What is racism? Is it a universal idea? A judgment about biological identity? A group of dysfunctional behaviors in a culture? Persistent myths about a community’s strength and weaknesses? Does it belong equally to white and black, and yellow and tan?
Is racism a political idea? A wedge for advantage? Does it exist? Is it an excuse? Do statistics verify its presence? What role does it play in society? How does it change individual lives?
Racism does exist; it always reflects the role race plays in society. For instance, the structures and forms of racism during slavery have virtually no role in society today. The laws, punishments, limits and ideas that governed race then were very different and many have been erased.
Since these ideas have lost their viability, does that mean racism has ended? In modern society with its pledge to equality, has racism been eliminated? No. But it has changed forms. Remember, each era produces its version of racism. Remember, the construct of racism is based on the role race plays in the social milieu.
Before looking at modern racism, let’s ask: How does race fit into today’s society?
In America today, race has become the major standard and measure for equality and equal opportunity. Collectively, through numbers and statistics; individually, through incidents and events, race provides the details and the rough measure of fair play and justice. Race sets the bar for social and economic improvement, the standard for civil liberties, but is also the target of anger for those in and out of power, and a source of constant confusion. This positivist function of race is rarely mentioned; race is most often framed as a problem or a source of friction, or as a factor of mistreatment.
But race has noble virtues. It is the source used to reflect how far America has come in resolving internal tyranny and it measures America’s social progress. It is also a measure of how far apart Americans stand on many social issues. It has been the bubble at the center of the builder’s level.
Race, in part, is the weight of a group response, for both blacks and whites. The shooting of whites by police, while tragic, doesn’t alert the nation to the attack of police violence and misconduct aimed at the American Promise; race is a sentinel for the entire country—not just for blacks. Race puts blacks in the vanguard of social change, yet also makes blacks one of society’s most vulnerable groups. The paradox leads to scepticism and ignorance about the fix for social problems as race as a change agent is caught in a fluid whirlwind of individual and indirect forces.
That is why whites were always visible and angry in the Ferguson protests, every night, in every frame, side by side with blacks. Race is America’s active metaphor for character and justice, for liberty and criminality, for alarm and good riddance. It is not a discussion about blacks or whites, but about the vision and substance of America and the content of the American character, not just of the individuals whose roles shape the discussion.
In the same way, America’s educational success is measured by race. The differences in student test scores reflect race as a means of distributed wealth.
Race as an American idea is always in motion; different than last year, changed by new experiences, redefined by the culture it represents. Unfortunately it is often tied to omissions, deficiencies and neglect more than success, and its noble side is missed.
From this view, I propose racism plays three key roles in today’s America, all three tied to politics and culture:
To unify race appearance (by skin color) into a common culture of values and desired qualities (i.e., loyalty, defense, ideology) that lead to mutual and joint actions for power and privilege limited to and controlled by a group.
To install social barriers supported by legal frameworks and individual decision makers that limit life chances and prospects for many of those outside of the group.
To deny the advantages that racism inherently seeks to make permanent.
The three are easy to understand with examples.
1. At the diner where I often eat, we wondered during the 2012 election how long it would be before Mitt Romney screamed, “I’m white!” to pander for votes. The opposite nearly occurred. Romney’s campaign adviser John Sununu approached that edge, claiming someone needed to teach the President “how to be an American.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich skirted the same precipice: he cited Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial world view” “as the the most accurate, predictive model for his [Obama's] behavior,” calling it “a profound insight.” “The food stamp President” was another of Gingrich’s contributions.
Rick Santorum came within a syllable of an offensive racial slur before he caught himself. Recently, a New Hampshire police chief uttered the word publicly (saying the President “met and exceeded” his criteria). He refused to back down, resigning but never apologizing.
My oft-cited example is the empty chairs that appeared after the 2012 Republican National Convention, tied to tree limbs on private property, often with roped nooses hung over chair backs—performance art that starkly expressed the dark dread of justice as lynching. These spontaneous racial installations were a reminder that the media never reported in 2008 the high degree of fear in the black community for Barack Obama’s life; people were frantic and the hysteria went unnoticed.
