2007: Pelosi Wears Scarf, Right Goes Nuts. 2015: FLOTUS Doesn’t Wear Scarf, Right Goes Nuts.

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Obama Administration

I’m up against my usual end-of-month deadline wall. But in the light of this week’s flash mob trashing of the First Lady for not wearing a scarf in Saudi Arabia, here’s a trip down memory lane — what happened in 2007 when Nancy Pelosi DID wear a scarf to visit a mosque in a Muslim country.

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Attempts to Smear Obamacare Getting Lamer

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Health Care

Having run out of cancer patients willing to lie about how Obamacare took away their treatments, the New York Post has found a young man claiming that Obamacare  refused to give him subsidized insurance when he couldn’t afford to pay the full premium. Except …

So there I was: A struggling grad student with no health insurance, and unable to afford unsubsidized ObamaCare plans I’d hardly, if ever, use.

But Uncle Sam was there on his white horse, ready to save my day with . . . Medicaid?

Yes, folks, his state (Illinois, I believe) was ready to sign him up for Medicaid, but because he is eligible for Medicaid he can’t buy other insurance on the exchanges. And apparently he is too special to accept Medicaid. Which I am on myself right now, btw, at the state of New York’s insistence. I got two prescriptions filled last week for just a $1 copay. Works for me.

But let us return to this unfortunate young man, who feels it is beneath him to accept Medicaid, but doesn’t want to pay for the other alternatives available to him.

Reading on, we learn that Precious was 26 years old and in graduate school when he learned the group plan he was on as a student was being discontinued for some bullshit reason, probably because the school administration realized it could save itself some money by dumping the insurance plan and blaming the ACA. But Precious is too special to accept Medicaid, because it would give him cooties, and private plans are more expensive than group plans, and he is being ripped off because he is young and healthy and has to pay more because he’s being dumped into the same risk pool as old, sick people.

Precious then claims his only option was to take short-term insurance which he realizes is a ripoff, but Obamacare gave him no choice. Well, except for Medicaid, but that’s not really an option for someone as special and precious as he is.

My experience perfectly highlights the insanity of the Affordable Care Act. It forced me — a paying, insured, well-educated, healthy American — out of the coverage I’d had, then tried to push me into Medicaid.

The program wouldn’t let me pay more when I offered to pay a higher rate to stay out of Medicaid, and it provided only one other option: paying the highest rate available for insurance I didn’t use once in 2014.

Which means he wouldn’t have used Medicaid, either, so he wouldn’t have gotten cooties after all.

Rather than take the easy route and enroll in Medicaid, I paid my own way with a private plan of my choosing. Now, instead of being rewarded for saving taxpayer money, I’m being punished with a fine of at least $95. What a country!

The punch line is the author’s bio at the end of the article: “Justin Haskins is a writer and editor for The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank.” I bet he’s read Atlas Shrugged three times.

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Greece Taken Over by Greeks

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Obama Administration

The elites of Europe made a mad dash for their smelling salts yesterday when the Greek people rebelled against the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission and elected politicians who promised to govern Greece for the benefit of Greeks, which of course is a crazy far-left radical idea that no sensible elitist would approve. The new members of Parliament and their new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, ran on an anti-austerity platform that proposed the Greek people shouldn’t have to suffer for the sins of international finance.

Headline at the Wall Street Journal:

Greece Must Repay Debt, Europe Officials Say

Some Officials Concerned Syriza’s Election Win Could Encourage Other Antiausterity Movements

Ya think?

Krugman points out in his column today that the austerity measures crammed down Greece’s throat not only caused untold hardship for Greeks but left the country deeper in debt.

What went wrong? I fairly often encounter assertions to the effect that Greece didn’t carry through on its promises, that it failed to deliver the promised spending cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Greece imposed savage cuts in public services, wages of government workers and social benefits. Thanks to repeated further waves of austerity, public spending was cut much more than the original program envisaged, and it’s currently about 20 percent lower than it was in 2010.

Yet Greek debt troubles are if anything worse than before the program started. One reason is that the economic plunge has reduced revenues: The Greek government is collecting a substantially higher share of G.D.P. in taxes than it used to, but G.D.P. has fallen so quickly that the overall tax take is down. Furthermore, the plunge in G.D.P. has caused a key fiscal indicator, the ratio of debt to G.D.P., to keep rising even though debt growth has slowed and Greece received some modest debt relief in 2012.

Other commenters are skeptical that the new government can deliver what it promises, for a variety of reasons. But as Krugman says, ” in calling for a major change, Mr. Tsipras is being far more realistic than officials who want the beatings to continue until morale improves.”

