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

Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

StormyMondayThe Secret Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility will undertake a procedural review following Friday’s disquieting incident involving a knife-carrying man jumping the fence and actually gaining access to the White House.  Through a spokesman, the President has since expressed “full confidence” in his security detail, a presidential statement I sincerely hope is a bald-faced lie.

Also helping shut the barn door after the horses have bolted, Congressman Peter King told Fox News Sunday he’s “sure” that the House Homeland Security Committee, on which he sits, will launch its own investigation into the incident. Which actually makes the whole thing even scarier…

Accompanied, presumably, by the most hyper-vigilant Secret Service detail ever mustered, the President and Mrs. Obama head for New York City on Tuesday for the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. After addressing the 2014 Climate Summit at the UN, the President will speak at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Wednesday, he’ll address the General Assembly, then chair a Security Council summit on terrorism. The First Lady will give the keynote address at Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Global Education First Initiative. Thursday, the President will speak at a special UN meeting on the Ebola epidemic, before the Obamas return to Washington in the afternoon.

Speaking of the Ebola virus, Sierra Leone yesterday ended a three-day lockdown intended to stop the spread of the epidemic among the country’s six million citizens. The lockdown enabled collection and safe burial of over 70 highly infectious bodies of Ebola victims; Ebola has claimed 560 lives in Sierra Leone during the current outbreak. If the large-scale containment attempt proves effective, expect it to be replicated in other parts of western Africa.

Is it that time again already? Sadly, yes. The 2014 Values Voter Summit descends on Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel Thursday evening, with two and a half days of trash talk and trashy ideas to follow. This year’s theme is “Defending the Dream, Defining the Future,” which, translated from Hyperbolese, means “Liberals hate America.” In other words, pretty much the same theme as the previous eight annual iterations of the event. Someone named Sarah Palin will be speaking at this year’s shindig. If that’s insufficiently loathsome news, the 2014 version of the conclave also features Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Any way you look at it, that’s an impressive amount of pure suckage. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

StormyMondayAt the behest of Attorney General Eric Holder, the body of Michael Brown will be autopsied for a third time this week as federal and state investigations into his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson continue. Tensions between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri showed little sign of abating over the weekend, despite Governor Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew.

The President is still in Washington for a previously announced interruption in his Martha’s Vineyard vacation with the family. The White House announced Sunday that he will receive a briefing from the Attorney General on the situation in Ferguson, and another from the National Security Council on Iraq. He’s scheduled to return to the Vineyard on Tuesday, barring the undeniable possibility that someone somewhere will do what the President would probably describe as “stupid shit.”

Rick Perry will be busy this week insisting to every friend and family member, fellow Texas Republican, probing reporter, and/or pizza delivery guy he encounters that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing despite last week’s grand jury indictment on two felony counts. In a hilarious appearance on Fox News Sunday, Perry claimed:

This is not the way we settle political differences in this country. You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.

Which I guess explains his vigorous efforts in 2011 to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, who favor Democrats, with a draconian voter ID law that, like Rick Perry, will soon be the subject of a court case.

In more than one sense of the term, Amanda Curtis hits the ground running this week as she begins an 11th-hour campaign to hold a Democratic Senate seat after incumbent John Walsh plagiarized himself out of the contest. Montana Democrats chose her over the weekend to replace Walsh, who was himself tapped to replace the mercifully retired Max Baucus. Curtis teaches high school math by day, and hasn’t yet secured a leave of absence from her school board for what virtually all observers consider to be a doomed campaign against Republican Steve Daines. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

Take-FiveONE: Season of the Which?

“Silly season” used to refer to a specific time of year when substantive news was temporarily replaced with outsized coverage of trivial events, quirky happenings, fluff, and the occasional 15-minute political or celebrity scandal. Much like “election season” before it, the term has become meaningless; both “seasons” are now essentially perpetual.

The notion of anything being recognized by huge segments of the corporate media as “important, substantive news” has of course become absurd. They don’t need to bother, since everything is already treated with the monotonous, insincere gravitas they freely bestow on the newest controversy over Justin Bieber or Black Friday brawls or minor clinical studies of caffeine toxicity in rats. Come World War III, I expect to breathe my last with Wolf Blitzer yammering some idiocy faintly at the far edges of my fading consciousness, having screwed up my part of the end of the world by turning on CNN to see what the hell was going on.

