Category Archives: Politics

Return of the Bumbling Op

Following the icky Twitter argument posted about previously, a friend alerted me to a lot of subtweeting about me by some of the participants and their friends. I went and had a look, and—perhaps unwisely—stuck my finger back in the socket…

Seriously, I was actually thinking that it might be possible to engage in a discussion about my intentions, what went wrong, their criticisms—the whole thing. Not just the starting point—men talking about feminism—but also the tenor of their response and our discussion, how to address conflict and disagreement among potential allies. Given the tone of their subtweeted exchange, it didn’t seem likely, but I thought there was some potential for something positive. It didn’t happen.

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Free e-book: Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality

Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality
BENJAMIN I. PAGE AND LAWRENCE R. JACOBS
Published April 2009

“Class War? is the right question, and Page and Jacobs provide the right answer: Americans are more concerned about inequality and less divided over what should be done about it than the pundits presume. Everyone interested in America’s widening income gap—and everyone, including our leaders, should be—needs to read this book.”—Jacob S. Hacker

Get this e-book free from the University of Chicago Press – though you’ll have to use Adobe’s Digital Editions software to read it.

Hollywood’s Dirty Cash?

Demand Progress is a reasonably right on organization that this time, in its attack on “Hollywood’s Dirty Cash,” is way off.

Demand Progress is an online activist organization that “works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, lobbying, and elections in the United States.”  They focus on issues of civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform—the first two of which, at least, are issues close to my heart.

Government reform… meh.  It’s usually not enough for me, and I feel that many of the aspects of our contemporary society that need “reform” lie outside what is normally thought of as the government.  And the “re…” that I really want is not “re-form.” In one sense, each election re-forms the government, and it always comes out looking suspiciously like the old form. No matter who you vote for, you always elect a politician. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But all that aside, Demand Progress’ current call to arms on “Hollywood’s Dirty Cash” just seems to me… kinda dumb:

Tell Congress: Return Hollywood’s Dirty Cash | Demand Progress:
Motion Picture Association of America President Chris Dodd just threatened to cut off Hollywood campaign contributions to any member of Congress who doesn’t pass his Internet-censorship legislation.

After Congress shelved the controversial PIPA and SOPA bills, Dodd told Fox News:

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

This is what corruption looks like in Washington. It’s outrageous that Dodd — himself a former senator — is leveling these threats. Our elected officials must send a signal back to Dodd and the rest of K Street that our nation’s laws can’t be bought.

It’s time that Congress showed that its votes are no longer for sale. Congress must give back the MPAA’s dirty money or give it to charity. Congress must make it clear to the world that it won’t be bullied into supporting censorship.

Sure, Dodd’s statement was a bit outrageous, but compared to the bizarre pronouncements, threats and promises coming out of the Republican primary silly season, it seems a bit paltry.  I mean, Newt is promising to ignore the Supreme Court. Audiences are cheering the notion of letting people die. Dobb’s comments are small beer.

And sending back Hollywood’s donations seems to me a pretty stupid idea on the one hand, and also pathetic and misguided on the other. Stupid because the majority of Hollywood’s money seems to go to Democrats and more sensible Republicans—and they are going to need that money to counteract the Koch Brother’s war chest  (see here, here or here).

Pathetic and misguided because… Hollywood? Really? THAT’S the industry/lobbying group you want to go after? What about the oil industry, lobbying to overturn industry regulations aimed at preventing massive oil spills? The polluting industries that have been lobbying against improving air quality legislation?  The NRA and arms manufacturers? Despotic mideast regimes?  Fucking hell, Hollywood has to be one of the least offensive industries with a major lobbying presence in Washington.  Cute puppies don’t have lobbyists.

The truth is, Hollywood is just a soft target, low hanging fruit. In the wake of the startling mobilization of opinion against SOPA/PIPA, an email/online petition against the MPAA, one of the main instigators of that legislation, must have seemed to Demand Progress like a no brainer, an easy win.

But it’s not a win worth winning.  Demand that Congress return ALL lobbying money, or Demand Progress in genuine reform of lobbying and campaign financing.  But Demanding Congress return Hollywood’s money? Bleech.

And while we’re at it… if you want to Demand Progress around some ugly, awful legislation what about NDAA? Or if it’s political spending, what about the outrageous Super PACs?  Demand Progress is mostly right on. Mostly.  This time, though, they’re way off. There are bigger and better battles to be fought.

