating his handlers have coached him to be. He served up a tasteless quip about the White House fence-jumper (which he admitted he stole from Jimmy Fallon), and then added one of his own. He called for a debate between Hillary Clinton and the Little Sisters of the Poor. He called the Democratic Party an “extreme radical party.” In short, he said not a single truthful, worthwhile or remotely intelligent thing. Naturally, the crowd loved his speech.

Rick Santorum has appeared at every one of these things so far, and so most of his speech was heavily recycled from his previous heavily recycled speeches. He spent a little of his time hawking his upcoming book, Bella’s Gift, about raising a special needs child. (Will Bella’s gift be saving her old man from having to get a real job for yet another year? Probably not, but we’ll see.) Santorum called the President “a descendant of the French Revolution,” which – bien sûr – was a refreshing change from years of ridiculous allegations about Kenya. Mostly, though, he stuck with the self-evident and obvious, as in his observing at one point that: “You don’t have any Baptist ministers going on jihad.” Continue reading A Good Year for the Poses

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Try It Out!

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DDI spent the week watering the well. Drinking coffee from five Ethiopian regions, feeling a link to the small family farms that depend on the income from the sales of beans, thankful to have a good relationship with a coffee seller in DC who provides me the 15 to 20 pounds my daughter sends me every two or three months.

But I can’t get my friends to try it! The corporate brands have them dialed in. So this morning’s Sumatra brings an old question: how do you get people to change? Why is change resisted?

In part the questions explain the Republican attraction: People don’t have to give up very much except government to be Republican. It’s a safe default for the risk-averse, even when in sight of something better.

I also spent the week anticipating the visit of friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. That energy was a celebration of passage; how vision grows out of change. Vision pushes away fear and brings hope. That why Sarah Palin sneered at “that hopey thing”—it give a freedom found on the inside, a freedom to grow; not just a freedom to fight government. Friends bring collective energy, a unique group experience that in politics is called the public good.

Republicans have abandoned that part of the public square, substituted profit for its focus, and measure of profit.

The maxim that people are willing to turn down collective advancement and fight against their own interests is proven both by the experimental and empirical. Why are we surprised?

What’s the strategy that will make the resistant change their minds?

On race? No way. On women? Lip service contradicted. On the public good? A rip-off! On income? Be glad for what you got.

This core is the Republican fortress. Impenetrable. But it’s placed to cause the maximum fright. As Barack begins to end his second term, race matters less; the coded challenges now go after his record and deliberately misconstrue his policies. The goal is to tear down his legacy. Listen, you can hear it from all sides. Continue reading Try It Out!

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Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

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Take-FiveIf those present at the March on Washington imagined anything about the national conversation on race half a century hence, they might well have assumed it would at least be an adult conversation, because of course they had no way of knowing that the Republicans of the new millennium would so decisively abandon any pretense of maturity, emotional or intellectual.

The GOP Dog-Whistle Philharmonic haughtily eschewed the high-profile 50th-anniversary celebrations of the March, opting instead to stage a series of energetic but stridently off-key recitals by its few minority soloists, like Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz.

In an op-ed supposedly penned to commemorate Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, Jindal, stunningly, used the occasion to criticize – wait for it – minorities:

Jindal accused minorities of placing “far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans…

“Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans?’ That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot,” the governor opined.

Jindal underscored that waste of electrons with an appearance on Meet the Press last week that included a jaw-dropping rationalization for the tidal wave of bigotry to which the nation’s first not-entirely-white President has been subjected:

David Gregory asked Gov. Jindal about Colin Powell’s opinion that there is a dark vein of intolerance within the Republican Party. Jindal answered by comparing the Republicans’ Obama racism to Democratic treatment of George W. Bush.

The same day Jindal was pitching that idiocy, Senator Ted Cruz, touted, toasted, hyper-hyped Cuban-Canadian-American Demagogue Extraordinaire, appeared on CNN and claimed that his party’s vigorous efforts to destroy Obamacare are based in part on trying to help Hispanics and African Americans:

“… it’s not working and it’s hurting Americans,” Cruz insisted. “And by the way, the people that it’s hurting the most are the most vulnerable among us… The people who are losing their jobs are young people, are Hispanics, are African-Americans, are single moms. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think that’s right.”