But why shouldn’t the media be mired in an endless silly season when one of the two major political parties is too? And Republicans get more ludicrous by the day. Booking Rand Paul to headline the opening of the “African American Engagement Office,” the Michigan GOP’s minority outreach center? Check. George Bush the Lesser’s Chief of Staff carping about President Obama and his administration “misleading” the American people? Check. A white Republican winning office in a predominantly African American district by conning voters into thinking he’s black? Check. Rating Ronald Reagan the nation’s greatest Chief Executive and Barack Obama its worst? Check.

I use the word “silly” with regard to Republicans only because it’s more polite than saying “completely unhinged” or “out to lunch” or “a danger to themselves and others” or “just flat-out batshit.” They embrace a shopworn collection of ideas long ago proven to be unworkable, inequitable and fundamentally anti-American. They put forward candidates with no respect for or knowledge of the political institutions they yearn to become part of. They pander furiously to old-fashioned populism while working strenuously for the elites. They loudly level accusations of class warfare whenever Democrats rightly point out how Republicans themselves declared class warfare and have waged it, brutally, for decades. They play the race card by accusing liberals of playing the race card. With the exception of a very few bravely dissenting voices in their ranks, they hold women, the poor, minorities (visible and invisible), gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, immigrants, the New Deal, the Great Society, the Affordable Care Act, TANF, SNAP, community organizers, the Girl Scouts, the United Nations, the Peace Corps, and most of Europe, the Middle East and Asia in contempt. They’d hate Africa and South America too, if they ever thought about them much.

Republican silliness has left federal agencies hamstrung and courts unable to administer timely justice. It has severely hampered recovery from the worst downturn since the ’30s, a downturn directly caused by Republican profligacy. It has damaged the nation’s credit and credibility, strained international relations, undercut meaningful efforts to combat climate change, advance equality of opportunity, equality of rights. This kind of silliness sickens societies. Its season needs to end.

TWO: North to Alaska

My friend Linda in Anchorage, noting my unwholesome fascination with asshat Republican governors, suggested I check out Sean Parnell. Names like Scott, Snyder, Brewer, LePage, Perry, Walker, Kasich and Haley often make national headlines, but Parnell’s profile has been lower, if only because anyone succeeding Sarah Palin would seem, pending further evidence, unremarkably normal by comparison. Yet Linda’s blunt description of Parnell as a “disaster” looks pretty accurate as far as I can tell.

Case in point, Parnell recently refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, putting his state on par with such shining exemplars of civilization as Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. He even described Medicaid expansion as a “failed experiment” and “hot mess,” which will probably wow the zero-information voters he’ll be relying on for reelection next year. Others are less than wowed:

The Anchorage and Alaska chambers of commerce, the Anchorage NAACP, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, AARP Alaska, Anchorage Faith and Action-Congregations Together, and numerous Democratic legislators and candidates all have pushed for the new coverage.

Asked why he was going against such a diverse list of Alaska groups, Parnell said “each one of those groups you’ve named are responsible for their membership. I’m responsible for all Alaskans.”

Parnell’s definition of “responsible” is, to say the least, idiosyncratic:

Expansion would have benefited 40,000 or more Alaskans, many of them low-income adults without children who currently have no health insurance. It also would have helped hospitals and doctors by reducing the amount of uncompensated care they have to write off and would have brought billions of federal dollars into the Alaska economy.

The story gets worse. While supposedly giving prudent consideration to Medicaid expansion, Parnell’s administration commissioned a study on the subject by the Lewin Group (a subsidiary of the cuddly, community-minded folks at UnitedHealth Group). The study was delivered in April, although Parnell mysteriously claims it only got to his desk mere weeks ago. After months of public records requests for it were refused, the study was publicly released on November 15, just prior to Parnell’s announcement:

Asked whether withholding a study while he and others were thinking it over was a novel interpretation of the state law that requires state records to be made public with few exemptions, Parnell said no one asked him personally for the report. He said he would need to consult with attorneys for more explanation.