For more…

The Culture Wars and Class War

Obama Endorses Decision to Limit Morning-After Pill: President Obama, who took office pledging to put science ahead of politics, averted a skirmish with conservatives in the nation’s culture wars on Thursday by endorsing his health secretary’s decision to block over-the-counter sales of an after-sex contraceptive pill to girls under age 17. (via NYTimes.com.)

That’s the lead in a recent article in the New York Times on the decision by Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, to overrule the FDA and block wider OTC availability of the “morning-after pill,” the first time ever an FDA decision has been overruled by an HHS secretary.

There’s a lot that could be said about this. When Obama was voted in, it was on a tide of hope, as that ubiquitous and arresting poster so abundantly made clear. Hope for change— in politics, in the economy, in foreign policy (particularly those pesky wars). Those hopes have met with a lot of frustration and disappointment in the years since.

This most recent move was typical of the “pragmatic” and “bipartisan” Obama of whom we’ve seen far too much lately: willing to sacrifice (what we think are) his principles, and the expectations and needs of his believers, his base, for support from Republicans or evangelicals or one of the other groups that opposes — and even hates and reviles — him, people who by and large will not vote for him no matter what he does. If there is anything worse than sacrificing principle to expediency and pandering for votes, it is sacrificing and pandering for nothing.

But stepping back and looking at the wider picture, I was struck by this invocation of the “culture war” meme, which has been around a long time now, and deserves close critical scrutiny.

Culture war: The culture war (or culture wars) in American usage is a metaphor used to claim that political conflict is based on sets of conflicting cultural values. The term frequently implies a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. The “culture war” is sometimes traced to the 1960s and has taken various forms since then. (via Wikipedia.)

While it may indeed be traced by some back to the 1960s, it really assumed the form it now has in the 1990s, and what is really going on in this “culture war” was made abundantly clear by Pat Buchanan in his speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention:

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself…. The agenda [Bill] Clinton and [Hillary] Clinton would impose on America — abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat — that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.

An ideological struggle, like the Cold War, but also crucially a “religious war.” A crusade, in fact, of the righteous Christians against the godless and strayed, a war for the soul of America between those who stand for “God’s country” and those whom their opponents now sometimes refer to as “secular socialists.”

But what is it really, this “war”?  It is a war against women and homosexuals. It is also a war against the poor and persons of color, particularly poor women of color, in that restrictions on things like birth control services, Planned Parenthood, etc., disproportionately affect them.  A war of mostly white men of power and privilege against mostly women, the poor, and people of color.  For the soul of America.

When people talk about “class war” it is, by and large, the same thing, or part of the same thing. But notice how the people who have called for a culture war are the same ones freaking out and attacking what they see as a politics of class war coming from the other side.  Their culture war is good; our class war is bad.

It’s the same struggle. Which side are you on?

Can the Dude Abide?

In her current op-ed column in the Times, Maureen Dowd points to the moment when Sarah Palin and the Tea Party got some traction in the health care debate with their ridiculous claims about “death panels.”

It never occurred to [Obama] that such wildness and gullibility would trump lofty rationality. (NYTimes.com)

That seems to be the problem with this election in a nutshell. Wildness and gullibility trumping rationality. Stupendously misleading claims trumping facts. False fears, fostered by Fox, trumping real needs and interests.

Footnote: Have you noticed that an anagram of Palin is plain? Unfortunately, she really isn’t plain in so many ways, not plain in all the wrong ways about all the wrong things. Equally unfortunate, “plain” no doubt seems like a good thing to much of her base.

Tax Receipt » Sociological Images

Tax Receipt: “a sample receipt for a taxpayer making $34,140, the median income in 2008…” (via Sociological Images.)

Read This: Paul Krugman, It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.com

A recent Paul Krugman op-ed piece in The New York Times looks at the intense attacks from Republicans against Obama:

The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment — at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again — except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

read the whole piece here: Op-Ed Columnist – It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.com.

