Saturday, September 18, 2010

Do witches masturbate?

Christine O'Donnell. We know the type, don't we? Once a "sinner," now a moralist. Something at some point must have gone wrong for her, just as it usually does for those who end up seeking religious redemption in the form of born-again fundamentalism. (O'Donnell is Roman Catholic, but she exhibits all the signs of evangelical Protestant fundamentalism.) Maybe it was an overwhelming sense of guilt that finally got to her, guilt implanted through her Catholic upbringing. Maybe she found herself alone and without purpose, unable to cope, longing desperately to belong. This is how cults, including organized religions, find their followers. Maybe it was a guy who dumped her. Whatever the case, something turned her into what she is now, a Christian theocrat who, as many of her kind do, obsesses about masturbation and pornography, wallowing in the "sin" she abhors. (What strikes me about these moralists is how they seem to be fascinated by, and perhaps turned on by, the details of "sin." They traffic in stories of redemption and conversion, but those stories depend on detailed accounts of the "sin" that is being left behind. This, I would argue, is their pornography, just as much as the blood sacrifice that is the core of Christianity.)

Anyway, we should hardly be surprised that O'Donnell's past is, well... colourful. For example...

As Think Progress is reporting, last night on HBO's Real Time, host Bill Maher played a previously unaired clip of O'Donnell from the October 29, 1999 episode of his former show, Politically Incorrect (on which O'Donnell was a frequent guest). Let's just say the clip was rather revealing:

I dabbled into witchcraft -- I never joined a coven. But I did, I did... I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do. [...]

One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that... We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a satanic altar.

Now, do I care that she "dabbled" in witchcraft when she was younger? No, not really. It might bother me if she were a witch now, but people do all sorts of things when they're young, some of them quite stupid. But I find it interesting that this anti-sex Christian extremist, who is now all about self-control (but really self-denial, the denial of human nature) dabbled in just the sort of "sin" she now condemns. This doesn't make her special. I suspect that many such moralists were rather adventurous in their pre-moralistic days. But it does make you realize that her whole campaign against sex (other than the procreative sex authorized by the Vatican) is really about herself, about her guilt and about doing everything she can to avoid slipping back into the "sin" of which she partook. It's about denying who she really is as a human being (and denying her nature, which, I suspect, would very much like to pleasure itself) and lying to herself about right and wrong. This is what all religion is, of course. With her, it's just so obvious.


And it's no wonder she's running for cover, backing out of scheduled TV appearances tomorrow, on CBS's Face the Nation and even Fox News.

One suspects her campaign didn't have withcraft-related talking points ready.

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Glen Urquhart

Christine O'Donnell is the main Delaware Republican in the news, but she certainly doesn't have a monopoly on craziness, not with Glen Urquhart around. (Urquhart was nominated to fill Mike Castle's state-wide House seat, Castle having been defeated by O'Donnell in the Republican Senate primary.)

Just check out this rather appalling statement, as reported by Right Wing Watch:

Do you know, where does this phrase separation of Church and State come from? Does anybody know? ... Actually, that's exactly, it was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring that the federal government wouldn't trample on their religion. The exact phrase "separation of Church and State" came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth, that's where it comes from. Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State ask them why they're Nazis.

That's right, Urquhart attributes Jefferson's famous "separation of Church and State" line to none other than Hitler. But of course it was Jefferson who said it, or wrote it -- and it does in fact appear in his 1802 Letter to the Danbury Baptists:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Urquhart is crazy -- and also, apparently, a complete idiot whose whole shtick seems to consist of calling his opponents Nazis. Evidently, though, he's also so utterly un-American as to think that one of the cornerstones of American democracy, as articulated by Jefferson, is some Nazi plot.

When you mistake Jefferson for Hitler and seek to overturn the Constitution, you're pretty fucking crazy, just like O'Donnell.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

David Brooks and the possible backlash against the Tea Party GOP

I really don't know why I bother with David Brooks -- he seems so rational, at least for a conservative, and yet gets so much wrong (he's not so much political analyst as political opiner who pushes ill-conceived theories) -- but, well, humour me just for this post.

In his NYT column today, Brooks argues that the liberal contention of a likely backlash from independents and moderates against an increasingly right-wing Republican Party is really just a myth -- it isn't happening and won't be happening this year:

There's only one problem with this theory. There is no evidence to support it. The Republican Party may be moving sharply right, but there is no data to suggest that this has hurt its electoral prospects, at least this year.

I asked the election guru Charlie Cook if there were signs that the Tea Party was scaring away the independents. "I haven't seen any," he replied. I asked another Hall of Fame pollster, Peter Hart, if there were Republican or independent voters so alarmed by the Tea Party that they might alter their votes. He ran the numbers and found very few potential defectors.


Nor is there evidence that the Tea Party's success has changed moderates' perceptions about Republicans generally. According to a survey published in July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans feel philosophically closer to the Republicans than to the Democrats. Put another way, many moderates see Democrats like Nancy Pelosi as more extreme than Republicans like John Boehner.

Nor is there any sign that alarm over the Tea Party is hurting individual Republican candidates.

Far be it from me to question the eternal wisdom of pollsters, and, to an extent, Brooks is right. The state of the economy is a far more pressing issue for Americans than the state of the GOP, and even if the state of the economy isn't the Democrats' fault, voters are likely to vent their fear and anger by voting against the party in power, namely, the Democrats. That's just the way it goes. And he's right that the full impact of the growing extremism of the GOP, including the Tea Party takeover of much of it, likely won't be felt in electoral terms until well after the November midterms:

But that damage is all in the future. Right now, the Tea Party doesn't matter. The Republicans don't matter. The economy and the Democrats are handing the G.O.P. a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.

Unearned indeed, but great? We shall see.

