Take Five (Woe Is Us edition)

ONE: ZOMG? Really?

Heavens to Betsy Ross! Another Obama Administration… uh… scandal. The NSA has been metadata harvesting. Of course, they’ve been doing so for years, with Congressional oversight and sanction of the FISA court, both a result of restrictions placed on executive branch power by a bipartisan legislative consensus after unlawful abuse by the Bush (mis)Administration. Still, this is totally outrageous, yes?

Well, no. It’s the latest flimsy “scandal” the corporate media and its leering Republican friends want us to believe the Obama White House is “mired in” or “overwhelmed by,” with an added fillip of racy intrigue provided by a mysterious young NSA contractor whose motives, biography and even current whereabouts all remain tantalizingly shadowy.

The applicable law and degree of oversight both need substantial improvement. Perhaps that would have already happened had so many of us on the left not essentially gone silent about this until these recent “revelations” (which so far have been in no meaningful way revelatory). An honest national dialogue about surveillance and a host of other “War on Terror” issues is years overdue. Unfortunately, the odds seem stacked against it.

For starters, it would have to exclude a Congress plainly not up to the task of reform. Worse, there’s a panoply of untrustworthy interests out there whose fondest desire is to gin up issues like this into improbably grave and gathering threats to the Republic itself.

Thus the hallelujah chorus of impeachment-starved Republicans, paranoid Teabaggers and Paulite nincompoops is now accompanied by the off-key descant of ostensibly progressive Obama “critics” who, implausibly, fancy themselves his base and routinely mistake being unreasoning hotheads for being principled firebrands.

Worse still, “discussion” of pretty much every legitimate issue nowadays – like the very legitimate issue of balancing domestic security with civil liberties – ends up spun into something apocalyptic, with strenuous blogospheric adjectives like “shocking” or “Orwellian” or “authoritarian” or “chilling” breezily deployed on the way to proving, one more tiresome time, that Mike Godwin is a genius.

Worst of all – or simply saddest – the histrionic, helium-pitched high dudgeon is an inadvertent but unmistakable admission by its subscribers of an attention deficit that stretches back through some or all of the past decade, at a minimum. So I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an honest national dialogue on this.

As I’ve noted before, the real scandal is that this is the sort of thing that now passes for a scandal. A few years back, we were all congratulating ourselves about having “become the media.” Ironically, in some not at all positive ways, we truly have.

TWO: FFS Coalition

Meanwhile, on Planet Not Earth, Smilin’ Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition recently concluded its fourth annual “Road to Majority” conference, placating hardcore Republicans who believe the Values Voter Summit and CPAC just don’t provide enough flat-out ignorance, offensive oratory and general communitarian buffoonery every year. Unsurprisingly, the FFC has declared the event “a Success!”

And so it was, if the intention was to gather in one venue the nation’s worst and dimmest, spoon-feed credulous attendees with a ton of high-cholesterol cant, showcase the impressive range of horrendous ideas Republicans embrace, and – best of all – provide the rest of us with some laughs. The laughs began with the speaker roster, which included luminaries like – well, I’ll just let the Coalition’s own event recap speak for itself:

… the three day event…  kicked off with a luncheon featuring Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul,  Sen. Ron Johnson, and Sen. Mike Lee.

Our general sessions included speeches from Sarah Palin, Rep. Paul Ryan, Gov. Jeb Bush, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Rick Santorum, and many more!  At the Patriot Awards Gala Banquet, we recognized Pat Robertson with the Winston Churchill Lifetime Achievement Award, and heard from speakers such as Donald Trump, Rep. Scott Rigell, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Randy Forbes, and special entertainment by Grammy & DOVE Award winning artist Sandi Patty!

When it comes to volume, Ms. Patty’s supple four-octave voice had nothing on the yawping succession of gum-flapping know-nothings who serially seized the podium to offer up cloying patriotic clichés and half-digested Randian roughage.

