A Good Year for the Poses

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

All in the Family Values

freehandIf members of any political party can lay legitimate claim to the ill-defined moral high ground represented by wooly catchphrases like “personal responsibility” and “family values,” they sure as hell aren’t Republicans.

Amid all the cataclysm and calamity of this summer’s news, the spectacle of the Bob and Maureen McDonnell trial has stood out garishly. Good God, I hate being embarrassed for Republicans, but it’s impossible to read coverage of Virginia’s former First Couple having their turgid day in court without blushing on their behalf. The trial has been a cavalcade of cringing.

Maureen was described by her chief of staff, under oath, as a “screamer” and a “nutbag,” who once accused the chef at the Executive Mansion of sabotaging Christmas with “bad shrimp.” Bob, once considered a future Republican presidential contender, has been portrayed by his defense team as a well-meaning but hapless boob who couldn’t have conspired with his wife to do anything because, darn it all, she only spoke to him when he pissed her off, so he mostly kept his mouth shut to avoid ugly scenes. An e-mail from the then-Governor to his wife in September 2011 was trotted out in court to bolster this narrative:

I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core… I admit that I do keep away from you sometimes and don’t talk to you about important things or problems to avoid confrontation.

Of course the McDonnells are just following a trail – if you’ll forgive the metaphor – blazed by their former counterparts in South Carolina. The meltdown that was the marriage of Mark and Jenny Sanford first came to public notice with a weird episode where nobody could find the then-Governor, who had his own cheering section drooling at the prospect of a future White House run. Despite claims that he was impulsively hiking the Appalachian Trail, it turned out he was merely hiking the skirts of his Argentine mistress. But that was only preamble.

Sanford’s fall was swift, but so was his political resurrection. Despite Jenny Sanford filing a trespassing complaint against her estranged husband in February 2013, in which she alleged “a pattern of entering onto Plaintiff’s property, both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes,” voters in the SC 1st District nevertheless saw fit to elect this clod their Representative in DC in a special election three months later by a margin of almost 9% over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Of course, given the utter pointlessness of the 113th Congress, as scurrilous and useless as any in American history, maybe that’s exactly where he belongs. Continue reading All in the Family Values

Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

StormyMondayMichael Brown’s funeral will be held at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis on Monday. Brown’s father Michael Sr. has appealed to protesters to suspend their activities temporarily. “We just want a moment of silence that whole day. Just out of respect for our son,” he told hip-hop station Hot 104.1 FM. Along with planned memorial services and vigils across the country, a protest is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. outside the White House.

Now that the Iberia Parish, Louisiana Coroner’s Office has released information flatly contradicting outlandish police claims that Victor White III fatally shot himself while handcuffed with his hands behind his back as he sat in a patrol car last March, his death can be expected to resonate anew.

Protests against yet another example of police violence are likely to continue on Staten Island this week after a large Saturday rally led by Al Sharpton over the July 17 death by chokehold of an unarmed African American, Eric Garner, while in custody.

This week, the administration undertakes a review of federal funding and provision of surplus military-grade weaponry to police departments, practices that, like so many other foolish, wasteful and counterproductive policy decisions, were instituted soon after September 11, 2001. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/25/14

Stormy Monday, 7/7/14

StormyMondayThe Republican National Committee unveiled a new fundraising gimmick over the weekend, and this week’s sales figures might provide a handy gauge for just how far gone Republicans currently are. The RNC will reward a $27 donation with a t-shirt bearing the slogan “I MISS W.” The GOP somehow being unaware of that whole universally known red versus blue symbolism thingie, you can have any color you want as long as it’s blue. Though I wonder if a rejected alternate slogan was “I’M STILL WITH STUPID,” I suppose “I MISS W” is close enough. It’ll be an effective way to telegraph to people that they should cross the street if they see you coming, but I’ll bet the RNC could raise way more money by modifying the slogan to “I MISSED W” and adding an image of a shoe to the design. Or a pretzel.

Afghanistan’s election commission, prudently, has not announced preliminary results from the controversial mid-June presidential runoff, but might this week. Meanwhile, Senator Carl Levin, visiting Kabul, and US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham have joined other US officials (like the lamentably ubiquitous Lindsey Graham and John McCain) in calling for an audit of the ballots. In retrospect, our clumsy attempt to bring democracy to Afghanistan should at least have omitted hanging chads.

With all the travails they’ve endured daily for many years now, at least the people of Afghanistan won’t be deprived of, um, Facebook via government decree, as was initially mooted. Hooray. I guess.

Our other nation-gelding – uh, building enterprise in Iraq has to be going better, though, no? In fact, no. 30,000 Saudi troops are amassed at the border between the countries, and the insurgents – ISIS, IS, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week – control some cities large enough that Fox News cheered when troops from the “Coalition of the Willing” took them 11 years ago. Will Iraq’s civil war become a regional war this week? Could be. It’s hard to understand why anyone has to “MISS W,” when in some respects it’s like he never left. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/7/14

The Five

DDI usually write analysis. I identify important points left out of the conversation (Ukrainian gas pipelines; the Koch brothers’ shadow governments in the states, race in the halls of power). I explain how these ideas and forces play out and their potential for unexpected turns. I keep open a global eye, especially in finance (recently, Argentina) and military force multipliers (the Navy’s AEGIS destroyer fleet). My slant is more German, the idea that the world has organic, multi-leveled interconnections, rather than English with its view of the sanctity of contracts or the French faith in rationalism.