Sure you don’t, Senator. Your party is all about minorities, after all. Case in point, the government’s figures for 2012 show African Americans at 13.1% as a percentage of total population, and Hispanic Americans at 16.9%, while a 2012 Pew study found that 31% of African Americans and 22% of Hispanic Americans have received SNAP benefits at some time in their lives. Yet, strangely, the party you and your doughy cohort of sophists insist is on the side of minorities has yet to reinstate food assistance funding after summarily stripping it out of the Farm Bill, the legislation through which SNAP money has traditionally been disbursed.

If it’s no longer mind-boggling that the stubbornly self-congratulatory “Party of Lincoln” is so utterly, offensively worthless on race and every other issue of minority rights, it’s only because everybody got used to it ages ago. And not a single po-faced minority conservative mouthing glib clichés in the direction of the nearest TV camera is going to do anything but make it worse.

TWO: Crass from the Past

Leave it to Republicans to keep their presidential campaigns in the news long after the campaigns have ended. You might remember a fellow by the name of McCain who ran against Barack Obama back in 2008. You know, the mavericky guy? Thought his long-suffering wife would be a fabulous “Miss Buffalo Chip”? Recklessly chose a running mate who had never heard of the Bush Doctrine and couldn’t name a single newspaper she read? A POW in Vietnam, although his campaign only ever mentioned it on days of the week with names ending in “y”?

Five years on, the FEC has managed to reach a “conciliation agreement” with “Five-Plane” McCain’s campaign for taking excessive campaign contributions and sundry other violations, all of which would have been easily avoided if anyone working on the campaign had cared enough to care. The agreement stipulates $80,000 in fines. Chump change in the grand scheme of things? Sure. And it certainly won’t be coming from the spouse-subsidized pockets of Senator “Keating Five” himself, but it’s a mildly gratifying little story nonetheless.

You might also recall that while the 2008 Obama campaign was running an impressively web-savvy operation (modeled on but expanding greatly on the blueprint of Joe Trippi’s groundbreaking work for Howard Dean in 2004), the hapless John McCain was reduced to admitting he relied on his wife and aides to get online, with the almost pathetically hopeful postscript:

“I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself…”

Well, times sure have changed. McCain’s just a regular old cybernaut nowadays, as he proved Tuesday at a Senate hearing on Syria. As his colleagues mulled over matters of life, death, international law, and scruffy old domestic politics, Senator McCain was photographed by the Washington Post‘s Melina Mara playing online poker on his iPhone.

There are three possible takeaways here, as I see it. One is that McCain is so fixated on the idea of raining explosive ordnance on Syria that he doesn’t give a nickel-plated crap what he might hear at a hearing intended to furnish him with the sort of information important decision-makers supposedly need to make their decisions. The second is that McCain is a goldbricking charlatan who owes his state and the nation a formal apology and his immediate resignation. The third is he’s both.

Then there’s Rick Santorum, whose granitic façade of moral rectitude has long been suspected of masking an inner sleazeball. Well, suspected by me, at least, but also by electoral watchdog groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, who recently filed a formal complaint with the FEC alleging that Santorum directed a $1 million donation to the Red White and Blue Fund, a Super PAC, in violation of federal election law.

If true, it’s disgusting behavior for any politician, let alone one who wants the world to believe he invented ethics, but the most disturbing allegation is that Bill Doré, the Louisiana businessman whose donation is at the heart of the complaint, actually thought it was sensible to cough up a million bucks to try and get Rick Santorum elected President of the United States.

Last, and almost certainly least, there’s Michele Bachmann, whose ill-fated 2012 campaign has already resulted in a probe by the House Ethics Committee for possible financial violations, a lawsuit over an allegedly stolen mailing list, and an active investigation into Kent Sorenson, a state senator who chaired her campaign in Iowa and may have received improper payments for so doing, in addition to more recent allegations that he solicited money from the Ron Paul campaign in exchange for switching his support.

The newest Bachmann scandal-in-waiting revolves around possible illegal coordination between her campaign and the National Fiscal Conservative PAC, coordination that might have involved her husband Marcus Bachmann. The Justice Department subpoenaed financial and other records from the Super PAC last week. It seems Bachmann’s imminent retirement from Congress could prove fortuitous, freeing her to spend more time with her attorneys.