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The GOP White Guy Club Vs. Gynecology

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abortion

This past week House Republicans did something truly remarkable, which was to scuttle an anti-abortion bill they had planned to pass on Thursday. [*] This bill, which would have banned abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation and after, was intended to please all the Fetus People zealots in Washington for their annual anti-Roe v. Wade protest march, and since the bill was not passed the Fetus People were mightily pissed. To placate them, the House hustled and passed a bill that bans federal tax dollars from being spent on abortions, which of course has been the law for some time already.

What stalled the bill was a provision that permitted abortion in the case of rape, but only if the woman had filed a police report at the time of the rape. But most rape victims do not file police reports, mostly because they are too traumatized to do so. Some Republican women balked at this provision. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who had voted for the same bill in earlier congresses, spoke for the group. No doubt remembering earlier GOP embarrassments regarding government policies and rape ( Todd Akin, anyone?), Ellmers said the bill as worded maybe should be re-thought.

“It’s a messaging issue,” said North Carolina GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers, whose objections to the restrictive rape language helped scuttle the bill and whose office later drew dozens of protesters who had wanted the stricter approach. “I believe our heart is in the right place, and we’re standing up for what is right. But I think in order to be able to have that conversation with the American people, we have always got to be speaking from the perspective of the individual and … having compassion for women in all situations.”

Right-wing men reacted to this rather mild statement as if Ellmers were raising money for the George Tillman Memorial Late-Term Abortion Drive-Through Clinic and All You Can Eat Buffet. Joan Walsh writes,

The boys over at Red State are leading the charge, with sexually insecure sad sack Erick Erickson calling her “the GOP’s Abortion Barbie” (his sick nickname for Wendy Davis) and now another Red Stater, Aaron Gardner, asking “Is Renee Ellmers worthy of life?”

That’s cold, especially considering Ellmers has had solid teabag credentials until this moment. For example, in 2013 she tried to shield men from paying into the same health insurance risk pool with women, essentially saying that women ought to pay more for health insurance because they have girl parts. And she has been solidly anti-abortion rights her entire career. She was a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which tried to confer full rights and protections of citizenship on fertilized eggs. But one small deviation, and now she’s persona non grata and perhaps not worthy of life herself? Walsh continues,

It’s fascinating to me: Right-wingers love their Mama Grizzlies, tough gals like Palin and Sen. Joni Ernst to name two, as long as they stay in line. But when they stray from wingnut orthodoxy, they can expect the same abuse female Democrats get. I’ve been looking around to see if any conservative women have stood up for Ellmers, in the face of RedState’s ugly assault, but I haven’t found any. I will surely update this post if I do.

The same thing is true of the Right’s black members. For example, back in 2011 one-time GOP frontrunner Herman Cain had to apologize after being hit with a firestorm from the Right for saying use of the N word is insensitive. I wrote at the time,

So let’s get this straight — a black candidate for the Republican nomination for president is acceptable only as long as he doesn’t play the “race card,” meaning that he must not acknowledge racism in America. But it’s OK for Herman Cain to say that African-Americans are brainwashed into voting for Democrats, a statement I find curiously racist.

In other words, women and racial minorities are welcome into the GOP as long as say what they’re told to say by the white guys.

But the 20-week ban was narrowly defeated, resulting in many newspaper editorials exulting that Republican “moderates” had won the day, which has little to do with what actually happened. Especially since Ellmers is to “moderate” what swine flu is to “well.”

But the best part, children, is that Lindsey Graham stepped in to lead the conversation on “this definitional problem with rape.” Joan Walsh again:

The funny thing is, clearly Graham thinks he’s smarter than Akin: he insists he doesn’t “want to get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is.” But he doesn’t seem to understand that the whole effort to “define” rape, which he’s apparently now spearheading, is precisely about deciding whether a woman’s claim of rape is “legitimate” or not.

At its heart, this Republican project is predicated on the belief that women lie about rape, but Republicans can outsmart them. If some Republican women believe that requiring women to make a police report is draconian, then Graham is searching for another way to define a woman’s rape as legitimately deserving of an exception to their 20-week abortion ban.

The built-in dilemma for Graham at the heart of the issue is that the zealotry is fueled by fear and loathing of women and their sexuality. I’m sure some activists sincerely want to stop abortion, but if stopping abortion were the primary motivation of the anti-reproductive rights movement it wouldn’t increasingly be anti-contraception as well, since contraceptive use is the one proven way to reduce abortion. No, this is about sex and about preventing women from being free sexual agents the old-fashioned way — by keeping the threat of pregnancy hanging over their heads. Allowing women some benefit of the doubt about whether they were raped, or not, is not going to fly with these folks. But there’s no way any committee of men is going to come up with a litmus test to prove whether a woman “deserves” to make her own choices. Someone might want to womansplain that to Graham.