The fact is, we jut don't know how much the Tea Party will matter and how exactly voters will respond to the growing extremism of the GOP. Of course, it's the economy, stupid, and Democrats will be unjustly punished, wrongly held accountable for a historic economic crisis that owes far more to Republican policy (under Bush, specifically, but begun much earlier) than to Democratic action since Obama won the White House. Indeed, if anything, Democratic action, such as the stimulus package and the bank bailout, made the crisis far less bad than it otherwise would have been -- not that voters appreciate this.

But the election season thus far has been dominated by the bases of the two parties, by those more committed voters who identify with one party or the other, are deeply partisan, and turn out to vote in primaries. The rest of the electorate, a large majority of it, just hasn't been paying much attention and is only now, I suspect, with summer over, beginning to think about the options before it. These are voters who may identify as Republican or Democratic but who are less politically engaged than the partisans or, if engaged, less committed to one or the other, voters who don't just vote the party line no matter what. Many of these are independents, and many are turned off by the partisan extremism they see in Washington. Yes, it may be true that some of them prefer Boehner to Pelosi, but if anything their preferences are yet to be fully formed. And when in the coming weeks they start paying attention, when they start thinking about the issues that matter to them and how they'll vote, I suspect they -- many of them -- will look upon the state of the Republican Party with disgust.

What will help is that Obama, a great campaigner, will be on the campaign trail stumping for Democrats and articulating as only he can the heart of the matter of November's midterms, defending his and the Democrats' record against Republican attacks and smears and pushing back against Republican politics and policy. And these voters, those who have yet to make up their mind, those who right now lack the enthusiasm to get out and try to make a difference, will be paying attention.

This is not to say that the Democrats are perfect. Far from it. But they have a solid record to run on even in a time of grave economic uncertainty and widespread popular fear and frustration: a stimulus package that stabilized the economy and put it on the road to recovery, health-care reform that will extend choice and coverage to millions while taking power away from the profit-driven insurance industry, Wall Street reform that will block counter relentless greed and hold insiders accountable, tax policy that focuses on relieving the burden on the middle class instead of benefitting the rich.

Right now, sure, there haven't been many "defectors." But this could very well change once the campaign really heats up. When voters look at the two parties and see that the Republican Party has effectively been taken over by the likes of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Rand Paul in Kentucky, to name but four of the more widely-known extremists, many of them may very well run the other way.

The consequences for the GOP could indeed be more severe in 2012 and beyond, but it's awfully short-sighted of Brooks -- who to his credit sees that Tea Party conservatism is dominated by "a narcissistic sense of victimization, an egomaniacal belief in one's own rightness and purity, a willingness to distort the truth so that every conflict becomes a contest of pure good versus pure evil" -- not to see (or at least not to admit) that a good deal can happen between now and November.

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The war of ideas

Guest post by Jared Stancombe 

Jared Stancombe, a 2009 graduate of Indiana University, is currently an analyst for a U.S. government agency responsible for national security. He is also in the officer selection process for the U.S. Marine Corps. He lives in Washington, D.C. 

Ed. note: Jared has been a frequent guest blogger at The Reaction. He has posted on Afghanistan and the Afghan War (here, here, and here), airline security (here), and the various threats to U.S. national security (here). -- MJWS


The controversy over the proposed "Cordoba Center" in New York City has further demonstrated the toxic environment in which civil discourse takes place within the United States. One side states that it is their Constitutional right to build the center and that it will help develop relationships between people of other faiths to diminish perceived biases against the Muslim faith, while another side states that placing a "mosque" at Ground Zero is an offense to the families of the victims of 9/11 and that it could be a new base for Islamist militant terrorists. Demonstrations are held daily as the news pundits speak nearly 24/7 on the issue.

In Afghanistan, Afghans are rioting over the "International Burn a Qu'ran Day" recently proposed by Florida Pastor Terry Jones. General Petraeus and Defense Secretary Gates have personally pleaded with Pastor Jones to stop him from burning Islam's most sacred text.

In our connected world of social networking and 24-hour news, a little thing can make a huge difference given the right exposure. The fringe elements are gaining ground, showing an America that is fearful and hateful towards the Islamic faith. Republican congressmen and senators are using this environment to gather up potential votes before the midterm elections.

What does this show to the Muslims in America and all over the world? Muslims died alongside Christians, Jews, atheists, and people of other faiths in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and on Flight 93. Muslims currently fight in the mountains of Afghanistan and in Iraq either in uniform or alongside our troops with local police forces, militias, and armies. Others have fled conflict in the Middle East in hopes that America will bring them a new, successful life, while others still have become prominent and vital members of American society. What does the current political environment tell these people? Are Muslims seen as a threat to American culture and the American way of life? How can America win the war of ideas while so many Americans themselves view Islam as an inherent threat?

Islam will never be a threat to America's freedom, independence, and culture. Just as countless other people of other faiths, creeds, and belief systems have, Islam has become a part of the national identity. Being American means believing in freedom and independence and that you're a part of a nation that will never back down in the face of tyranny and evil. Further incorporating Islam into the national identity, welcoming its spirituality and message of peace, will only enrich the American identity, not weaken it.

By burning Qu'rans and broadcasting that building a "mosque" at Ground Zero is akin to Nazis building a memorial next to the National Holocaust Museum, we are only showing our fear and disgust towards a faith and people that we need to help solve complex global social problems and make America safer. By broadcasting such claims, we are playing right into the hands of Islamist terrorists who want fuel to support their claim that America is at war against Islam.

How is America supposed to win a global war against terrorism if its message seems unjust and antithetical to the belief systems of the very people we must extend a hand to to solve the problem of militant Islamist terrorism? The Islamic world must view the distortion and perversion of their faith as the enemy, just as we see it. Fighting terrorism is not just about how many boots are in the ground but in the strength of conflicting ideologies. Militant Islam cannot win in the face of the American philosophy of freedom -- we must show our true American colors by embracing Islam while the terrorists preach evil and practice tragedy.