For a related perspective on the failure of liberals/progressives to imagine how bad things would get:

Liberals and despair, again | Michael Tomasky: “I don’t think anyone saw coming that a majority of Republicans would believe Obama is in sympathy with Islamic fundamentalists ‘who want to impose Islamic law’ around the world, as a new Newsweek poll has found, and that responsible Republicans would not stand up and say, folks, come on. It’s bleaker than anyone imagined. But that’s never an excuse not to fight.”
(via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

‘Patriot’ Paranoia: A Look at the Top Ten Conspiracy Theories

The current issue of Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication Intelligence Report (available online) includes a fun and freaky “look at the top ten conspiracy theories” flourishing amongst America’s radical right.

‘Patriot’ Paranoia: A Look at the Top Ten Conspiracy Theories: Conspiracy theorizing has flourished as a virtual art form in all nations and across all political persuasions. But the American radical right has to be considered a strong contender for the title of modern conspiracy champion.

I was already familiar with most of the “top ten” – like the idea that some of the contrails of high-altitude aircraft are infect “chemtrails” being used to spread chemicals to aid the insidious agenda of the New World Order; or the one about FEMA being at the center of a planned police state and having plans for, or even having built, secret concentration camps to house dissidents (“patriots”). And of course 9/11.

But a couple were news to me. Like concerns that there is a secret plan to merge the United Steas with Mexico and Canada, or my favorite from the list – HAARP:

According to the U.S. government, the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program [HAARP] is a joint scientific research project of the Air Force and Navy, based in Gakona, Alaska, whose stated purpose is “studying the properties and behavior of the ionosphere, with particular emphasis on being able to understand and use it to enhance communications and surveillance systems for both civilian and defense purposes.”….

To the conspiracy-minded, HAARP is a government program tasked with creating secret directed-energy weapons, instruments for weather and mind control, and even potent new methods to cause earthquakes. Predictably, after January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, some Patriot sites noted that the neighboring Dominican Republic was undamaged, leading them to speculate that the U.S. government was responsible and had targeted Haiti alone. (via ‘Patriot’ Paranoia)

Here’s the full list of the top ten:

  1. Chemtrails
  2. Martial Law
  3. FEMA Concentration Camps
  4. Foreign Troops on U.S. Soil
  5. ‘Door-to-Door’ Gun Confiscations
  6. 9/11 as Government Plot
  7. Population Control
  8. HAARP
  9. The Federal Reserve Conspiracy
  10. The North American Union

About the Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.

Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups. Our innovative Teaching Tolerance program produces and distributes – free of charge – documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance and respect in our nation’s schools. (via Who We Are.)

The Kagan Confirmation Hearings, Tea Partiers, Bishop Usher and the Right to Bear Arms

The consensus is that Kagan will pass through the confirmation hearings easily and become the next Supreme Court Justice. The consensus is also that she is being very careful to reveal as little as possible of her opinions in the hearings, playing her cards very close to the chest.

Kagan Follows Precedent by Offering Few Opinions: WASHINGTON — Elena Kagan deflected questions about her own views on gun rights and abortion during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings on Tuesday, instead describing Supreme Court precedents. She declined to say whether terrorism suspects must be warned of the right to remain silent, saying the issue was “quite likely to get to the courts.” (via NYTimes.com.)

It also seems to be part of the consensus, though less widely or overtly stated, that her caution, her deflection of questions and avoidance of clearly stated opinions, is a strategy to avoid giving Republicans and Tea Partiers any ammunition, anything with which to generate controversy.

Initially, I was fine with this. Kagan looked like a good liberal Jewish lesbian, likely to hew as close to my values as I could reasonably expect from anyone selected for the job.

But in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gun control decision on Monday — Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling — a decision which caught me and I suspect a lot of other people by surprise, I find myself much more interested in knowing where Kagan stands on a whole range of issues.

The fact that there is this political strategy of being cagey, of Kagan not really saying what she believes or where she stands — a strategy presumably orchestrated in part out of the White House and the offices of the Democratic Party — to me seems to call into question the whole process. Isn’t the point of these confirmation hearings that the nominee’s views and values, and the likely character of their work in the position, is brought out, discussed and considered by Congress and by the nation?  Kagan’s caginess may be smart politics and good for Obama and the Democrats, but is it good for us, good for the process, good for the country?

If, as seems the case, the whole confirmation hearing process — particularly for Supreme Court justices — has become so sclerotic, so corrupted by petty posturing and party politics, and by those hot-button issues that have been damaging to American politics more generally (eg, abortion, gay marriage, etc.), that there’s no way to get through it reasonably without subverting its intent, without adopting a policy of caginess and avoidance — in other words, without essentially trashing the whole point of the process — then we really need to face up to that, and maybe the time is now.