 Gail Collins writes,

Rape exemptions have come to dominate the abortion debate. Abortion rights groups use lack of concern for rape victims as an illustration of the heartlessness of their opponents. Their opponents propose exemptions to show that they’re reasonable. But, really, it makes no sense either way. The question of when a fetus inside a woman’s body becomes a human being is theological. If you truly believe that human life begins the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, you can’t admit any exceptions. The only real debate is whether you get to impose your religious beliefs on the entire country.

Not that anybody’s trying to be that rational. “I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Senator Lindsey Graham told the anti-abortion marchers. This was four days after Graham announced that he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s very possible that the phrase “this definitional problem with rape” will last longer than his candidacy.

Even having a “definitional problem with rape” pretty much sums up the problem, IMO, but I’m not holding my breath until Graham sees that.

[*The bill, called the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was based on several fictions; one, that medical science has determined a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks' gestation (not true; it's currently thought the earliest a fetus can feel pain is 29 weeks); that abortions after 20 weeks' gestation are "very late term" (a normal human pregnancy lasts 40 weeks; 20 weeks obviously is smack at the halfway point) and that a human fetus is viable at 20 weeks. In fact, although viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy, no human fetus in recorded history has survived outside the womb after only 20 weeks gestation. The standard threshold of viability is considered to be 24 weeks' gestation, and that's still very iffy. It's true that a very tiny percentage of babies have survived after 22 or 23 weeks, albeit with severe disabilities, but the odds are so low and the infant's quality of life so compromised that doctors generally recommend palliative care only for a baby that premature. The Fetus People have been marching into courts and demanding that 20 weeks be considered the legal point of viability, arguing that the date at which a fetus becomes viable is a matter of scientific dispute. True, but there's no dispute that 20 weeks' ain't it.]

Update: What actually happened when one woman reported a rape.

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Fox News = No Go Zone

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Obama Administration

Europe is laughing at Fox News, in particular over hysterical claims that Europe is riddled with Muslim “no-go zones” where only Muslims may enter.

…the French equivalent of the David Letterman show, “Le Petit Journal,” managed to convey some much-needed comic relief to a national prime-time TV audience in France where much of the country grieved.

The Petit Journal’s broadcast of the Parisian neighborhoods could not have more patently depicted the absurdity of Fox’s portrayal of Paris, where, in reality, people of different ages, religions and ethnic origins freely go about their business, running errands, pushing strollers, etc.

Le Petit Journal correspondents were shown visiting the “no-go zones,” prompting guffaws from both the live studio audience and the incredulous passersby who were asked if their safe streets were comparable to those in Iraq or Afghanistan, if they ever saw someone wear bin Laden T-shirts, or other absurd questions. The U.S. equivalent would be asking people on the streets in Manhattan if Shariah law was the law of the streets there.

In another broadcast, Le Petit Journal cast members dressed up like U.S. journalists ventured into the “Most Dangerous City in the Universe.” They confronted such dangerous situations as a man with a “terrorist beard” driving a taxi or the site of a couscous restaurant. The sounds of a jackhammer are taken for gunfire as the fake TV reporter rolls on the ground in terror.

The Mayor of Paris threatened to sue Fox News for defaming her city, and British Prime Minister David Cameron famously said he “choked on his porridge” upon hearing the claim that Birmingham UK is “totally Muslim.”

Fox News has uncharacteristically issued apologies for the “no go zone” claims, but that has not deterred Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who made similar “no go zone” claims while in London this week. And unlike Fox News, Jindal is not backing down, but told CNN he was only “speaking the truth.”

Clearly, Jindal wants to be a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a competition that’s something of a cross between a circus clown car act and “Survivor.” Speaking of which, if you missed Mike Huckabee on the Daily Show, you missed Jon Stewart being a little less kind than usual.

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Please Be Careful Out There

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firearms

I found the first paragraph of this news story to be hilarious, in a twisted sort of way:

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has asked vigilantes to please be careful about which gun owners they choose to attack after a black concealed carry permit holder was wrongly assaulted at a Florida Walmart.

Yes, please be careful about which people you assault. Some people don’t like being assaulted.

According to the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, 62-year-old Clarence Daniels was entering Walmart with his legally concealed firearm to buy coffee creamer on Tuesday when he was spotted by 43-year-old vigilante Michael Foster.