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Gangsters in Algeria?

By Peter Henne

While most of the world's terrorism-related attention is fixed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, North Africa is far from quiet. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a local franchise of the core al-Qaeda group, has launched attacks throughout the region, and has taken up kidnapping-for-ransom as well as bombings. The continuing threat this group poses is evidenced in two stories this morning; Frances believes AQIM has kidnapped five French nationals, and Algerian authorities claim that ransom money from such kidnappings is a key source of funding for the group.

These terrorist activities grow out of the horrific Algerian civil war in the 1990s. AQIM was originally the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), a slightly-less brutal offshoot of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), who tactics -- which included the massacres of entire villages -- upset even Osama bin Laden. Both groups had ties to AQ, and the GSPC officially merged with AQ in 2006, becoming AQIM.

Since merging with AQ, AQIM has mostly concentrated on Algeria -- where its most destructive attacks occur -- but has spread into nearby countries, including Tunisia, Mali, and Mauritania. The group threatened to attack the 2010 World Cup and claimed responsibility for an August attack against a military installation in Mauritania. At the same time, its increasing reliance not only on kidnapping, but kidnapping for profit, is a bit out of line with the globalizing "jihadist" group AQIM seems to claim to be. It is possible, then, that -- whatever the ideological justifications that launched the GSPC's activities -- AQIM's main mission now is not to create a regional Caliphate, but to survive. If this can be accomplished by launching dramatic attacks against government installations to gain international publicity, AQIM will launch them. If it can be accomplished by extorting money from families and governments of hostages, AQIM will take hostages.

The future of transnational terrorism may come to follow the path of AQIM, a mix of pragmatism, ideological appeals, and gangster-esque behavior. It is very likely the Taliban in Afghanistan are coming to resemble this model, a development that would have significant implications for US counterinsurgency strategy. Aggressive military actions against these groups will provide an ideological veneer to their warlord-ism, but withdrawing from international commitments will only give them more of an opportunity to terrorize the populace. We must ensure our response to issues like AQIM's activities in North Africa are as nuanced as these situations are complex.

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Denigration and disenfranchisement: Glenn Beck, American conservatism, and the war on the poor

Yesterday morning, guest blogger T.W. Wilson posted on Glenn Beck and the right's war on the poor:

When poor people stand up for their rights, stand up against power, that power has always been very good at pushing them aside and, not infrequently, crushing them. American history is full of examples of poor people and poor workers destroyed by power. Call it class warfare if you like.

One of the problems is that the poor just don't have the resources, let alone the political clout, to stand up to this assault. Sure, there are many admirable anti-poverty advocates and organizations out there working hard on behalf of people who don't have much of a voice in Washington, but they wield little influence compared to the right's campaign of denigration and disenfranchisement. As Wilson notes:

[T]he right wing has cleverly twisted the truth to make its case. Health-care reform is well on its way to being successfully re-branded as another entitlement program for a slothful underclass. The Republican leadership talks about unemployment insurance like it's a reward for laziness amongst the needy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is explained as poor people wanting a life to which they are not entitled (instead of the result of unscrupulous banking practices). Tax cuts for the über-wealthy are taken to be a reward for obvious virtue, while the "have-nots" are assumed to deserve their meager lot. And lastly, opposition to progressive immigration reform is clearly a part of this narrative.

America's Puritan roots have a lot to do with this, obviously, with wealth seen as a sure sign of predestined salvation, as does American capitalism, which, developing alongside and to a certain extent out of Puritanism has created a cult of selfishness at the expense of community and social responsibility. In this sense, American society is seen less as an organic union and more as a loose collection of atomized individuals each out for his or her own good in a free market that is a sort of domesticated Hobbesian-Lockean state of nature.

In more immediate terms, though, it is political reality that drives much of this war on the poor -- and the reality is that the poor are likely not to vote Republican. Because of that, Republicans (and the conservatives behind it and within it) go to great lengths essentially to disenfranchise them, just as they went to great lengths to do the same to other groups who were for the most part non- or anti-Republican, including most notably blacks.

No, the disenfranchisement of the poor may not be formal policy, and the poor certainly to have the right to vote, but the right is nonetheless keeping many poor from full citizenship by denying them what they need to be full citizens, trying to take away various so-called entitlement programs such as Social Security, trying to remove what little security there is for those who do not succeed in the free market, such as unemployment benefits, and denying them access to health care and education, all the while working to slash government and prevent it from helping those who cannot help themselves and those who just need help getting back on their feet (the government is allowed to spend wildly on the military and national security, and may even be a Big Brother, bu it is not allowed to spend anywhere near that on social programs).

All this works to block the poor from participating fully as citizens, and from participating politically, much as voter registration rules used to block blacks from the polls. We saw this in '04 all around the country, including in Cuyahoga Country, Ohio -- the Cleveland area -- where, with Republicans running the state's elections, voters were subjected to extremely long line-ups at the polls and otherwise presented with obstacles to casting their votes.

And how do conservatives justify this? They don't. Or, rather, they don't have to. Legal discrimination, as in the past against blacks and others, is for the most part not allowed anymore. The right to vote simply cannot be denied. But the effective result of the policies and propaganda of the right is to reduce the poor essentially to sub-citizen (if not sub-human) status. According to this narrative, picked up by the media, the poor are, as Wilson writes, considered lazy and slothful, un-American and unworthy of citizenship. They may be thrown a few scraps, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world lacking compassion and understanding, let alone a genuine moral core, but that's about it. They certainly shouldn't be allowed to be politically powerful -- unless, that is, they can be manipulated into voting Republican, which is what Beck's brand of populism, one shared by the likes of Sarah Palin, is all about (in addition to the aggrandizement of Beck's and Palin's massive egos and in addition to making tons of money for themselves).