Even the Lewin study acknowledges that at least 20,000 of the state’s poor will have no health coverage absent Medicaid expansion. What to do, what to do? Could Parnell’s predecessor have the answer? Of course not, but Sarah Palin recently took time out from promoting a book she’s pretending she wrote, to offer up a synopsis of… hey, let’s just go ahead and call it Sarahcare. Ironically, just reading through it can make a person feel sick:

“The plan is to allow those things that had been proposed over many years to reform a health-care system in America that certainly does need more help so that there’s more competition, there’s less tort reform threat, there’s less trajectory of the cost increases, and those plans have been proposed over and over again. And what thwarts those plans? It’s the far left. It’s President Obama and his supporters who will not allow the Republicans to usher in free market, patient-centered, doctor-patient relationship links to reform health care.”

But the current Republican-dominated political scene in Alaska isn’t all poorly informed heartlessness and grossly uninformed pseudo-policy. Happily, after a long convalescence, Stubbs, feline “mayor” of Talkeetna, is back on the job:

The owner of Stubbs the cat, Talkeetna’s honorary mayor, says he’s settling back into his creature comforts months after being mauled by a dog and severely injured…

A number of city councils have written to Stubbs, with mayors in at least four states — both near and far — offering their sympathies since the attack.

“Even the mayor of Wasilla sent him a card,” [owner Lauri] Stec said.

Stubbs is back to spending time at the bar of Talkeetna’s West Rib Pub, mingling with the citizenry and knocking back catnip water. Stec, who manages the pub, reports that the mayor’s spirits are improving steadily:

“He’s into his routine again and probably being just a little extra-loving, because it’s so nice for him to be social again…”

It’s encouraging to know there’s at least one politician in Alaska who actually cares about people, even if he’s a cat. What a shame Stubbs can’t take on Parnell next November. Continue reading Take Five (Odds & Sods edition)

Stormy Monday, 10/14/13

StormyMondayCan Wall Street talk sense to Congressional Republicans? It’s a trick question, of course; nobody can talk sense to Congressional Republicans. Still, all eyes will be on the financial markets Monday as sluggish negotiations to reopen the government and avert a default continue.

After a weekend marked – make that marred by contrived freak show events, Debtpocalypse, a mere three days away, begins to seem almost appealing, like Snake Plissken triggering a global EMP at the end of Escape from LA. From the grubby spectacle at the World War II Memorial, featuring a joint appearance by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (picture two egos the size of Macy’s parade balloons vying for attention) to the farcical Truckers Ride for the Constitution protest (which caused less traffic disruption than the recent surprise lunchtime stroll to Taylor Gourmet by the President and Vice President) to the supremely offensive display of a Confederate flag outside the First Family’s residence, Republicans have spent most of the weekend scribbling new chapters in the history of American public service. Poorly.

If you’re curious about White House doings this week, a visit to whitehouse.gov won’t provide much information, but you will see this message:

Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this web site may not be up to date. Some submissions may not be processed, and we may not be able to respond to your inquiries.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will head the US delegation as representatives of the US, France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and Iran meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva to discuss curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program as a quid pro quo for a limited reversal of sanctions. On Sunday, Iran refused to comply with a demand that it ship its uranium stockpiles abroad, a demand Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called “a red line.” While President Obama’s late September phone call with Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, might not have signaled the new morning in relations between the two nations many had hoped, there’s still reason to remain hopeful. After all, House Republicans – as far as anyone knows – are not advising Iran’s leadership. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/14/13

Take Five (The Anger Games edition)

ONE: Party Scooper?

Sarah Palin has managed to turn feigned anger into a pretty damned lucrative pseudo-career. Now on her second stint with Fox News and coming off a headlining appearance at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual “Road to Majority” shindig, Palin’s newest gambit is to imply that she might cut and run from the Republican Party. The GOP power structure would probably be relieved were this to happen, but only to a point. Palin’s enduring popularity with zero-information conservatives could be the catalyst for a significant number of traditionally reliable Republican voters bolting for weirder pastures.

Asked by a Twitter questioner whether she and rightwing radio loudmouth Mark Levin might “be willing to build a ‘Freedom Party’ if [the] GOP continues to ignore conservatives,” Palin got right down to some of that fancy pageant walkin’ that remains her only true aptitude:

“I love the name of that party — the ‘Freedom Party,’” Palin said. “And if the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are going to start saying, ‘You know, what’s wrong with being independent,’ kind of with that libertarian streak that much of us have.”

