*”The tree of nonsense is watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster.”* – N. Harkaway
So, for 8 years, the Republicans have defined themselves by nothing so much as their foursquare opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Their opposition was never rooted in the actual policy choices of the bill. They’ve been very clear about that; their problem was always that it was Obama’s bill. (This is also the reason many progressives were disappointed with the bill, since it was crafted from the get-go to be at least marginally palatable to conservatives — you almost certainly recall that it was patterned on a successful plan implemented in Massachusetts by then-governor Mitt Romney.)
Over and over they voted to repeal it wholesale, secure in the knowledge that such a repeal would be unlikely to reach Obama’s desk, and that even if it did, he’d veto it, and that they didn’t have the votes for an override. It was political theater, with no regard for meaning or consequence because it was divorced from either notion by design.
Except the know-nothing base, cultivated over the years by the extreme elements of the party, actually became convinced that Obamacare was bad law. One may quibble with the specifics — it’s certainly not perfect, and certainly needs to evolve — but what isn’t debatable is that it (a) saves money and (b) results in a net increase in people covered by insurance. These are, normally speaking, good things.
Come November, of course, these particular dogs caught this particular car. And now they had a problem: they’ve been telling their idiot base that their first priority was to repeal this terrible, liberty-killing law for the better part of a decade, and that’s exactly what their base expects now (unaware, as they are, that such a repeal will disproportionately harm the working-class whites who make up that base). And now, with control of both houses and the presidency, they had to actually DO it.
Well, turns out, a party devoted almost entirely to watering the tree of error can produce almost nothing of consequence beyond Harkaway’s pumpkins of disaster. The raving nutbird looney portion of the party set its sights on not just repealing the ACA, but also on gutting other existing health care programs (again, because FREEDOM), and dug in their heels against an insufficiently awful bill. The moderates in the party, vulnerable at home to less-stupid constituents, understood that a bill responsible for actual, measurable harm would be a career-limiting move. The GOP, once famous for party discipline, can’t pass their own bill fulfilling one of their key promises of the Obama years.
Their failure here is an unalloyed good for America as a whole, though I wouldn’t look to this incredibly mean-spirited party to stop trying to fuck people over any time soon. More good news is something that analysts on both sides of the aisle have known for years: the longer we have the ACA, the more entrenched it will become, and the harder it will be to roll back.
What would be really neat, though fantastically unlikely, would be if the GOP could evaluate the actual ACA, figure out — based on empirical facts, not ideology — what’s working and what isn’t, and work together with the Democrats to improve it. That’s how Congress is supposed to work. But with this GOP — one that enthusiastically embraced Trump and white nationalism in the last year — that is of course entirely too much to hope for.
Nobody really disputes that health care in the US, in 2007, had some serious issues with both cost and access.
The Obama administration attempted to address this in a way that, with a sane opposition party, might product bipartisan support: they chose a plan actually authored by Republicans (the Heritage Foundation), and that had been used successfully at a state level by prominent Republican Mitt Romney.
This, in retrospect, as a terrible mistake, because the GOP of 2008 defined itself not by any principles, but by being opposed to literally anything Obama or the Democrats wanted to do. Consequently, the ACA — despite being an objectively conservative, market-based plan instead of a more liberal approach — came to be painted as a horrible liberal plot to destroy American health care (remember all the babble about “death panels?”). It didn’t matter to the GOP that it was a market-based approach that focused mostly on insurance market regulation; what mattered was that it had been achieved by the Democrats, and therefore it had to be destroyed.
That being the case, the Republicans have made repealing the ACA a key goal, notwithstanding the effects of said, and, again, not because of any policy reason, but simply because it was a Democratic achievement. They were safe in making these noises when a Democrat lived in 1600 Pennsylvania, because no such bill would get signed. They could get credit for fighting tyranny, or whatever they told their rabid base, without having to pay the piper. Now, they’re on the spot: they have the power, and a good chunk of their low-information base expects this evil Obamacare law to get repealed.
And so the GOP is preparing to repeal it wholesale, and without having an replacement on hand. Doing so will end coverage for millions of Americans, and will cost the Federal government no small amount of money. The GOP knows this, which is why they’ve taken steps to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from tallying any such cost overrun. From Fox News, of all places:
Part of the challenge lies in the potential cost of repeal. Estimates vary wildly on how much an ObamaCare repeal would add to the deficit. It hinges on who you talk to and what metric they use. Various figures range from $350 billion to $1 trillion to $9 trillion over a longer period.
But one thing is clear: Republicans already prepped a provision to ignore internal congressional budgetary rules if the repeal is successful and explodes the federal deficit.
Efforts to defang the House’s quasi-official ethics watchdog office scored most of the attention early this week as the GOP advanced a “rules” package to govern the body during this Congress. But Republicans tucked a provision into the plan which bars the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from counting a dramatic spike in deficit spending spurred by an ObamaCare repeal. Language in the resolution bars the CBO from tallying the cost of any ObamaCare repeal bill that bloats deficit spending by more than $5 billion over the next decade and $20 billion over the next four decades.