The poor are politically useful, you see, when they put aside their obvious economic needs and vote out of fear -- fear of the Other, as determined by the right. And they do this a lot. It's the other poor, the poor who aren't useful to Republicans, the poor who don't buy into the Republican narrative, who are effectively disenfranchised.

And the ranks of the poor are growing. As the Times reported yesterday:

The percentage of Americans struggling below the poverty line in 2009 was the highest it has been in 15 years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, and interviews with poverty experts and aid groups said the increase appeared to be continuing this year.

As the country fights its way out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, four million additional Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, with the total reaching 44 million, or one in seven residents. Millions more were getting by only because of expanded unemployment and other assistance.


The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994. The rise was steepest for children, with one in five affected, the bureau said. 

But what do Republicans, many Democrats, the media, and the powerful care about? Bank and auto bailouts, a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, opposition to any and all government-run health care (with the exception of Medicare, as the elderly can be frightened into voting Republican). The poor and their plight simply don't register -- except insofar as the right-wing war on the poor continues unabated, including with Republicans trying to block any and all government efforts to help the poor through this horrible economic time.

It is appalling that it has come to this. The poor have been spit out the bottom of American society, victims of a social, political, and economic system that rewards wealth. They lack a strong political voice in Washington compared to conservative interests, the media generally ignores them (or mostly regurgitates the conservative anti-poor narrative), and there is little opportunity for improvement despite all the up-with-America talk about mobility and self-reliance.

The poor simply don't matter, even as their numbers swell (and would have swelled more had it not been for government spending), and this allows Republicans, and conservatives generally, to win. It is their successful campaign of denigration that has reduced the poor to sub-citizen status. Politicians do little for them (all they really do is allocate the scraps) and they just don't have the votes, with so many of them disenfranchised, to make a difference on their own.

America, as I often say, can and must do better. But it will be hard for anything to get done with a campaign of relentless class warfare being waged by the rich and powerful against those without the means to fight back. And things only seem to be getting worse.

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The Palin effect

By Creature


But I have to wonder if the enthusiasm gap isn't about to close --- not because the Democrats are more fired up, although some might be. I am thinking that the crazed rightward shift of the GOP might start to suppress enthusiasm among the mainstream Republicans and right leaning Independents.

I think Digby is onto something here. As with the nomination of Sarah Palin, the Christine O'Donnell win may just be the last straw for those more moderate thinkers who can't take the crazy anymore.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun fun fun til your daddy takes the T-bag away

Well, she got the Moose's nod
And she's the new Senate nominee wow
Seems like Fux News has a new darlin'
Like Queen Sarah told them would now
And with Rush, Sean and Karl showing wood
they can't hide the fact she's insane now.
But she'll have fun, fun, fun
til her daddy takes the T-bag away

Who'd of ever thought that watching the country turn into Somalia and that listening to the current crop of Republican "leaders" lie, scare, and mislead every day would be fun.  It never dawned on me that voting for the next Senator or Representative who could potentially end Social Security, help overturn Roe v. Wade,  or continue to favor the rich would like one giant pie fight.

Yesterday, Matt Lewis, a "pundit" who makes the rounds of the cable chat fests as a so called "conservative expert" (I guess because he has a blog) chimed in on the Christine O' Donnell primary victory. (After listening to Lewis for the first time - I quickly realized he is the same as every other political hack on the right - just another person who thinks he knows more than the rest of the country, but in reality makes it up shit just like everyone else.  But in Lewis' case, he just happens to have the good fortune of knowing the right folks at the cable channels to get him on the air - which in turn helps him sell books).

The proof in in the black and white (or living color) pudding. Lewis actually called voting for O'Donnell - "the fun vote." Yep, voting for a completely insane whacked out moron who believes in creationism and wants to outlaw masturbation - is something akin to watching The Hangover or the Marx Brothers.

There you have it - the precise reason why this country is falling off a cliff.  The people who make decisions on war, defense, health care spending, egg inspections, oil policy, wiretapping, interest rates and a few other minor things that affect 7 billion humans are not there to govern, they are there to entertain.  We are governed by a bunch of people no better (or funnier) than Martha Raye or Jerry Lewis.  The US government (to "pundits" like Matt Lewis) is nothing more than a bad vaudeville skit that needs to be Gonged.

The problem is Lewis is right.  Most of this country could care less about the issues and would rather vote for someone that is "fun to have a beer" with or would be a good "roll in the hay."  It doesn't matter that our previous beer buddy and current old man's wet dream both have a minimal grasp of reality, not one iota of worldliness and zero intellectual curiosity - they were (and are) very entertaining.

In a country that will lead the news and cheer when $25 million is spent on one baseball player or a movie star, but refuses to endorse paying decent wages to teachers and wants to see unions disbanded and public employees eliminated - I guess you can't expect much more. Making the electoral process like another day in Romper Room sure beats dealing with foreclosures, dead soldiers or crumbling bridges. 

In all seriousness, the 24/7 cycle of news created in the past 20 years has been a blessing to late night comedians and a nightmare for 300 million citizens.  Instead of the transparency and education having such extensive and pervasive communication could bring - what we have ended up with is news from John Stewart on Comedy Central and comedy from Sean Hannity on Fox News.  Talk about irony.

Americans might not be so good at making things (except financial instruments) or having the next big idea any more - but the masses in this country are experts at knowing what is entertainment - and what is not.  The endless ordeal of crap from Lindsay Lohan, the endless trail of mistresses for Tiger Woods and now the endless vapidity from the current crop of Teabagging candidates - are all well worth the investment in time - they make us smile and forget.   Problem is Lindsay and Tiger have absolutely nothing to do with how our we go about our business - they truly are just soma for the masses.  But laughing at the keystone kops who will be sitting in the Capitol or Supreme Court won't be so funny if we end up with Senator O'Donnell, Senator Angle or President Palin in the next few years.  NOW that would be a laugh riot.