Yes, uh, much of them do. Putting aside the absurdity of her characterization of Republicans as the “party of Lincoln and Reagan” – which is like calling Chicago the “city of Studs Terkel and John Wayne Gacy” – I’m guessing she could no more name a plank in the party platform than she could name a newspaper back in 2008. Palin continued, in commendably fluent Palinese:

“In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying ‘GOP, if you abandon us, we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a one or the other private majority parties that rule in our nation, either a Democrat or a Republican.’ Remember these are private parties, and you know, no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.”

Darn right they don’t, Governor. I won’t get my hopes up that this is anything more than you pandering to your fans, but if your comments were at all sincere, I look forward to you and your acolytes fancy pageant walkin’ your splinter cell, and the GOP, straight to permanent electoral oblivion.

TWO: Through a Glass Snarkly

Barack Obama’s first term was barely underway when I experienced my first queasy twinges of disappointment. At first, it was nothing overt, nothing readily explicable; a strangely off-kilter statement here, an abrupt about-face there. Soon came the willful misrepresentations, blatant distortions, even bald-faced lies. Almost before I knew it, I found myself feeling more and more burned, betrayed, deceived. The sentiments gradually intensified over months and years, eventually becoming something resembling utter, exasperated disgust.

I’m not referring to the President’s policies and actions (even ones I oppose adamantly, such as Race to the Top, the escalation in Afghanistan, some woeful compromises on energy policy and the environment, and some pretty questionable appointments). I’m referring to the hypertensive squawking that now passes for “criticism” across a broad swath of the cyber-left, and what has devolved into a churlish and counterproductive reaction to this presidency.

The recurring clichés tell a lot of the story. He “lied” about closing Gitmo. He “lied” about ending George Bush’s wars. He “dragged his feet” on DADT and DOMA. He “rolled over” on even trying to implement a universal, single-payer health care system and then “shrugged” at the failure of the public option. He “bailed out” Wall Street and “ignored” Main Street. He “embraced” the use of drones and expanded it to new operational theaters. He “ramped up” persecution of altruistic medical marijuana operations and courageous whistleblowers alike. He brutally “suppressed” the Occupy movement. He “wasted” his “huge” majorities from 2009 to 2011 and got “nothing” accomplished. He eschewed using the “power” of the bully pulpit (while giving “nice” speeches). And now he is “revealed” to have taken the surveillance state to new heights of “intrusive” overreach and “Orwellian” excess.

Throughout the Bush years, I depended on a host of progressive pundits and bloggers to keep me informed, encouraged and emboldened. Some of the very same people now seem more interested in inciting a howling mob to stand in a perpetual downpour outside the gates of the citadel, declaring as one that this presidency and this President have been failures. For some, it seems as if Barack Obama was de-legitimized merely by winning office and actually having to govern.

At the heart of much of the “criticism” is a sense that the “critics” feel jilted somehow, that the duplicitous Barack Obama represented himself as FDR Redux, that he campaigned as a fire-breathing progressive, that he was supposed somehow to govern simply by asking himself what George Bush would have done on any issue and then immediately doing the diametrical opposite. I don’t doubt that some of this is genuine and heartfelt, but it’s still heavily underpinned by the fierce urgency of unreasonable expectations and an unhealthy ignorance of basic civics, not to mention an oddly selective critical faculty that takes nothing the government says at face value but will readily suspend skepticism over the latest inane Paulite bullshit, or worse.

Equally illuminating is the strident name-calling found at the larger nominally progressive discussion sites (one of which purports to exist in part to “elect more Democrats”). Expressing confidence in the Democratic Party and the President, or articulating any degree of comfort with the notion of incremental change and willingness to accept the frustrations of compromise and misstep is simply courting vituperation. The epithets this supposed heresy solicits, some dating all the way back to early 2009, have become more and more meaningless as they have become more and more venomous: DINO, DLCer, Third Wayer, Vichy Dem, sellout, apologist, propagandist, fanboi, Kool-Aid drinker, authoritarian, worshipper. It’s debate by tantrum.