Racism is tasteless and invisible—until the first tug of attitude pushes one of its many structures into place to block progress—and to strangle black success. Members of Congress have said Barack Obama was only elected because he is black. Others say he won due to white guilt.
These conversations and actions call white people to band together under a banner of skin: a favorite principle of racism is to unite to defend and defeat the idea of the other. The other is different—and also more dangerous, more deadly, more deficient. The most important other in America is race. Its group tensions involve a history of violence, lynching, lawlessness, blame, poverty and social control.
I think that race as a social measure should change. Women and children are suffering greater attacks than African-Americans in this historical moment; women and children need a movement worthy of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, yet they remain on the edge of America’s conscience. Thankfully, ending domestic violence has become a noble virtue. So should ending the murders of children by their peers.
2. Examples of social barriers abound. The most prominent and dangerous, as US House member John Lewis rightly recognizes, are the state-level bills that are redefining the right to vote. The new tactic recognizes it is not necessary to disenfranchise minority voters en masse (the old, pre-1960s tactic). Trimming voter turnout by 3 to 10 percent will often be enough to swing close national elections.
Remember, racism fits the role of race in society. In politics, that’s votes. After the Civil War, bills sought to disenfranchise the entire Negro vote, which ended with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, in this era, with this Supreme Court, the same outcome can be achieved with a more limited, targeted effort to restrict early voting, raising the bar to voter access by requiring more paperwork and reducing polling hours. Continue reading Racism and Noble Virtues
Monday, at long goddamned last, the travesty that is the Department of Veterans Affairs might be moved a giant step closer to getting fixed, when a joint Congressional committee announces its roadmap to reform. Among a number of major changes, largely at the instigation of co-chair Senator Bernie Sanders, the committee is expected to recommend a significant increase in funding for additional medical professionals, something likely to cause some Congressional Republicans to balk, given how they much prefer throwing borrowed trillions at creating wounded veterans rather than, you know, spending millions to treat them.
Encouragingly, over 100 House members co-signed a letter last week requesting Congressional leadership to keep both houses in session past the scheduled August recess if a bill hasn’t been completed. The other 335 or so were too busy packing their flip-flops and sunscreen, presumably.
Well, it’s now “official,” or at least as “official” as anything emanating from CNN can be. Their breathless new poll shows that if the 2012 election were held today, Mitt Romney would best Barack Obama 53% to 44%. Interestingly, though equally fictionally, the other 3% of voters would divide their benighted ballots among (in no particular order) George W. Bush, Thomas Dewey, Lyndon LaRouche, Rush Limbaugh, Ross Perot and Ted Nugent. While I won’t be sharing my raw data anytime soon, trust me, that conclusion is rigorously scientific. Just like the CNN-ORC International poll was. Of course, the election of 2012 was actually held in – surprise! – 2012, and Mitt Romney, deservedly, now resides in the “where are they now” file. Just like CNN does, come to think of it.
California Governor Jerry Brown heads to Mexico Monday for three days of meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and later with various Central American leaders, as the migrant children crisis continues to develop. Meanwhile, Texas fathead Senator John Cornyn predicts that a “skinnied-down” bill to provide emergency border funding could pass this week, “skinnied-down” being fathead Cornynese for “starved for funds” or “useless” or “c’mon, now, we got us an August recess to get to.”
With 100 days remaining until the mid-terms, Greg Walden, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted over the weekend that November 4 would be a “wave” election for his party. And with 99 days remaining until the mid-terms at time of writing, I predict Greg Walden will be job-hunting beginning November 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/28/14
House Republicans return to Washington this week, and among a host of very bad things, will attempt to expedite the ALERRT Act. While it might sound like yet another example of famously bad rightwing spelling, “ALERRT” is an acronym for “Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency,” which means the bill is actually just another example of famously bad rightwing ideas.
Also on the GOP House agenda is a bill to improve (meaning hobble) the CFPB, and the equally craptacular Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act, which of course is intended solely to stop what Republicans consider targeting of conservative political beliefs.
On Thursday, animatronic has-been Mitt Romney will be shipped to Boston and temporarily uncrated for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser. This is being spun as a show of support for the increasingly radioactive has-been-in-the-making Chris Christie, who chairs the RGA. How can you tell he’s radioactive? Because various fellow Republican governors are already making it a point to tell the press that he isn’t.