But this is America - land of opportunity and freedom.  If we want stupid and incompetent people to run the nation - because they amuse us - then we have the right to have stupid and incompetent people run the place. So instead of being so somber and serious about the drab and mundane electoral process - let's turn it into a game of Hide and Seek and make Christine O'Donnell it.  And if we really want to have fun - let's also make sure Angle, Rubio, Paul, Miller and the real queen of this burlesque - Palin - all get their chances to be King of Hill.

Then the fun will really begin!

Well, the boys can't stand her
'Cause she walks, looks, and talks like a prude now
She makes a box of Trojans look like
a rubber balloon, now
A lot of guys try to catch her
But she leads 'em to her chastity belt now
But she'll have fun, fun, fun
til her daddy takes the T-bag away

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Music, when soft voices die

By Carl
Edwin Newman, the irascible reporter's reporter, has died. I want to mention briefly his career as guardian of the English language before I get to the good stuff. If you have never read his book Strictly Speaking, you must. He is at once witty and angry, and is my role model for this blogging career.
In an age of weak journalism and opinion-sharing that passes as research, one of the last of the great lions of reporting is gone. It's hard to describe what that era was like, when those lions roared and the world stood still. I think, if you wanted to name a contemporary, Greg Palast is about as close as you can get to what those days were like. 
Mr. Newman stood, rumpled and wizened, in front of the camera and told you not what you wanted to know, but what he found out. What you needed to know. And he did it in a spare and unflourished style that gave you the facts up front. He was a reporter in the truest sense of the word, in that he wrote the story as if a print editor would clip it: from the bottom up. 
Newman was unafraid. If he knew a fact that gave depth to a story, he would not hesitate to mention it. He informed, not reported, and we were a better audience for it. 
After all, how many journalists today would dare cut off a President in mid-sentence? In a Presidential debate? Yet he did just that to Ronald Reagan in 1984, when Reagan desperately tried to launch into a polemic in the middle of answering a question.
The most revealing moment, the one that makes Edwin Newman the reporter stand out, was this exchange:

Mr. Newman's most memorable appearance on "Today" came in 1971, when he banished comedian George Jessel from the studio. In a rambling interview, the 73-year-old Jessel likened The Washington Post and New York Times to Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper.

"You are a guest here," a steely Mr. Newman told Jessel. "It is not the kind of thing one tosses off. One does not accuse newspapers of being Communist, which you have just done."

After further strained comments, Jessel said, "I didn't mean it quite that way. . . . I won't say it again."

"I agree that you won't say it again," Mr. Newman replied. "Thank you very much, Mr. Jessel."

"I just want to say one thing before I leave," Jessel added.

"Please don't," Mr. Newman said, as he broke for a commercial three minutes early.

When he came back on the air, Mr. Newman said television had a responsibility to uphold "certain standards of conduct."

"It didn't seem to me we have any obligation to allow people to come on to traduce the reputations of anyone they want," he said, "to abuse people they don't like."

Would Matt Lauer ever say that? Or Charlie Gibson? Or Katie Couric? Imagine Sarah Palin being subjected to Edwin Newman's withering interview. Or Ann Coulter. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or...
Perhaps in honor of Mr. Newman, for one week, they should do just that.
Edwin Newman was 91 when he died of pneumonia on August 13 in Oxford (naturally!), England. His survivors include his wife of 66 years, the former Rigel Grell and his daughter, Nancy Drucker. He'd want those facts included in this piece.
And if I've made any grammatic or usage errors, Mr. Newman, it's only because I want you to have something to keep you busy while you're in Heaven.    
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Glenn Beck's obsession with Frances Fox Piven

Guest post by R.K. Barry

Ed. note: This is the pseudonymous Mr. Wilson's second guest post here at The Reaction, a fantastic look at Glenn Beck and the right's war on the poor (and Beck's war on Frances Fox Piven). You can find his first, also on Beck, here. I encourage you to check out his new blog, Lippmann's Ghost. -- MJWS

(Update: "T.W. Wilson" now goes by his real name, R.K. Barry. I have changed his byline accordingly.)


Much as I try to ignore him, and I do try, this is one of those times when Glenn Beck's views are so foolish, though dangerous, that good people need to rise up and call him out.

Specifically, I refer to his characterization of Frances Fox Piven as something close to a violent revolutionary for suggesting simply that poor people ought to access the government benefits to which they are entitled. Along with Richard Cloward, she once argued that many Americans who were eligible for welfare were not receiving benefits and that a welfare enrollment drive would create a political crisis that would force government to enact legislation establishing a guaranteed national income.

Learning at the knee of famous community organizer Saul Alinsky, they suggested that the rules of the game be implemented to the letter in order to expose a contradiction in the system that would benefit a constituency in need.

In my neighbourhood, we call that smart politics: helping citizens understand their interests and assisting them in mobilizing as they access, through legal and legitimate means, political power.

Beck's endless rant about the so called "Piven-Cloward Thesis" always focuses on the disaster that will result if the poor should ever demand their due. Apparently this would usher in a totalitarian state where freedom is trampled underfoot, with jackboots and straight armed salutes everywhere. Not sure of the logic, but I recognize red-baiting when I see it.

In truth, what he doesn't like, what so many on the right don't like, is the thought that previously marginalized communities "want in" and may find a way to get there. This has always been a large part of what scares the hell out of the right and makes them worry about the security of their privileged perch.

Piven is one of the great progressive minds of our age (and yes Glenn, you jackass, I said "progressive," a term many of us embrace unreservedly).