Add to this an astonishing compulsion to play the victim. Rahm Emmanuel called me retarded! I’ve been hippie-punched! The Catfood Commission wants to kill my granny! Robert Gibbs dissed the Professional Left, and I’m a leftist so he obviously meant me! Obama said I’m all wee-weed up! Obama told me to eat my peas!

A lot of this is grandstanding, theatrical ego-tripping; start with, say, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West and you can draw a direct line right to the oh-so-aggrieved message board bloviators who insist in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary that Obama is worse than Bush, to a frenetic chorus of hurrahs. The new frontier of perpetual outrage is limitless; anyone can stake a claim.

And then there’s race. The last thing in the world I want to believe is that any sincere liberal would have a problem with the President’s skin color, but comments from some quarters about his supposed passivity and ineptitude don’t sound very different to me from accusations of shiftlessness. There’s a rank ugliness about some of this that’s hard to fathom if it’s anything other than racism.

These things aren’t universal, of course. There are still rational voices on the left side of the Internet, and I count myself very grateful to be aligned with some of them right here on this site. Those voices don’t shy away from honest criticism where honest criticism is due. As well, only a fool would believe that the Obama Administration hasn’t mishandled and misjudged the progressive cyber-community on more than one occasion. But the potential impact of the digital grassroots has been blunted mostly by the shocking willingness of so many to wallow in disinformation and histrionics. The promise of a synergy between elected power and a vigorous leftosphere leveraging technology for information sharing and activism is lost in a miasma of all-caps paranoia and misdirected anger. A community organizer can’t organize a community that refuses to be organized. Continue reading Take Five (The Anger Games edition)

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 (Iron Lady Down edition)

ONE: The 5.8-Percent Solution

Who better to eulogize the execrable Margaret Thatcher than the abysmal Sarah Palin? And so she has, in 1,002 suspiciously articulate words that appeared under Palin’s byline Monday courtesy of virtual fishwrap National Review Online. As Bob Cesca’s very entertaining dissection of the eulogy makes clear, Palin (or whichever staffer wrote this C-minus boilerplate on her behalf) is essentially paying tribute to Palin here, with telling lines about media persecution, ceilings (both glass and class), and misty-eyed praise for Thatcher’s supposed populism, her superhuman imperviousness to “childish attacks” from her political foes, her noble fetish for liberty, her salt-of-the-earth leadership, and her general maverickitudinous maverickosity.

With Thatcher now en route to meet her Maker for a lengthy and probably awkward discussion about the destructive effects of her policies, Palin seems to be banking on the dubious notion that conservatives everywhere yearn for a new Iron Lady. If she really aspires to assume the mantle, she might want to rethink her PAC, a widening sinkhole for the misdirected dollars of the faithful.

While SarahPAC describes itself as “dedicated to building America’s future by supporting fresh ideas and candidates who share our vision for reform and innovation,” its parsimony in supporting Republican candidates stands in garish contrast to its lavish disbursements on consultants and ancillary expenses, all of which adds renewed resonance to Palin’s longstanding reputation of pronounced carefreedom with other people’s money.

The PAC’s FEC filings for 2012 show that it spent $5,186,777, of which $80,000 was donated to Senate candidates, $213,500 to candidates in House races (including $10,000 to Allen West’s failed reelection bid and $2,500 to an Ohio Democrat, convicted felon Jeffrey Johnson), along with another $5,000 to the Romney campaign. If you’re interested in where the remaining $4,888,277 went, John Avlon provides some helpful details, after quoting Palin’s high-minded, cast-out-the-moneychangers rhetoric at this year’s CPAC:

“Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us…”

Palin’s chief PAC consultant, Tim Crawford, pocketed more than $321,000 this election cycle in direct payments alone… Aries Petra Consulting was taking in between $6,000 and $8,000 a month for speechwriting and “grassroots consulting”—something that sounds like an oxymoron, but ended up costing north of $160,000. C&M Transcontinental racked up $10,000 a month in management consulting, which is hard to imagine for a PAC whose job is simply to raise money and spend it on candidates.

I do have to take issue with that last point. Given that this is Sarah Palin’s political action committee, it’s hard to imagine that things could have gone any differently.

TWO: Hanging Party

The Alaska GOP’s Anchorage headquarters, a building with all the curb appeal of a bait shack or a three-for-the-price-of-one taqueria, last week became the epicenter of what one insider described as a “civil war for the soul of the Alaska Republican Party.”