Newly risen from the dead but still lacking anything approximating charisma, Mark Sanford had a whole lot of stuff to say about government spending, all of it as simpleminded and desolately pointless as if he were reading it off the back of a cereal box:

“Historically, bad things have happened when you spend too much… and I think it’s a moral issue, because it’s the ultimate case of taxation without representation when you have systematically at a government level basically taking from young to afford benefits to old…

“We are at a tipping point the likes of which we have never seen…”

Why, it’s enough to make a principled conservative run screaming for the Appalachian Trail, unless said conservative just mustered up enough gullible poltroons to reward him with another taxpayer-funded gig working for the government he and his fellow Republicans want us to believe they hate so danged much. In which case you can count on him to go away about the same time venereal disease does. Sanford did, however, get one thing right:

“… in many ways I recognize the ways in which I am unworthy of offering my opinion or my perspective on a whole host of things given my failures in 2009.”

Those last five words were completely redundant, of course.

As most such conservative gatherings do, this one featured a scary, washed-up celebrity. With Victoria Jackson, Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris seemingly unavailable, the role went to John Ratzenberger, who loudly requested that a little of Allen West’s, uh, essence be distributed in all 50 states, and presumably in Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa, as well:

“We should really take something from his gene pool and put it everywhere across this great country… [a] real American hero, my friend, Allen West.”

Herman Cain was also there, and his fact-free musings actually made Sanford’s sound statesmanlike by comparison:

“This train is running full speed down the tracks towards socialism and towards communism,” he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “Yes, I said it.”

Yes, he said it. Actually, he says it a lot, mostly when he’s earning some absurd fee to do so. Speaking of absurdity, he also offered up this curious observation:

“After I dropped out of the presidential race because of the viciousness of the media, they thought I was going to be quiet.”

Now, that’s odd. I thought he dropped out because he considers women chattel and couldn’t keep his creepy hands off of them, but I guess that’s something I read in the commie press. No, it seems that the would-be commander-in-chief was forced out of the race because Rachel Maddow and EJ Dionne were being mean to him.

Cain wasn’t the only laughingstock former presidential wannabe at the conference. Rick Perry was there, sharing his inner Rick Perry:

“I woke up the morning after the election of 2012 and was feeling a bit humbled…It was really clear that the case we made as conservatives and, frankly, some of us as candidates, we didn’t move the majority of people in this country…

“I’ve learned a little bit about humility, particularly on national television.  God hasn’t called the perfect to go into public service. He’s called people like you and me. ”

As if to underscore the point, he also said this about (I think) Benghazi:

I fear where we’ve come to in America, where our administration won’t make one phone call to save our men and women in an embassy in Lebanon…”

Silly Rick! Everyone knows Lebanon is a city in Pennsylvania. But Perry, Cain, Sanford and all the other addlepated flat-earthers who spoke were simply prelude to the headliner, that indisputably perfect exemplar of utter know-nothingness, Sarah Palin, who brought a whole steamer trunk full of ludicrous one-liners down from Wasilla. On American intervention in Syria:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing….let Allah sort it out!”

On the Brothers Tsarnaev, with a side order of suddenly-fashionable NSA poutrage:

“Our government spied on every single one of your phone calls but it couldn’t find two pot smoking dead-beat Bostonians with a hotline to terrorist central in Chechnya. Really?”

She also revisited her moth-eaten “death panels” calumny while discussing Obamacare, joked about her own fertility in a swipe at Jeb Bush’s “Road to Majority” comment on fertile immigrants, and in an another apparent swipe – this one at Michelle Obama’s reaction to the boorish Ellen Sturtz – said this:

“If there’s any protesters here, speak now or forever hold your peace…because facing the protesters, facing the critics, that’s something I do well…”

Usually by quitting. Continue reading Take Five (Woe Is Us edition)

Take Five (Cry If I Want To 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)

Take Five (There Oughta Be a Law edition)

ONE: A Good Week for Civil Rights

On February 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared California’s infamous Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Six days later, Washington became the seventh state to enshrine marriage equality into law. These are causes for celebration, but neither fight is over.

The Court of Appeals decision is merely the latest chapter in a story that began in 2008. The next chapter will likely be the written in Washington, once the organization ProtectMarriage.com files a Supreme Court Appeal. The group, which describes itself as a “broad-based coalition of California families, community leaders, religious leaders, pro-family organizations and individuals from all walks of life who have joined together to defend and restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman,” also has the option of an en banc appeal to an expanded judicial panel in the Ninth Circuit.