Foster, who is white, had observed Daniels conceal the weapon under his coat before he came into the store. When Daniels crossed the threshold, Foster tackled him and placed him in a chokehold, Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Larry McKinnon explained.

“He’s got a gun!” Foster reportedly exclaimed.

“I have a permit!” Daniels repeatedly shouted back.

After a struggle, the men were separated. Deputies later arrived and Foster was charged with battery.

“Unfortunately he tackled a guy that was a law-abiding citizen,” McKinnon noted. “We understand it’s alarming for people to see other people with guns, but Florida has a large population of concealed weapons permit holders.”

Yes, it’s alarming to see people you don’t know personally walking around with guns, but if you live in a place that allows everyone and his uncle to carry guns, you’re likely to run into strangers with guns. The bad guys don’t have “bad guy” stamped on their foreheads. And they’re both lucky the other guy didn’t fire his gun.

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Highlights and Reviews

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Obama Administration

The highlight film:

Some people have no sense of humor:

Republicans were irked by President Barack Obama’s caustic reminder in his State of the Union speech that he defeated them twice.

“I’ve run my last campaign,” Obama said toward the end of the nationally televised address. Republicans in the chamber applauded derisively, which prompted the president to ad-lib a zinger which wasn’t in his prepared remarks: “I know because I won both of them.”

Democrats erupted with applause.

In the Capitol after the speech, Republicans expressed displeasure at being jabbed by the president in the same speech where he asked for their cooperation.

“Probably not helpful when you rub the other guy’s nose in the dirt a little bit,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), told reporters.

The problem with Republicans is that they dish it out but can’t take it. Weenies. Maybe the baby party needs a nap.

The argument as I understand it is that all these policy initiatives will work to “expand” the middle class by enabling people to rise and to join it. But can it not be argued that this position is merely trickle-down in populist drag, merely trickle-down from a lower height?

Both the issues of the shrinking middle class and poverty have to be addressed, IMO, but let us not forget that this is the President who expanded Medicaid. That may have been the greatest single anti-poverty initiative undertaken in decades, even if it was denied to a lot of people because of the backward ideologies of their governors.

People seem uniformly underwhelmed by the several Republican responses, which were long on either folksiness or whining but short on any actual ideas that might remotely translate into policy.

As many have pointed out, the President has laid down a challenge to Republicans — how can they block his proposals and still claim to care about ordinary Americans instead of just the rich? I’m sure they’re deep into meetings right now to figure that out.

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The Gulag Guantanamo

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Obama Administration

I can remember when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a darling of the American Right. His books, especially The Gulag Archipelago, were cited time and time again as proof of the moral superiority of the West — America especially — over the wicked Soviet Union. The Soviets silenced critics by shipping them off to forced labor camps with no right to a fair hearing, and we didn’t do that, did we?

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. A manuscript account of his captivity was released today, although not before being heavily redacted by the U.S. government. You can read it online at the Guardian. There’s an abridged version at Spiegel. The manuscript may not rise to the literary quality of Solzhenitsyn’s work, but I’d say it permanently relieves the U.S. of any assumption of moral superiority over the Soviets.

If it’s ever published in book form, the ruling in favor of his habeas petition needs to be an appendix. The judgment ends with these words:

The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaida. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is granted. Salahi must be released from custody. It is SO ORDERED.

That was in 2010. The government appealed. Slahi remains in Guantanamo.

Slahi is a former mujahideen and al Qaeda member who claimed to have severed ties with al Qaeda in 1992. However, he is also a cousin and former brother-in-law of Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a guy with direct connections to Osama bin Laden. On a couple of occasions he gave money to al-Walid. He is accused of conspiring with members of the “Hamburg Cell,” although according to some accounts all he may have done is let Ramzi bin al-Shibh stay overnight in his house in Germany once in 1999. Late in 1999 he moved to Montreal, where he was a member of the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam. His association with known jihadists got him on the radar, so to speak. He returned to his native Mauritania in 2000, but on the way home he was detained by FBI agents who believed him to be involved in the Millennium Plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. After three weeks he was released. In November 2001 he was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and has been in American custody ever since.

Joe Nocera writes,

What was he accused of? Slahi asked this question of his captors often and was never given a straight answer. This, of course, is part of the problem with Guantánamo, a prison where being formally charged with a crime is a luxury, not a requirement. His efforts to tell the truth — that he had no involvement in any acts of terrorism — only angered his interrogators. “Looks like a dog, walks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog, must be a dog,” one interrogator used to say. That was the best his captors could do to explain why he was there. Yet the military was so sure he was a key Al Qaeda player that he was subjected to “special interrogation” techniques that had been signed off by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, himself.