And, again: that’s from Fox News, hardly an ACA cheerleader.
But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse–much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.
Even 25 years ago, opposition to Democratic efforts on health care policy was positioned as game strategy, not as what was best for the country. This is because the Republican party has long since abandoned any pursuit other than perpetuating the Republican party.
Republicans clearly do not give one single damn about medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or the shrinking middle class that is increasingly vulnerable to these problems. They are no longer a party of policies and ideas. In my life, the Republicans have mostly been the party of Fear. Fear the Russians, sure, but when the Cold War ended, they had a hard time finding something else to make us afraid of for a little while before deciding the right targets were minorities. Fear the gays. Fear the immigrants. Fear the muslims. Fear the transgender boogeymen hiding in the rest room to molest your daughters. There are no meaningful Republican policy proposals for the problems of medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or for how the increasingly struggling middle class should handle high premiums and pre-existing conditions. (ProTIP: A HSA isn’t gonna help much when you earn $50K a year and need $200,000 worth of care.)
There are no great Republican proposals for how to address the increasing gap between rich and poor, in part because the Republicans seem to love everything about the 1950s except the tax rates, which they’ve been hammering downward for decades despite obvious signs that this is a very, very bad idea (see: deficit; infrastructure spending; state of education in the US; state of health care in the US).
What we get instead are policies pursued to please a right-wing base no matter the cost (like the ongoing assault on Planned Parenthood, which has produced a measurable uptick in infant mortality), or policies designed to inflame that base and vote (for example, bathroom bills), with utterly no regard for the real world effects. Our soon-to-be vice president, Mike Pence, has his own home-state version of this problem, as his resistance to needle-exchange programs in Indiana literally created an HIV explosion.
Republicans do not care about food insecurity in the US; instead, we get bills that insist on drug tests for welfare recipients (it will surprise no one to discover that there are almost zero positive tests in states with such laws, which as a bonus cost a whole bunch of money).
Republican solutions to homelessness involve busing them to other towns.
When asked about these problems, Republicans — like Kristol back in 1992 — wave their hands and mutter about tax credits and markets, but there will never and can never be a market-based approach to health care that covers everyone (or education, for that matter). And the older I get, the harder it is for me to believe that anyone outside of 18-year-old proto-Objectivists actually believe that a full market based policy system would actually work. I think they just don’t care what happens to the people who don’t end up on top.
And, as it turns out, enough voters agree — though not, of course, most of the voters — that we’ll get to see what happens when they get control, starting later this month.
(N.B. that none of this is about Trump. He’s a whole OTHER problem; this post is about the party, not the absurd candidate they embraced.)
To date, Trump has picked an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act; a Secretary of Heath and Human Services who doesn’t believe in government-provided health insurance; a Treasury Secretary who wants to “strip back” the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to prevent another bank meltdown; a Secretary of Education who’s against public schools; and, now, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who doesn’t believe in the Fair Housing Act.
Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t think the Senate should confirm people who are on record as being against the laws they have a constitutional duty to implement.
Oh, and it gets worse. Trump’s pick to run the EPA is in the same vein, but worse; from a later post by Reich:
Trump has picked Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are 6 things you need to know about him:
As attorney general of Oklahoma Pruitt is a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. A 2014 investigation by The Times found that energy lobbyists drafted letters for Pruitt to send to the E.P.A., the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and even President Obama, criticizing Obama’s environmental rules. The close ties have paid off for Pruitt politically: Harold G. Hamm, the chief executive of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, was a co-chairman of Mr. Pruitt’s 2013 re-election campaign.
Pruitt shares Trump’s view that Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, is a “war on coal.”
Pruitt has been a key architect of the legal battle against Obama’s climate change rules — spearheading a 28-state lawsuit against them. A decision is pending in a federal court and is widely expected to advance to the Supreme Court.
Pruitt shares Trump’s view that the established science of human-caused global warming is a hoax. “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” Pruitt wrote in National Review earlier this year.
Pruitt also shares Trump’s view that the Paris accord, committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, should be canceled.
Pruitt is well positioned to help Trump dismantle the E.P.A. altogether. Like Trump, Pruitt doesn’t believe the federal government has a role in setting environmental policy.
Trump will be nominating the most radical right-wing cabinet in American history — including an EPA administrator who doesn’t believe in regulating the environment, an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the Voting Rights Act, a Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public education, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who doesn’t believe in the Fair Housing Act, and a Secretary of Health and Human Services who doesn’t believe in public health insurance.
WALSENBURG, Colo. — Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?
They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.
Turns out, to reduce both abortion and unwanted pregnancies, the best approach is unfettered access to birth control. How about that? Approaches like this don’t just make fiscal sense — obviously, it’s cheaper to provide low-income people with birth control than it is to cover an unplanned pregnancy and all that follows — but also empower women. It’s a giant win across the board.
Given that the program has had an enormous effect on reducing abortion in Colorado, you’d think that anyone with a pro-life mindset would embrace it. Color me utterly shocked that this hasn’t happened! I mean, it’s almost like abortion isn’t the point for these people, isn’t it?
“Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said on a radio show Thursday.