California marriage rights advocates will have to hope that court action(s) go their way; there seem to be no alternative approaches at this point. Love Honor Cherish, who have fought Prop 8 every step of the way, announced this week that they’ve abandoned their quest for a November ballot measure for formal repeal, following in the footsteps of LGBT advocacy group Equality California, which announced last fall:

In 2009, we anticipated that 2012 would provide our best opportunity in the near term to overturn Proposition 8 at the ballot. However, based on our analysis of public opinion and the significant challenges of the current political and economic climate, we concluded in fall 2011 that more work must be done and announced that we will not lead an effort to return to the ballot in 2012.

Following the enactment of Washington’s new law, marriage inequality zealots immediately began to close ranks:

A group called Preserve Marriage Washington filed Referendum 73 Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures needed by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned…

The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.

Given the time allowed and the low signature threshold, a November ballot measure seems inevitable. To find out how you can help defend hard-won equal rights under the law, go to the Washington United for Marriage website.

TWO: Justice Under Siege

While chilling at his vacation home on the Caribbean island of Nevis last Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, along with his wife and two guests, was robbed at machete-point by an intruder. The robber’s take was roughly $1,200. Happily, no one was hurt.

Since the story was fairly short on details, a number of media outlets supplemented it with crimes involving other justices:

Known crimes against the current justices are rare. In 2004, a group of young men assaulted now-retired Justice David Souter as he was jogging near his apartment in Southwest Washington.

And in 1996, Justice Ruth ­Bader Ginsburg was the victim of a purse-snatching as she and her husband and daughter were walking near the Kennedy Center.

Conspicuously unmentioned in such reports were Justices Scalia and Thomas, but I suppose that’s because they’re much more apt to be perpetrators than victims when it comes to criminal behavior.

THREE: Motor City Madman

General Motors, which you might recall is one of the two giant auto companies Barack Obama saved from extinction, had some good news to share today:

G.M. said it earned a quarterly profit of $472 million, or 28 cents a share, down from $510 million, or 31 cents a share, a year ago. It was the eighth consecutive quarterly profit for the carmaker…

For all of 2011, G.M. earned $7.6 billion, nearly all of it from North America. That was 62 percent higher than the $4.7 billion it earned a year ago and nominally more than G.M.’s previous record of $6.7 billion in 1997 (in today’s dollars, the 1997 profit would be about $9.4 billion).

This comes two days after someone named Mitt Romney (apparently the leader of a group of people who believe Mitt Romney should be President) contributed an op-ed to the Detroit News, in which he vacillates – sometimes within the same paragraph – between decrying President Obama’s handling of the auto bailout and trying to take credit himself for its success:

The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business… The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better… Instead of a bailout, I favored “managed bankruptcy” as the way forward… Shorn of… excess costs, and shorn of the bungling management that had driven them into a deep rut, they could re-emerge as vibrant and competitive companies. Ultimately, that is what happened. The course I recommended was eventually followed…

Now, I’m no diagnostician, but I’m guessing Romney’s confusion could be a result of the weird medical condition he mentions in the same piece:

Cars got in my bones early. And not just any cars, American cars.

Ouch! That might also explain Romney’s apparent preference for driving imports:

[Romney has] released an ad showing him driving around in a fancy Chrysler while he talks about how much he loves Michigan, and all…

And here’s the problem: that Chrysler that he’s driving is a 300 model, and the 300 is made in Canada.

In fairness, Romney does seem to have been driving American back in the days when he, his family, and his Irish setter Seamus made their annual vacation trip to, uh, Canada.

Romney is unambiguous in advising the White House what to do next:

The Obama administration needs to act now to divest itself of its ownership position in GM.

The shares need to be sold in a responsible fashion and the proceeds turned over to the nation’s taxpayers.

As always, President Obama is taking a smarter, more patient approach:

Shares of G.M. are worth about one-quarter less than the price set in an initial public offering in November 2010, when the federal government sold most of the 60 percent stake it received in G.M. after shepherding the company through bankruptcy.

The government still owns 26 percent of G.M., but the Obama administration has delayed plans to sell those shares in the hopes of recovering a larger percentage of its investment as the share price increases.

Oh, and Mitt? One more noteworthy item from today’s report:

The results mean G.M.’s hourly workers in the United States will receive profit-sharing checks next month of up to $7,000, a record…

Sounds like crony capitalism at its finest. Continue reading Take Five (There Oughta Be a Law edition)