THREE: The Mire Next Time

And then there are the horrors and hilarity of Republican presidential campaigns yet to come. If you thought ’08 and ’12 were grotesque spectacles of dank depravity, untrammeled ugliness and anti-intellectual pandering to the scummiest side of human nature, you were right, but ’16 is going to be much worse. Or better, depending on how entertaining you find all this stuff.

Former centerfold model and temp Senator Scott Brown, having nothing much else to do these days, recently went to the Iowa State Fair, and explained to the Boston Herald why. He wants to find out if the country is collectively deranged enough to consider putting him in the White House:

“I want to get an indication of whether there’s even an interest, in Massachusetts and throughout the country, if there’s room for a bi-partisan problem solver… It’s 2013, I think it’s premature, but I am curious. There’s a lot of good name recognition in the Dakotas and here – that’s pretty good.”

Yeah, real good. Hey, maybe Cosmo can do a sort of “where are they now?” follow-up shoot, with a naked President Brown stretched out on an Oval Office couch, a copy of the Constitution barely preserving his modesty.

As I noted here a couple of weeks ago, Congressman Peter King of New York is on a jihad to neutralize what he calls the “Rand Paul isolationist wing” of his party, and if that means he has to get elected President to do so, well, so be it. At least he wouldn’t do any nude modeling, or so we can hope.

Ted Cruz, of course, has been running all over the country, most recently to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa, pretending that a presidential run is the last thing on his mind, while hurriedly initiating the process to divest himself of the Canadian citizenship he pretends he didn’t know he had. If it were up to Texas Teabagger Christine Katok (a woman on record as doubting President Obama’s eligibility) Cruz wouldn’t need to bother:

“As far as I’m concerned, Canada is not really foreign soil…”

With no Democratic incumbent to face in ’16, Republicans, theoretically, have a shot at retaking the White House, but these early stirrings already hint at their determination to ensure it won’t happen. Continue reading Take Five (Way Stranger than Fiction edition)

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Stormy Monday, 6/3/13

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Tuesday, more IRS crap hits the fan with the release of a watchdog’s report that fingers the agency for, among other things, spending $49 million on employee conferences over the past three years. Some of the expenses have already been described by Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel as “inappropriate” (like $60,000 for two training videos, one of which was a Star Trek parody featuring a large, taxpayer-funded mock-up of the bridge of the Enterprise, and the other showing IRS employees learning how to do the Cupid Shuffle).

House of Representatives Thug-in-Residence Darrell Issa has announced a Thursday hearing on the watchdog report. This will follow two more IRS-related House hearings this week, an Appropriations Committee hearing Monday, at which Werfel will testify, and a Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Teabaggers will complain publicly about how dreadfully unfair it was for the IRS to scrutinize them simply because they loudly hate the government, hate paying taxes, and hate democracy.

After a Wednesday stop in Charlotte on his continuing “Middle-Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” the President will attend some California fundraising events for Congressional Democrats before meeting Friday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a brief summit at Sunnylands, the Rancho Mirage home of the late Walter Annenberg. This comes mere days after the State Department called on China to end persecution of Tiananmen Square dissidents and “fully account for those killed, detained or missing,” an exhortation that prompted China’s foreign ministry to accuse the United States of “interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

No information has been released about summit menus, but after a few hours discussing trade, human rights and North Korea, let’s hope the hungry leaders avoid tucking into a ham or other pork product from Smithfield; the company’s food safety record is so dreadful that Smithfield was just bought up by the even more dreadful Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International. Hold the clenbuterol.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, a decision that could have a significant impact on the future of affirmative action. Elena Kagan has recused herself, increasing the odds that the Supreme Court’s conservative faction will find against the school’s minority admissions policy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/3/13

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Take Five (Zero Worship edition)

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ONE: I Just Can’t Quit Her

She might be an obscure political footnote waiting to happen, but Michele Bachmann will always be heroic to me. Even among her fellow House Republicans, few would even try to yearn to aspire to attempt to emulate her straight-up weirdness, seemingly involuntary lying, and relentless misunderstanding of pretty much everything about everything. Unlike wannabes such as the suspiciously non-contiguous Sarah Palin or the implosion-primed Nikki Haley, Bachmann is truly the GOP’s current It Girl.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, Bachmann kicked off the 113th Congress by unsuccessfully trying to repeal Obamacare. Yes, that’s something the House Majority does compulsively at this point, like meth or knuckle cracking, but Bachmann brought a whole new level of earnest sincerity to this nasty habit:

That’s why we’re here because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that. Let’s love people, let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can…

ThinkProgress managing editor Igor Volsky covered himself completely with dust and glory in his enviably nimble reporting on Bachmann’s speech:

Moments after calling for the complete repeal of a law that will extend health care coverage to 30 million Americans, Bachmann claimed that her belief in Christ inspires her to care “for the least of those who are in our midst.” After she completed her remarks, fellow Republican Rep. Michael Burgess (TX) observed that the Minnesota Congresswoman “has a way of stating these things that none of us are capable of.”