In a move almost comically emblematic of the term “military industrial complex,” on Tuesday the President will announce two new so-called innovation institutes, one in Chicago and one in Detroit. The institutes will be developed and funded through a partnership of private industry and the Department of Defense. Can’t see any downside to this. Nope.
Wednesday, the President heads to St. Paul’s splendidly refurbished Union Depot for another in his continuing series of speeches on the economy, this one focusing on “transportation and transit issues.” The White House website notes that he will “announce a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs and restore infrastructure as part of the President’s Year of Action.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/24/14
ONE: One Fling to Rule Them All…
What’s more mawkish than Republicans rallying moistly and noisily around a new standard bearer? Absolutely nothing.
While all but the most stalwart or blockheaded of the party faithful ended up too embarrassed to admit how embarrassed they finally were by George Bush and Dick Cheney, many of them shamelessly went on to embrace a succession of greasy mediocrities like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, Sharon Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Marco Rubio.
The mass infatuations mostly dwindled miserably into scandals, lawsuits, ridicule and/or simple morning-after remorse, but it’s worth remembering that most of these intellectual pipsqueaks retain a mystifying and immovable popularity among one or more dependably Republican demographics.
Enter Ted Cruz, who aspires to be the one fling to rule them all. I confess I’d never even heard of this guy until he appeared at last year’s Republican National Convention. Even then he didn’t make much of an impression, if my synopsis of the first day of the convention is a reliable yardstick:
Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz forsakes the podium and gives a pointless speech as he paces the stage. It’s as if he’s auditioning to be an evangelist. Or a stand-up comic. He points to the debt clock. Yep, the nation is still in debt.
Cruz bellows, “Government is not the answer,” which makes me wonder why he and his fellow Republicans are so damned keen on being elected to office.
As it turned out, the position Cruz was actually auditioning for, then and since, was President of the United States of America. Happily, even some Republicans seem completely appalled by that idea, but Cruz effectively capitalized on the government shutdown and flirtation with default to enhance his grassroots popularity and leadership cred. He also realizes that the GOP’s actual leadership is laughably inept, something he telegraphed by upstaging Mitch McConnell‘s announcement of a budget deal. The party is ripe for hijacking, and Cruz – a shrewd demagogue, equal parts Cotton Mather and Joe McCarthy – seems poised to do just that, at least temporarily.
Lest Cruz’s increasingly high profile and rock star status among zero-information conservative voters make you queasy with thoughts of a presidency in his future, Paul Bibeau offers some reassurance on the subject of Ted Cruz Yet to Come:
We know what happens to Ted Cruz, because it’s happened before…
Ted Cruz runs for president. Jackasses in Iowa talk about his honesty and his directness. They portray him as an outsider, a renegade, a fresh new face. What they mean is something else, something darker. Anyway, soon after that – because of dropping polls, stories of infighting, and some hideous thing he says into a hot mike or on hidden camera – his campaign turns into a space shuttle made of balsa.
Does it stop there? Christ, no. Because then Ted Cruz finds what he was meant to do all along. He’s going to get a TV show, a radio gig, or an income stream from giving speeches to the kind of folks who think the UN is a totalitarian plot and gay people are poisoning our water supply…
Yeah, that sounds about right. If Republicans do only one thing well – and indeed, yes, they actually do only one thing well – it’s that never go away. Examples come readily to mind. Not only did the outlandishly repugnant Tom Delay avoid prison; he’s working on a book with infamous huckster Jerome Corsi. Dick Cheney, risen from the dead for the sixth or seventh time, is energetically spitting ichor at Barack Obama and still stubbornly insisting that the invasion of Iraq actually had something to do with weapons of mass destruction. Sarah Palin also has a book coming out, and still found time to pretend she shot a bear. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has remade himself yet again, this time as a Democrat, and is probably going to run for another term. Hell, Ronald Reagan has been dead for almost a decade, but stick any Republican in front of a microphone and you’re bound to hear his name invoked, with stupefying reverence, within about 60 seconds.