Justice Confirmation Hearing in a Tea Party Era: The center of the Tea Party argument is that Congress has usurped powers it was never granted in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which contains what is commonly referred to as the commerce clause. The section mentions roughly 20, including the power to collect taxes, to pay debts, to “provide for the common defense and welfare of the United States,” and to regulate commerce “with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”  (via NYTimes.com.)

The Tea Partiers have put issues of Constitutional law and interpretation very much in play — a bit theatrically, perhaps, as they run around in colonial drag waving reproductions of the original text in the air. But they are serious, it seems, in thinking that Congress has vastly overstepped its role, beginning with the New Deal legislation, and they want to roll it all back, and stick to a stricter interpretation of the text of the Constitution.

I find the Tea Partiers’s stance in the above quote and elsewhere worrying — and, frankly, stupid — and I also suspect them of disingenuousness. They seem to me a bit like Usherites, insisting on a literal interpretation of a document written in a very different time and place, really in a fundamentally different world.  The Tea Partiers’ position seems to me at times roughly on par with that of Bishop Usher insisting, based on his close and misguided parsing of Biblical texts, that the world was created in 4004 BC — specifically the nightfall preceding 23 October [here].

It also seems in part like they are trying to undo, or that their argument could be read as challenging, the settling of the “State of the Union” that was achieved, at terrible cost, with the American Civil War. When the Tea Partiers insist that Congress has usurped powers that are not specifically granted to it by the Constitution and which therefore belong to the states, I hear the gunfire of Confederacy versus Union echoing in the distance — in the past but perhaps, at least figuratively, in the future as well.

I don’t have any background in Constitutional law nor much even in the broad sweep of American politics beyond what anyone doing courses as an undergraduate at a top 10 university would have, and it is possible I am being a bit alarmist.

However, it is certainly true that the Founding Fathers and the framers of the Constitution could have had no way of properly foreseeing or understanding the world in which we find ourselves.  For instance, the Constitution grants to the Federal Government the power to oversee national defense — but when the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that climate change is one of the greatest threats to national security that the country faces, what powers then does the Federal Government have or should it have, for fulfilling this Constitutional mandate?

It’s also true that “politics is the art of the possible” and that the process by which the Constitution was written was very much a political process, and that the resulting document is simply an encoding of that process, of the state of what was possible at that time and place — and includes such acts of acquiescence to the possible as the notorious “three-fifths compromise “:

Representatives and direct taxes shall be appointed among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to the respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. (via We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union )

If politics is indeed “the art of the possible” — which too often ends up meaning “the lesser of two evils” — societies are living things, and what was true for American society 200 hundred years ago, even allowing for the distortions of compromise, simply cannot be assumed to be true — in fact, cannot be true — for any society that has been not been held in suspended animation since then. Dictatorships often try to enforce a kind of stasis on societies, to stop them living and breathing. But despite localized and/or temporary dictatorial attempts at stopping change, the United States has grown and changed tremendously since the Constitution was written.

That’s the stupid — that Tea Partiers seem incapable of accepting that societies change and that what may have worked 200 years ago (at least for white, male slave-owners in a small, homogeneous, agrarian society of 2.5 million people) or even 50 years ago is really unlikely to be adequate today — for a markedly heterogeneous population of 310 million (in a world of 6.9 billion and growing fast, as opposed to the 800 million back then) in the 21st Century, in a time marked by climate change, terrorism, the vast and strange potentialities of our communications revolution, globalization, corporate capitalism, cloning, genetically modified organisms, asteroid vapor being collected by the Japanese, nanotechnology, Twilight mania, and water shortages.

The disingenuous part is that I think these Tea Partiers — or at least many of them — are less concerned with a strict approach to Constitutional issues as with the way in which pushing that approach allows them to attack many of the more recent changes in American society — changes which they hate. Like desegregation, for instance.