I have always considered it a wonderful experience to have spent a term in a small graduate seminar at the City University of New York, a very long time ago, with Professor Piven. I learned a great deal, which I am pleased to say I have put to good use over the years. I also got to know, if only briefly, a very passionate and effective advocate for people who are so often on the outside looking in.

Her crime, as far as Beck is concerned, is that she has had the audacity to advocate on behalf of the poor in America, educate us about their circumstances, and, here is what galls the "great man" the most, work with the poor to help them gain a stronger voice in the political process.

Before being slandered by Beck, Piven was best known for combining academic work with political action as she did when she co-founded Human SERVE (Service Employees Registration and Voter Education), an organization whose stated goal was increasing voter registration by linking it to social service program delivery and Department of Motor Vehicles use.

Human SERVE was later taken up by the Clinton Administration and made into the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also called the "Moter Voter Bill."

One of the very important things that this kind of work did was to put more poor Americans on voter's lists by giving them the chance to register to vote when they came in contact with necessary bureaucratic processes like getting a driver's license or accessing social services. The point is that poorer Americans are frequently disenfranchised and do not easily interact with voter registration mechanisms unless it happens through other processes with which they are more comfortable.

Piven is also well known, not coincidentally, for writing about how poverty policy and practice have historically helped employers access a cheap supply of labour or kept poor people from expressing too much outrage about their condition. See Regulating the Poor, written with Richard Cloward.

When poor people stand up for their rights, stand up against power, that power has always been very good at pushing them aside and, not infrequently, crushing them. American history is full of examples of poor people and poor workers destroyed by power. Call it class warfare if you like.

I can only imagine how well Beck and his coterie of haters would receive the idea of more poor people voting. On its face they would claim no foul, but I don't buy it. The poor are not welcome at Glenn Beck's tea party. This much is clear.

What we have here is a war on the poor. And the right wing has cleverly twisted the truth to make its case. Health-care reform is well on its way to being successfully re-branded as another entitlement program for a slothful underclass. The Republican leadership talks about unemployment insurance like it's a reward for laziness amongst the needy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is explained as poor people wanting a life to which they are not entitled (instead of the result of unscrupulous banking practices). Tax cuts for the über-wealthy are taken to be a reward for obvious virtue, while the "have-nots" are assumed to deserve their meager lot. And lastly, opposition to progressive immigration reform is clearly a part of this narrative.

So, if you really want to get the attention of the wacky right in America, all you have to do is be successful at helping poor people stand up for themselves, at helping them be heard, at showing them how to get in the game. Saul Alinsky knew it in his day, ACORN more recently, and Frances Fox Piven knows all about it now. Class warfare indeed. Bring it on.

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Elizabeth Warren

By Creature

I'm going to come out of my blogging shell to praise President Obama for naming Elizabeth Warren to his team with a mandate to effectively run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Not only did he pick the best person to get the agency running, he's bypassing the mess that is the Senate appointment process. Strike one up for enthusiasm there. And, while I'm here, FU Senator Dodd. You and your Wall Street, bought-and-paid-for bluster can take a hike. Enjoy your retirement.

Update: Yves Smith thinks this appointment is a way to sideline Warren. While Jonathan Cohn was skeptical too until Barney Frank put him in his place:

Frank is also convinced that Warren wouldn't take the job if she didn't have all of the authority she needed. When I expressed some more skepticism, he chastised me for being a whiny liberal who can't accept good news when it's in front of me.

That's good enough for me.

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Roger Waters: The Wall

It's been a crazy busy last few days -- and, for me, simply amazing. First Pittsburgh over the weekend for the Steelers game, then a fantastic restaurant (Origin, a funky tapas place owned by a truly great chef, Claudio Aprile, the genius behind Colborne Lane, the best restaurant in Toronto) for dinner Tuesday evening, then...

Roger Waters -- The Wall!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just got home. It was AWESOME. I suppose I expected nothing less, but it seemed to surpass expectations nonetheless. It was deeply moving at times, with its anti-war message, and also mind-bogglingly transcendent -- as it always is with "Comfortably Numb." My wife and I took our 10-year-old daughter. She was skeptical going in, but she came away, I think, transformed. Yes, it was that good. (And the first show of the world tour -- we'll be going to see him again in Buffalo next month.)

And now I must get to bed. I'll get back to blogging later today.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Newt and Dinesh, crazy together

"Why is Gingrich pushing Dinesh D'Souza's crazy theory about Obama's 'Kenyan anti-colonialism'?" Because, as the title of David Weigel's Slate piece helpfully explains, "Newt is Nuts!"

And so is Dinesh, of course, who's pushing yet more unfounded idiocy in his new book, The Roots of Obama's Rage, just as he has in everything he's ever written. It's like he's desperate to shock, desperate for attention, and desperate to be accepted as one of the leading conservative minds of the day. Writes Weigel, "D'Souza was the first modern conservative author to discover -- the hard way -- that if you want to be a pundit, there is no downside to making a reprehensible argument." Needless to say, countless many on the right have followed in his footsteps.

And it's all ridiculous nonsense -- as if Obama can be explained away, written off, as an angry, bitter, Marxist anti-colonial (and hence, in D'Souza's view, as a radical anti-American leftist).

Newt is full of such bullshit himself. It's hardly any wonder these two are linked together in common cause, both crazy to the core.

(For more, see Mustang Bobby's post from yesterday, which suggests that Gingrich is "insanely jealous" of Obama.)

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O'Donnell does Delaware: A great victory for the forces of anti-masturbatory repression

Yes, the anti-masturbator won.

Far-rightist Christine O'Donnell "upset" establishmentarian conservative Mike Castle to win the Republican Senate nomination in Delaware.