No, they never go away, so get used to Ted Cruz. He’s only just getting warmed up.
TWO: Houses of the Holy Moly
Further to that last-ditch attempt to block construction of Mitt Romney’s La Jolla McManor discussed in the previous edition of this column, the California Coastal Commission recently shot down Anthony Ciani’s appeal, clearing Casa Romney to go forward, weird-rich-guy car elevator and all.
Romney being Romney, he’s also building a house in Holladay, Utah, and it’s going to have a weird-rich-guy feature of its own: a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. Why a secret room? It’s just a guess, mind you, but behind those shelves I picture an exact replica of the Oval Office, a place where the hapless millionaire, safely hidden from view, can pretend he became leader of the free world after all, manage imaginary crises, sign imaginary executive orders, conduct imaginary diplomacy, and give imaginary addresses to the nation, while “Hail to the Chief” loops stirringly in the background. Continue reading Take Five (We Don’t Need Another Zero edition)
ONE: Death Becomes Them
Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).
Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).
It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.
TWO: Squeaker of the House
John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”
Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.
THREE: China Syndrome
You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.
I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”
Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:
The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…
The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.
Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)
With the House and Senate now shuttered until September, anyone seeking a quick fix of foolishness this week will have to look beyond the Beltway. Ames, Iowa would be an ideal place to start.
On Saturday, Ames hosts the second annual “FAMiLY LEADERSHIP SUMMIT,” where you’ll be able to hear a variety of speakers each “address a ‘singular’ and ‘major’ threat to America and to America’s families, along with the opportunity for leadership solutions to these threats,” and maybe even find out why “The FAMilY LEADER” organization exempted the “i” from their all-caps name. For a mere $49, you can savor speakers such as washed-up actor Stephen Baldwin, washed-up politican Rick Santorum, and tufted pink windbag Donald J. Trump, and your boxed lunch is included. I have no inside info, but I’m guessing that the “singular” and “major” threats to America will include minorities, gay people, SNAP recipients, Girl Scouts and Democrats.
If that shindig seems insufficiently compelling, you might consider Tuesday’s fundraiser for New Hampshire Republicans in Wolfeboro, headlined by someone named Mitt Romney, who apparently has a summer home there. It seems not all fools and their money are soon parted; as of this writing, there are still $1,500 VIP tix available.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns has just wrapped up another Cairo trip after discussions with various Egyptian politicians and interest groups, and conjoined twits Lindsey Graham and John McCain are likely to head there this week at the behest of the Obama Administration. If their efforts falter, I hope the President sees fit to send reinforcements, like maybe the other 44 members of the Senate Republican Conference. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/5/13
ONE: “Please run for president. Please run for president.”
They nominated an entitled, anti-charismatic corporate raider whose positions change with the tides and whose religion is considered by much of the party’s base to be a cult, and they still can’t seem to shake off their amazement that they failed to regain the White House. Nevertheless, Republicans are already desperately rummaging around for their next presidential contender, and they might want to be careful what they wish for.
Donald Trump has apparently spent about a million bucks on “electoral research” in advance of a possible 2016 run. Although he routinely overstates his net worth, this kind of money is no big deal to Trump, and of course we’ve all seen this reality show before, when he hinted and flirted and teased about thwarting a second Obama term before finally endorsing Romney, so perhaps there’s nothing to this beyond typical Trumpian hot air. Or maybe this is how he gets revenge for being dumped from the program at the Republican National Convention. Or maybe he’s serious, in which case it’ll be a groove watching the party scramble to cut him off at the knees.
With no apparent awareness of the irony, Trump recently told a gathering of the Oakland County Republicans in Michigan:
“Everybody tells me, ‘Please run for president. Please run for president.’ I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along.”
TWO: Ventura Biway
But what if an even more egregiously self-aggrandizing blowhard came along instead? Former Minnesota Governor and inveterate clod Jesse Ventura was in Saint Paul last Friday to honor a retiring State Patrol sergeant, and mused about an independent run in 2016:
“… 2016 is an opportune moment because there’ll be no incumbent,” he told reporters after the reception. “I believe one issue that would carry me to victory … I would give the people of America to their first opportunity to elect a president who doesn’t belong to either party, since George Washington.”