Yes, she certainly has a unique way of going about all kinds of things, so unique that the Office of Congressional Ethics has apparently developed something of a fascination with it:

The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations… investigators have allegedly asked about allegations of improper transfer of funds and under-the-table payments actions by Bachmann’s presidential campaign…

In a piece last weekend, Charles M. Blow of the New York Times insisted:

People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

Sorry, but please speak for yourself, Mr. Blow. I expect no such thing, at least from Republicans.

As for you, Michele Bachmann, long may you run, be it for office or from the law.

TWO: Pride and Prejudice and Piss and Vinegar

Bachmann isn’t the ’12 cycle’s only failed Republican hopeful still attracting headlines. Two of her primary rivals are at the center of a fascinating new story by Joshua Green of Businessweek:

As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney.

Damn. As much as I loved seeing Barack Obama and Joe Biden beat Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, I reckon I’d have loved seeing Obama and Biden beat Gingrich and Santorum just a little more. Or should that be Santorum and Gingrich?

… the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president.

Poor bastards should have called me; I could have told them the only one who would get to be President was the guy who already had been for four years.

Like Gingrich, Santorum has fallen back on public speaking gigs, continuously augmenting an already lengthy record demonstrating why he’s unfit to hold any elected office, of any kind, anywhere, ever. Santorum, essentially, is very hard to distinguish from a vile little bigot:

… during a speech in Naples [Florida]… Santorum… said he found that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama lacked leadership in defending the U.S. against the threats of radical Islam.

“I’m not talking about all Muslims, just like I’m not talking about all Christians and all Jews. The Christian faith, the dominant religion in the west, and the Islamic faith, come down to two men, Jesus Christ and Mohammed,” he said.

“Jesus did not fight, rule or reign. Mohammed fought, killed, ruled, conquered and governed,” Santorum said.

In a clear indication that Santorum slept through every stinking thing that happened in the world from his regrettable birth in 1958 right up until the moment he took the stage, his grubby little stem-winder included this astounding pseudo-observation:

“We are about to hand off to our children, grandchildren, the most destabilized, threatening world we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Ironically, he would have been eloquently correct had he been talking about catastrophic climate change, but Santorum is on record as a stalwart climate change denialist, who once sneered on the campaign trail:

“… an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

Vexing as you and I might find it, Santorum’s refusal to go away is a timely morale boost for the vile little bigot wing of the Republican Party (often referred to simply as “the Republican Party”) since said wing might soon have to adjust to the tragedy of life without vile little bigot Gary Bauer. Bauer might be irrelevant now to all but three or four other Republicans – who are probably related to him – and he quite possibly spends most of his time floating in a jar of formaldehyde on a shelf in a dark K Street basement, but he spoke Tuesday at a DC march organized by the National Organization for [some] Marriage, waving his stunted little saber valiantly at the Republican Party and the spring sky over the National Mall, and declaring the preservation of marriage inequality his personal line in the litmus:

“… if you bail out on this issue, I will leave the party and I will take as many people with me as I possibly can.”

I guess I’m a sentimental fool, but somehow I find it touching that Gary Bauer is still out there on the front lines of the 21st century, fighting to keep a Republican Party recklessly flirting with the 20th stuck firmly in the 19th. And the Unhappy Warrior has company, such as the equally post-relevant Mike Huckabee:

When asked by the website Newsmax “if he sees the GOP ever pivoting and backing gay marriage,” Huckabee admitted they might.

“And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk…”

As someone who’s been suggesting they take a walk for years now, I for one can’t wait.