Meaning that Republicans just handed a winnable race to the Democrats. Because, one would think, the good people of Delaware, the voters who will show up at the polls in November, haven't completely gone nuts. And you have to be completely nuts, in a politically extremist sort of way, to back someone like O'Donnell.

It's a nightmare for Republicans, says Politico, but is it? Isn't the GOP just reaping what it is has been sowing? Isn't this what the party wants, what it dreams about? A shrewd insider like Karl Rove may lament O'Donnell's victory, but the party as a whole has been moving ever further to the right in recent years, so much so that an extremist like O'Donnell is well within the Republican mainstream. Her win wasn't a surprise, it was almost an inevitability.

The New York Times writes that O'Donnell's win in Delaware and similar far-rightist Carl Paladino's win over establishmentarian Rick Lazio in New York's Republican gubernatorial primary were insurgent wins. But were they? Yes, insofar as the less extremist candidates won and insofar as these two were backed by the far-right base that dominates the party, but, again, should we be surprised? If anything, these two are more Republican than their more moderate opponents. Is it really an insurgency when the supposed outsiders have become the new mainstream?

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Teabagger Cannibalism

By Carl
If I was truly a saintly compassionate Christian, I would feel pity for Karl Rove. After all shortly after Bush was inaugurated, he boasted that he was creating a permanent Republican majority, a nation that would revere the GOP and disdain Democrats and in particular, liberals.
Well, not only was he wrong about that, he can't even keep his own party under control. Last night, several key Republican primaries went to Teabaggers. Lsast night, Sarah Palin's wing of the Republican party showed its teeth, and Sarah Palin laid claim to the mantle of the Pat Robertson fringe. A solid minority of motivated voters got out and voted.
In Delaware, the Senate race will now be between a nutcase and a Democrat. In New York, this backdrop will provide a stage for the governor's race. Across the northeast, this same scenario played out over and over again.
You might ask why. Well, here's the answer:
Consider the liberal northeast. Incumbent Republicans-- almost to a man-- are RINOs, according to the barbarian hordes of Teabaggers. They have to be, if they want to court moderate voters in the liberal, intellegentsic northeast. You can't win in any of these state in this corner of the country without them.
But here's the thing: the Republican party has left moderates behind in droves. It's gotten so bad that moderates like Christine Todd Whitman and Amo Houghton have had to pony up PAC money to try to get a seat at the leadership table. So basically, a Teabagger win in any of these states is less an endorsement of their craziness and more a disinterest on the part of the rank and file voters.
They simply don't care. Democrats reign supreme in this section, precisely because moderates look at the south and the west and realize the only way to keep this country from sliding into the Dark Ages is to vote Democratic and put some brakes on the sled. They aren't enthusiastic about moderate Republicans, because they're going to get beaten at the polls anyway. The only Republican senator around these parts is Scott Brown, who won Ted Kennedy's seat in a special election that was more lost by the Democrat who assumed she'd be handed the job than won by Brown, who had Teabagger support until he screwed them in the butt oby voting with Obama on a few key items.
Karl Rove is understandably upset by this, but me, I enjoy the schadenfreude. As with Frankenstein's monster, you can't control rage and fear in the confines of a party, so when you create rage and fear, you better be prepared to be the first victim of the blowback. Kudos, Karl! You may have handed the Democrats another eight years of hegemony on a silver platter!
The key for Democrats this season will be to unleash the GOTV operation. Against a moderate Republican, there would be a distinct difficulty in attracting moderates. Against a Teabagger, they'll practically beg the Democrats to vote for them. 
But be warned: As Martha Moxley can tell you, it's not a slam dunk. You do have to give some reason to vote, and ignoring the concerns of both the base AND the independents will blow up in your faces. You'd better do something and you'd better do it right and you have six weeks to do it.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)    

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Newt Gingrich and the Green-ey'd Monster

By Mustang Bobby.

I've never been a big fan of trying to psychoanalyze someone from long distance, but it doesn't require an advanced degree of psychology to figure out at least part of where Newt Gingrich is coming from in his recent attack on President Obama. In fact, all you need is a good edition of Shakespeare's Othello to know what's going on: he's insanely jealous of him.

It's pretty simple, really. Barack Obama, even with the funny name and the up-from-nowhere childhood, managed to achieve in just four years what has eluded Newt Gingrich all his life: respectability and power on a grand scale without seeming to grasp for it, a happy marriage to one wife, and an ability to win people over without having to bully them into it. And just like Iago, Mr. Gingrich is driven to rage and therefore must strike out.

He did the same thing to Bill Clinton. Here he was, this back-bench bomb-thrower from Georgia who first achieved notice when he destroyed House Speaker Jim Wright and saw his path to the White House, only to have this young Governor of Arkansas came out of nowhere in 1992 to sweep the country with a charm and attraction that drove Mr. Gingrich nuts. "That's supposed to be me!" he's screaming.

Those of a certain age will recognize the pattern. Richard Nixon went to his grave obsessed with the Kennedys who seemingly without having to break a sweat achieved everything and had everything he so desperately wanted for himself: good looks, charm, magnetism, people drawn to him as if by magic, and even in the face of tragedy and grief, strength and courage that he never had. Even when he achieved the pinnacle of his dream, he destroyed it all by himself through rage, self-doubt, and paranoia that somehow, some way, someone smarter and more popular would take it all away.

It's striking how similar the career path of Newt Gingrich is to Mr. Nixon. He's already been driven from power into political disgrace once by his own hand, and yet he keeps coming back for more, sure that this time will be the one.... and he would have made it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling kid from Chicago! Or Kenya....

It's been said that there are no second acts in America. Richard Nixon proved that wrong, and Mr. Gingrich is trying for it, too. Let's just hope that unlike Othello, it doesn't take five acts until the villain is dragged off the stage.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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What is the GOP's foreign policy?

by Peter Henne

Sometimes I worry that my posts are focused too much on discussing interesting or confusing aspects of US foreign policy or international affairs, rather than engaging in political debates over foreign policy. At times I comment on what President Obama is doing--or not doing--but, with a few exceptions, I rarely go after Republicans.