Or at least their first opportunity since 2012, when the last spate of deluded independents threw their hats in the ring to no avail. If a Ventura candidacy might worry The Donald at all, the Star Tribune has some reassuring words for him:
The fact that [Ventura] lives in Mexico much of the year and that he would want shock-jock Howard Stern as his running mate suggest that this seed might never germinate.
And if it ever does, Candidate Trump could just tap Gary Busey for his running mate, and the balance of kitschy weirdness would be instantly restored.
THREE: Yawn Top of the World
As for that entitled, anti-charismatic corporate raider I mentioned above, he and his arrogant, peevish, spectacularly insincere spouse are back in the news, because… well, frankly, I have no idea why. Perhaps they’re already tired of playing with their car elevator.
Mitt is currently hosting a two-day something-or-other in Park City, Utah, attended by Chris Christie and Paul Ryan, among others. Ann, meanwhile, recently talked to CBS, vaguely, about possible ’16 nominees:
“There are some great candidates out there and, you know, I think Mitt and I are always very, very partial to Paul Ryan but, you know, we don’t even know if he’s going to run… but there are some good candidates.”
Mitt had his own interview with the Wall Street Journal, and talked, vaguely, about his personal life, which sounds a little like a Habitrail: Continue reading Take Five (Party Down edition)
Have you noticed how we now log our tragedies by their dates?
We have killed more of our own citizens with guns than have died in all the wars the US fought since the Revolution (212,000+).
Robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s March, time to take advantage of the wind energy from the GOP check-kiting plan to use empty Treasury coffers to pay government debt in lieu of their first choice of default.
When is the time ninety percent of Americans agreed on anything? Astounding, across the hills and vales of the majestic plains below the purple mountains, ninety percent of America agrees on purchasers of guns being reviewed by background checks.
Old Westerns had heroic characters famed for the use of guns, who often worked indirectly on-screen to prevent the ownership and use of guns for self-defense or to settle disputes, due to the lessons learned from their own personal, on-screen (or back story) experience (fictionally!). As famed gun users in a violent era, no Western movie hero argued on-screen for increasing the ownership of guns. Those who assembled armies of guns were labeled bad guys. Of course, the NRA would now call good guys trying to limit guns a fantasy. The NRA position is now the one endorsed by Hollywood’s worst outlaws. (I call their view a curse. And at least thirteen senators want America to become the OK Corral.)
Maybe the two or three members of Congress from Florida who are calling the shots for a full congressional investigation of Jay-Z and Beyoncé visiting a children’s dance troupe, an arts school, and an elderly, well known Cuban singer, and Jay-Z being photographed with a Cuban cigar and the two eating in privately-owned restaurants while visiting Havana will come in time to see such a call as a demand for government to grossly intrude in the lives of citizens (a position the Congress members profess to abhor!), and more importantly, a spurious, non-productive use of government resources, a waste of money for political frivolity that represents the excesses that give government a bad name (and negate the fervent claim of fiscal fidelity put forth by these same Congress members who are suddenly eager to practice a violation of their core campaign, party, and personal principles!).
The couple had the proper license for cultural exchanges that meet US guidelines for travel to Cuba. To call the famous couple’s trip “tourism” is another example of the petty insignificance associated with outsized, politically faked outrage (their indignation targeted at wealthy minority celebrities who didn’t stay up late in South Beach clubs). The Cuban people themselves seem to disagree with the American Congress members; they cheered wildly, smiled, clapped, and were excited everywhere the couple went. (Was this a state demonstration ordered by Raul Castro?)
The Congress members manufactured a non-issue to stoke anger and resentment. Do you believe there is a patriotic cause to be served by closing cultural contacts with Cuba—and leaving open the pipeline to Mitt Romney’s Grand Cayman accounts?
In fact, what has the boycott of Cuba proven other than we can boycott Cuba? Did it improve the lives of Cubans? Bring them closer to full liberty? Topple the regime? End human rights violations? Or comfort an old anger?