The logic that Dems favor Muslims/terrorists over gays is coming down from the very top of the GOP 2016 ticket. Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”
“She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.”
An Arkansas court has ruled that the $20K taken from him during a traffic stop — during which he was not even ticketed, let alone arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime — will not be returned.
Back in July 2013, Guillermo Espinoza was travelling with his girlfriend to Texas, when they were pulled over by the Arkansas State Police. During the stop, a drug dog alerted to a computer bag. Inside, police found $19,894 in cash, which they promptly seized. No contraband was found during the stop.
Although prosecutors in Hot Spring County never charged Espinoza with a crime, they filed a complaint to forfeit his cash in civil court. Espinoza challenged the forfeiture, arguing that “the stop, search and seizure by law enforcement officers was unreasonable, unlawful and unconstitutional” and violated the Fourth Amendment. He also submitted paychecks and tax filings to show that his seized cash was “lawful earnings,” and not drug money. “The state should not be permitted to profit from its own wrongdoing,” he added.
The courts disagreed, because (presumably) they prefer not to give up money once they have it, especially when the victim in this case of literal highway robbery lacks the resources to force true accountability.
As wise people have been pointing out since, well, 12 September 2001:
It’s all another sobering reminder that any powers we grant to the federal government for the purpose of national security will inevitably be used just about everywhere else. And extraordinary powers we grant government in wartime rarely go away once the war is over. And, of course, the nifty thing for government agencies about a “war on terrorism” is that it’s a war that will never formally end.
The economy in Mississippi is different from those many other states that have recently addressed legislation impacting the LGBT community. The state, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the country, is not home to any Fortune 500 companies, lacks a significant tech sector, and has no major pro sports teams.
With relatively nascent LGBT movement, Mississippi was not ripe for the kind of backlash the country has seen recently in Georgia and North Carolina, where Atlanta and Charlotte house major national corporations, more established LGBT communities, and cosmopolitan attitudes. Mississippi has no major metropolitan area.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a LGBT advocacy group that does work in Mississippi and North Carolina, told TPM that Mississippi lacks the “nexus where the corporate world meets the political world meets the cultural world” that exists in states like Georgia and North Carolina.
“The political climate in Mississippi remains quite conservative on the whole. We are seeing increasing levels of support for LGBT issues around the kitchen table and anecdotally in families, but when you look at, say the public discourse say around the Confederate flag issue, I think that’s a very accurate barometer of how conservative the rhetoric and discourse in the public square continues to be in Mississippi,” Beach-Ferrara told TPM.
Josh Marshall has a really, really great piece with this title over at TPM about the cavalcade of sexual hypocrisy we’ve seen from the anti-(Bill) Clinton Republicans since his impeachment, culminating in Denny Hastert. Even if you lived through it, don’t miss it.
But the legislation introduced and passed into law by the General Assembly yesterday didn’t simply roll back that ordinance. It implemented a detailed state-wide regulation of public restrooms, and limited a person’s use of those restrooms to only those restrooms that correspond with one’s “biological sex,” defined in the new state law as the sex identified on one’s birth certificate. (So yes, by law in NC now, transgender porn star Buck Angel (look him up) will have to use the women’s room…isn’t that precisely what these lawmakers are actually wanting to prevent?).
But the legislation didn’t stop there. It also expressly pre-empted all municipal and county ordinances or policies broader than the official state anti-discrimination statute, which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among the list of prohibited bases of discrimination. So that effectively wipes out local LGBT anti-discrimination protections in numerous NC cities (and, ironically, wipes out the protection of discrimination based on “veterans status” in Greensboro and Orange County (Chapel Hill)).
But wait, there’s more. The legislation also expressly states that there can be no statutory or common law private right of action to enforce the state’s anti-discrimination statutes in the state courts. So if a NC resident is the victim of racial discrimination in housing or employment, for example, that person is now entirely barred from going to state court to get an injunction, or to get damages of any kind. The new law completely defangs the state’s anti-discrimination statute, rendering it entirely unenforceable by the citizens of the state.
But wait, there’s more! The legislation also prohibits municipalities and counties from passing a higher minimum wage than the State’s. Not that any municipality or county had done that…but in case any of them were thinking about it, that’s now prohibited, too.
The GOP is, absolutely, the party of discrimination and hate. They don’t even try to hide it anymore.
Over at the Atlantic, Garrett Epps explains the metric smackdown the tantrum-throwing Alabama Supreme Court was just handed by a unanimous SCOTUS. It’s a thing a beauty:
The Alabama Supreme Court has had a rough week. On Friday, the court issued a one-sentence order admitting that “Erm, um, well, urm, okay, fine! Whatever! We really don’t have the authority to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Are you people happy now?” The order came accompanied by 170 pages of bloviation, which read a bit as if Robert E. Lee had tried to spin General Orders No. 9 as a strategic victory.
Monday, in a different but related matter, the U.S. Supreme Court piled on by in effect issuing what I’ll call a Writ of Duh in a same-sex adoption case.