I'm realizing, however, that there isn't much to go after. I would happily debate new formulations of neo-conservatism or even secretly agree with--with torturous qualifications--a realist foreign policy position, but neither seem to be forthcoming, at least from elected GOP officials.

A perfect example of this is Young Guns, a new conservative political manifesto by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy. I have no intention of buying--or reading--this book, so everything I say will be second-hand. It seems to be pretty predictable fare, and much of the coverage on the book deals with a possible power struggle between Cantor and GOP minority leader John Boehner.

One commentator, however, focused on what Cantor has to say about the Middle East peace process. I was more interested in the revelation that only nine out of almost 200 pages deal with foreign policy.
Nine. Now, again, I haven't read it, so I don't know what the nine pages say. But it really doesn't matter. I would hope that if the GOP really wants to be taken seriously by the American people, they would put a little more thought into foreign policy.

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Let it bleed

By Capt. Fogg

"What about the Jewish heart and Jewish compassion and Jewish morality?"

asks Elie Wiesel. Perhaps those are no different from anyone elses heart, compassion and morality: just ornaments to wear on parade and to mock when it's not profitable or when we're not comfortable. People who are troubled by plans by the State of Israel to deport people born and educated there; sometimes minors, who speak the language and often no other language because their parents, brought in as 'guest workers,' have overstayed their visas.

In a country offering automatic right of citizenship to any Jew, born there or not, it seems inconsistent, unless we consider that universal human tendency to surround one's self with one's ilk. These native residents are not, of course, Jews and apparently the official design of Israel as a "Jewish State" is threatened by religious diversity -- and who or what country remains moral when threatened? Not the US, not Israel.

Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior and the man who oversees immigration policy invokes the "bleeding heart Liberal" straw man so well used by right wingers everywhere as though compassion, mercy and indeed, morality had no place in that questionable construct: the Judeo-Christian ethos.

The US doesn't seem to be in a position to offer criticism or guidance, of course. We have our own problems reconciling our facade with what goes on, and like Israel, we cling to the word illegal as though it were a solid refuge against moral condemnation. People; small children who are illegal as a result of no action of their own and who have had no ability to comply with immigration laws rightly make one's heart bleed if one has a heart with blood in it. Indeed it can be said of both nations, that they make a big issue of alleging Biblical origins for their laws while using the law as though morality were too expensive, too inconvenient and too frightening.

It's ethnic cleansing and it's always a dirty business and these days our tendency to continue to make such noble statements as one finds on the Statue of Liberty reek of hypocrisy concerns me more than the admittedly real problems with uncontrolled immigration. Perhaps we should come clean and put an "If you're white, you're all right" in Lady Liberty's hand or at least stop pretending our laws are a salute to Jesus. If we follow through on the assault on the 14th amendment, making people born and raised as Americans, who pay taxes, have jobs and businesses but never knew there parent's weren't citizens, we're going to inherit the same moral dilemma. I have to wonder in fact, as to whether, having had a grandfather who was never a citizen, my mother would retroactively be an alien, making me, after 65 years as a citizen, subject to deportation and constant fear lest there be a midnight knock on the door by a black gloved fist.

If there's no moral problem with sending a kid who speaks only English back "home" to Azerbaijan or Guatemala with no chance of appeal, then it's time we stopped pretending we're any different from anybody else.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Here we go, Steelers!

I neglected to mention this last week, but Mrs. MJWS (the "Reactionette") and I were in Pittsburgh this past weekend for the Steelers game against the Falcons. We drove down on Saturday and got back Monday evening.

Check out the photos below.

It was an exciting game -- a 15-9 OT win for the Black and Gold -- and we had an amazing time. We love it there. Such a great city, such nice people. This was our second trip, and hopefully we'll make it an annual event.

We went to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner on Saturday, up on Mt. Washington, the fantastic Isabela on Grandview, with an absolutely stunning view of the city and three rivers below. On Sunday, we walked over to Heinz Field, down Sixth Ave., across Liberty Ave., joining the mass of Steeler Nation, everyone wearing the colours, including us, across Roberto Clemente Bridge, past PNC Park and along the river to the stadium, past the tailgaters in their boats, Steelers fans everywhere (and a few Falcons fans, too). We got there at about 10:30, just to soak up the atmosphere and watch some pre-game practice. And that we did, from the standing area behind the endzone, and we were especially excited to see Hines Ward warming up.

Seriously, it's just awesome there. Again, such nice people, such a great environment. We were up in the 500 level, with a great view of the field and the city beyond the stadium, making instant friends of the fans around us, talking football the whole time, rising and falling with the action on the field, celebrating wildly when Troy Polamalu (my favourite player) picked off Matt Ryan late in the fourth quarter, deflating when Jeff Reed missed a relatively easy FG for the win, sinking further when Atlanta won the toss for OT, picking ourselves up again when the D stood firm, and, finally, going absolutely nuts when Rashard Mendenhall ran it in 50 yards for the game-winning TD. Have I used the word "awesome" yet? I like watching football on TV, but there's nothing like being there -- for me, nothing like being in Pittsburgh in that beautiful stadium with those great fans. And when we win? It's crazy awesome.

Anyway, we hung around the stadium for a while, checking out the Walk of Fame, seeing some of the players go to their cars, then went for dinner at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36, near the stadium, and then, after a long, long, exhausting but wonderful day, made it back to the hotel.

And now, I'm just too tired to blog. But I'll be back at it tomorrow -- er, later today. So keep checking back for new posts from me and the team.

Have a good night.

-- Michael

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