THREE: Neighborhood Watch

Speaking of raging bigots, the festering sore on the body politic known as the Westboro Baptist Church is still widely acknowledged as an on-point answer to the question: What’s the matter with Kansas? But Fred Phelps’ hatemongering Topeka “church” couldn’t deter a decorative new neighbor from settling in right across 12th Street, a gay-rights center, complete with rainbow-painted clapboard and a conspicuous Pride flag:

The center is the work of a roving do-gooder named Aaron Jackson, a 31-year-old community-college dropout whose other projects have included opening orphanages in India and Haiti and buying a thousand acres of endangered rain forest in Peru. This year, his charity, Planting Peace, also intends to de-worm every child in Guatemala.

While Planting Peace works for a worm-free Guatemala, the folks across the street will be equally busy. Currently, they’re gearing up to picket not only the Final Four at the Georgia Dome, but Kansas City concerts by Bon Jovi (who apparently “stood by silently” while gay people “took over this nation”), Itzhak Perlman (for killing Jesus), Carrie Underwood (for “promoting sin and shame”) and Fleetwood Mac (because “singer Stevie Nicks proudly joins fellow sodomitical harlots Lady Gaga, Cher and Madonna as a well known ‘gay icon'”).

Is it just me or is Sodomitical Harlots the greatest band name ever? Oh, and call me petty, but why, when I simply want to know what the Westbores are up to, do I have to wander around 10 of their deeply hideous websites? Why can’t they just put everything together under one convenient URL, like Continue reading Take Five (Zero Worship edition)

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Take Five (Cry If I Want To edition)

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ONE: There’s Got to Be a Morning After

On November 7, the sun rose over a Republican Party in bleary-eyed disarray. Clearly, it was time for institutional soul searching, time to push the chair back from the immovable feast of civic ignorance, time to build bridges to women, blacks, Hispanics, the LGBT community, time to stop screeching and – politely, respectfully, humbly – rejoin the American conversation.

Naturally, none of this happened. Instead, the GOP nonchalantly brushed the cigarette butts off the pizza crusts, shook off its electoral hangover, and resumed its reckless bender. Compromise? Nope. Public interest? Don’t care. Policy proposals? Not a chance. Constitution? Screw it.

There’s no better (meaning worse) example of this than Louie Gohmert. The fifth-term Texas Congressman kicked off 2013 by joining with the equally loathsome Paul Broun to nominate Allen West for Speaker of the House, but quickly moved on to what Gohmert considers much more serious business, in this case the defense of the Republic from the grave and gathering threat of, uh… sharia law.

Gohmert used a recent appearance on a rightwing radio show to share his “thoughts” on the topic:

We – we’ve got some people that think Sharia Law ought to be the law of the land, forget the Constitution. But the guns are there, that Second Amendment is there, to make sure all the rest of the Amendments are followed.

Of course, this is the same guy who commented, following the Newtown massacre:

I wish to God [the principal] had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.

If there’s a silver lining to having Gohmert sitting in the House of Representatives, it’s that he no longer presides as Chief Justice of the Texas 12th Court of Appeals, a position to which he was appointed in 2002 by fellow empty-headed loudmouth Rick Perry.

TWO: Michele Bachmann, Job Creator

Her presidential campaign never got past Iowa. She barely held on to her House seat despite outspending her Democratic opponent by a factor of 11. She’s currently embroiled in a sordid set-to with former campaign staffers over unpaid wages and various other alleged improprieties. Despite all that, Michele Bachmann is heartily pleased with herself.

In an appearance at Patrick Henry College the other day as part of the school’s Newsmakers interview series, Bachmann boasted:

“If you’re a conservative you can never get anything wrong and I was very proud of the fact that I didn’t get anything wrong that I said during the course of the debates… It forces a person to be better. You have to be a virtual Wikipedia.”

Or not. At all. As Raw Story points out:

During the Republican presidential primary debates, Bachmann claimed the HPV vaccine could cause mental retardation.

And in a later debate, Bachmann claimed she had never made the claim.

She also claimed President Barack Obama had “the lowest public approval ratings of any president in modern times,” accused former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of implementing “socialized medicine,” and said the U.S. “will be paying for the entire People’s Liberation Army of China” by 2015.

In a November 2011 debate, Bachmann insisted that the Obama Administration had canceled the Keystone XL pipeline (it hadn’t) and the 20,000 jobs it would supposedly create (it won’t), and that the President had met, without preconditions, no less, with Iranian officials (he didn’t).