They want to turn back the clock, back to a time when they were on top.  That’s not going to happen.  Much of their sense of frustration, much of the change they hate, is tied up with larger forces — like the extraordinary bubble of prosperity in which we floated for so many years after WWII, and which now seems to have popped, for good; like a world with two super-powers and clear lines of good and evil (the “super-power” part should have alerted us to the fact that this was an adolescent fantasy, a comic book way of seeing the world, even then). A world where you sprayed DDT on everything and DES was just a wonder drug, not “the wonder drug you should wonder about.” Stomping on gay marriage and trying to roll back desegregation and social welfare programs is not going to put America back on top — it’s just going to push us faster towards the bottom, morally, politically and economically. And there is no putting those other genies back in the bottle.

Gil Scott-Heron had their number way back in 1981 in “B Movie”:

Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights — it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. Goddamn it — first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom. Nostalgia, that’s what we want — the good ole days when we gave ’em hell. When the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it. To a time when movies were in black and white and so was everything else. [listen]

But if I distrust the motives of the Tea Partiers in their calls for a particular, strict Usherite-like approach to the Constitution, I at least share with them and members of the Congressional committee a desire to know where Kagan stands on various issues of Constitutional law — particularly after that shocking gun decision. And I think something is obviously deeply wrong when we stop having hearings where you hear anything, or at least anything of interest, when the news is that we still don’t know what the nominee thinks about some of the most pressing issues confronting the country, and the future.

If the process — of confirmation hearings, maybe of Washington politics generally — is so damaged and dysfunctional that this is the only way to play it, then let’s get that out in the open. Let’s have Kagan answer honestly and at length — about her sexuality and her Constitutional views — and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s let it go to hell. Let it get ugly and sordid, brutal, bruising and embarrassing. Let’s look stupid and petty and deranged in the court of world opinion. Because then maybe there will be some pressure to change.

Just because we think this nominee is one of ours, we shouldn’t collude in this fucked up process. And after that gun decision, don’t you really, really want to know Kagan’s position on some  Constitutional “right to bear arms”?

Read This: Socialism in the US?

t r u t h o u t | Nine Myths About Socialism in the US.

“Glenn Beck and other far right multi-millionaires are claiming that the US is hot on the path toward socialism. Part of their claim is that the US is much more generous and supportive of our working and poor people than other countries. People may wish it was so, but it is not.”

read the rest here

A Song for Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Far Too Much of Texas and Arizona

Plus ca change, plus ce la meme chose…

John Prine, “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore” – from the album John Prine (1971)

Chorus:
But your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.
They’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don’t like killin’
No matter what the reason’s for,
And your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.

(via jpshrine.org.)

John Prine (born October 10, 1946, in Maywood, Illinois) is an American country/folk singer-songwriter. He has been active as a recording artist and live performer since the early 1970s… (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Read This: Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?

Hello, Has Anybody Seen Our Idea of Governance in Afghanistan?: Mr. Obama needs to find advisors who haven’t already drunk the Kool-Aid. And / or get his own meds checked.

Here’s why . . .

(via Foreign Policy In Focus.)

Good News for People who Hate Bad News (ie, Fox News)

Panic Time at Fox News as Glenn Beck loses 50% of his Viewers: “The Beck fad appears to be over, and what Fox News has left is redundant, repetitive, one trick pony of a host…. (via Politicususa.com.)

Bangkok Burning – Images from the Street Battles

Slideshow of  “Images from Thailand’s street war” | Foreign Policy.

Site of the Week: Demos – a UK think tank

Demos is “a London-based think tank. We generate ideas to improve politics and policy, and give people more power over their lives. Our vision is a society of free and powerful citizens.”

“A multi-dimensional measure of poverty will give a more complete picture of poverty in modern Britain…”

What does it mean to live in poverty? For decades, politicians and policymakers have tended to go straight to the most common definition of poverty: households that live below 60 per cent of median equivalised income. But this definition of relative income poverty has an arbitrary nature (why not 50 per cent or 70 per cent of median income?) – and leaves a host of questions unanswered.

In 2010, Demos is launching a flagship programme of work to develop a new, multi-dimensional measure of poverty that will take into account the full range of factors that affect quality of life and wellbeing.

The idea of poverty is widely seen as living below a standard below which nobody – or children, at least – should be expected to live. But a family’s living standard is affected by much more than their income, or whether they are experiencing material deprivation. It is affected by levels of access to health and education services, including their access to a GP or a dentist, to high-quality hospitals and to good schools, and by factors such as quality of housing.

(via Demos | Projects.)