I think the South wrote the book on how to leverage denial. And that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has turned denial and fear into a major capital industry to direct politics without creating jobs. AFP just defeated a zoo levy in Columbus, Ohio by calling a slight increase in the zoo levy a “105 percent property tax hike,” calling their effort “education.”

By no means am I an Austrian, the counter flag for conservative ideology about government and markets whose views Paul Krugman describes as cockroach ideas—no matter how many times the ideas are defeated, proven wrong by experience, meticulously deconstructed by theory, they keep crawling back.

I admit I use the I Ching and find dialectical materialism, properly used, produces powerful insights. My thinking revisits the delta—not in Mississippi—but the eight grade algebraic function that calculates and expresses the rate of change, how fast and in what direction change is accelerating or slowing. My 10-year record of writings shows I’m usually a little ahead of the curve.

But today, I am writing head on. As an African-American, I understood the power of emotion and its power to color perspectives—I have witnessed six years of reactions to Barack (and Michele and the children). Frederick Douglass spoke of this emotional power to color and shape discussions in which race was a factor in his time. So did Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who warned of those who “stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of God, the universal Father of all men, and declare that ‘the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.’”

The emotional distortion at the heart of race and power in a different form is at the unspoken center of the nation’s latest firestorm and to understand it, we must return to Aristotle, to his ideas of equality. Aristotle identified two main forms of equality; the relevant one is based on proportion, which for Aristotle meant looking at distribution. How will the effects of an action be distributed? To whom? When? Why; for what end?

So, can a political party who shut down the entire US government and all of its functions—the certifications that maintain the smooth flow of commerce, its payments to small businesses, its legal protections and inspections, its funds to education, hindering the operation of the national defense—who tried to kill health care and leave the poor and elderly to die in states claiming the sanctity of balance sheets–can this party and a rabid Congress convince a nation the Republic is at Defcon One because of the release of five “high ranking” Taliban from Guantanamo in Cuba, to a year’s vacation in Qatar?

I get the anger. I don’t get the threat. Continue reading The Five

The Anti-Christ (for Dummies)

nance2Anti: Opposed to; against.
Christ: Central figure of the Christian faith and originator of its teachings.

Christ told his followers to feed the hungry.

If you are an elected representative who votes to cut off food stamp recipients, you are  anti-Christ.  You are also a despicable human being.

Christ admonished true believers to treat others as they themselves wished to be treated.

If you are a politician who supports laws that treat women, gays/lesbians, those of another faith, race or ethnicity as unequal, you are anti-Christ.  You are also a dumbass bigot.

Christ told his flock that they are their brother’s keeper.

If you fail to “keep” your brother by refusing to extend his unemployment benefits in his time of dire need, you are anti-Christ.  You are also a selfish prick.

Christ bade those who truly loved Him to give up their worldly possessions, and come follow Him.

If you are a mega-church minister living in luxury thanks to church members donating money they can ill afford to do without, you are anti-Christ.  You are also the lowest form of scum imaginable.

Christ said that as we do to the least among us, so we do unto Him.

If you vilify those whose very survival depends on government assistance by calling them lazy parasites who are sucking the nation’s coffers dry, you are anti-Christ.  You are also a lying little fuck.

Christ clearly stated that we should care for the sick and dying.

If you are a governor who refuses to expand Medicaid because your standing among fellow Party members might be negatively affected if you do so, you are anti-Christ.  You are also an arrogant asshole for thinking that your political aspirations are more important than those you condemn to sickness and death.

Christ said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”.

If you are a politician who promotes war over diplomacy, you are anti-Christ.  You are also a coward who would see others die rather than be labelled a bleeding heart liberal by your warmongering political colleagues.

If you fill your campaign coffers or your collection plate by doing any or all of the above while holding yourself out as a Christian, you are anti-Christ.  You are also a self-serving,  hypocrite whose actions are beneath contempt. Continue reading The Anti-Christ (for Dummies)

Democrats: Speak Up!

DDSmall-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.

Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.

In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).

Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.

Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.

But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.

Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!

Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.

History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.

Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.

Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.

Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!

Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

StormyMondayEven before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.

Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.

Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.

Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!

The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

Try It Out!

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!

Stormy Monday, 2/17/14

StormyMondayMere days after Republican capitulation on the debt ceiling, scientists don’t yet know whether the violent disruption of the space-time continuum will be temporary or permanent. Congressional Republicans aren’t waiting on a verdict, of course, since they’re already working on other ways to ensure that the government does very little actual, you know, governing. Plus they hate science anyway.

Monday, the President returns to Washington from Sunnylands, the California retreat where he and China’s Xi Jinping held talks last year. The President hosted King Abdullah of Jordan at Sunnylands on Friday, and once the statecraft was completed he headed for the golf course with some old friends from Hawaii.

Speaking of Hawaii, the state’s legislature has an interesting week scheduled. Among other things, lawmakers will debate whether to force stores to lock up spray paint and other “graffiti materials,” forcing consumers to ask retail staff for the items. They’ll also be considering a one-year exemption from jury service for breastfeeding mothers, a ban on smoking in and around public housing complexes, and a ban on the use of drones for information-gathering purposes by anyone other than law enforcement officials.

Wednesday, the POTUS heads for Toluca, Mexico for a brief summit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Tagging along will be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, still ardently trying to pitch the Keystone XL pipeline. Will he offer to take back Justin Bieber to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/17/14