This is just the latest example of Bachmann vigorously and quite inappropriately patting herself on the back for veracity she doesn’t possess. In one of the debates, she went as far as asserting that PolitiFact backed her up:

“After the debate that we had last week, PolitiFact came out and said that everything I said was true.”

Of course, Politifact had done no such thing:

… in fact, Bachmann earned two ratings from us at that debate, a Mostly True for her claim that Newt Gingrich advocated for the individual mandate in health care and a Pants on Fire for her claim that Mitt Romney set up a health plan in Massachusetts that is “socialized medicine.”

And PolitiFact didn’t let it go at that:

… The fact that Bachmann would cite us was interesting given that her PolitiFact report card shows 60 percent of her ratings have been False or Pants on Fire.

In another debate, Bachmann hilariously claimed that raising the debt ceiling would be equivalent to handing Barack Obama a “blank check,” but I agree with John Avlon that a favorite hit from the Bachmann songbook of deceit is this:

“This is one thing we know about Barack Obama. He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He’s outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.”

Bachmann may consider herself a “virtual Wikipedia,” but I think Robert Schlesinger was a lot closer to the mark when he described her as:

… practically a walking, talking full-employment plan for journalistic fact-checkers.

THREE: Three of an Imperfect Pair

But a vibrant democracy needs more than just elected asshats; it also needs unelected ones. Enter Larry Pratt, Stan Solomon and Greg W. Howard.

Pratt is something of a Renaissance asshat. Yes, he did serve briefly in the Virginia House of Delegates, but he’s been far more active and effective since leaving office. He founded the xenophobic organization English First, served as a board member of ALEC, and currently helms Gun Owners of America, a group of firearms fetishists who consider the NRA a bunch of pinko sellouts.

Solomon is a broadcast hatemonger with a particular bent for homophobia, and is best known for his inability to shut up.

Howard is sort of a journeyman asshat. He considers Alan Keyes “eloquent” and Twitter a “haven for cyberbullying, pornography, racism,” he describes abortion in the African American community as “America’s Holocaust,” and he has a strange obsession with Saul Alinsky, in much the same way, I suppose, that some people are obsessed with Space Food Sticks or surreys with a fringe on top or The Buggles. Continue reading Take Five (Cry If I Want To edition)

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Take Five (The Wrong Remains the Same edition)

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ONE: “What part of ‘second’ don’t you understand?”

Did you daydream that Republicans would accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s renewed mandate and resolve to be a little more cooperative? That restless legions of Teabaggers and assorted civics-challenged bigots would cease their puling about “Socialism!” and “Death Panels!” and their frenzied flocking to gun stores and gun shows in advance of an imaginary Obama vendetta against the Second Amendment? That the comically desperate birthers would quietly disperse at last, their tumid fantasies of the Republic being “saved” by Antonin Scalia and/or Donald Trump deflated for all time?

Yeah, neither did I.

President Obama’s second term already seems destined to be as rife as his first with an unrelenting din of obstructionist Republicans, conspiracy cranks and bullet-headed jerks utterly horrified by the President’s only-half-white pigmentation. Hold your breath and let’s start at the very bottom of the barrel.

Although her campaign to become an obstructionist Republican was a characteristically garish failure, Orly Taitz certainly has the conspiracy crank and bullet-headed jerk categories comprehensively covered. The national poster child for every fool out in the darkness aspiring to be a dentist/attorney/fanatic has once again been smacked down from the bench, in this case by District Court Judge Morrison C. England Jr. in Sacramento:

“Your argument, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” the judge told her at one point…

“Why do you keep filing these lawsuits when they keep getting rejected?” England asked…

Taitz responded by comparing herself to Thurgood Marshall and his persistence in filing suits to fight segregation. She explained that one of the plaintiffs is a Republican elector for Mitt Romney, who came in second to Obama in November.

“But second,” England countered. “What part of ‘second’ don’t you understand?”

Like Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons, no matter how many times she finds herself running right off the edge of a mesa (carrying an AcmeTM anvil) Taitz doesn’t quit. And her fans love her for it. Her website – not linked here because it’s said to be riddled with viruses and spyware – recently featured this testimonial from someone purporting to be a court reporter in attendance at the oral arguments before Judge England:

… I found the judges actions to be unbelievable.  There is something terribly wrong when our judiciary system will not stand up and take note of this kind of blatant corruption. I was one of the last ones filing out that shock you hand, it was a pleasure. Although I am on a fixed income, I will contribute to your (our) cause in the near future. Sincerely, Vernon Steinkamp

Personally, I think there’s something terribly wrong when the “judiciary system” allows Vernon Steinkamp to transcribe legal proceedings, but perhaps that’s why they put him on a fixed income. Still, I’ve read enough of Taitz’s submissions in serial unsuccessful proceedings to think Mr. Steinkamp might just be her ideal transcriptionist. At a minimum, I surely would like to see him, um, shock she hand.