Sweet.

The war actually began back in January when chair-elect Russ Millette was ousted by the party’s executive committee a day before he was due to begin his term. The position was then assumed by vice-chair-elect Debbie Brown, whose political skills seem to fall just a tad short of making friends and influencing people. Whatever the machinations over the span of the last weeks, Brown eventually alienated a sufficient proportion of the executive committee that she felt it necessary to have the locks at 1001 West Fireweed Lane changed, while she hightailed it out of the state. The committee then organized an impromptu meeting in the parking lot of the shuttered HQ before deciding they looked too ridiculous there. After moving the meeting to the boardroom of an engineering firm, they deliberated for nearly five hours and finally voted Brown out.

But this isn’t over yet. Failed GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller yesterday posted a scan of a letter from Alicé Leuchte, party secretary, affirming that Brown’s April 8 removal was invalid. Meanwhile, in her capacity as state party chair, Brown is attending the RNC’s spring meeting in California, as is Peter Goldberg, whom the executive committee installed in her place. The new locks at 1001 West Fireweed Lane are apparently still virgo intacta, and the Alaska Republican Party is still reeling.

Isn’t it obvious what they need to do? If she’s not at home in Wasilla or Scottsdale, the executive committee might find Governor Palin speeding down the wrong side of the road somewhere between Land’s End and John o’Groats, stumping to overthrow David Cameron. The Alaska Republican Party’s Iron Lady awaits, unless of course the British outbid them.

THREE: Far Out

In a week where President Obama, with apparent seriousness, described Margaret Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty” and unveiled a budget that calls for the implementation of a chained CPI framework for future Social Security increases, I suppose nothing else should seem shocking. Yet I was shocked just the same to see WND’s Joseph Farah offer up an alternative to war on the Korean peninsula:

I say forget about talking to Kim.

I say forget about considering plans for invading North Korea.

I say there’s an alternative to bombing the country’s nuclear installations to prevent a future holocaust.

Let’s try bombing the people with support.

Let’s try carpet-bombing North Korea with food, with small arms and munitions and the instructions they need to overthrow the little despot who keeps them in chains.

Let’s try extending our hands in love to the people of North Korea…

Holy crap! Farah had better watch his step; if he ever advocates carpet-bombing poor, hungry Americans with food, WND’s zero-information readership will overrun his offices, brand his buttocks with the words “Filthy Hippie” and push him out of a helicopter somewhere over Marin County. Continue reading Take Five (Iron Lady Down edition)

Take Five (Really, Really, Really Fuzzy Math edition)

ONE: Misunderestimations

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)

Take Five (CPAC Up Your Troubles edition)

ONE: Middle Age Queasy

The Conservative Political Action Conference turns 40 this year, but don’t expect maturity from a gathering where the speakers include Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Artur Davis, Dick Morris, Wayne LaPierre, Rick Perry, Allen West and Donald Trump.

The coveted keynote slot will provide a generous 33 minutes for Cruz to prevaricate, obfuscate, fabricate, fulminate and regurgitate. Organizers have allotted the second and third longest slots to Palin and Trump, respectively, though why Palin needs 16 minutes and Trump 14 to recite “me, me, glorious me” is a mystery only slightly less mysterious than either of them being invited to begin with. I suppose The Donald and The Sarah deserve grudging credit for realizing that Fitzgerald’s dictum about American lives having no second acts is irrelevant now that first acts can simply be prolonged indefinitely.

Over and above her CPAC gig, Palin manages to keep busy just being Palin. She devoted at least part of Monday to crafting a tweet celebrating the overturning of New York City’s ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces:

Victory in NYC for liberty-loving soda drinkers. To politicians with too much time on their hands we say: Govt, stay out of my refrigerator!

Yes, because nothing says “liberty” like 17 ounces of carbonated water, HFCS, artificial color, artificial flavors and caffeine. But it’s not all freewheeling Twittery for Palin; her latest higher calling is nothing less than saving Christmas:

The former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor has a deal with HarperCollins for “A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas,” scheduled for November.

HarperCollins announced Monday that the book will criticize the “over-commercialism” and “homogenization” of Christmas and call for a renewed emphasis on the religious importance.