[I]n another case, the Alabama court on Friday took 170 pages to discuss the unremarkable proposition that a state court can’t disobey, set aside, ignore, fold, bend, spindle, or mutilate a judgment of the United States Supreme Court. Here’s the entire operative part of the order: “IT IS ORDERED that all pending motions and petitions are DISMISSED.” Most of the other pages are occupied with sour grapes. Chief Justice Roy Moore (who lost his job once before when he defied an order of a federal court in a different case) was, as always, convinced that the world is eager to hear his views on a variety of subjects. He in his wisdom really thinks Justice Anthony Kennedy is a bad, bad judge for writing the Obergefell decision. Justice Tom Parker (founder of the conservative think-tank that brought the challenge) concurred specially to denounce the Supreme Court’s “despotism and tyranny.”
South of the Mason-Dixon Line, “tyranny” usually translates as “making me recognize the rights of people I don’t like.”
The deeper causes of the recent trends in the GOP go deep into the society and culture of the American right and American society generally. But Republican elected officials have increasingly coddled, exploited and in some cases – yes – spurred their voters’ penchant for resentment, perceived persecution, apocalyptic thinking and generic nonsense.
Joe Biden’s son Beau died last year from a brain tumor. He was, at one point, concerned that cognitive damage would force him to resign his office, which would have made him unemployed and uninsured. It is no secret at this point that the Vice President and the President are close friends, and their relationship included frank discussions of Beau’s health, and the challenges that might arise, and how they might meet them, including the idea that they’d sell their house to pay for Beau’s care. (Remember, Biden is probably the poorest man to ever be Vice President.)
There’s zero chance this is a principled stand by Cheney. Make absolutely no mistake here, and remember that Cheney is a guy who thinks torture, indefinite detention at the will of the state, and invading unrelated countries in response to nonstate terror attacks are all fine and dandy.
No. This is about trying to ice Trump, because now the GOP establishment is well and truly terrified because he keeps not going away. If Trump is the nominee, they’re fucked, because most people won’t vote for this preening fascist blowhard, and the Democratic nominee wins in a walk. If Trump survives long enough in the polls to contemplate a third party run, their base is split and they’re fucked, because without every single angry reactionary white vote, the Democratic nominee wins in a walk.
Here’s the thing, though: This is a bed the GOP made. I’ve been making this point for a while, but the most succinct formulation of it is probably from Wil Wheaton on Twitter:
The GOP’s been laying the foundation for Trump since Nixon’s Southern Strategy and Reagan’s Welfare Queens. None of this should be a surprise.
If you spend 40 years building your politics on fear and hate of the Other, you shouldn’t be surprised if you eventually get a candidate like Trump that’s willing to say and do horrifying things to please the increasingly agitated core.
Let’s talk about refugees, because God knows everyone else is.
The collective freakout on the right about the idea that we might, maybe, accept a few thousand displaced women and children (which they are, mostly) is perhaps the most embarrassing and depressing excess of the modern American GOP yet. It is horrifying in its lack of empathy and logical inconsistency. It is terrifying in its xenophobia and appeal to fear as a transparent politial ploy. It is so ridiculous that, if it weren’t for the fact that people will die as a result, it would be goddamn hilarious.
It is also absurdly predictable that it seems the same folks apoplectic about the prospect of gay marriage are just as adamant that the refugees should stay away. These supposed Christians would cherry-pick Old Testament law (as they’re all presumably wearing blended fabrics and enjoying shrimp) to deny legal protections to their gay brothers and sisters while Christ was completely silent on the subject — but now that we have a situation that Jesus preached about repeatedly, they ignore Him (which isn’t entirely surprising; these folks are also typically opposed to social programs designed to aid the needy closer to home).
We are certainly not a Christian nation in any legal sense, but we do seem to enjoy thinking of ourselves as guided by Christian principles, at least in terms of charity — or, at least, that’s what we might say we aspire to. Except we aren’t, really, not when it counts. We are anti-Christian in our treatment of the needy, in our acceptance of those different from us, and in our willingness to choose lengthening our own tables instead of strengthening our doors when our neighbors are in need. “I got mine, you get yours” isn’t a Christian mantra.
Jesus taught very specifically on this subject, and with some frequency. The most famous instance is the parable of the Good Samaritan, taken from the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37):
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
There are no weasel words here. He is quite clear.
Remember, too, what He says in Matthew 25, which is even more explicit about what He expects of His followers:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
My point here is not that we should govern our nation according to the words attributed to Jesus because he was divine. We are not and should not be a theocracy. However, we have for pretty much our entire existence as a nation been the place that refugees came. Diaspora after diaspora have found homes and lives here when no such options existed for them in their homelands. They made us a stronger nation, because we are not homogenous. Even our origin story is about refugees — a fact that should be particularly clear this week.
God bless President Bartlett. Sure, he’s not a real President, but what he says above goes to the heart of who we should all want America to be. Reagan famously spoke of us being a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and hope for those all over the world — but what sort of beacon can we really be if we’re too terrified to accept those huddled masses yearning to breathe free?