Both Virginia and Florida have new state educational standards that differ for children based on their ethnicity and race. In Florida, the tax dollars of a black parent buy fifty percent of the standard that the tax dollars of a white parent do. When vouchers are created, vouchers for black parents will buy fifty percent less education than those of whites—but both meet state-approved standards. Suddenly, black children will be successful in charter schools—achieving an official, approved state standard fifty percent lower than the one set for whites.
Who thinks of these things?
How come big news is never any longer about big ideas?
GOP Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader of the Senate, brought up a big name this week, a seminal event in America’s history, Watergate. In his description of the leak of a strategic meeting for his re-election, he conveniently compared it to the famous Watergate break-in (done by operatives working for a Republican Presidential campaign effort!) and re-wrote the history of political taping: he suggested the tapes were obtained by bugs placed in his office!
He ignored the rich irony that the content of the tapes brought the presidency of Richard Nixon down. Nixon’s tapes revealed and documented acts illegal and unethical. McConnell’s tapes called for focusing on an opponent’s mental health issues. McConnell’s own mental health and morals should be questioned and come under inspection. He lies. He is delusional (by any standard). He utterly lacks standards of social behavior. He violates community ethics. He is unable to accept responsibility. He is devoid of honesty or fair play. Will the same personal flaws that once got Richard Nixon impeached get Mitch McConnell reelected?
In the House, McConnell has a kindred spirit in Paul Ryan. In submitting his budget plan for marking, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) detailed the rules Paul Ryan and his staff specified “by which revenues and spending would evolve.”
Ryan told the CBO to assume his Medicare plan would hold costs to half a percent above GDP growth. He required the CBO to assume spending on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would grow at the rate of inflation. He told the CBO to assume that federal spending, outside of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will fall to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050. He chairs the committee that oversees our national budget!
The President apologized to California’s Attorney General for saying she was America’s “best looking” state Attorney General. In a country whose largest media event, the Super Bowl, included Jay-Z’s wife in full breakdown mode, and after a CBS memo for the Oscars, the Onion’s Oscar night misstep that many called “free speech,” thousands of scatological posts about the President’s own sexuality (one asking the First Lady how it feels to be “a beard”) and scathing comments about the First Lady’s body image, none which rise to the level of a comment using the phrase “good looking,” why all the noise?
The point here (and for the whole piece!) is to point out that when an event or phrase is singled out and profiled, it is generally tied to a deeper cultural meaning that the media ignores, one hidden by the obvious and transparent political claims being made. And these deeper meanings must be reviewed and weighed not as tit and tat or good and bad or double evils or final reasons (or tennis returns! Go Serena!), but for the weight they add to or take away from the collective progress, peace, and love, and how they mark our path.
The diet of Republican politics has a lot of fat and greasy palms and bad choices for America’s health. But the GOP has staked a claim on obscuring facts and proclaiming the end of the world.
Fact: No President in history has been as emotionally public and transparent as Barack Obama. (Try to imagine any GOP President or nominee saying to a crowd, “I love you back.”) His hugs of Michelle I sometimes feel should be private, so intimate do they appear. (I have written here of eagles locking talons!) But to my memory, his words should have been public; beauty is a gift and an aesthetic that we can appreciate, and should not be tied to the idea that its acknowledgement belittles others or crosses a conventional line of correctness—but more, in the complex of my own memory, I have waited for this day, because I am a Southerner and I remember the hoped-to-be pardoned Scottsboro Boys and I remember Emmett Till. Continue reading How Come Big News Is Seldom About Big Ideas?
This week marked the tenth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq, illegal as in fraudulently undertaken, thereby invalidating any supposed sanction previously conferred either by Congress or the United Nations, and also incomprehensibly immoral, like all crimes against humanity.
There should be no surcease, ever, of denunciation of the criminal horror unleashed on Iraq by the Bush administration and those who helped enable it, the latter largely for shamefully political reasons. In a nation with such a bounteous supply of prisons, there’s plenty of room to house the guilty for the rest of their lamentably natural lives, and their accomplices for some fraction thereof.
I have no hope that either will ever happen.
This week, fifteen months after the last combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq, the anniversary was marked in George Bush’s “beacon of democracy in the Middle East” with a wave of lethal violence, tersely quantified by the New York Times:
… 57 dead and nearly 190 wounded in separate attacks that included 17 car bombs, 2 adhesive bombs stuck to cars, and a killing with a silenced gun.