Wow! Only 48 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas definitively addressed the very same issues. And Palin’s so versatile that she even wrote the first review of the not-yet-written book:

“This will be a fun, festive, thought provoking book, which will encourage all to see what is possible when we unite in defense of our faith and ignore the politically correct Scrooges who would rather take Christ out of Christmas.”

That’s what cutting edge is all about, Charlie Brown. You betcha. As for Trump, he’s taking his cues from none other than Charlie Brown doppelganger Newt Gingrich, who last Friday tweeted his brainstorm to save White House tours recently suspended under sequestration:

Donald trump should offer to pay for the white house tours. He can afford it and it would show who cares more for American students

This was followed two minutes later by:

Trump and president obsma both golf but trump doesn’t charge the taxpayers $920,000 for a golf weekend in florida.

Yeah, damn that obsma anyway! Two minutes later, Gingrich found some more meat on that bone:

If trump offers to pay for the White House tours what will President Obama’s excuse for punishing visiting school children be?

Trump was nonplussed about all this until he joined Fox and Friends by phone on Monday:

“I think it’s so nice of Newt to suggest that,” the media mogul said, adding that Gingrich and his wife are members of his club in Washington. “But it sounds reasonable to me. Why not?”

Gingrich is also speaking at CPAC, so he and Trump have a readymade opportunity to discuss the idea in detail, assuming the Gaylord National Hotel has a room large enough to accommodate both their egos simultaneously.

TWO: In Through the Out Door

CPAC drew criticism recently for barring GOProud, an action that prompted the Log Cabin Republicans to withdraw from the event in solidarity. The groups have now gained some exceptionally unsavory company: notorious Islamophobe Pamela Geller.

Geller devoted a recent appearance with Christian radio host Janet Mefferd to throwing a tantrum about the CPAC snub:

… I’ve always held events there even though I wasn’t warmly welcomed because of the influence of what can only be described as Muslim Brotherhood facilitators or operatives like Suhail Khan and Grover Norquist… This year I could not get an event, I was banned…

What are they doing at CPAC? Essentially they are enforcing the Sharia. Under the Sharia, the blasphemy laws, you cannot say, you cannot offend, you cannot criticize and you cannot insult Islam. That is effectively what they’re doing, they are enforcing the Sharia.

Also joining GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, albeit voluntarily, is MSNBC’s resident purveyor of flapdoodle, SE Cupp. She recently tendered her regrets, publicly:

“… as a proponent of gay rights, CPAC’s decision to sideline GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans makes me increasingly uncomfortable… It seems like we’re hardly in a position to be marginalizing any kinds of conservatives, let alone ones who have been so courageous in the face of adversity… until the conference stops shaming some of its most valuable advocates, it’s unfortunately not an event I can take part in.​”

Cupp’s calmly reasoned position prompted a fretful rant from Mr. Unreason himself, Joseph Farah. Sensing the black helicopters of tolerance hovering over his pinched and pusillanimous reality, WND’s founding father lamented:

This little brouhaha with Cupp comes at the same time dozens of Republicans – including top advisers to former President George W. Bush, four former governors and two members of Congress – have signed a legal brief arguing in favor of same-sex marriage…

Farah went on to shake a querulous finger at Meg Whitman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Richard Hanna, Stephen Hadley, Carlos Gutierrez, James Comey, David Stockman and Deborah Pryce, noted conservatives all. Or not:

What do all these people have in common?

They are not conservatives.

Ah. Good to know, I guess. Farah finished with a flourish of hyperbole worthy of a pilled-up teenager posting on a message board at 4:00 AM:

The Conservative Political Action Conference is for conservatives – not for people who seek to undermine the Judeo-Christian basis of Western civilization with one of the most radical ideas considered since child sacrifice.

Keep it unreal, Joe.

THREE: Hot Air Apparent

CPAC 2013 will also feature John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, who recently stuck his head up out of the ground to find out whether he would see Mitt Romney’s shadow. Bush is ostensibly in the public eye these days because he’s hawking a new book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution, but of course what he’s really hawking is the idea that the GOP will be desperate enough to nominate him in 2016. To that end, Bush has been appearing on various talk shows, casually trying to convince conservatives of his viability with a string of inane observations. Continue reading Take Five (CPAC Up Your Troubles edition)