We have always struggled to live up to who we said we wanted to be, even from our beginnings in 1776. But we wrote them down, so we can keep referring to them: the idea that all people are created equal, and that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why our doors must remain open. We should be the example state, not the counter-example. We have spent much of the last 14 years in a state of perpetual freakout, but it’s time for that to STOP — not in the least because terrorism isn’t really a danger for Americans (statistically, bees are a bigger problem). By giving in to the baser impulses of fear and xenophobia, we do ISIS’ work for them; let’s not do that. Refuse to be terrorized, least of all by women and children.
I get that this isn’t easy with so many on TV telling you to be afraid. Remember that it’s easy to get people to pay attention to you when you say there’s danger, especially when you pin it on people who are different. Be strong. Be critical. And remember the point of terrorism: it’s right there in the name. Refuse to become the anti-foreigner freakout nation that ISIS wants to goad us into being. Every time a middle-eastern refugee puts down roots in the US, opens a small business, and raises his family here, it’s better than a thousand bombs when it comes to destabilizing and eradicating those jackasses. Every time we prove that we mean it when we say all people are created equal, and that all of us deserve the pursuit of happiness, we prove their worldview is a lie.
The shitstorm in the Middle East today will not get solved without bullets, I fear, but it also cannot be defeated by violence alone. We have to show people a better option. It’s an ideology based on poverty and despair, and my bet is that we can show folks a better path by embracing those in need, taking them to our collective chest, and making them part of our great American experiment.
I’ve said much of this before, in various Facebook comments in the past few weeks, but what really set me thinking this morning is a long piece in the October 26 New Yorker called “Ten Borders.” It’s the story of a young man’s protracted, difficult journey from Syria — which was collapsing around him — to Sweden, where he’s been welcomed as a refugee. What he endured to get there, and the risks he took, are staggering. Seriously, take the time to read it. You were probably born in a country that stayed safe, after all.
There are a few bits I want to share directly, though:
When Ghaith arrived in Sweden, an immigration officer recorded his fingerprints, ran the data through an E.U. database, and confirmed that he had not previously been processed in Europe [Note: this is about the Dublin Regulation]. “You are now under the custody of Sweden,” she told him. “Sweden will take care of you.” Ghaith subsequently attended an orientation session to learn, as he put it, “what Sweden owes to me and what I owe to Sweden.”
On the bus, Ghaith scrolled through music files on his phone. The Swedish national anthem started up, loud enough to turn heads. “I listen to it each morning,” Ghaith said, proudly.
An hour later, six more of Ghaith’s friends—all Syrian refugees whom he knew from law school or from Jdeidet Artouz—showed up carrying a grill, a bag of charcoal, and a three-foot hookah. They stripped to their underwear and prepared to go swimming. These were friends for life, Ghaith said, though he otherwise cared little for Syria anymore. Once his wife arrived, they would have children and he would raise them as Swedes. He didn’t care if his kids spoke Arabic. He added, in broken English, “I worship Sweden.”
Around the same time, Austrian authorities found an abandoned poultry truck with seventy-one dead refugees inside. Ghaith said that he couldn’t help but feel lucky: “I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip.” He paused. “In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’”
Can you, as an American, read these words and be proud of how we are comporting ourselves during this crisis? I cannot. I am not. We are being ruled by small, petty, venal jackasses screaming on TV about how giving aid and comfort to victims of ISIS will somehow endanger us. It’s embarrassing and ridiculous. Fuck fear. The last 14 years have been a never-ending stream of fearmongering bullshit, and in the wake of it we have done terrible things that are absolutely anathema to the values we SAY we hold dear. Let’s fix that.
Virtually everyone who will read these words is descended from someone who left their original country and came to the US seeking a better life. That is, in a very literal sense, who we are. It’s what we’re made of. Let’s return to being that. It can only make us better.
Do not let the terrorists change who we are any more than they already have.
But how can I change what politicians are doing? What difference can I possibly make?
Glad you asked. Turns out, governors can’t close their states. Refugees are coming to your state, almost certainly, but will need help integrating and settling in. (If you’re local to me in Houston, this goes double — Houston is historically a popular refugee destination; it’s something that makes our city so awesome.) You can literally be the welcoming, helping hand by calling the folks at Refugee Services of Texas. Odds are, if you’re reading my blog, you’re pretty damn well off compared to folks escaping war with the clothes on their backs, right?
Joining or helping to start a Welcome Team seems like a great place to start. Let’s help them out. (h/t to Autojim for locating this organization.)
(Confidential to the “but terrorists!” crowd: according to stats from CATO quoted by John Scalzi, we’ve accepted 859,629 refugees since 2001. Of those, THREE have been convicted of planning terror attacks, and none actually happened. For perspective, 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.)
Republican presidential frontrunner Ben Carson announced on Friday that he has named former federal judge Charles W. Pickering to serve as his Mississippi state chair.