“Special interrogation techniques,” of course, is a euphemism for torture. The sections of the book that describe his torture make for harrowing reading. Slahi was so sleep-deprived that he eventually started to hallucinate. Chained to the ground, he was forced to “stand” in positions that were extremely painful. Interrogators went at him in shifts — 24 hours a day. Sometimes during interrogations, female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body and fondled him.

Yes, Slahi made confessions under torture, which he has recanted.

While it’s always possible Slahi was more directly involved with terrorism than his public record suggests, it appears he is a victim of zealotry on the part of U.S. national security. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and no doubt the Boy Wonder president wanted all the evildoers rounded up and punished, and those charged with carrying out these wishes don’t seem to have been terribly picky about who they nabbed to fill their quotas.

American conservatives, including former POW Sen. John McCain, continue to insist that the men detained in Guantanamo must stay there, because they are dangerous. It’s more like some people are trying to keep their own moral cowardice out of sight.

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I’m not going to live blog the SOTU tonight, but feel free to comment here if you like.

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Troller in Chief

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Obama Administration

President Obama plans to make these recommendations in the SOTU:

President Obama will use his State of the Union address to call on Congress to raise taxes and fees on the wealthiest taxpayers and the largest financial firms to finance an array of tax cuts for the middle class, pressing to reshape the tax code to help working families, administration officials said on Saturday.

He even proposes to raise the capital gains tax, peeps. And as many have pointed out, no way is a Republican controlled Congress going to pass that. But he’s pushing the GOP to have to publicly and loudly oppose raising taxes on the rich and to relieve the burden on the middle class, which polls have shown time and time again to be a popular idea.

I know, I know … let’s ask Mittens what he thinks and see how long his “champion of the working man” re-branding lasts. Of course, in Fox News World the sheep are just being told Obama wants to raise taxes.

Update: Nice analysis of Romney’s rebranding vis à vis the President’s tax proposals at Just Above Sunset. Definitely worth a read.

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Opposing Income Inequality Is the New Black

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elections, Mittens, Obama Administration, Republican Party

It was funny enough when Rick Santorum tried to rebrand himself as an economic populist. But you’ll never guess who’s getting on the “we are the 99 percent” bandwagon. Well, unless you’ve already read this.

Mitt Romney, sudden champion of Americans trying to make ends meet — it’s coming off to progressives and veterans of Obama’s winning re-election campaign as a little too rich.

The 2012 Republican nominee’s sudden return to presidential politics already had them dusting off old attack lines. His reinvention Friday night as an anti-poverty warrior has them in a frenzy of excitement, even glee at what they see as the Democratic Party’s stroke of good luck.

Yes, children, Mittens now fancies himself to be the Savior of the Downtrodden. This is something like making Ronald McDonald the poster boy for heart-healthy diets.
His message, or as much as I can glean from news stories, is this:
  • Mittens really cares about poor people. He knows this because his wife Ann says so.
“She knows my heart in a way that few people do,” he said. “She’s seen me not just as a business guy and a political guy, but for over 10 years as you know I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations… She’s seen me work with folks that are looking for better work and jobs and providing care for the sick and the elderly. She knows where my heart is.”
  • Liberal policies haven’t worked. Of course they haven’t actually been tried for decades because they’ve been obstructed by conservatives, but let’s not quibble. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and this must be Obama’s fault. The fact that the rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer since the Reagan Administration is water under the bridge.

“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before,” Romney said. “Under this president, his policies have not worked. Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

  •  Mittens has a plan, something bold and original that hasn’t been done before. He explained to Republican National Committee members,
“The only policies that will reach into the hearts of the American people and pull people out of poverty and break the cycle of poverty are Republican principles, conservative principles,” Romney said to no applause from the Republican crowd.
I’m sure they forgot to applaud because they were struck numb by the boldness of Romney’s plan. And maybe he could get Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as an economic policy adviser.

Snark aside, it appears income inequality is going to be a big issue in 2016. Hillary Clinton also has been making noise about it and trying to tie herself to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a long-time friend and alleged progressive. Opposing income inequality is the new black.

But hearing it from Romney, de Blasio said, is a sign that income inequality has really arrived as the defining issue of the 2016 campaign.

“This is on the minds of more and more people around the country, because income inequality is basically the touchstone of what we’re dealing with right now,” de Blasio said. “It is very telling that a guy who’s trying to find his way back to political relevance will grab onto it.”

It is telling, and it suggests the 2016 election campaigns will be a ton of fun. But if we end up with a HRC-Jeb Bush general election choice the terrorists will have won.
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