This week, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies released the results of a study conducted by its Cost of War Project. The study found:
The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest…
The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number…
When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.
Yes, effecting mass death, destruction and chaos is more efficient than ever, yet it still doesn’t come cheap. Of course, that’s not how the Bush junta made its sales pitch. In the run-up to The Decider’s trigger finger getting intolerably itchy, Mitch Daniels, his OMB director, nudged up the saturation on the administration’s already over-saturated blue skies, to obscure what it would really cost in borrowed cash to dust off Saddam Hussein as one would a garden pest and install a compliant regime straight out of whatever remained of Dick Cheney’s wet dreams:
Mr. Daniels would not provide specific costs for either a long or a short military campaign against Saddam Hussein. But he said that the administration was budgeting for both, and that earlier estimates of $100 billion to $200 billion in Iraq war costs by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, were too high.
And then he added a scabrous little grace note:
Mr. Daniels cautioned that his budget projections did not mean a war with Iraq was imminent, and that it was impossible to know what any military campaign against Iraq would ultimately cost.
The viciously, deliberately dishonest math behind all this has long been known, although it has constantly been revised upwards. Contrasts were drawn between prediction and reality almost from the outset, despite the best efforts of White House propagandists, supine but incessantly talkative members of Congress, and the jitterbugging marionettes of the mainstream media. The immense gap between the predicted and actual numbers probably still provokes gales of rheumy cackling whenever the old gang gathers around the fireplace for a snifter of brandy or human blood in whatever dank privy the original PNAC signatories still hold their unholy soirées.
TWO: With Fiends Like These…
Over and above the rancor they directed at Democrats, progressives and various other favorite scapegoats for the deleterious effects of their own wretched ideas, participants at CPAC ‘s 40th anniversary shindig last week were also remarkably splenetic toward each other.
Rick Perry brought a McCain/Romney dartboard:
“Now, the popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections… That is what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012…”
Rand Paul was even more bluntly insolent to his elders:
“The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered… I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?”
Donald Trump’s post-speech press conference featured another of the oafish magnate’s swipes at Karl Rove:
“This is the same mind that spent $400 million and didn’t win a race. He’s the most overrated person in politics…”
Louie Gohmert discharged a lot of indiscriminate buckshot, some of which winged the Nixon administration:
“Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we should not win it.”
Sarah Palin continued her lupercalian vendetta against sort-of-Republican Mike Bloomberg:
“Bloomberg’s not around,” Palin joked as she slurped on a giant soda, “our Big Gulps are safe.”
Brent Bozell dragged in a whole sack of grudges. Against, for example, Paul Ryan:
“… your proposed budget that has the federal government spending $41 TRILLION over the next ten years, with more and more and more spending increases every single year, and assumes all the oppressive Obamacare taxes. Congressman, that’s what liberal Democrats do, not us.
“This is not conservatism. It is, literally, Democrat Lite…”
Against Haley Barbour:
“… my friend, when you call for unity and on conservatives to ‘sing from the same hymnal’ and then publicly trash good conservative groups like Club for Growth for supporting good conservatives, you’re out of tune, and you’re out of line…”
Against the House leadership:
“John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy… you, like virtually every single other Republican elected to Congress solemnly vowed to rid us of Obamacare, which you can do simply by refusing to fund it. Why haven’t you done so?
“You’ve done nothing for over two years but give us excuses and more commitments that tomorrow, yes tomorrow, you’ll honor your promises. Gentlemen, where promises are concerned, you are not what you promised to be.”
With all the heated infighting, it’s a good thing attendees could buy a Marco Rubio water bottle in the exhibit hall.
THREE: Minority Report I
Desperate to garner votes from minority groups they mostly would prefer not to have anything to do with, Republicans still don’t seem to understand the difference between genuine outreach and simple smash-and-grab.
Take the CPAC breakout session called “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” chaired by K. Carl Smith, an African-American conservative. What could go wrong? Lots: Continue reading Take Five (Really, Really, Really Fuzzy Math edition)
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)