You may recall that Pickering made the news in the previous administration when President Bush tried to appoint him to the Fifth Circuit in 2001. This put him under enough of a microscope that troublesome things he wrote in the 1960s — e.g., a brief on how to amend the state’s anti-miscegenation statute to withstand Constitutional challenge — came to light. Politics ensued, and much was made of a 1994 case that could be turned in such a way to make it look like Pickering was soft on cross-burning (which is not a completely fair representation of the case, but all that’s public record easily read; draw your own conclusions). He got filibustered — probably more because of his pro-life position (and well done Dems for doing so) than his supposed racism — but eventually made it to the bench as a recess appointment until 2004, when he retired.
Anyway: The point here is not that Pickering is a racist. He’s not.
I mean, I’m sure he’s got racist ideas — he’s a 78 year old white guy from rural Mississippi; that’s a cohort not known for its progressive opinions on race — but his resume also includes taking actual personal risk in opposing the Klan (he required FBI protection at one point), so the national picture of him as a guy two steps away from burning crosses himself is egregiously unfair, and that ought to be obvious to anyone who even bothers to read his Wikipedia article (linked supra), or any coverage of his career not written with an axe to grind.
Moreover, my lay understanding of his bench career (aided a little by certain other family lawyers) is that he was broadly respected by folks across the political spectrum, and generally considered to be a better than average judge. Had he been a pro-choice Republican, my guess is there would’ve been no filibuster; because he was a conservative lawyer in the 1960s who wrote some stupid things, though, there was the material there to manufacture outrage and make the filibuster easier to pull off.
However, I don’t have to resort to research to know that Charles Pickering isn’t a firebrand racist, and to therefore draw the reasonable conclusion that of all the nutty things Carson has done, this isn’t one of them.
I know this because I know Charles Pickering personally. Charles is my cousin.
Specifically, he’s my grandfather’s first cousin, though because my great-grandmother was one of many siblings spread over many years, he’s about the same age as my mother. (I think this makes him my first cousin twice removed, but nobody knows what that means.) I’ve been in his house a hundred times, most recently in March after my grandfather’s sister Ruth died and we had a wake of sorts for her there (pics, if you’re curious, here; this one is of him).
Despite what ThinkProgress and other organs have written, Charles Pickering is a decent man. He’s got terrible politics, though, that are filtered through an apparently severely right wing and somewhat fundamentalist lens — which is to say that he’s a GREAT hire for Carson. The baffling thing here, and the thing that’s frankly embarrassing, is that my bright, intelligent cousin has been taken in by the bumbling goofball Carson.
This isn’t new. At the wake I mentioned above, I was seated close enough to him at lunch to hear him extolling Carson’s virtues to one of Ruth’s sons-in-law, an accomplished businessman and French national who, I assume, is with us in the rational world shaking our heads at the freakshow that is the GOP primary. (I’ve never talked politics with Patrick, but my assumption is that he makes me look like a Republican.)
So the tl;dr here is that:
A. The progressive coverage of this is lazy and reductive about who Charles actually is, which is kind of darkly hilarious — think about it: if indeed my cousin were a lifelong bigot and segregationist, why on EARTH would he be working to put another black man in the White House?
B. How the hell does someone like Carson convince smart people to help him and vote for him? It’s fucking depressing.
C. I am, once again, in the position of being embarrassed by something in Mississippi. Sigh.
France is going to endure and I’ll tell you why. If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck. Go ahead, bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, camembert, madeleines, macarons, and the fucking croquembouche. You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight, my friend.
Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.
There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.
At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.
And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
The FBI has a long post-9/11 history of ginning up plots to foil; the pattern is generally “find an inept loner who may have said something weird online, and then entice him to take part in a ‘plot'”. The issue is, of course, that (a) the aforementioned loner is typically the only non-cop involved; and (b) in the absence of the fabricated plot, it’s exceedingly unlikely that these inept doofuses would have ever become involved in any domestic terror efforts at all.
Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi made headlines back in May, when he was indicted for allegedly sharing “sensitive” information with colleagues in China about a piece of laboratory equipment used in his superconductivity research. Xi maintained his innocence from the start. On Friday, he was vindicated: the U.S. Justice Department dropped the charges against him, with a vague statement about new information coming to light.
This “new information” came in the form of several sworn affidavits from leading scientists confirming that schematics Xi sent to Chinese scientists had nothing to do with the proprietary device. Apparently nobody involved in the investigation thought to run their case past knowledgeable scientific experts before bursting into Xi’s suburban home with guns drawn, ransacking his house, and leading him off in handcuffs in front of his wife and daughter.
I mean, come ON people! If you’re going to drag a man’s name through the mud, you have an obligation to be RIGHT.
This paragraph says volumes, imo, about the nature of right-wing objections:
There’s a lot of Iran pony thinking going on about what would be cool if we could have everything we want. But as much as I fear what a Republican president might do on the Iran front, I think going to war with Iran is highly unlikely. Stiffening sanctions won’t happen because even if we stiffened sanctions, Europe and Russia and China won’t. So all the folks saying it’s not good enough or it’s a disaster or whatever else are basically saying we should hang tough and let the Iranians do whatever they want. Indeed, adopt a maximal line of confrontation short of war, which will empower hardliners and make it more likely the Iranians will take the step from being a nuclear threshold state to an actual nuclear weapons state. It is the elevation of self-satisfaction over tangible results and reality.