Elsewhere on the “World’s Leading Obama Eligibility Challenge Web Site,” you can find Taitz’s funhouse-mirror musings on the proceeding in Sacramento. Ever wanted to know how the exact opposite of a great legal mind works? Here’s how:

The judge nodded and told me, indeed the U.S. Constitution does not require the US President to have valid IDs.

I responded to him that the U.S. Constitution does not require the President to have a pulse also…

Taitz is at least perceptive enough to notice that Judge England was pained by the proceeding, but earnestly misconstrues the cause of his suffering:

The judge lowered his head, he was holding his head with his hands, he was clearly following the marching orders from the regime and was deeply ashamed of it. A number of people later told me that they felt that the judge looked like he was ashamed of what he was doing…

For Taitz, though, misconstruing things is a vocation, a calling, a crusade:

I showed him that it is impossible to have a white hallo around words if you only place a document on the green safety paper…

It seems that during Obama regime the only ones who get protection from the law are the criminals, the law abiding citizens are completely deprived of all of their rights, the only thing they have to protect them, is ammo…

Well, and those shocking hands, of course. As is customary with any story involving Taitz, the weirdness soon got ratcheted up further. After Judge England rejected her claims, he went on to reject her emergency 60(b) motion, which alleged – among many other things – that the President has, or is, a double. Or something:

Additionally, widely published picture by Dr. Scott Inoue, Obama’s former classmate, shows Barack Obama as a third grade student in Hawaii in 1969. At the same time official Obama school records show him in Indonesia in 1967-1969 attending school in Jakarta Indonesia under the name Barry Soetoro. It means that from January 1, 1967 till 1969 we could see two distinct individuals: Barry Obama residing in Hawaii and Barry Soetoro residing in Indonesia. We do not know, which one of them came back to the U.S. in 1971… If Barry Soetoro came back, than the question is, what happened to Barry Obama? Is he even alive? A number of high ranking officials of the U.S. Government and the government of Hawaii are complicit in the most egregious crimes, cover up of the forgery, however it might be more than fraud and forgery. If Barry Soetoro came from Indonesia instead of Barry Obama, this is espionage.

TWO: Failing Upward

At the moment, Taitz is aglow with the prospect of a potential new ally, in the form of a nakedly political Supreme Court controlled by the Republican Party, or at least a powerful faction of it. She buoyantly announced recently that the Supreme Court doesn’t yet find her as irritating as Judge England does. Perhaps they’re still unaware of her terrible prose:

Press release!

Law offices of Orly Taitz

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States John Roberts scheduled a case by attorney Orly Taitz dealing with Barack Hussein Obama’s use of forged IDs to be heard in conference before the full Supreme Court…

Please, keep in mind, Richard Nixon was reelected and sworn in, but later was forced to resign as a result of Watergate. over 30 high ranking officials of Nixon administration including Attorney General of the United States and White HouseCcounsel were indicted, convicted and went to prison.  ObamaForgery gate is a hundred times bigger then Watergate.  More corrupt high ranking officials, US Attorneys, AGs and judges were  complicit, committed high treason by allowing a citizen of Indonesia and possibly still a citizen of Kenya Barack Hussein Obama, aka Barack (Barry) Soebarkah, aka Barack (Barry) Soetoro to usurp the U.S. Presidency by use of forged IDs and a stolen Social security number.

The Supreme Court will turn its collective mind to the case in a February 15 conference, and if four of the justices decide it’s warranted, the Court will go on to hear argument. In other words, the Supreme Court is going to waste time deciding whether to waste further time on this scurrilous nonsense. If that’s not outrageous enough, consider the possibility that, just maybe, Clarence Thomas will open his yapper during consideration of Taitz’s litigation, now that he has recently broken seven years of weird silence from the bench. Heady days for democracy. Continue reading Take Five (The Wrong Remains the Same edition)

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