Remember that the Republicans whining about this deal would likely whine about ANY deal with Iran that didn’t include the enthusiastic religious conversion of every single man, woman, and child in Iran to Presbyterianism. They’re incapable of looking at anything generated by this Administration and not dismissing it as un-American, anti-Christian, and possibly socialist, even when the plan in question was written by Republicans in the first place, so it’s not as though these people are arguing in good faith.
Ten years ago, Mrs Heathen and I used a quote from Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s opinion in the 2003 case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. It’s as stellar today as it was when she wrote it in 2003:
Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. Without question, marriage enhances the welfare of the community. It is a social institution of the highest importance.
Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.
It seems weird to me, in the Roberts era, to celebrate three major court victories in a week, and yet, here we are in a week with King v. Burwell, the fair housing case here in Texas, and Obergefell.
Imagine you’re a small business owner, and one of your employees ends up needing to be a DEA informant. His handlers entice him to take one of your company trucks, fill it with weed, and haul it back to a place where they can bust the buyers.
Bad shit happens. Your driver is killed, and your truck basically destroyed in a gun battle with Mexican gangsters.
The government argued that it is neither culpable for the damage nor under any obligation to inform the owner of any property that it wishes to use in its operations, because “clandestine.”
No statute, regulation, or policy “specifically prescribe[d]” or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…
In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision “to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.” Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.
The business owner’s attorney summarized it thusly:
A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.
Query: is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?
The DEA and the court have taken the position, apparently, that the government can come and take your stuff, fuck it up, and bear no responsibility afterwards if they say “clandestine operation” enough. You’d think the Takings Clause would have something to say about this, you know?
This story is floating around this week. You ought to look at it, because it’s sort of a distillation of know-nothing Republicanism, and it’s the rare sort of such example that illustrates how far they are from reality.
The gist: a South Carolina Republican handyman has found himself facing both blindness and financial ruin because of a health problem — and he’s blaming the ACA for it.
As the Charlotte Observer explains, Lang is a self-employed handyman who works as a contractor with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties. He was making a decent living, enough to be the sole breadwinner in the family. As the Observer puts it, Lang “he has never bought insurance. Instead, he says, he prided himself on paying his own medical bills.”
All seemed good until this February when a series of headaches led him to the doctor. Tests revealed that Lang had suffered a series of mini-strokes tied to diabetes. […] He now also has a partially detached retina and eye bleeding tied to his diabetes. The initial medical care for the mini-strokes ran to almost $10,000 and burned through his savings. And now he can’t work because of his eye issue and can’t afford the surgery that would save his eyesight and also allowing him to continue working.
That’s when he turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange. Lang learned two things: First, 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. And second, because his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.
Lang, a Republican, says he knew the act required him to get coverage, but he chose not to do so. But he thought help would be available in an emergency. He and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.
“(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang said last week. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”
Anyone who’s remotely familiar with insurance knows there’s no system that lets people skip payments while they’re healthy and cash in when they get sick. Public systems tax everyone. Private ones rely on the premiums of the well to cover the costs of those who are ailing.
And Democrats might point out that the ACA was designed to provide Medicaid coverage for people whose income falls below the poverty line. The federal government pays 100 percent of the ACA expansion to cover low-income, able-bodied adults, but 21 Republican-led states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, declined to participate.Emph added.
Lang’s position is utter bullshit on its face, but I’m not here to point and laugh. The good news is that many donors have stepped forward to help him out, despite the fact that this shitstorm is of his own making.
The bigger issue here is that the conservative media, which we may safely assume Lang consumed voraciously given his positions, was so foursquare against the ACA (and, really, any health care law, and anything espoused by Obama) that he came away from the public debate thinking his path was a safe and rational one. That’s completely fucking criminal.
The right wing media worked themselves into a goddamn frenzy about the ACA and spouted such amazing fountains of bullshit that people still think death panels are a risk. In deciding to become the propaganda arm of the GOP, though, these people abandoned their public mission: inform and protect the public with information. In their rush to deny the President and his party a victory, they refused to engage the bill on its merits and instead obfuscated any real points with hyperbole and outright lies while fueling the idea that having insurance isn’t even necessarily something you want.
The saying points out that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The story of Luis Lang is an example of what happens when knowable facts make clear the opinions you’ve held are bankrupt. Sure, it’s partially on him for not doing his own research, but Americans have traditionally been able to trust “news” organizations not to lie to them. That you and I know this is no longer true is probably cold comfort to someone like Lang.
Scalia wondered aloud about ministers being required to marry same-sex couples. “I don’t see how you could possibly allow that minister to say, I will only marry a man and a woman,” Scalia said. “I will not marry two men. … I don’t see any answer to that. I really don’t.”
Because, you see, we don’t already live in a world where ministers routinely refuse to perform weddings that do not accord with their faith. Most famously, the Roman Catholic Church won’t marry you if you’ve been married before and haven’t paid them for an annulment. You’re still free to marry civilly, of course.
Scalia knows this, and is lying when he suggests he doesn’t, and is doing so to bolster his bigotry. Slacktivist has more.
Antonin Scalia is also fully aware of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage. He is fully, completely aware that any Catholic with a valid civil divorce has every legal, civil and constitutional right to remarry. And he is fully, completely aware that this has never in any way, shape or form ever meant that a Catholic priest could be legally compelled to consecrate such a wedding.
Justice Scalia knows this. Everyone knows this.
And yet, today, Justice Scalia chose to pretend he doesn’t know this.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday night that would reauthorize a controversial surveillance authority of the Patriot Act until 2020, a push that comes just as a group of bipartisan lawmakers is preparing a last-minute push to rein in the government’s mass-spying powers.
A McConnell aide said the majority leader is beginning a process to put the bill on the Senate calendar but said that the chamber will not take the measure up this week. That process, known as Rule 14, would bypass the traditional committee process. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr is a cosponsor.
Under the bill, Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act would be extended until December 31, 2020. The core provision, which the National Security Agency uses to justify its bulk collection of U.S. phone records, is currently due to expire on June 1.
The bill appears to be an attempt to thwart efforts to rein in the National Security Agency’s expansive surveillance powers, which came under intense scrutiny nearly two years ago after the disclosures spurred by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A bipartisan group of lawmakers were expected to reintroduce on Wednesday a comprehensive surveillance-reform bill that would have effectively ended the NSA’s dragnet of Americans’ call data.
In the 90s, Dilbert was still relatively novel, and was pretty often VERY on-point, as in this strip from almost 20 years ago:
As with most of Adams’ work, this one is predicated on the self-evidently ridiculous behavior of management, and the ability of the technical employees to see the failure immediately. Closely tied to this is the feeling we nearly always get from this kind of comedy: that’s pretty funny, but nobody would actually DO that. I mean, it’s stupid.
Well, yeah. About that. Bug bounties absolutely WERE a thing, but they’re positively benign compared to what the FBI has been doing for nearly 15 years. In the era of the War on Terror, it became necessary for Federal law enforcement to show success against terror plots. That terrorism in the US is fantastically rare isn’t an excuse, apparently, for not stopping terror plots.
So what does the FBI do? They go out and write themselves a minivan. A huge percentage of the “plots” they’ve crowed about stopping since 9/11 are plots that were set up by the Feds themselves as pseudo-sting operations. They’d target ineffectual loners and radicals, and then create a situation for them to get carried away and join other “radicals” — typically undercover officers — in an ambitious plot, only to find at the last minute that the plot never existed, but that they were nevertheless guilty of numerous felonies.
But the real winner is the FBI, who gets to trumpet their “success” here and use it to justify more power grabs and more funding. The 20-year-old would-be terrorist may be going to prison behind this, but the REAL losers are all of us, because eventually we’ll have to deal with the metastasizing cancer of overreaching, roll-your-own-crime law enforcement coupled with pols like Boehner using synthetic plots to justify additional government power.
But, hey, my guess is that entrapping basement-dwelling 20-year-olds is a lot easier than catching actual bad guys.
The gay-hatin’ National Organization for Marriage is drowning in debt after their donations dropped by half from 2012 to 2013.
An between 2012 and 2013, NOM saw a staggering 50 percent drop in donations. The group raised $5.1 million in 2013, and two donors accounted for more than half the money raised by the group, according to HRC.
Emphasis added. That’s some grassroots org you’ve got there, bigots.
This piece is very, very spot on, and it makes clear something I’ve been trying to articulate for years: People like Mitch McConnell are not Americans. They are Republicans, concerned first and foremost with the good of their party, not the nation, and certainly not those whom they purport to represent.
McConnell had to follow her, which put him behind a pretty serious eight ball, and he absolutely failed to help himself in any way — as Grimes predicted, he basically just tried to run against Obama, who, as she pointed out, isn’t actually running for any office in Kentucky.
The rapid about-face on Bergdahl just drives home the fact that pretty much ONLY Obama could get in trouble with the right wing for bringing home a POW.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the wingnutosphere flip-flop this way; in fact, Bill Maher has a term for it: to “Blacktrack”, defined as “the act of changing one’s mind because President Obama agrees with you.”
“[T]he preferences of economic elites,” conclude Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page, who work with the nonprofit Scholars Strategy Network, “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.”
Leading the charge was Texas congressman Randy Weber:
Several members, for example, appeared to be trying to mock rather than engage Holdren on climate change. “I may want to get your cellphone number, Dr. Holdren,” said Representative Randy Weber (R–TX), “because, if we go through another few cycles of global warming and cooling, I may need to ask you when I should buy my long coat on sale.”
Weber, a freshman from the Galveston area, began his interrogation by asking Holdren whether “when you guys do your research, you start with a scientific postulate or theory and work forward from that? Is that right?” Holdren gamely played along, explaining that “it depends on the type of science, but the notion of posing a hypothesis and then trying to determine whether it is right is one of the tried and true approaches in science, yes.”
But Weber’s question was really just a setup for his concluding statement. “I just don’t know how you all prove those theories going back 50 or 100,000 or even millions of years,” Weber said.